While growing up, there was always an aura of mysticism surrounding Magnetic Fields and the town of Alsisar. It was framed as an exclusive three-day party in the desert; a transcendental experience where you get to cut yourself off from the world and experience a form of transcendental bliss in the middle of the Rajasthan desert. My mind was always filled with images of raves going on into the early hours of the morning; of decadent after-parties with teeming masses revelling in the collective euphoria of sounds and samples flitting through the night air.
The reality is that once you peel back the veil and look beyond the surface Magnetic Fields is simultaneously exactly like every music festival in the world and unlike anything you’ll ever experience in your life. There are the usual trappings — the meticulously designed stages and visual effects, a line-up that boasts some of the biggest names across the global and homegrown electronic music landscape, and all the auxiliary fixings you could ask for like food, alcohol, workshops and additional activities. If you’ve been to enough festivals there is an inherent uniformity that is impossible to ignore and to say that Magnetic Fields is completely different in this regard would be a little shy of a bold-faced lie.
What separates Magnetic Fields and puts it in a league of its own goes far beyond its line-up and its reasonably plush extras. Beyond the frills and the pomp and the pretension; beyond the designer outfits and sneakers that cost as much as some people’s cars lies something far less tangible yet far more important and profound.
What makes it an almost alien festival is how deeply embedded it is within the fabric of the town as well as the region as a whole. There’s a cultural awareness of the festival’s surroundings that makes its visual and aesthetic coalesce with the collective history and heritage of its desert locale. While most festivals treat its location as incidental, Magnetic Fields’ very identity is inextricably linked with the space that it occupies. There’s an unspoken understanding between the festival's founders, organizers, and attendees that there is no Magnetic Fields without Alisisar. There’s a syncretic and symbiotic energy at play across every facet of the fest; from the music to the campsite to the magnificent halls, rooftops, and courtyards of Alsisar Mahal itself.
You feel this energy as soon as you step onto the campsite that becomes your home for the next three days, as people make their preparations and set themselves up for a weekend of nonstop movement. It feels very much like a little desert town with each section resembling a sort of mini district. There’s a district for sleep and rest, a district for food and sustenance and even a little cocktail bar and nightclub district.
As the sun goes down and you make your way through a narrow street that leads to Alsisar Mahal, where the majority of the stages are set up, you see the locals of the town plying everything from hot meals, to cigarettes to packets of chips. This was my first glimpse of the threads that tie together the festival itself and the local residents. Instead of shutting out and limiting the participation of the locals, the festival goes out of its way to make sure that they’re integrated into the functioning of it. The residents of Alsisar work as porters, plumbers, stage technicians and provide a number of vital administrative functions that all contribute to keeping the wheels turning.
The festival itself also ensures that every person on its guestlist contributes a small but vital amount of Rs. 3000 that goes towards safeguarding the welfare of the village and its people. In 2019 they used this money to provide necessary medical equipment to local medical centre and 2020 saw them use the fund to distribute ration packs and aid to those most in need in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Their latest endeavor involves supporting the teachers at students at the local Shree JK Govt. School Alsisar by building technological infrastructure, providing supplies and starting a creative residency partnership.
Once you get to the palace, after a short walk from the campsite, you witness how seamlessly each stage, bar, pop-up, and installation is incorporated into the structure. Almost nothing seems out of place or jarring and there’s something to see around every single corner. This delicate intermixing of heritage, culture, art and modernity is what elevates Magnetic fields far above its peers.
The undeniable focal point of the festival stages was the BudX North Stage. It was here that the biggest names across Indian and global electronic music stamped their distinctive marks on the collective sonic landscape of Alsisar. Thousands of people gathered in the darkness and danced into the wee hours of the morning. The shadows of the palace and its nooks contrasted with the 3D projection mapping on the walls of the palaces and melded and embedded themselves in the minds of the revellers. It created an almost ethereal vibrance that ebbed, flowed and cascaded in tandem with the rhythm of the selectors.
From our little raised nook to the side of the stage, we felt a oneness with the beautiful chaos around us. It didn’t really matter where you came from or what your individual tastes were. There was an intoxicating pull to the music that made it impossible to do anything but move. The courtyard at the BudX North Stage became a portal into a world of sonic possibilities, where time almost seemed to stand still. Musicians who made this stage home included Indian DJ Rishi Sippy, Milan-based Chilean DJ Paula Tape, and London-based DJ ADHD among others.
While the BudX North Stage brought ethereality and regality to the festival, the BudX Yard brought forth a grungier, block-party-esque aesthetic to proceedings and did so with aplomb. This stage leaned into making the sometimes intimidating nature of electronic music a little more accessible and featured sounds, samples, and selectors that were able to bring the unbridled energy of a club show to the lush open-air gardens of the palace.
Girls Night Out
There was a palpable feeling of ease as people grabbed their beers and just hung out while banging their heads to some drum & bass, techno and even some absolutely electrifying nods to mainstream Indian hip-hop. If the North Stage was a king, shaped by the burden of responsibility, the yard was almost like a fun prince who could afford to let their hair down and just enjoy themselves without necessarily worrying about what electronic music purists would think. The stage featured established and up-and-coming artists that included Girls Night Out, OX7GEN, GoodMostlyBad, Belgian DJ Nosedrip, London-based Producer Otik, and more.
Other honourable mentions during my time at the festival included the Corona Sunset Stage, a rooftop sundowner that featured a host of markedly more chill and down-tempo producers and DJs and the Budweiser Beats Bar, which became my personal favourite pop-up. The Beats Bar was like an escape to a bygone era of the 80s and the 90s that intersected music, art, and absolutely devastatingly potent cocktails created in collaboration with New Delhi’s ‘Lair’. As people lined up outside to catch one of the final acts of the night at the Peacock Club, it felt very much like we’d found our own secret spot, away from the bustling crowds and the biting cold. There was a warmth and an energy here that made me feel like I was in a neighbourhood pub back home, catching up with old friends and getting to know new ones.
Stepping into the world of Magnetic Fields is a heady mix of a bygone era of swords, shields, kings, queens and regality as well as a glimpse into the future of culture across the country; a future that’s unafraid of taking bold steps forward while paying tribute to everything that’s come before it; a future that gives back to the communities and individuals that are responsible for its very existence.
It’s clear that everyone involved in the fest, from the organizers to partners and brands like Budweiser, understands that for a fest to achieve permanence, they have to go beyond things you can see on the surface. A festival is more than its stages, its lineup and its extra frills.
It’s an entity that taps into the cultural zeitgeist, takes note of its surroundings and the people that support the festival and makes a concerted effort to raise the bar higher and higher with every edition. It has to be ready to carry the full weight of the culture and the subcultural movements that come with it. It has to be bold and ready to do things unconventionally without putting the underlying structures of the festival at risk. It becomes a delicate balance of awareness, curation and attention to the subtle nuances that make or break any experience.
Magnetic Fields isn’t perfect, but if nothing else, it’s laid a blueprint for any festival, big or small, that dares to break the mould and become a genuine cultural movement; a platform of expression for diverse genres, one that refuses to compromise on anything that truly matters.
Every edition of the festival is a challenge to the culture that screams out, “Go on, try to do better.”
It’s now up to us to rise to the occasion.
You can follow Magnetic Fields here.