Who are the most programmed live independent music acts of the 2022-23 festival season?

 We found out who they are and why everybody wants to book them

It’s a complaint we’ve heard many times this season: the same set of names appear on every Indian music festival’s line-up. Me being me, I decided to verify how far this is true. I was also curious to know the most booked acts. To find out, I deep-dived into every major festival’s roster and created – what else but – a Google sheet on which I mapped data for nearly 50 fests. 

Before we examine the results, a few disclaimers:

– I limited my research to live acts as the opportunities for them to perform on the regular gig circuit are substantially fewer than those for DJ-producers. So my tally doesn’t include purely electronic music festivals like Sunburn but does include predominantly electronic music festivals that also programme live acts, such as Magnetic Fields and VH1 Supersonic

– I’ve covered festivals for the 2022-23 season, which usually runs from September until March, but also included a food and music festival that was held in the last week of August because it was so close to the beginning of the season.

– The list only includes festivals that are open to the general public and not college festivals, which are typically accessible to only students. 

– For multi-city festival series like, for instance, Indiegaga and Zomaland, which tend to repeat artists across editions, I’ve only counted that festival once for that particular act, to avoid skewing the results.

– I’ve not counted label showcases or artist-led ensemble performances at which an act may have performed only a couple of songs.

– The tallies are based on data for festivals whose line-ups were announced until the end of January. I’ve presumed that whoever was booked eventually played the festival.

The Top Ten

1 Easy Wanderlings (8)

Bacardi NH7 Weekender (Pune), Bloom In Green (Krishnagiri), Echoes Of Earth (Bengaluru), Idli Soda (Chennai), India Bike Week (Goa), Lollapalooza India (Mumbai), Vh1 Supersonic (Pune), Ziro Festival of Music (Ziro)

2 Anuv Jain (7)

Bacardi NH7 Weekender (Pune), Beat Street (New Delhi), Doon Music Festival (Dehradun), SteppinOut Music Festival (Bengaluru), Vh1 Supersonic (Pune), Zomaland (Hyderabad), Zomato Feeding India (Mumbai)

= Bloodywood (7)

Bacardi NH7 Weekender (Pune), Indiegaga (Kochi), Lollapalooza India (Mumbai), Mahindra Independence Rock (Mumbai), Oddball Festival (Bengaluru and Delhi), Rider Mania (Goa), The Hills Festival (Shillong)

Peter Cat Recording Co. (7)

Gin Explorers Club (Bengaluru), India Cocktail Week (Mumbai), Jaipur Music Stage (Jaipur), LiveBox Festival (Bengaluru), Rider Mania (Goa), Vh1 Supersonic (Pune), Ziro Festival of Music (Ziro)

= Thaikkudam Bridge (7)

GIFLIF Indiestaan (Bhopal), Idli Soda (Chennai), Indiegaga (Bengaluru and Kozhikode), Mahindra Independence Rock (Mumbai), Rider Mania (Goa), Signature Green Vibes (Hyderabad), South Side Story (New Delhi)

= The Yellow Diary (7)

Beat Street (New Delhi), Doon Music Festival (Dehradun), LiveBox Festival (Mumbai), Lollapalooza India (Mumbai), Oktoberfest (Mumbai), SteppinOut Music Festival (Bengaluru), Zomaland (Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and New Delhi)

= When Chai Met Toast (7)

India Cocktail Week (Bengaluru), Indiegaga (Kochi), International Indie Music Festival, (Kovalam), North East Festival (New Delhi), Parx Music Fiesta (Mumbai), SpokenFest (Mumbai), Toast Wine and Beer Fest (Pune)

8 Parvaaz (6)

Joytown (Bengaluru), Mahindra Independence Rock (Mumbai), Oddball Festival (Mumbai), Parx Music Fiesta (Mumbai), Rider Mania (Goa), Udaipur World Music Festival (Udaipur)

= Taba Chake (6)

Bloom In Green (Krishnagiri), LiveBox Festival (Mumbai), North East Festival (New Delhi), Signature Green Vibes (Hyderabad), The Hills Festival (Shillong), The Pine Tree Festival 

= The F16s (6)

Bacardi NH7 Weekender (Pune), Lollapalooza India (Mumbai), Mahindra Independence Rock (Mumbai), Rider Mania (Goa), SteppinOut Music Festival (Bengaluru), The Hills Festival (Shillong)

= T.ill Apes (6)

Echoes Of Earth (Bengaluru), Magnetic Fields (Alsisar), Lollapalooza India (Mumbai), Orange Festival of Adventure and Music (Dambuk), SteppinOut Carnival (Bengaluru), Vh1 Supersonic (Pune)

What makes an act a festival favourite?

