I flew from India for Pinkpop and Graspop last year: this was my experience

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We are introducing a new column, Guest Articles. In this series we are sharing stories from contributors outside the Festileaks Editorial Team. Our first contributor is Deepak Gopalakrishnan from Mumbai, India. He is sharing his experiences from Pinkpop and Graspop 2019.

I know it’s a damn weird time, with all the Coronavirus news and potential festival cancellation, so I thought I’d infuse a little bit of positivity! One of the most transformative experiences of my life was vacationing in Western Europe last year. I was looking forward to a lot as a fan of travel, beer and cycling, but most of all, live music! I thought I’d share my experience with the Festileaks community. Not just because it’s a perspective possibly different from most of the site’s readers, but as a way of saying thank you to a site I used almost daily for months. (Yes, admins – Google Analytics wasn’t lying, that spike in traffic from Mumbai was me).

The music scene in India

First, a little background. I’m a 35-year old marketing / content freelancer who stays in the super-crowded city of Mumbai. The city’s population is more than that of the entire Netherlands. My music of choice is rock, metal and prog with occasional detours. India actually has a pretty decent independent music scene. (That is, anything that is non-Bollywood or non-devotional, by far the two biggest genres in the country.) What it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in variety. Apart from the globally-recognizable rock and metal, it also has several aspects of ‘east-meets-west’. Good examples being Motherjane (progressive metal with a hint of Indian classical), Indian Ocean (folk-fusion) and Nucleya (dubstep with Indian elements).

I’ve been an active gig attendee for years, and have been at all ten editions of the NH7 Weekender, our country’s largest and best-organized music festival. Several big names have graced our shores: Iron Maiden, Metallica, Opeth, Dream Theater, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Deep Purple (ages ago!), U2 (who ended their recent tour here), Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Karnivool, TesseracT, Marty Friedman, Megadeth, Porcupine Tree, Norah Jones, Epica (yes!), Slash + Myles, Lamb of God… And pretty much every electronic music artist out there. That being said, India is hardly on the radar for many artists. The massive entertainment tax and unsure returns have often stymied many musicians from coming here.

Motherjane, a legendary Indian rock band that fuses progressive rock elements with traditional Carnatic Classical music, performing at the NH7 Weekender, the country’s largest multi-genre music festival, in 2011.

The perfect vacation in Europe

So I was pretty stoked when my wife and I decided to do Europe for our 2019 vacation instead of the usual scuba diving that we tend to do. After plenty of comparisons and tour schedule checks, we decided to center our trip around Pinkpop and Graspop – which by themselves would see several huge names ticked off (Fleetwood Mac, Mumford & Sons, Cage The Elephant, Golden Fucking Earring, Halestorm, BMTH, Ne Obliviscaris, Cult of Luna, KISS, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Trivium, Godsmack, Eluvieitie, STP… and Golden Fucking Earring). In between, we saw shows by Metallica (+Ghost), Dream Theater, Mark Knopfler and Bon Jovi (and Kensington!). 

Now, before that, I spent a considerable amount of time on this website and its forum, and have asked you some silly questions as well. I’ve chosen to be an observer than actively participate – I enjoyed the banter, the fights (you guys are… civil to a fault) and of course, the predictions. I particularly enjoyed how you dug out the Graspop headliners using image filenames (remember that?).

There are many ways in which I could have shared my experience, but what I thought might be most interesting for a reader of Festileaks would be a perspective they might not normally get – that of a fan coming all the way from India. So here are some of my thoughts.

The metal community is super-inclusive

Growing up, we’ve been told how metal is universal and transcends borders, but I felt that truly for the first time at Dessel. I (and my friends) met several people who came to us and told us how surprised they were seeing someone from India, and one group even bought us a round of beer! One, in a moment of advanced inebriation, invited us home for lunch (he never replied to our Whatsapp, though!). Any fears of racism that we had were completely unfounded by the many metal fans that came to us and actually thanked us for coming all the way. 

Graspop was a cathartic experience!

Pinkpop, on the other hand – and I’m sorry if I offend Smeetsaholics – felt like a giant, impersonal Dutch picnic that we crashed. There was zero attempt at inclusivity – the announcements and signages were all in Dutch. I now understand why this forum largely considers Rock Werchter to be where the action is and I certainly saw a lot more of my Indian friends consider that as an option. At the end, I can’t wait to get back to Graspop,  but I wouldn’t do Pinkpop again. It felt like what we in India would call ‘thanda’ – cold, meh, zero vibe.

Don’t underestimate how lucky you guys are!

It amuses me to see comments like “Ugh, only Iron Maiden and Priest are playing at Graspop” or “Yuck, Metallica is playing at Amsterdam ArenA, the sound is bad, I’ll wait for them to come to Ziggo Dome.” Ask an Indian metal fan, they’d catch Metallica even if they were playing at New Delhi station with trash cans! (which, well, St. Anger… Okay, never mind). I genuinely envy all of you, for you get to see such amazing artists on such a frequent basis. In Amsterdam, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich said he’s played here some 17 times. To provide context, Metallica’s played in India once. Iron Maiden thrice. U2 once. Kensington – not even once. 🙁

Other random points:

  • I love the variants of the phrase “mark with a thick felt tip pen” or “mark in pencil”. Which is the English translation, anyway – I assume the Dutch original will be more effective.
  • Okay, just how much do you guys like frites!
  • If either of the two wonderful people who handed me – shall we say, certain plants – at Borknagar and Hawkwind read this – bless you.
  • And lastly, why oh why, Netherlands – have you kept Golden Earring such a secret? Pre-Pinkpop I knew them only for one thing – and no, not Radar Love. I had heard of them because Iron Maiden did an epic cover of Kill Me (Ce Soir). Then, when I dug deeper into their catalog. I fell more and more in love with them, and now consider them the most underrated band of all time. My favourite track remains Are You Receiving Me? and I think George Kooymans has that ‘guitar feel’ I’ve got from very few artists, like David Gilmour. I am absolutely in love with this band – but I’m very pissed off that more people don’t know of them. And here’s an India connect – Barry Hay was born in our country.

My favourite moment

So there you have it! Some things from an Indian doing his first European festivals. If any of you ever happen to come to India and would like to check out our scene, or just want to know some good examples of Indian rock, ping me on Festileaks here, or Instagram here. I hope to be back myself sometime.

One of my favourite moments of the entire trip happened after Graspop ended. I was with my friends at a makeshift bar, loudly singing along to old 90s bands like Linkin Park. Just when we were about to leave, an old couple at a table stopped us to ask where we were from. My worst instincts kicked in, but we told them where we were from. To our surprise, they burst out in large smiles, gave us a big thumbs up and said, “We hope you come again soon!”

I hope so too. What a beautiful moment that was.

Thank you, Festileaks, for being part of my journey. Here’s hoping you have a kickass next festival season and all that is happening now is a far, distant memory.

PS: Golden. Fucking. Earring <3

The author (only guy not in black) with friends and countrymen who came to Graspop