Orka Networks. Frankly, their reputation precedes them and if you have attended any half decent metal gig in India worth its salt, then chances are that they were involved. Established in 2006 by Hyderabad’s resident metal enthusiast and law graduate Renu McGarry along with her business partner at the time Maqdum Syed, Orka began with the initiative to spread good music and help create a platform for upcoming bands. Orka was the pioneer in organizing the first annual International rock festival in support of climate change – A Concert to Question your Conscience (2007). And that was just the beginning. In 2009, the company went all out with their first international gig and brought the Deccan Rock Festival to Hyderabad, a show that featured the likes of Swedish metal Vikings Amon Amarth and Dutch tech death band Textures also bringing Indian bands like Demonic Resurrection, Bhayanak Maut, Undying Inc and Inner Sanctum. 2011’s iteration had 7 international bands including Decapitated, Nervecell, Sybreed, Funeral in Heaven along with a few more. Other well known acts that have performed in India courtesy of Orka Networks are Gojira, Monuments, Xerath, Bloodshot Dawn, Eluveitie, TesseracT, Karnivool, Xandria, Wolfmother, Cradle of Filth and Dead by April, Psycroptic to name a few. Heck, that’s just the tip of the iceberg and this can actually be an independent article in itself (some other day perhaps).
Recently we at Headtilts, contacted Renu from Orka for an insightful dialogue, and we wholeheartedly thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule and agreeing for an interview. This has been a great opportunity for our team to nosedive into the behind the scenes action that goes down during a show, even before the first chord reverberates across the stage. Honestly though, we’ve barely even scratched the surface. Anyway, let’s get on with it.
More than a decade and counting, Orka Networks’ journey through turbulent tides and its subsequent rise to prominence is beyond inspiring. Any changes that you have observed first hand along the way (for the better or worse) in terms of people’s perception of your work?
Back in 2007 I started this company to push Hyderabad metal scene and pretty soon I started investing into big international festivals unsure of what I was getting into. I got into this business hiring out my drum kit, freelancing as a volunteer at other gigs, booking smaller shows for a local band. It’s crazy to think how far I have pushed this business and how stressful it’s been in the process. I’m glad you asked me people’s perception because that’s something that’s been impacting my life for better or worse the last two years. Unfortunately, every business has highs and lows, for Orka it’s been quite a stressful last two years and there are so many people I need to thank for being patient and standing by me (you know who you are). I am in the process of correcting my mistakes and my losses as well as watching my back about who I trust. Sometimes trusting a wrong person affects a good professional relationship you have/ had with others. This interview would probably be my way of holding my hands up and apologizing to those I’ve let down and thank you for giving me that opportunity.
You have been a flag bearer of sorts in terms of bringing the big names like Amon Amarth, Poets of the Fall, Eluveitie, TesseracT and Cradle of Filth to India and grown massively over the years. How do you assess your position in the market (financial or otherwise) now, as compared to – let’s say 5 years back? Is the game as competitive and challenging as ever, or can you afford complacency?
The Indian music scene has always been competitive and definitely 100% challenging. Like I mentioned earlier you have no idea who you can trust, contracts do not mean shit cause half the time people do not bother reading them before signing it let alone follow it. I’m glad I have been doing my part in bringing some of the best bands to the country. It’s cliché to say I have been doing it just to support the scene but that’s been my main source of income as well. 5 years back we had a very good run bringing down bands like Poets of the Fall and Gojira in the same year. Due to my personal commitments years following have been quite up and down especially considering I was running a company from a different country. Financially it’s been stressful but like I said every company has it’s up and downs. All I can say is we are doing better than ever before! I have to thank my new partner and my team that still stands by me.
Any particular aspect of the job which is hands down the most frustrating part to deal with and often makes you question your career choice? Also, what are the most exciting pros of being in this line of work?
Being an artist manager itself can be frustrating on so many levels. It’s not so much about dealing with the artists or their managements cause they know exactly what they want since even before signing the contract. A lot of the shows we do are booked last minute and we end up having a restricted budget to stick to which makes it so difficult. For example doing last minute visas is a nightmare but that’s pretty much what I have been doing since 2010 (laughs)! Most exciting has to be meeting bands from all over the world and wealth of knowledge you take from them.
