Sarah and Munbir Chawla insinuated themselves into the alternative music scene in the sub-continent fairly recently (with the launch of their flagship webzine, Wild City, in 2011) but have made quick and successful inroads since. Arriving in the country armed only with their years of London experience, the duo adapted admirably to the Indian terrain and began hosting their own events soon after. There's been no looking back since—apart from branching out into everything from a now three-year-old collaboration with the Goethe Institut in South Asia (bordermovement.com) and their own artist agency (Vital), they've reared the boutique music festival Magnetic Fields from infancy into six editions so far and have been greatly instrumental in pushing erstwhile under-represented talent in Indian metros.
You founded Wild City and then co-founded Magnetic Fields to your musicality. When did you decide it was time to do something bigger and connect at ground level?
Starting a music festival was something I think we both felt compelled to do—it was a natural progression from the events we were hosting with Wild City. When we moved to India it was actually under the proviso that we wouldn’t start a music festival! But we got swept away by the community here and really wanted to create an event that showcased the vibrant and rich creative spirit we encountered in modern India.
Why the name Magnetic Fields?
We spent a long time playing with words that we liked. When these two came together it was magic—we all fell in love with the combination. I remember the sparkle in Smita’s eyes when I read out the name Magnetic Fields. It means so much—it means everything—but when you land up at the festival there is no other name that could be more perfect —for the location, the music and the amazing people that attend.
What is the festival’s ideology?
Magnetic Fields is a glimpse into the vibrant and beautiful creative community in India, presented alongside some of the world’s most exciting underground sounds. It represents a seamless marriage of ancient and modern that makes India fabulously unique.
For an eclectic festival like yours, venue plays a very important character. How did you decide on the venue and how did it add to your sensibility?
We had been searching for a venue for over a year, we would spend hours driving around looking at spaces and dreaming, but nothing really clicked…until Smita met Abhimanyu on a chance weekend to Alsisar with Jahnvi. That is how our very different worlds collided, and when we met Abhimanyu and visited Alsisar, we fell head over heels with each other and with our dreams and visions of what Magnetic Fields could be at Alsisar—it became a fairy tale complete with a Prince and a palace!
How has the festival enriched the locals of that area?
I think there is a 2-way fascination—the residents of Alsisar are the most genuine and warm hosts for the festival guests. Every year we develop our relationship with them. Abhimanyu also hosts a special festival just for the Alsisar residents in the palace every year; the place becomes a playground for the young people and they have a fantastic program of local music and dance.
Music is far deeper than just entertainment—what emotion does it evoke in you?
Music is many things but in the context of a festival it is unifying, it makes connections, it becomes a very physical experience, it evokes blissful and intense feelings, it opens your mind.
India is the birthplace of the festival, but I think what is happening—which is really encouraging and interesting—is that more focus is being directed toward curated experiences for smaller audiences.
Lastly, which are the artists/songs on your playlist that you never get tired of listening to?
Flako, Nicolas Jaar, Michael Jackson, Romare, Nightmares On Wax, Blood Orange, oh so so many!
TEXT Shruti Kapur Malhotra