Last month, nearly 200 kilometres from Jaipur, the Magnetic Fields music festival at Alsisar Mahal (or Alsisar Palace) brought the urban hustle and bustle back to a small village in Jhunjhunu district located on the border of Haryana and Rajasthan. Musicians from India and abroad — including Four Tet, Ben UFO, Grandbrothers, Onra, Tribe Mama, Batu, DJ Masda, Chloé Robinson, Anthony Naples, Pangaea and Young Marco — and approximately 5,000 people saw the ritzy 17th century palace-turned-luxury hotel metamorphose into a music sanctuary.
The grand architecture of the venue is a vestige of India’s glorious past but the roads that lead you to it are narrow, barely accommodating one car at a time. The eighth edition of the festival and its first return after the pandemic, invited the curiosity of villagers. Some peeped outside their homes to catch an unusual glimpse of a traffic jam, while others helped with directions.
Partly blocking the contrasting view of its vicinity, the façade’s guarded wicket gate opens to a bar and a food court. It is a fertile ground for small talk, while snacking on all kinds of cuisine — from vegan, sustainable, Mughalai to south Indian — at stalls by Blue Tokai, Aku’s, People of Tomorrow, Sher Singh, and many others. A bottle or can of water was priced at about ₹100 and the food from approximately ₹500. There is another such food court on the way to the tents. The stretch also houses stalls by apparel, accessories and wellness brands.
The festival hosted 15 stages, including Ray Ban Afterparty, VR showcases Silehkhanna 1 and 2, Puqaar, sound therapy at Magnetic Sanctuary X Plugin, art events at palace’s courtyard and star-gazing at its rooftop.
Diya Taneja, 22, who works at Delhi-based firm, was sitting with her friends, having coffee. “I have not heard most of the bands that are playing here. I’m here just for the vibe. It’s unmatched. I quite liked the set by Elsewhere In India: Murthovic & Thiruda,” she said, when asked about the one thing that brought her to the festival. Jaipur-based architect Radhika Sogani, added, “This festival has introduced me to new people, different music. It feels good to see so many people gathered at one place after two years of the pandemic restrictions.”
Music’s propensity of bring people together reflects in Fieldlines: The Forgotten Songs Collective. It weaved an intensely intricate mosaic of folk songs on electronic music as Vinayakâ, an electronic musician, collaborated with eight members of the Biate tribe, one of the oldest tribes of Dima Hasao, Assam.
“We sing about farming, hunting, love, sadness and nature. The instruments we play are over 100 years old, including the gong and siranda. The flute was made with bamboo just before the festival,” said 75-year-old Lallura Darnei Vill. Akshatha Shetty and Piyush Goswami, the founders of Rest Of My Family, who stumbled upon the tribe during their travels said the members were the last remaining musicians in their community. The festival brought the tribe’s first ever performance outside their village at Puqaar stage and Jameson Connects South Stage and was attended by musician-actor Monika Dogra.
French-Asian hip hop beat-maker, Onra, played a one-time set at the Sundowner stage. “I worked through October, on this set. It featured some songs from a rare, old collection of Bollywood songs that I found at a flea market somewhere around Bangkok,” he said, confessing that he wanted to make ‘bangers’. This was Onra’s first gig at the festival. “This is one of the best music festivals I have attended in 15 years of my career. The palace is exotic. It is to me what it would be like for an Indian to stay in a French castle.”
“I have been coming to this festival since 2014. This is my seventh time at the festival. I wasn’t able to make it in 2013,” shared Dreamstates aka Dharam Saraviya. He played a trance and breakbeat DJ set at the BUDXYARD and a secret set at the Cosmic Disco Bar, said, “What I played on Friday night, I can’t replicate again. I choose songs according to my instinct and by gauging the audience’s vibe.”
Much like its connotations, electronic music occupied an extensive presence on most stages at the festival. German duo Grandbrothers fuse piano with immersive electronics. They performed at the Jameson Connects South Stage. Their music influences range from Ryuichi Sakamoto to Bonobo. “We are shifting from making experimental music to pop music, something that’s not too dense and has a cinematic feel to it. This sound reflects in our new album which will be out in February,” shared Lukas Vogel.
In the cosy Peacock Club, Kerala-based musician Tribemama Marykali aka Anna Katharina Valayil, performed with her band Tribe Mama and The Sexy Tigers. She will be dropping a couple of songs this year. “We came here with a purpose, wanting to demonstrate our ethnicity. We have a lot of Kerala folk influences, Afroism, R&B soul, hip hop in our set for Magnetic Fields, which I feel is genre-blending.”
The curtains came down on three days of music and partying with three secret sets by Kaleekarma, Batu B2B Jossy Mitsu, Four Tet B2B Ben UFO. In fact, music continued to play till 6am on the day attendees were to leave. There were some who left sleep-deprived and others who just wanted more. “I spent some ₹75,000 on the festival and will attend it next year too. I hope such festivals last a week,” said Aayesha Singh as she sat in her luxury cab which darted past the opulent palace’s impoverished neighbourhood.