Pakistan’s Leading Music Festival: The Lahore Music Meet [#LMM5] hosted its fifth edition which took place at Alhamra Art Center in Lahore on the 1st and 2nd of February 2020. Once again, the team at The Music Meet brought the two-day musical celebration to 4 stages packed with Live Performances, Masterclasses and Conversations with Pakistan’s finest musicians.
This music festival is entirely women-led. consisting of all the female directors. Natasha Norani and Zahra Paracha are the driving force behind the whole setup. Let’s have a conversation about the success of Lahore Music Meet, 2020.
- You have been very successful in providing a platform for the underground music scene. What was the inspiration behind launching such an event?
When we were in college, we decided to do our undergraduate thesis on music in Pakistan. One of the biggest challenges we faced was a severe lack of research and avenues we could explore to find answers to questions we had. The entire industry was extremely fragmented at best, and it was difficult for us to navigate through that. We decided to hold a music conference and bring academics, businessmen, and musicians in the same space to help us with our research. We are also musicians and wanted to do something to help facilitate the music scene in Lahore in whatever way we could at the time.
- Pakistani music, over the last decade or so, has found various avenues to express itself. What sets LMM apart in regards to how that music is expressed?
Absolutely — there are several great avenues where Pakistani artists can express themselves and get the recognition they deserve. Every year, we face challenges and hurdles in the organization aspect of this festival but we still manage to draw in massive crowds every time we do this. I think the thing that sets LMM apart from other avenues is that it is a platform for artists by artists. The programming reflects our musical learning curves and interests at the time. We try to actively scout for and seek talent that we believe people should hear. That’s why we open up applications for the outdoor stage at LMM every year.
- That’s incredible. It’s amazing how you took the initiative to build a platform for local talent where they can express themselves without music without any bounds or chains holding them back. Do you think that’s an important aspect of what makes LMM what it is? The unfettered, unfiltered sounds of Lahore? How important is it for you to maintain that authentic credibility that seems lacking in other music platforms?
Z: There has to be freedom attached to your art, otherwise there is a certain level of inauthenticity. This is a personal value I believe in, and it is a difficult idea to pitch to companies or entities we are dependent on. But when you allow artists that freedom to express themselves, that energy they bring to the stage is what draws people in towards the festival at the end of the day.
N: I do think it’s one of LMM’s biggest strengths that we are able to provide a safe, nurturing space for artists to express themselves and share their musicality without having to water down or filter themselves. The value in not being a commercial event allows us to provide this creative control to anyone on the LMM roster.
- So what is the process of discovering talent and projecting them to a large audience full of music enthusiasts? How do you filter through the greats from the good? What is the litmus test for performances?
Since 2016, we began an application process for bands who want to perform. This is a good way to filter out nepotism and discover new talent who may not be able to reach out to us on a personal level. This helps us gauge whether they are a good fit for our overall programming. In addition to this, we encourage our applicants to only apply with original music and not covers. We try to ensure that we cover all genres in this process to showcase the diversity of contemporary Pakistani music.
- Two women leading the charge to bring about the resurgence of underground Pakistani music. What are some of the obstacles you have faced leading such a grand venture?
Z: The music industry is essentially a boy’s club by default — I have found very few women on the technical side of things especially. Since I am the lead sound engineer, I initially found myself in awkward positions trying to get some musicians to talk to me rather than through me. I do not face those problems as much anymore, but I imagine it may have been a different case if I was a sound wala as opposed to being a sound wali.
N: It’s definitely been difficult to be taken seriously from board rooms to studios. There is a lot of having to work extra hard to showcase that I am indeed a credible individual who can navigate through the nuances of the industry. It refreshes every year so it often feels like starting from scratch.
- More power to you! Obviously the underground scene is only beginning to show how much talent is present here in Lahore in terms of music. What surprises me is how well you manage to have a place for a lot of different, diverse genres of music at the same table. Someone who listens to rap might not be interested in what the indie rock scene has to offer. How do you get those fans to get out of their comfort zone and listen to different kinds of music?
The way our programming works is that we fit every area in AlHamra with various sessions happening simultaneously. Normally, people come for a session or two and accidentally end up listening to a couple of bands perform that they end up liking and becoming fans of. The idea is for people to see the diversity that Pakistani music has to offer and to be open to genres that they are not necessarily used to.
- In countries where the underground music scene is already established, it’s incredibly rare to find an event that amalgamates different genres of music. LMM is such an event. Usually, a punk show will only incorporate punk bands, an EDM festival will only cater to fans of that genre. Do you think of the fact that LMM dares to do things differently is a strength?
Absolutely. In Pakistan, it seems that the most visible music gets to be the face of Pakistani music in general, and corporate music gets the most visibility by default. There is an overwhelming misconception about what defines Pakistani music. When we scout for acts and plan sessions for LMM, we come across the strangest and most obscure ideas that are just as Pakistani as the most mainstream of artists. Our programming aims to reflect that diversity even if the contrast is as prominent as keeping a metal band on the same night as a Qawwal group.
- LMM also offers niche sounds that perhaps aren’t for the casual listener. The Avant-garde Dronepop of Slowspin, to the Groove Metal of Takatak, to the Indie Psychedelic Prog-Rock sounds of Janoobi Khargosh and Wisdom Salad. How do you get the audience to have such a great time with music they might not have an ear for?
Z: I feel as though the bands we choose are extremely talented, and if we are able to provide publicity, sound and logistical support, their music speaks for itself. We essentially provide the mahaul while the artists do what they are best at.
N: Honestly, it’s just about having faith in the bands. The people in our line-up are people who personally get us excited as well! If they can elicit those emotions in smaller arenas and in demos, imagine what they can do on an LMM stage!
- In these 5 years of LMM being established, it has quickly found its place as a culturally significant event in the city. Now that you’re an established brand, how do you manage to not only meet people’s expectations every year but exceed them?
LMM is a combination of both of our ideas and thoughts coming together in the form of a festival. Initially, we used to think along the lines of meeting people’s expectations but now we just try to do what we think is best from a cultural and social perspective. Thinking about the programming and curation from a holistic perspective helps this festival become a better version of itself every year.
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