The Mahal Alsisar lies at 28.3036 degrees north, 75.2853 degrees east in Rajasthan’s historic desert region, Shekhawati. For a weekend in December, the palace behind the elephant-high gates made of light sandstone transforms into an electronic music festival, which primarily draws visitors from big cities.
Winter has begun in the country’s north – and the air quality in cities is rarely as bad as it is this time of year. It’s a time when 3,000 people – music lovers from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and a few hundred from the rest of the world – head to Alsisar. They’re fleeing the smog, noise and hustle bustle of the metropolises.
Hypnotic visuals move over the almost 400-year-old walls. Bass blasts through the Rajput arches. The ornate palace halls and stuffy air are exchanged for techno, EDM and ambient music for 72 hours. People follow their own rules over the next days in the world of Magnetic Fields, over which the patron, Abhimanyu Singh Alsisar, owner of the Mahal, presides.
The idea for Magnetic Fields came up over five years ago and it’s been growing since then. “We looked for a place far outside of the city (Delhi), because we only wanted people to come who are committed to music. A place that’s four hours from the next airport and lasts for three days,” explains Munbir Chawla, who moved to India, his parents’ homeland, from London six years ago with this wife, Sarah. Since then, the couple have been running the music blog and label, ‘Wild City.’ They brought the music festival to life in a luxury hotel, together with the ‘Prinz von Alsisar,’ the designer of WeThePPL and two other partners.
You can hear Indian and international acts on various stages: In palace halls, on the roof terrace for sundown, in the hip-hop garden, on the festival grounds atop sand, in the jazz club or in some tents that turn into private parties.
If you still have energy after dancing in the afternoon, you can participate in yoga workshops and treasure hunts, or you can discover the town of Alsisar, with a population of 5,000. You sleep in the suites of the Alsisar Mahalm in bedouin tents outside the palace walls or in an inexpensive room in a fresco-adorned villas along the town streets called ‘Havelis.’
© Natalie Mayroth
Amongst a palace in the desert: ‚Magnetic Fields’
© Natalie Mayroth
Haveli close to the Alsisar Mahal
© Natalie Mayroth
Bedouin tents on the campgrounds
© Natalie Mayroth
Alsisar Mahal at night
There’s a divers mix of Indian and international artists. The band, Say Yes Dog, and She’s Drunk aka David Monnin, have come from Berlin. Four Tet, Ben UFO, Special Request and Willow are the UK headliners. But what’s especially strong, besides for the Willow set, is the disco-house sound by the producer Jayda G, who splits time between Vancouver and Berlin, and the sound of the Indian live-act Sandunes on the keyboard, Madame Gandhi, with a mix of pop and rap and the producer, Tarana Marwah aka Komorebi, who performs twice. “It’s important to contribute to a movement,” she says. India is begging for a music culture, an identity beyond Bollywood – and I have the feeling of contributing to the future of this scene.”
Indian producer, Komorebi, on stage | © Natalie Mayroth
The British-Indian music video project, ‘Different Trains 1947,’ audio-visualizes India’s partition 70-years-ago, is political without being directly critical. British colonial rule was over, but over the course of its end, 20 million people were expelled and deported. The ‘different train’ decided what country they would live in in the future. It’s a moving topic which was realized by Actress, Jack Barnett, Jivraj Singh, Sandunes (Sanaya Ardeshir) and the singer Priya Purushothaman.
Different Trains 1947 Artist Sandunes, alias Sanaya Ardeshir | © Natalie Mayroth
The royal Rajput atmosphere gives life to the sounds of rural, northern India, which you can year on the Puqaar terrace with musicians from Rajasthan and Gujarat. They play loud and sharp tones on the double-reed instrument ‘shehnai.’ They drum, strum string instruments and sing along plaintively.
The stage, audience and palace walls are immersed in blue light for the round and peaceful headliner live set by Kieran Hebden, known as Four Tet and the sirenesque music wafts over the palace with a live version of ‘Two Thousand and Sventeen.’ During his Dj set, he plays songs by the Indian singer, Lata Mangeshkar, to great enthusiasm. And his audience never tires of seeing him, even during his fourth appearance at an afterparty in Delhi.
People don’t just dance to the sounds of Magnetic Fields in the palace. Locals listen in too, from their rooftops and in front of the palace gates. Life suddenly comes back to the former merchant settlement. Relatives come back. They help out with homesteads and temporary kiosks.
And the electromagnetic interactions – forces of attraction and repulsion – promised in the name, can be felt all over the place: between those partying and those working; between live bands and techno sets; between the desert oasis at sunrise and leaving the basement bar. Although it’s been around for five years, it remains a clash of subcultures.