There is no shortage of music festivals. There once was a coined festival season, but now that’s transitioned into a year-round occurrence on a global scale. This weekend, Goa, India will host its eighth year of Sunburn Festival – an electronic dance music experience. “We went for electronic dance music because India is a very complex country. It will take a one hour flight from one city to the other one. The language changes, the social habits, the cultural habits change, the food habits change,” says Sunburn founder Shailendra Singh. “So, we are pretty much the United States of India to be honest. Electronic dance music has very minimal lyrics. It just has raw energy and therefore it just made logical sense to put up an electronic dance music festival.” Although dance music is a significant chunk of the festival’s highlight, Sunburn’s next level stage structures are intertwined with Goa’s picturesque scenery. This year’s side stages will be located at the highest point in Goa. Here, Life + Times speaks to Shailendra about the birth and evolution of Sunburn Goa.
Life + Times: What are some things that you’ve witnessed evolve from the start of Sunburn that you find as really exciting?
: I think the consistency of why we’re doing this has been maintained over the years. The festival’s DNA is inspired by the thought that this Sunburn Festival is created for the fans, of the fans, by the fans. So our source of inspiration, our source of planning, [and] our source of creating a DNA infrastructure is all driven by fan needs. So, we’ve never compromised either for money or for DJs with the fans. We have an equal investment in the DJs – whether domestic or international – an equal investment in the experience. So, we’ve spent a lot of money creating a lifestyle atmosphere at all our gigs. Fifty percent music and DJs; and 50 percent is a lifestyle experience of bungee jumping, football matches, volleyball matches, flea market. We believe in local cuisine of the city we go to always. We don’t use McDonald’s [or] KFC. We use local foods. So, we created a local environment. We have shopping markets, bungee jumping. We just create a lifestyle. We have a library, an open air cinema theater. We try and tell you that you don’t need to come and bang your head non-stop at the stage necessarily. Come enjoy the music, but make friends through music. Meet the people you come across. So yeah, we maintain a very smart balance between the experience and the music…To be honest with you, I started this festival myself and built season six – which was two years ago – I had never been to an electronic dance music festival anywhere in the world, never seen one. Because I believe in it, I wanted to create this for the Indians, by the Indians, and I didn’t want to look towards the West because if I did I would get inspired by Tomorrowland and I would fuck it up. So I said, ‘Listen, stick to your own rhythm’ and we created this magic. It’s been quite good actually.
L+T: I agree with you. There are so many festivals around the world. It’s great that you’re not allowing what these other festivals are doing to bleed into what Sunburn’s vision is all about.
SS: I specifically believe that I wanted to create something from India for the world. I think that is sort of our selling proposition. I think the Indian story – India’s land of culture, tradition, creativity, spice is 7,000 to 9,000 years [old]. I think there’s a lot that India can bring in terms of flavor. So, I thought the DNA should be India. Of course, our eyes and ears are open…We try to create our own flavor which I think is working. Everyone that comes is like, “Shit man, what a wonderful experience!” There’s no point in doing the same shit that everyone else is doing.
L+T: Yeah, then I like the timing too. It’s universal holiday season. So, people want to get away from the temperatures and the craziness of life to have a break. It’s beautiful in Goa!
SS: I’ll tell you. I’ve travelled the world…I’ve been everywhere in the world, beach resorts including Bali, but Goa is something in the air. I don’t know what it is. Other than the fact that it’s got beautiful food, great Arabian Sea and little rivers, villages and what not; but there’s something magical in the air that invites you.
L+T: So, are you trying to make me become a citizen?
SS: (Laughs) Look, I’m a proud Indian. I’m a proud Sunburner. I can’t help bullshitting everything I can.
L+T: (Laughs) I mean, I’m enjoying this. So for this year, what can fans expect at Sunburn that’s completely different than that of the past seven years?
SS: We moved from a beachfront to a massive cliff. It’s spectacular! It’s like a mountain in Santorini with a fall that hits the beach and the sand. The landscape is quite large. I think this year they can expect a bit more of the story telling at the festival. They can expect a huge amount of work done on the lineup. I think what we’ve tried to do is we’re trying to make Sunburn Goa’s lineup future proof. So we’ve brought in a lot of youth element – phenomenal names, but with sort of up-and-coming really edgy with their sounds.