Lost And Found At Magnetic Fields
Lost And Found At Magnetic Fields

It takes a village to throw a three-day bender

I don’t consider myself a social butterfly, but more of an anti-social moth. In front of me now lay a Mount Doom-like task—to spend three days in the desert of Alsisar, attending the 2023 Magnetic Field Festival. Here, everyone was a stranger. Lost in my dilemma, I made two temporary best friends at the Jaipur airport because I had to. Together, I termed us, ‘The Magni-teers’, although only in my head, to avoid being the weird one. For the sake of the story, let’s call them Friend A and Friend B. At the end of the 72 hours, I expected us to either become brothers or sworn enemies. The stage was set. The coin was tossed. 


But how did a contemporary arts and music festival, with a focus on electronic music festival, in the middle of a small village in Rajasthan come to be? There are different versions of the story. The first one refers to Abhimanyu Alsisar, also known as the Raja of Khetri and the man behind the festival, meeting Mick Jagger, who suggested starting a festival at his ancestral place (now a chain of hotels), the Alsisar Mahal. The other version, which we heard from the Prince, recounts a story of how he went on a royal stroll across Rajasthan to find musicians for his brother’s wedding. He covered 4,000km, gathering 130 artists, and then started India’s most hidden and largely exclusive music festival. The official story mentions Abhimanyu Alsisar meeting Smita Singh Rathore – a fashion designer and restaurateur – who then connected the dots and introduced him to Sarah and Munbir Chawla of Wild City, along with others. It was through this connection that the idea of Magnetic Fields was born.


On The Hunt 



Regardless of its origin, Magnetic Fields isn’t your typical weekend(er) festival experience. The juxtaposition hits you smack dab in the face when you arrive in the quaint little town that looks like typical rural India. What sets it apart though is the massive 10-acre spread Alsisar Mahal that lies at its centre. Now, I am no Mahal expert, but this is the best one I’ve seen. I gawked and awed while ignoring that The Magni-teers were supposed to share a rather humble tent. I get it. It’s a tent in the middle of a desert. I wasn’t expecting Shangri-La, but perhaps don’t get your expectations up to luxe territory. 


But that wasn’t going to dampen the spirit of the Magni-teers. Phone numbers were exchanged, and promises to stick together were made, in a moment of naivety, of course retrospectively. Our first stop was the Pursue Disco, an installation by India’s leading hard seltzer maker Pursue, who were our hosts for the trip. Interestingly, Founder and CEO, Anish Shetty, seemed to be spot on about getting Pursue at Magnetic Fields, to appeal to the cool kids. As per him, the essence lies in adapting to the crowd, especially the Gen Zs. Friend B, also a Gen Z, seemed to have taken this to heart, pursuing far too many Pursues and calling it a night early on the first day 



Tragedy. The Magni-teers had split within the first few hours. Ditching the notion of “no man left behind” Friend A and I made the long, sandy walk to the Alsisar Mahal. Rumour had it that there lay many secret parties behind the ‘regal’ and ‘magnificent’ castle walls for lack of better superlatives. Friend A and I explored every nook and cranny of the palace, from the dungeon to the terrace, hearing music from mysterious sources, coming face-to-face with all kinds of luxury among the festivalgoers – both quiet and loud, akin to Ranveer Singh and Roman Roy. 


Yet there was no respite. At around 3, Friend A showed symptoms of fatigue. Even I felt my legs stiffening up, partly due to the cold, partly due to the 5-hour drive and partly due to waking up at 7 am and catching a 9.30 am flight. The Magni-teers returned to their tents. An hour later, Friend A had called it a night, as I gleamed in my arrogance for being the oldest and yet lasting the longest. Seconds later, I passed out. 


Finding The Vibe 


People will tell you how hot it gets in a desert, but no one describes it to you. The heat is pinching, piercing and far too much for the tent walls to handle. While the magnetism of the Magnetic Fields truly comes alive at night, the conditions force you to go out during the day and socialize. Similar to going on an awkward coffee date first, before you can plan a pub crawl on the third. And socialise I did, finding both festival veterans and virgins (like me), some of them doing it as an annual tradition, while others just feeling lucky to grab the tickets before they sold out. 