As you can see from the list, a few bands and solo artists have definitely dominated the 2022-2023 festival season. Then again, over 70 different acts have been programmed for at least two of the approximately 50 festivals I tracked. I interviewed a few festival programmers to ask them why certain names keep showing up so regularly on rosters.

They mentioned a near-identical list of factors. On the top of that list is, of course, popularity. But there are different ways of determining how sought after a group or solo musician is among audiences. These include their stream counts, attendance figures for their stand-alone concerts and club gigs and the ticket prices they’re able to command for them, and their social media footprint. “We look at how they present themselves on social media, how active they are and what kind of engagement they have,” says Ishaan Ahluwalia, who leads talent management at INS (Integrated Network Solutions) at Viacom 18, the promoters of the Pune-based Vh1 Supersonic.

The location of the festival plays a role as well. “Artists or bands that have a strong local following are a popular choice for festivals in that particular region,” says Anmol Kukreja, the co-founder and CEO of Skillbox, which is among the handful of event ticket platforms in India that are also festival promoters. Among Skillbox’s IPs are Bloomverse in Guwahati and the mult-city Livebox.

Another key criteria is “currency”. Festival programmers look out for acts who’ve put out new releases or are having a banner year, like Anuv Jain whose singles “Baarishein” and “Gul” have turned him into one of the most streamed Indian indie musicians of the past 12 months.

 “We wish to support talent who are writing fresh material and deserve to be showcased above bands who are riding the wave with older releases and nothing new to say,” says Arman Menezes, AVP – talent curation at Nodwin Gaming, the promoters of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender. Notably, several upcoming acts were given slots at the November 2022 edition of the Weekender, a move that drew mixed reactions from some regulars.

Sometimes, the headliner can influence the kind of artists that get programmed. “Depending on who is headlining that day, I need to figure out what the bottom would look like,” says Ahluwalia. For example, initially this might not have been my plan but now that Prateek Kuhad is headlining Friday [at Supersonic], I had to make it a more indie heavy day on the main stage.”

An act’s ability to pull off a great performance is perhaps the most important consideration, a trait common to each of the musicians in the top ten. “They’re fun to watch on a big stage and put on incredible shows,” says Menzies. All of them also bring something unique to the table. In the case of The Yellow Diary, that’s “soulful lyrics and strong melodies with mass appeal”, says Kukreja. Peter Cat Recording Co., on the other hand, offers a distinct sound.

Each of the promoters and programmers I spoke to said they only partially agree that there’s sometimes a herd mentality at play wherein if an act tends to pop up on a few bills, they’re enlisted as a safe bet. Sometimes bands are talked about so much, they become too big to ignore. Bloodywood, says Menzies, has caught everybody’s attention with “their successful international touring calendar and album; every festival is happy to showcase this phenomenon.”

However, even the most beloved artists need to fit in with the rest of the roster to make the final list. “Even though everybody would expect that Bloodywood should be there, I couldn’t find a slot for them,” says Ahluwalia. “We’re leaning on the softer side of live music.” 

Besides, an act has to be available to play those specific dates, and the more popular an artist is, the busier their touring diary. This is why the likes of Divine, Kuhad and Ritviz, who have either recently been or are on nationwide tours, don’t appear in the top ten. 

No dearth of talent

Sohail Arora, the founder of event and artist booking agency Krunk, which programmes the Echoes of Earth festival in Bengaluru, says that they’ve consciously made an effort to “not repeat Indian acts in the last five years.” There’s no dearth of talent, say promoters. “More than a scarcity, there’s a lack of willingness on the part of organisers to take risks,” says Kukreja. 

Many programmers rely on artist booking platforms for recommendations. “There are bands sprouting out of every corner,” says Ahluwalia. “It’s a scenario where if you’re represented well, you end up playing the big shows.” Some of the agencies behind the acts who made the top ten are Big Bad Wolf, Pagal Haina, Represent and Shark + Ink.

The paucity of female representation in the list is attributed to a “systemic issue” where the quantity of women musicians in the industry overall is significantly lower than the number of male artists. But it’s not just gender but also genre that could affect an act’s chances of being programmed. Pure metal bands are rarely booked for multi-genre festivals but groups such as Bloodywood and Thaikkudam Bridge who fuse it with other more mainstream styles both figure in the top five. 

The fact that this season has seen more festivals being staged than ever before means that we now have a problem of plenty, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The bills might be topped by a few but the remaining four or five preceding slots are often what gives a festival its individuality. There’s hope then that the festival openers of today will evolve into the headliners of tomorrow.


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