Magnetic Fields 2017: a feast for the senses in India’s desertscape

Putting your festival out of easy reach, in the middle of the desert, is a gamble. Is it worth travelling for? But it means that everyone who makes the long journey to Magnetic Fields really wants to be here. The result is a wild, a colourful party. A festival woven by sunsets, framed by dramatic palace silhouettes, and drenched in beautiful sound.

One of the USPs of the festival is its surreal location in the Alsisar Palace, 250 km west of the Indian capital in the rural Rajasthan, away from the smog and all the chaos of the city life. After a long eight-hour journey passing through uncountable speed breakers on single carriageway roads congested with cows, I reached the festival location on Friday evening. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. Magnetic Fields is one of those increasingly rare festivals where you’re made to feel invited into a community rather than surrounded by exclusive cliques of partygoers. From the established IT crowd to young interns, expats and western travellers, artists, poets, chefs, and authors from around the world, we were welcomed with open arms into their alternate realities. The festival was buzzing with faces lit up with delight at the sheer beauty of their surroundings. First-time festival goers would know instantly that this was something special.

Normally when someone says it “looks like a postcard” you think they’re just spouting cliches from a Lonely Planet guide to blow air into mediocrity. But Magnetic Fields is every travel writing superlative; with none of the delusions. This is a remarkable realm of Maharajas and Rajput Princes, with its secrets opened up to open-minded bohemians dancing to fusion beats in a fairytale palace. It’s a festival, in a f*cking palace.

The team at Magnetic Fields have managed to creatively use every part of the palace for the festival, offering plenty to get excited about in every corner. At Magnetic Fields, the music kicks off at around noon and goes well into the next morning until 8 am, a rarity in Europe due to local curfews. After four years, they still manage to serve us up a cacophony of audio bliss, outlandishly designed stages, and a dancefloor perfect for our questionable dance moves which were mirrored by several thousand kindred spirits.

One such stage was Saavn Sundowner on the roof of the palace. It opened during sunset, exhibited some of India’s most exciting and forward-thinking electronica artists such as Sandunes, _RHL, Your Chin, and Disco Puppet. It offers a vantage point of the sun-drenched horizon. The whole setting was mesmerising, we marvelled as blue skyline turned into orange, light turned to dark, and finally, warmth turned into cold. Raji Rags was also a sunny point of Friday night at Bira 91 Freeflow Garden stage who played the sickest hip-hop (including Kanye and Kendrick) as well as some Bollywood classics – a tastemaker to kick-off the festival. Seeing Four Tet on Saturday evening, who travelled all the way to India to perform a live show at Bira South Stage, was truly magical; particularly his playing ‘Daughter’, a track from his new album ‘New Energy’, and one which played with our emotions and filled us with promise. An hour later, down at the Red Bull Stage, Ben UFO delivered a thumping techno which carried the crowd through to the early hours.

 

Four Tet performs his live set at Magnetic Fields at the Bira 91 South Stage – Photo credit – Rebecca Conway

 

Sunday noon got political with BFR sound system, who played a selection of Afro Carribean music from Reggae, Ska, Roots, and Dub to Dancehall as well as some local Indian singers promoting activism, unity, and strength in the community against the Indian government. Later in the evening, Four Tet played an encyclopedic DJ set, as he dropped gems from afrobeat, disco, bollywood, house, garage, grime, gospel (from Brandy) and finished with an Indian prayer, which made us cry. As 4 am crawled into sight and the sun cracked through the sky on Monday morning, Dolan Bergin and Deep Brown saw the festival out with their set, out on the sandy Hydra Closing Party stage. Hard-partying crowds who stomped their way through the night were rewarded with sublime sunrise DJ sets from Ben UFO who joined Four Tet for a brief b2b set to close. When the music stopped at 8 am – silence, finally, after what feels like forever – we all know that here’s nothing like it which exists in today’s music scene.

 

Ben UFO’s sunrise jungle set in the desert will go down as one of the best sets in Magnetic Fields history – Photo credit – Abhishek Shukla

 

Magnetic Fields is an important stepping stone for Indian artists. Acts such as like Sid Vashi, Komorebi, Kumail and Aerate Sound into the international scene, billed alongside European/global beat-weavers Four Tet, Brainfeeder affiliate Teebs, prolific American producer Machinedrum, Texan Thai funk band Khruangbin and conceptual audio-visual collaboration Different Trains 1947.

 

Sandunes performing during the audio-visual collaboration Different Trains 1947 – Photo credit – Polina Schapova

 

Some of the best festival experiences are born out of commitment; to the music and the journey. To see punters pouring to this remote slice of land from all corners of the world and beyond, is a stamp of confirmation that Magnetic Fields has somehow managed to scale up its signature ingredient of intimacy. However, I wouldn’t want to exchange this experience for anything else. And just like me, anyone who’s been lucky enough to attend this festival so far will be waiting with bated breath to see how the magical story unfolds. Till next year!

Cover Photo by Polina Schapova

Words by Navs Sangwan