In the middle of December, most nights at the Alsisar Mahal, a 17th century fort in Rajasthan, India, are spent wearing four layers of clothing and staring at the clear night sky, illuminated by hundreds of stars. This weekend was a little bit different. Thousands of people from all over the country—I met a group who drove around 840 miles from Bombay—swarmed inside the palace's 20 feet high, battle-hardened walls to watch their favorite DJs and bands at Magnetic Fields (December 18-20). It was also the the first time that we had a showcase from two labels from Pakistan and India,put together by Border Movement and THUMP.
The music started at the Heineken Desert Disco inside the Bedouin tent village each day. The tent village acted as the de facto "I'm taking a break" area, and was where you'd see friends sleeping through the afternoon after having been up till 8AM, or a group huddled around a fire, warming up for long night ahead. Breakfast at the desert disco was a dose of heavy dub and reggae vibrations, as Bass Foundation Roots, the 264 Crew and Detour Asia Dub Station spun through the sunny afternoons.
The South Stage, the festival's biggest in terms of size, look out at the palace's beautifully carved rooftop. Playing to a packed audience, Ratatat couldn't help playing crowd favorite "Loud Pipes" early on in their set followed by songs of their latest record, Magnifique.
Percussion whiz Shigeto's synthesized waves and drumming dexterity kept the crowd stomping their feet in morse code. This stage also featured the likes Austrian dance act HVOB, Bangalore-based downtempo electronica duo Sulk Station, and Mumbai producers Sid Vashi and Snowshoe.
Sandwiched between a palace wall and the main gate, the RBMA north stage was a showcase of some of the academies promising graduates Mumdance, Palms Trax and The Sine Painter, along with Berlin-based Objekt, newly-formed Perfect Timing, Hunee and Antal going b2b, German selector DJ Koze, and LA beat scene veteran Kutmah. The music on this stage moved from rugged house and warm grooves to hard hip-hop, with Kutmah's set—which ran through tracks from Kendrick Lamar, Jay Electronica and Danny Brown—serving as a highlight.
Each night, an afterparty kept the only the fittest occupied till sunrise. Border Movement and THUMP presented a cross-boundary rager with a special showcase between Pakistan and Indian labels, Forever South and Consolidate at the palace poolside. TMPST, Rudoh and _RHL delivered beats till six in the morning with the likes of Dorian Concept, Run The Jewels and Evian Christ making the mix.
On day two, the Resident Advisor Underground held inside the palace dungeon saw Delhi producer Soulspace open for Soul Clap, who kept the audience dancing till 7AM with their bouncy mix of house and techno echoing off the dungeon walls. On Sunday night, the festival ended with Delhi based DJ Jitter and BLOT, who kept a strong legion of hardcore dance enthusiasts moving with their four-to-the-floor disco and techno set in the palace garden. BLOT's light installation around the booth meant that this wouldn't be your average everyday sunrise.
The Magnetic Fields festival has now become synonymous with Rajasthan's wild west. Apart from one more hotel in the vicinity, the palace's rural setting makes this festival an anomaly in the Rajasthani village's culture.To those on the outside, this festival must have seemed bizarre and alien, with bass, flashing lights and hoards of people dancing inside the palace walls. To those inside, the thrill of this rural desert escape is exactly what made it so special.