The Sherp ran into Nikhil Chinapa at VH1 Supersonic, and got to pick his brain on techno music, Goa and raving on Mars!
Nikhil Chinapa is, at present, one of the most prominent faces of the Indian electronic music scene. Submerge Music, his company, is responsible for bringing some of the best DJs in the world for epic shows across the country, like Above & Beyond, Swedish House Mafia, Alesso, DenizKoyu, Armin Van Buuren, Zedd, Hardwell and Tiesto!
He has been associated with VH1 Supersonic since it was launched in 2013, and has played a huge role in creating, curating and shaping the festival. The 4-day event in Candolim Beach, Goa took place on December 27-30. Bringing in brilliant artists like Disclosure, Deorro, Zedd, Axwell and Nervo as part of the lineup, the 2015 edition has been pretty spectacular up until now.
Hi Nikhil. So, it’s the third year of VH1 Supersonic. How would you say it’s going so far?
It’s the third year, the third day, and I’m very happy to say these past few days have been amazing. The big revelation of our festival has been the Awakenings Stage. We put a lot of energy behind it, and we did it because we felt this was the right time for techno. There was no way of actually judging that techno – at this scale – would work in India, so we had to trust our gut.
That was going to be my second question. Did you see techno music working with the Indian audience?
Over the past three or four years, the techno scene in India has grown leaps and bounds because of Indian artists like Arjun Vagale, Blot!, Tuhin Mehta, Kohra, there have been loads of our artists pushing the scene. And we kind of felt like this was the right time to push the envelope! We took a chance, and I’m REALLY happy to say that it’s worked.
So here’s something interesting. I was speaking to Arjun Vagale on the first day of the festival, and he said that Supersonic is one of the most intelligent music festivals he’s ever come across. Could you decode that for us?
You’ll have to ask Arjun what he’s talking about, I have no idea! Having said that, Techno isn’t by-and-large ‘gateway’ music. That tends to be EDM. – ‘Gateway music’ is the music that draws you in, if dance music wasn’t your genre to begin with. Techno is a slightly more evolved taste, so in that sense, you could call it a little more cerebral. That said, music’s not supposed to be defined and put into boxes, music is supposed to be enjoyed.
I suppose he’s talking about the way the festival has been organised, the music, the stages, the entire show. Judging from the music scene in India right now, nobody would have really thought of bringing in a techno stage to a large music festival.
It’s not that we thought of getting Awakenings. Our thought was to push the music scene in India. We thought that Awakenings would be an amazing partner in this journey. We went to them and said, “Hey, you know about Goa right? It’s really cool! Why don’t you come and do a party at our festival?” And amazingly, it turned out that the guy from Awakenings (Rocco) had been coming to Goa in the mid-90s! He used to come and stay at the Gabriel’s Guest House in Candolim. And the funny thing is, Gabriel’s kid, who was a year old at the time, is partying with us on stage now! Bloody brilliant.
So when that connection happened, a relationship was forged and we both said,“let’s go down the road and take a chance”. We believed in each other and we both believe – Techno is the future.
(Image Courtesy: Ashish Parmar Photography and Tours/Vh1 Supersonic)
So, security seems to be a priority, and you’re also up on stage, educating people on how to keep themselves safe. I’ve also heard you talking about the pillars on which Supersonic stands – unity, love, women’s empowerment, women’s safety etc. So could you shed some light on whether it’s been a conscious effort to invest in such tight security?
When we started VH1 Supersonic, we already knew that people come to music festivals to have an amazing experience, and if you always have to have one eye open to see if your partner is going to be okay; whether anybody is bothering your partner, it’s going to take away not just from your experience, but it’ll also take away from the music festival, the artists, everything.
What’s happened over the past 3 years, is something I’m really happy to see. We do a lot of messaging from the stage, and on social media, but what you see there is just the tip of the iceberg. At the heart of it all, is an amazing dance music community that comes to Supersonic, that values that festival experience. So I can say a lot of things on stage about safety, but if the community doesn’t respond, doesn’t take responsibility, none of that messaging will work.
What’s happening at Supersonic over the last 3 years is that this dance music community, has been brilliant. They’ve been aware, looked out for each other and made sure to help each other if anyone fell ill or got hurt.
So, let’s talk a little bit about the print initiative to cut down on the way free passes are handed out. There are people who spend money on passes to attend festivals, but right now the festival scene is extremely sponsorship-driven, rather than ticket-driven. What do you have to say about that?
I would say, I know you really want to take your selfie with that headlining DJ while he’s playing on the mainstage, but if you don’t want to buy a ticket, you shouldn’t expect to get in for free. Because this music means something to all of us. And over the past 15 to 18 years, a lot of people in India have worked really hard to bring DJs from around the world to India to build the dance music community. If you’ve just discovered dance music the day before yesterday, and you think “Hey, this will make a great Facebook cover photo,” That’s alright with me – but I don’t believe you’re not entitled to a free ticket simply because of who you think you are.
Your association with UKF & Arms has continued, and you guys have been working very cohesively with the UK artists. Has there been any feedback from their end? How do they like Goa and Supersonic?
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed doing at Supersonic is bringing friends together. When we built the festival in the first year in 25 days, we had a bunch of friends come together and build something that nobody believed would get off the ground. Bringing companies like UKF, ArmsHouse, Awakenings into the mix just means that we’re bringing a whole bunch of people that have grown up around dance music, that love dance music passionately, and want to come to different territories and spread their love for that music.
Online streaming of festivals is pretty big internationally. It’s revenue for a festival, as well as a way for people who can’t make it to consume content. But it hasn’t reached India yet. How do you feel about this? Is it because of a lack of infrastructure?
Online awareness, online broadcasting is really important for the Indian dance music community, because we’re a very vast country. And it’s really easy to say can fit 100,000 people at a music festival.
Not everybody can afford to come to Goa in December because it’s really expensive, not everybody is of the age that they can walk into a music festival. And when it comes to India, not everybody lives in a community where it’s okay for them to go and hang out at a music festival. So bringing that music experience to them on their smart phones and laptops is really really important. The priority is to get as many people as we can to listen to as many different forms of music as possible in one lifetime.
So to wrap it up, what direction do you see Supersonic going in in the future? Is there anything exciting you can divulge, possibly about an event outside of Goa, or outside the country?
When music festivals do well around the world, they always have a vertical trajectory. So I can tell you this for certain, that along with heading North, Supersonic is also going to move sideways. Because we’re a little bit different. It’s not just about going vertical, I like to shuffle and I like to have some fun.
We’re also very focused on doing the first EDM party on Mars. It’s going to take a while, but I guarantee you, we will get a raver on Mars soon.