| 28 Feb 2024
EVC already in the elite league of music festivals: UMG's CEO Devraj Sanyal

MUMBAI: A few kilometers away from Pune and Lonavala's densely populated region, resides a quaint concept city built on the lines of ‘embracing nature with concrete development’, but initial impressions of this city, called as Aamby Valley, do fail to create two separate opinions of the same. Simply put, Aamby Valley is quite astounding, and it would be safe to believe, that the recently concluded fourth edition of the music festival Enchanted Valley Carnival at its home turf (or home runway, to be precise) required, once again, heavy investments and detailed emphasis on the ‘experience’ that revolved around it. Every music festival wishes to ‘look’ unique, and EVC, on that front, had a couple of advantages already in the form of Aamby Valley.

The fourth edition concluded with Flo Rida, Alan Walker and Arijit Singh, however, the highlight (since the announcement of the same) had to be the dedicated stage for Bollywood musician performers. But there’s more to EVC 4.0 than a dedicated stage to a commercially successful genre or the incessant desire to promote niche sounds, and although EVC does not consider itself to be the pioneer for the same, it surely takes pride in creating a culture (or at least heading in the direction) where there exists a unique blend of the both sets of enthusiasts.’ Suhas Thobbi spoke to the Managing Director and CEO at Universal Music Group Devraj Sanyal - on the elements that defined the festival’s growth with the concluded edition, the new additions, emphasis on data, joining the elite league, returning to being a festival with ‘beer’ and more.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how successful was the idea to dedicate an entire stage to Bollywood, when you now look at the event one week after its conclusion?

 The response this year has been outstanding. Even the people who didn’t come for Bollywood have gravitated towards the stage at some point because the performances were just so energetic and the energy was just infectious. Being the only multi genre festival with all forms of music for its fans, it’d unfair to rate this but suffice to say that it exceeded all our expectations both from ticket sales and sponsorship point of view and overall buzz of the festival.

Can you explain how 'bigger' the response in terms of footfall was, for EVC's fourth edition compared to the third?

The footfall has almost tripled from the third year and we have struck all the right chords when it comes to sales of regular, VIP, VVIP tickets as well as luxury and regular tent sales. We were prepared for the turnout this year the minute we decided to open up the festival for all age groups and introduced Bollywood music.  

How many attendees chose to stay in the camping area compared to the previous editions?

This year, we had a sold out campsite with 1800 tents fully occupied. We had close to 4800 people staying with us this year and it’s been the largest number we’ve hosted at the campsite so far. We had campers who were happy staying at the Enchanted Village till about 8 pm everyday because they were so involved with all the cool activities we had planned.

Do you have an official figure for the turnout in this edition?

Yes we do. We’ve proudly grown and the attendance has been massive this year. Across both days, we’ve seen a turnout of almost 24000 people with double the people attending the second day of the festival and our campsite has seen close to 4800 people this year.

For a festival that takes extreme pride in its camping ideology, how are you looking forward to strengthen the festival's identity and reputation on that front for the upcoming editions? Bigger camping area, more options?

We have been extremely fortunate to have a venue like Aamby Valley City for our festival where the space is just not a constraint and have the option to be flexible with our inventory depending on the demand each year. This year we had to quadruple the number of luxury tents because we were sold out after we announced our Phase 1 line up. Similarly with the regular tents, we were sold out by November and had to rent out more tents to accommodate the growing numbers.

Sunburn and NH7 have created a loyal fan-base that purchases the passes even before the line-up is announced. Do you think EVC is the kind of festival that would want to join that league or would there be any other way that would define EVC's pre-event hype?

I think we’re already in that league. We’ve seen the highest number of pre-sale tickets being bought this year without announcing the line-up. Also, the fact is that EVC is a multi genre festival so there are innumerable options of artists to listen to at any given day. Anyone who listens to any form of music will have something to look forward to and that’s what makes our fan-base larger and stronger. All other kinds of music festivals have a limitation due to the niche-ness of the audience. We have removed that barrier once and for all. Also we have opened the festival to all age groups unlike others making us the only wholesome weekend away for the entire family filled with the music of your choice, the largest and the best campsite and adventure of a wholly new kind.

Absolut replaced Bacardi, in some capacity, this edition. Does having a permanent major associate for music festival helps the cause in bigger way or do you think that hardly makes any difference in the longer run?