As the night struck, Friend A had found cooler friends. Probably someone who didn’t refer to themselves as “The Magni-teers”. Accompanied by a now-spirited Friend B, we again embarked on a similar journey. But priorities had changed. No longer were the secret parties on our hot pursuit. The importance of having a great story was thankfully overshadowed by the importance of having fun. First came the Delhi Sultanate set at the Peacock Club in the desert area, blending the sounds of Jamaican beats with Indian music. And oh brother, did we vibe to Selekta & MC’s performance. Booties were shaken, heads were nodded, shoulders were swung, albeit not as gracefully as peacocks, yet enough to deter any human female peacock in attendance. 



Then came the headline performance from Glass Beam, a mysterious quartet from Australia, who wear glittery golden masks to hide their faces. Their appearance and the music might make you wonder if this is what Daft Punk would have been had they spent a summer in Arambol, in a good way of course. This is where I perfected the art of festival dancing. The trick is to wear dark sunglasses to avoid eye contact with people you’ll inadvertently bump elbows into, and just copy the steps from the guy ahead. You’ll either look extremely synchronized or extremely off-beat. The point is, no one cares.  


Amidst all this, though, the hospitality of the festival staff and the locals shines through. It isn’t easy to host five people, let alone five thousand. And perhaps therein lies the secret of Magnetic Fields’ success. Locals welcome it, it is good for business. But it’s not all about money. Vendors outside the venue share stories about the place, reminiscing about how the town of Alsisar once thrived in culture and trade, before many residents departed in search of work. It’s the enduringly giving nature of the folks that keep everything functioning. Despite the dirt and debauchery that affluent individuals often bring with their entitlement, floors were cleaned, toilets were unclogged, and everything was restored to its place. You wouldn’t even know that anyone was there. 


Even though Friend B’s Gen Z zeal turned me green with envy, I finally decided to embrace the tent at 5 am, with my legs on tenterhooks, waiting for me to give up during our stop back at the Pursue Disco and with Friend A still absent. 


Bonds, Forged 


Image Credits: Alsisar Mahal


The last day finally arrived, bringing in a contrary set of emotions. On one end, three days had seemed excessive for the introvert in me. A few other Tent residents felt the same, leaving the festival on Sunday to prepare for Monday. On the other end, three days somehow didn’t feel enough. I had just gotten familiar with the palace and where the lines for the bathroom were shorter, developing some semblance of familiarity as if it was my own place. 


For better or worse, the decision was made to take it easy. Both Friend A and B agreed. The Magni-teers were finally going to be together the whole night. Loaded up on seltzers, we were about to witness what I consider the highlight of the whole festival. A multitude of Rajasthani Folk music played through late afternoon at Darbar Hall, from traditional performances to instruments. 


Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience events which I call “ethereal,” an out-of-body experience that is indescribable. In the last two years, it’s been the bonfire scene from Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) and riding the new KTM 390 Duke. But the performance I witnessed from now Bollywood regular, Moti Khan, made me almost tear up. It was incredible. So much so, that even the Prince himself was seen shaking shoulders with attendees. 


Followed up by India’s leading EDM producer, Dualist Inquiry, who debuted a snippet of his upcoming album exclusively at the festival—a little cherry on the EDM-themed cake, if you will.  


Image Credits: Pursue


The magic of Magnetic Fields lies in its elusive inclusivity, offering a boiling pot of different cultures that you’ll only find independently in different pockets of the country, all welcomed without any judgment or snark. As close to Utopia as it can get. By the end of the festival, The Magni-teers had walked 62,809 steps across the venue in total. That’s 45.8km in total. The coin toss had worked. And at every step, a bond was forged. I hope Friends A and B remain in my life in some capacity, or at least until I meet Friends C and D for a different story. 


Feature Image Credits: Parikshit Deshpande

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