It is quite rare for a local gig to be compared to an event watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world. But this is what English rapper Tinie Tempah did when he likened the Electric Peacock Festival to the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Perhaps it was written [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Good times written in the stars for Electric Peacock Festival


Leah Bazelgatte (right) and her sister Tasha Marikkar at this year's festival on Isle of Wight in the UK.

It is quite rare for a local gig to be compared to an event watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world. But this is what English rapper Tinie Tempah did when he likened the Electric Peacock Festival to the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Perhaps it was written in the stars. But the famous singer-songwriter who has the most UK number one hits by a rapper including a couple of Brit Awards was reliving the experience he had when he faced a crowd of 5,000 people at Waters Edge in 2013.

“Tinie Tempah was being interviewed on UK Channel Four recently and he was asked “what is your best experience’ and he mentioned the closing ceremony at the London Olympics as well as our event,” relates Leah Bazalgette, co-founder of the Electric Peacock Festival.

The key word which Leah takes pain to stress is the “experience” which her music festival offers, the experience which Tinie Tempah remembered so enthusiastically, enough to bracket it with the iconic Olympic event watched by 800 million people.

“That is because Sri Lankans, given a chance, are the best crowds to play to. Our crowds were singing back his songs to him. The audience really got into it,” Leah proudly recounts.

The Electric Peacock Festival will be back again next April, and gird your loins for another memorable “experience” says Leah who along with her younger sister Tasha started providing local crowds a musical show with a difference from 2010.

Next April 

“This will be our fifth edition and it will be the longest running live festival in Sri Lanka. The youth in Sri Lanka (and everyone else for that

matter) are starved for an amazing live music festival. But we are not just a live concert for we offer many other moving parts, everything from cabaret to circus as well as dressing up,” Leah explains.

Leah got the idea after watching – and working – at the famous Glastonbury Festival. She wanted to do something similar at home, put on an event where people could let their hair down, drop all their inhibitions and just have a blast.

“My sister and I both love music. From an early age we used to listen to our parents as they played the Stones, Beatles, Cat Stevens and Stevie Wonder on the record player.”

But growing up it was difficult for the Marikkar sisters to get the live music experience in Sri Lanka. “If we wanted it we would have had to go and find it ourselves” and this was the genesis of an idea which today provides a welcome outlet to people who enjoy listening to acts who are not past their sell-by date as is too often the case in Sri Lanka.

As a university student in the UK, Leah never quite got the chance to go to Glastonbury – her friends were not all that keen – so she had to wait seven years after finishing her degree in 2001 before she could realise her dream of visiting the small town in Somerset for the festival.

“I had always wanted to go to Glastonbury but it was only after I had gone back to London to work, and met my husband Lee, that it finally happened.

Lee had been going to Glastonbury since he was a kid with his family and we went together in 2008.”

Muddy Music

Glastonbury was not just a one-off night-on-the-town sort of show. “You need to make quite a commitment. You got to camp for five days in a field, get muddy sharing a 40-acre field with 150,000 people,” says Leah. “It changed my life when I saw all this coming together, of so many ideas in one place.”

With 52 stages Glastonbury was something else. A stage could be a bandstand or feature an eight-piece horn section playing their take on Frank Sinatra, or else a circus trapeze, cabaret, a massive mechanical spider breathing fire.

“It didn’t feel like there were any limits to what could be done. Walking around everyone feels free talking to each other. You create a space for positive feeling and positive attitudes, which encourages like-minded and non-like-minded people to come together and share ideas and sing along to songs or go and buy neon-red leggings, a crazy feather hat and trundle through and take it all in.”

With the template in their heads, Leah and Tasha decided to take the plunge and in 2010 the first Electric Peacock Festival took place. From the outset the mission was to give the audience an unforgettable experience. To do this they knew they had to bring in international acts which could stimulate the senses. They also decided that they would have a theme so that people could get into it.

“Our marketing is all about the thematic approach. Every year we introduce a new theme. One year we had ‘Where the Wild Things are’, which was all about creatures and fantasy-style. Last year we had the Neon Zoo idea with peacocks and unicorns and how you see them.”

“We encourage people to dress up. In the first year we introduced the first ever free costume giveaway. We had 800 people that year at a Mount Lavinia private beach and we had three bands. People came and exclaimed ‘Oh my God they want us to dress up’. At that time people were a little bit uncomfortable and we were holding their hands saying that is okay,”  recounted Leah.

“The word experience is the key here for ultimately it is all about the journey you take. No one offers a different experience like we do. One year we had an adult bouncing castle, circus performers, and had flash body tattoos,” she added.

While international acts take centre-stage, the local artists are also not forgotten. Leah is a firm believer in “original music” and takes great pain to steer clear of cover bands.

“Let’s face it. Sri Lankans are not supportive of local acts unless they are playing covers and that is a huge problem.”

Funding an issue

Providing headline acts which are still the rage in the West hasn’t been a problem so far for the sisters. Last year on the North Lawn at the Taj Hotel, Mark Ronson of ‘Uptown Funk’ fame rocked the audience. Names like Bruno Mars are the genre the festival would love to showcase. But getting current acts – not geriatrics – cost money. And Leah hopes there will be more support from the government.

“Our biggest problem is funding with 70 per cent of our budget going for the artists’ fees. There are no government funds. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs does not have funds for music acts. In the UK there is one department which solely funds music festivals. Here we are very embryonic and we have to go and raise funds.”

“Acts in the music industry today are struggling because they are not making money from music because the Internet has killed them. So these acts are trying to make money from live tours. If a big act in the US, like Kanye West, is asked to come to India or Dubai they don’t want to leave the country for less than US$ 400,000. They say ‘why should we leave the States, we could play to a stadium of 30,000 people in Omaha and get that same money without blinking an eyelid’. Acts like that are not viable unless they are on a tour.”

“We are working with a few credible promoters, piggybacking on them so can share the cost. When Mark Ronson came we partnered with a festival in India.

They brought Mark as one of their acts and I worked with them to get him to hop over here in-between a six-city gig in India. Unfortunately Sri Lanka is not big enough to host multi-city acts,” Leah outlined.

What can we expect in April when the next edition hits town? Leah keeps her cards close to her chest but promises an “incredible experience, better than anything we have done before”, while also looking at a two-night format, one for a small crowd before the big night out. So put on those dancing shoes and get ready to party.

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