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Facepalm at SPXCEJXM: The Ongoing Festival Fiasco and What it Means for the Indian Music Scene

The realm of Indian music festivals has seen a huge boost in the global context over the last year or so. Homegrown talents have shared the same stage(s) with industry mainstays; headliners like The Strokes (Lollapalooza 2023), Goo Goo Dolls (Bandland 2023) and The War on Drugs (Bandland 2023) to name a few, have not only ensured clamorous footfall at these festivals, but also acted as a springboard that has, by a domino effect, also propelled similar festivals into the stratosphere.

Barring the occasional organisational lapse owing largely to the poor infrastructure of the nation, times as exciting as these then, should lead one to think of Indian music festivals as a space where (relatively) little can go wrong. This is precisely the kind of good humour that the average Indian festival-goer was in halfway through last year, when SPXCEJXM was announced in August of 2023, and mind you, there was plenty to be excited for. With international acts like Bastille and Kodaline and Indian heavyweights like Parvaaz, When Chai Met Toast and Blackstratblues being listed, people absolutely thronged to book their tickets; and why shouldn’t they have? There was something for everyone, as the team behind the festival well knew, and the latter soon announced that the pre-sale and early-bird tickets had sold out. Things were going quite well, while presumably no one stopped to wonder if they were going too well.

Affairs started going awry when the festival, initially supposed to be held in November of 2023—in Bangalore on the 4th and Mumbai on the 5th—was mysteriously announced to be postponed to April of this year. The bubble burst fully when BookMyShow—the ticketing partner of the festival—announced that the entirety of the festival had been scrapped altogether, with the ticketholders to be reimbursed soon. It has now been months since that announcement without anyone being refunded, and in the meantime, there has been an avalanche of reports from close quarters that point at a circuitously elemental mismanagement that had been at play since the very conception of the festival.

With the ground realities being unfolded over a course of months, it has come to light that the ticketholders are not the only group to have been maltreated by Avrik Live, the booking agency behind SPXCEJXM. Artists have reported mismanagement, and professionals working with the agency on the festival have reportedly not been compensated for their labour either. When Yama Seth at Levelhouse, managing Parvaaz and JBABE—both of whom were supposed to perform at SPXCEJXM—was approached by Kusumitha Vasanth about the issue, she candidly provided insight on the fiasco. “Avrik Live handled the situation terribly”, Seth answered, adding that “Parvaaz has received some percentage of the booking advance and JBABE has received nothing as he was booked much later after the first set of artists had been announced.” The overestimation of the self was highlighted by Seth, who mentioned that “they took on more than they had the bandwidth for”, also adding: “Hopefully there will be some accountability now [that the fiasco is out in the open] and they will pay part of the artist fee and return all of [the] ticket money folks have spent on buying the tickets.”

A similar verdict was offered by Kishan John, in charge of managing When Chai Met Toast: “I was not aware until the last minute and [we] were not properly informed about it. The postponement to April was also not with our consent nor did we agree to perform in April.” BookMyShow (in charge of collecting the ticket revenue) has shown little grace in the situation as well, with the ticketholders trying to reach their representatives with haggard persistence, only to be met with what can be best described as a culpable silence. As a thread on Reddit reveals, it has now been months since Manav Dhumal at Avrik Live promised a swift refund, and with neither the reimbursement nor further assurance provided, the ticketholders have begun contemplating a lawsuit against those involved. In the wake of this wild unfolding of events, I personally reached out to Manav Dhumal over text for a statement regarding the same, who despite being initially prompt with his replies, disappeared—figuratively as it were—as soon as I presented a set of questions encompassing the issues of those aggrieved, in the shape of an enquiry.

While the present scenario as an isolated event looks bleak in itself, let us not blind ourselves to its broader ramifications. This is a country where independent music—with independent art in general—is asphyxiated by a systemic disdain to accord it the space and gravitas it deserves. A controversy of this large a scale should not blind us from, and instead point towards, the everyday reality of the average Indian musician, left to scrounge for even due payment, let alone proper event management, almost regularly. Beyond the realities of acts fortunate enough to at least be managed by record labels, lie the humongous realities of those representing themselves—a dying breed mortalised by an unfair system—who have no one to fight for them; who stand as silenced reminders of how the “Indian indie scene” is just one big fad of an economically incestuous system open only to musicians and artists with privilege so the commerce and thereby the art remain insulated and subsequently monolithic. 

Art is integral to life, and its unfortunate existence in capitalism means that its survival is contingent on money; this is not a gross oversimplification, but the bare bones of a reality that we cannot afford to ignore. This should be a long overdue wake-up call to not only everyone that claims to care for art, but also those complacently ignorant of their dependence on it. Music and art in general are not incidental to life, and their service to us deserves our fidelity in return; at the very least, it deserves better than this. As we look at the unfolding trainwreck that is SPXCEJXM, the same fingers we point at it should at the end of the day, return towards us, too, because change should happen; it must. Let us also not delude ourselves into thinking that it is a matter of choice, either. Change is enacted only when one begins to accord oneself no other option.

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