IIT Bombay: The day the ‘Livewire’ shorted

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For any rock/metal fan in India, this time period (between November and March) is well known to be the college festival season. Among the most popular of them is Livewire, the rock competition/festival of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai (part of their cultural festival Mood Indigo). However, this year, tunes were marred by mismanagement at a gigantic level. We spoke to three of the four judges Varun Sood (drummer|Blakc), Reinhardt Dias (guitarist|Blakc)and Rahul Nair (vocalist|Trinergic) about what went down. Pradeep Pawar from Trinergic was the 4th judge.

It all started 3 bands into the semi-finals on 22nd December, when the third competing band’s PA sound was suddenly cut off. According to the judges, the sound man approached them and told them that the folks in charge of the event had asked him to cut the drums and bass from the PA and leave them on only for the stage sound. This incomplete audio output made it extremely hard to judge the event. The reason given by the organizers was that the professors were complaining about loud volume (they were told that it had to be kept below 75 dB, according to Rahul Nair). Following this (and the several attempts made by the judges to reason with said complainants), the remaining 6 bands had to contend with an audio nightmare. It involved the man behind the sound board switching the PA sound back on, only to immediately be told to cut it off. A situation akin to listening to music on defective earphones which keep shutting off in one ear.The man behind the sound board was powerless here as he was only doing his job, working to them whims of the supposed professors who were finding a college festival’s sound too loud. We’re talking about a festival that has been happening for decades now, with never any such complaint being made.  In the words of judge Varun Sood:

The PA was cut totally for the third band. After that, since we kept telling them that this is fuckall and not fair to any band at all (I mean come on, reducing levels is one thing. Cutting the PA off is ridiculous) for most bands, the PA was going on and off mid-set. So basically, for the third band it was totally off. After that it was on and off intermittently.
Being unable to do anything more, and wanting to get on with the show, the judges agreed to judge the bands based on this new sound setup. After the event got over, competing bands went over to the judges for a chat about their performances. According to Reinhardt, a certain Mr Amit, who was overseeing the judges’ camp, interrupted them while their conversations were going on and forced the judges to ‘go home and stop talking to the bands as it is not allowed’. They suspect that his worry was that bands were trying to find favour with the judges in order to win. The rules stated that 3 bands were to be shortlisted for the finals that would take place on December 23rd, and so the judges did so. In fact, the judges had unanimously deemed Delhi-based Purple Jays as their favourite among the lot. This band had, incidentally, missed their flight and had shelled out money in the ballpark of Rs 50,000 to be in Mumbai in time for the competition. They were also the band that were talking to the judges when Amit interrupted the banter. Reinhardt Dias:
It’s my personal opinion, I don’t know if this is true or not, is that Amit thought that we judged Purple Jays as the best band because they were the only band that he personally saw us speak to. As in, it was them we were speaking to when he told us that we couldn’t talk to the bands.
Whether or not this influenced what happened next is still unknown. But in a dramatic turn of events, one member of Purple Jays told Reinhardt that they didn’t make it, which left the judges shocked and feeling suspicious. After several calls to the show’s organisers (that went unanswered), they were told that they (the organisers) had changed the list of finalists. Straight from (one of the) horse’s, Varun Sood’s, mouth(s):
That incident was the boiling point for us. So basically all of us unanimously decided on 3 bands who should make it to the finals. We just gave the names. Very clearly. A couple of judges had scribbled some scores next to each band, but the three band names were conveyed in a crystal clear manner. We never even hinted to anyone to even look at scores (I didnt even give any score). After this….as we are talking to bands (who are generally there to ask for feedback), this one guy keeps butting in and saying “Sir please dont talk to bands. Its not allowed”. Which strikes me as extremely childish. Anyhow, we met some friends from IITB and got the hell out of there
Next day at around 2 PM, I was talking to one of the band members who happens to be an old friend. His band (Purple Jays) was one of the best by far. In case anybody even thinks there might be a bias here, it was not just me. All judges felt that the band is outshining the others.
But when he told me he didn’t make it, I was stunned. I immediately called a couple of guys. Even the band was trying desperately to find someone and sort this out, because I told them they won and should be in the finals. Bear in mind that this band had missed a flight from Delhi before, yet bought ~50k worth of flight tickets just to be there. And now imagine me talking to this one guy from the organizing team who said “Sir since the first band (Purple Jays) got good sound and the other didn’t, we have normalized the scores which effectively puts them in 4th place”. That was the absolute WTF moment for me as well as Reinhardt. A total sham. We were so so clear in our selections, and these guys without so much as mentioning to us, graded the bands on their own whimsical criteria. That’s the fucked up part…this so called “normalization” just took place without consulting a single judge. Had I not talked to my friend, the IITB organizers would not have have told us anything. This basically meant that there was no point of having judges in the first place. And basically then what followed was what you saw on Facebook
What happened on Facebook was Reinhardt Dias, Varun Sood and Rahul Nair detailing the events of the night. The post by Reinhardt Dias especially, spread like wildfire, prompting the organisers to ‘grant’ Purple Jays the right to play as a 4th finalist. Says Varun Sood:
The one positive impact of this was that the band actually got to play, so there were 4 finalists. But again, because of all this fuckery, each band got a whopping 9 minutes of stage time in the finals, which is disappointing to say the least.
According to Reinhardt Dias:
I told them that the damage is already done. Even if I were to remove my post on Facebook, hundreds of people have shared this and the news has reached the public. I wanted this to happen because I want them (organisers) to understand what situation they have created. I want this news to be spoken about and not die down because this has been happening for a few years. Back then, we didn’t have the kind of social media influence there is now to be able to document such things. I want things to change and the right kind of people to be organising these fests.
Varun Sood:
Essentially, this is a problem of not understanding that organizing a rock competition/concert requires some level of passion from the organizer’s part as well. This is what has changed. There was a time when organizers at IIT’s were passionate about doing this. You could tell the guy handling the stage etc. was enthusiastic about the music, about the bands.The reason there seems to be so much apathy and ignorance now is because most of the volunteers and organizers at the scene are clueless
Rahul Nair:
Personally, every time I have judged an event, winners have been the one’s the judges finalise. This is the first time, but college festivals do treat bands in a very very messed up manner on various occasions
We, at Headbangers India, would like to show our solidarity for the bands that had to suffer through this ordeal and we hope that things change for the better.

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