Absolut replaced Bacardi in every capacity and while we loved the earlier association, Absolut allows us two distinct things that go a long way in a partnership. Absolut being the brand that they are makes our festival look cooler than most simply because of their amazing brand vision and artsy outlook. Also we are back to being a festival with Beer, something we sorely lacked last year. It is critical to have major partners and we have two- both in Absolut and Saavn, who help amplify the EVC word to a massive network we would ordinarily have no access to. 

Can you describe the effect that the cashless technology with the wrist bands had on this edition?

We made a very bold move last year by introducing the cashless technology with the bands last year and acquired some very valuable data. It already helped us in this edition and we want to take it a level higher next year by customising experiences for our loyal fans, use social tools to integrate and enhance engagement etc.

Data is the future and, in that department, we are solid beyond question. We can pinpoint a single festival-goer down to what he ate at which restaurant or what drink he had at which bar at what time to what mixer he had his drink with. It allows us to micro target our customer in a way that has not been done before.

EVC has maintained the range of your ticket prices. In fact, students had a better deal at EVC when compared to other properties. How important is that factor in ensuring you do not lose on loyalists (attendees)?

We all know that December and the party season is an expensive affair for anyone. It is important to maintain competitive pricing for everyone, not just our loyalists. People travel from all over the country to not only watch artists perform but for the full blown EVC experience which is why we try to do all that we can to give them a great experience. We have to factor in the travel and stay costs too since we're a destination festival. 

It does not look like demonetization has severely affected live event sector. I noticed 2 ATMs installed with withdrawal option of Rs. 100 notes. How did you manage to pull that off? Plus, what was the cash limit did the banks provide to the festival for the respective ATMs?

It had very little to do with us. The cash limits are outlined by the guidelines of the RBI and there’s nothing we can do about it. And I guess the cash flow and supply of 100 rupee notes have been better since it’s been a while now to the demonetisation announcement. What we saw however is that the offline sales more than make up by way of online transactions and actual physical spend go crazy thanks to our association with the leading mobile wallet in India. Demonetisation is a reality that has hit us all. Fortunately, it did not affect our ticket sales and we had some time to plan all the finer details. We've made efforts to become cashless wherever possible. 

Bollywood is a game changer, that is proved. And everyone is rightly guessing, it would stay at EVC for its upcoming editions. Is the plan to go bigger in terms of artist announcements, or go deeper, in terms of letting emerging artists receiving a platform as big as EVC?

We’ve always maintained a great balance in terms of the scale of artists and we attempt to ensure that the programming is done in a way that we can include all levels of artists. Our team at Universal Music is always exposed to emerging talent and we try to ensure that we make it a good mix to include as many artists as we can but yes we will only grow our line ups to be unparalleled to be the only true blooded multi genre music festival in the region.

Pune and the neighbouring regions are slowly becoming the new home for music festivals. What is it about this part of the country that has convinced organisers to invest their time and money?

I guess it’s because it’s so accessible for the kind of audiences we target. Also, Pune is a hub for students that draws youth from all over the country. Having said that, we’ve been lucky to have Aamby Valley as our partner because it makes us the sexiest destination festival in the region.

Akva (techno) stage had some of the best talents and performances but unfortunately that did not reflect on the response. Cosmos (EDM) and Terra (Bollywood) took away most portion of the attendance pie. Something to worry about? Or you are happy as long as the 'festival' turnout is impressive?

The underground music space is still building here and has a long way to go. We live in a country that is ruled by Bollywood and commercial pop music and the turnout will always be larger for these genres. But the trends tell us that the underground music scene is only on the rise and is already growing rapidly in India. We’re a multi genre festival and will always introduce and showcase genres for different audiences. This is only the beginning and as we go long, we will continue to introduce newer and newer genres of music.

Finally, you have mentioned this several times that the ultimate goal is to make EVC South Asia's Glastonbury. So does that rule out extending EVC into a traveling festival or more editions in a single year completely? 

We're not ruling out anything at this point. That’s a territory we haven’t ventured into so far and only time will tell, but I can assure you that we have some big things planned for 2017. We’ve just scratched the surface this year. We needed this year to prove that our pivot of going fully multi genre worked and it worked like a charm. We now look to grow the footprint slowly and with solidity. We are in no rush and will not compete with anyone.