I must admit, your International presence is truly respectable. Will India remain a prime market in the future as well or does the recent expansion signify that that the brand is looking out for greener pastures to graze upon?
Thank you. India will always remain our main market and there’s no second thought about that. Having said that we did start our new office in Liverpool, UK. You will hear about tours and festivals in 2018.
Does your portfolio consists entirely of event and artist management, or do you have any other endeavors/projects under your belt that most of us might not be aware of?
Other than being an artist and event manager I’m a freelance tutor. Currently teaching at Tileyard in International touring and Project management.
What’s the ‘go to’ all time favorite band of the entire team which all of you passionately follow? Something that you guys can blast all day long and not get bored of?
Each of us have varied taste in music to be honest but one band that I can think of is Gojira. It has to be! Working with them has been a dream come true. I remember the first time I heard the band at a mate’s house (Ruby Rajan) I said I’d be the first one to bring them to India. I must admit I was pretty drunk and pinch myself to believe that it’s actually happened.
You guys have organized, sponsored and managed countless mesmerizing shows and events since 2006. Looking back, which show in particular has been the most memorable/exciting for your team and why?
Everyone show is a learning experience and memorable in its own way but recently we hosted Behemoth and Meta-stasis at Deccan Rock Edition IV which has been a beautiful experience. It was the company’s 10th anniversary, first time that the festival did not go into a loss, I had a chance to actually watch both the headliners and everything about it was perfect because I had the best team backing me up.
Since you have been involved in innumerable top notch events home and abroad, could you comment on the ease of organizing shows in India as compared to other countries such as UK and Netherlands? You could emphasize things like fluidity in the Bureaucracy, flexibility with regards to the rules and regulations etc.
It’s a lot easier to host a gig in UK compared to India actually. For example you do not have to pay bribes to get permissions, most venues are supportive in terms of providing PA which a few venues in India are starting to do, UK has mid-sized venues, most headliner and support acts support the event by carrying their own backline etc. Having said that it’s probably easier for me to host an event in India cause of the contacts I’ve made in the past few years.
Having absolutely zero idea about the things that go on behind the scene on the managing side of events of this scale cannot even imagine the challenges your team has to deal with. Any issues specific to the India that you want to talk about?
Health and safety is a whole different ball game in India. I’ve seen everything from fixing a switch board that was plugged in with two matchsticks to barely any safety support for the technicians who build the stage or put up the production. In comparison, the technicians are paid well in other countries and even treated with respect which in my experience I’ve noticed that general workers are not treated well in India. Bear in mind I am not talking about organizers who host gigs on a regular basis.
Naturally when you are dealing with shows of this size comes a hectic and unforgiving schedule laced with mind numbing stress and unforeseeable circumstances. How do you guys manage to stay calm when shit hits the fan?
Let’s just say I am definitely not the one in the team who remains calm. We are a very tight team that always has each other’s back. A lot of us have been friends even before the company started out so we know each other’s temperament.
Meeting renowned artistes on a routine basis often desensitizes people to the aura of allure and mystical charm that big artists are enshrouded in. Even then I am sure your team must’ve had its own fair share of fan girl moments where you were simply blown away. Want to share any ‘Oh My Gosh!’ incident that comes to mind?
I was on vacation with some of the crew and one member of Gojira that has to be my favourite one. Every single conversation has been amazing.
Often musicians flaunt a facade for a public which is at times completely opposite to their off-stage personality, and this revelation can often be shocking for fans who haven’t met the real person behind the mask. We would love to hear about any such humorous/surprising experience that you find quite memorable? (We can leave out the scandalous ones for some other day!)
It’s not so much on stage personas giving a false sense of personality that I find surprising. At the end of the day they are all normal people doing what they do. The thing that surprises me is someone who I look up to turns out to be an asshole. Unfortunately in this industry it happens.
Any person that you greatly admire, who has been an iron pillar to the Indian metal scene, yet remains relatively obscure to the masses?
I think every single promoter who have been working in the scene inspire me. It is quite difficult to survive year after year without facing a loss and they are all doing a wicked job.
What are your plans for the near future ? Any surprises in store for the us – the perpetually insatiable fans?
We just announced Morbidity Volume III with Gorod and Meta-stasis in 7 different cities. We do have a major surprise for the end of the year… I guess you will have to wait to find out!
Check out all the dates of the Morbidity Vol III tour here.