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Sunburnt at Midnight

Festival director and MTV mainstay Nikhil Chinapa shares the beautiful story of how the Sunburn Festival, on next week in Goa, came into existence — and survived the haters!

NIKHIL CHINAPA  19th Dec 2010

Nikhil Chinapa

never dreamed it would come to this. 22,000 people on a beach in Goa with the world's number 1 DJ playing... and that was last year. For me, clubbing was simply a way of life. In Bangalore we'd go to the club on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, because that's what we did on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. We'd wait till 4.30 in the morning for the DJ to finish his 2 hour hip-hop set because we knew at 4.30 in the morning, he'd drop BT's Flaming June and Prodigy's Firestarter. When the big shift happened to Mumbai with MTV, I discovered J49, where Gaurav and Kris (Correya) along with (DJ) Ruskin would gleefully spend hours helping us get unhinged on the club's sweaty dance floor. Ibiza was a distant dream. It was just this place I had heard of. Names of clubs like Space, Amnesia, Pacha, the magical Café del Mar (which believe it or not, is anything but magical unless a 6 storey building on an awful beach is your idea of magic) hovered around my consciousness, and I have no idea of where they came from.

And then I met Pearl, who said, "Ibiza? Yup, July seems perfect" So July it was, and it was the first we planned of many dancing holidays. A week in Amsterdam, a week in Barcelona, a week in Ibiza ending with a week in Newcastle, where the UK's version of the Love Parade was to be held that year. Just for the record, we were destroyed by the end of Ibiza, and never made it to Newcastle. In those 3 weeks, Pearl and I partied Every.Single.Night.

We did lounge bars, we did clubs, we did beach bars, even a random Cuban bar...As long as there was music and we could dance, we went. We'd watch the sunset, have dinner, go to sleep, wake up at 2 a.m. and hit the clubs by 3 a.m. On one night we finished Amnesia at 7am, and drove across to Space, which started at 8am, picking up our favourite breakfast along the way at a 7/11: chocolate milk and Pringles. Getting out of Space at 1 in the afternoon, we headed to Bora Bora, where we hung out till 4pm, before heading back to the hotel for a "nap", waking up at sunset and heading to Café del Mar. At one of these beach stopovers, Pearl remarked, "We should bring this back to India." The thing was, we were having loads of fun, but there was one sentiment we shared, at the end of every single night at every single club in Ibiza - that we wished we had our friends around us. Unbeknownst to us, the process had begun. Fate gleefully rubbed her hands together and had set the wheels in motion. We started to book friends we made in Ibiza and Amsterdam to play at small events we were throwing in India under a random name we came up with called Submerge (today, India's largest dance music promotion company and online resource). The biggest of these events were annual open-to-the-public beach parties we threw at a friend's shack in Goa called Zanzibar. With a little gentle nudging from our friend Fate, big companies started to notice. One such visionary company, Percept, with Shailendra Singh as their joint Managing Director, Devraj Sanyal as CEO and Aman Anand as Head of Production, called me in for a meeting. They asked me if I would like to help them organise a music festival in India. I asked them if I could invite the DJ's that I liked, and had heard in London, Amsterdam and Ibiza. They said, "yes, and we have the infrastructure to build a festival around these DJs that you book". I said – "thank you, Santa", and signed on the dotted line.

We'd watch the sunset, have dinner, go to sleep, wake up at 2 a.m. and hit the clubs by 3 a.m. - Nikhil Chinapa

It was also at that first meeting that we decided that this festival was going to be something we could call our own. For people in India, with artists from India sharing stages with artists from around the world. The promotion and profiling of Indian talent was an integral part of Sunburn's agenda, from the beginning and continues till today. Year one went without a hitch with Carl Cox, Above and Beyond, John 00 Fleming and Axwell sharing the stage with the Midival Punditz, Pearl, Jalebee Cartel and Sanjay Dutta. Though the festival was a success, there were financial losses that were to be expected with any project of this magnitude in its first year. Most festival fans couldn't believe that the DJs they had looked up to all their lives were playing right in front of them.

As the euphoria and enthusiasm built up to year two, Sunburn was hit by a couple of significant events. The first was the global economic meltdown triggered by the subprime-crisis in America, followed by the Lehman Brother's collapse. This led to an immediate freeze on all sponsorship. Coupled with the losses of year one, the lack of sponsorships put the staging of Sunburn in serious question. The bigger body blow to the entire nation were the Mumbai attacks in 2008. People became wary of travelling and gathering at large events. Events throughout India were cancelled, and understandably so. In several cases civic administration was unable to guarantee the safety of people at events like parties, and for a moment it really did look like terrorism would win. Despite these enormous challenges, the board of directors at Perecpt decided to persevere with Sunburn, and in my opinion, that decision created a watershed in the dance music scene in India. Fewer people travelled to Goa for Sunburn, but Goa was already full of tourists. Every single DJ, with one notable exception, flew to India to play.  Sunburn became a rallying point for the youth in India, with the overriding sentiment being, "when the world is going to hell in a handbasket, you can still rely on Sunburn."

Sunburn was the only music event that took place in Goa that winter. On Day Two of the festival, some busybodies used a stipulation in a noise pollution law to shut the festival down. It seems not everybody was happy with Sunburn's success. The music was stopped at 7.50pm as John Fleming and The Digital Blonde (00.db) were playing. Not a single festival fan left the venue. Not a single person raised their voice in protest, nor did anyone ask for their money back. They simply sat down on the sand, almost with an air of "okay we know what's going on and we'll wait and see what happens next". Bringing all the goodwill that Sunburn has in Goa to bear, we were able to restart the festival at 9.30pm. As John restarted his set with a track that had a muted kickdrum and as the speakers came to life...I could spot people all across the festival running towards the stage. A minute later when the bassline kicked in, the roar that went up from the crowd was the most beautiful sound I have heard in my entire life. Since that roar, there's been no looking back for Sunburn. And when I tell people why we'll always do Sunburn for the rest of our lives, it's because of the people who sat down on the beach and refused to believe that the music had died.

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