Nitin Rajan Talks About Past, Present & Future Of ‘Domination – The Deathfest’

By Aniruddh ‘Andrew’ Bansal

Nitin Rajan is one of the main men in the organizational team that is putting on the 5th edition of India’s original extreme metal festival ‘Domination – The Deathfest’ this coming Sunday March 10th at Hotel United 21 in Thane (Mumbai), India. The lineup this time features the return of Exhumation, along with local support acts Gutslit, Atmosfear and Orion, and outstation attractions Witchgoat and Insane Prophecy. The gates open at 3.30 PM and the ticket price is a mere Rs. 250. Going back to the origins of this festival, it started out several years ago, and is making a comeback after a few years of absence since the first four editions took place. Last night, I spoke to him about the history of the fest, the 5th edition coming up, and his future plans. Read the conversation below, check out our interviews with some of these bands using the links at the bottom, and of course, people in the Mumbai/Thane area are encouraged to attend what promises to be a killer show on Sunday.

Nitin, it’s good to have you on Metal Assault. Obviously the 5th edition of ‘Domination – The Deathfest’ is happening this Sunday, but for people who are not familiar with the history of the festival, could you briefly just shed some light on its history and the previous four editions?

Well, it all began in Bombay in 2000 at this place called Razz Rhino. The reason for starting this really was that there were no exclusive metal festivals at that time. There were generally rock shows and the odd metal band playing in the lineup. So the whole idea was to put together a show only for extreme metal. Generally the local metal bands that couldn’t get much of a chance to play gigs, and outstation bands couldn’t make it to Bombay, so the idea was to get bands from around the country and begin something. The first year was in 2000, and we had a good run till 2003. We took it to Pune, and to Bangalore for the last edition. That’s how it all started.

What have you learnt from those past shows? Is there anything you’re rectifying in the current edition that you may be did differently back then?

Honestly, nothing much has changed in terms of rectifying, Aniruddh. There was very little in terms of metal back then, but now metal bands have become a bit more ‘mainstream’ I would say. They get to headline their own gigs and are part of major college festivals. That never used to happen in the past. But what has happened is, proper extreme metal is not getting promoted. That’s the whole reason for getting our festival back. So in that sense, nothing really has changed. The funda is just the same, get some outstation bands who haven’t played here, get some local bands who haven’t played in a long, long time and who don’t get as much opportunity as the so-called ‘popular’ metal bands, and have a decent enough fest with six or more bands in the day. That’s what a fest is all about. So no major change from what used to happen earlier, it’s just a revival. We want to bring old-school extreme metal back.

In the recent times I’ve been noticing that in Mumbai there’s usually a lot of unrest when it comes to shows. People are always worried about shows getting shut down by cops or stuff like that. Is that probably the biggest challenge for you as an organizer, specially in Mumbai?

Absolutely. Bangalore does not create such problems for us, but Bombay is an extremely commercial city. Back in the day or even today, nothing has changed. The conditions are still the same, the cops can come over any time and bust you, and venues are still a bitch. Technically the show this time is outside Bombay (laughs), but everything remains the same and it’s a huge challenge. In the past we had some outside support and stuff, but this time around we really haven’t gone for that. We’re doing it totally by ourselves. It’s just me and Riju Dasgupta who are funding this whole thing and actually organizing it. The challenges are still the same, because last time when we were about to do the Metal At The Tavern gig, Mr. Bal Thackeray expired and we had to can the gig. So anything can happen!

So, talking of this year’s lineup, was it hand-picked by you and Riju or did you have suggestions from other people as well?

Till 2009, there was a brief hiatus while I was playing with this band in Hyderabad, but since then I’ve been pretty active in the Bombay scene, attending gigs and checking out bands. So we were planning the Deathfest revival since 2009. I was looking for somebody who’s much more active and in-the-know than I was at the time. So that took me a couple of years and I finally joined up with Riju a short while back. He was all for it, and agreed that we’d do it all by ourselves. So, then we went about deciding the lineup and the first band that I approached through Riju was Exhumation. We spoke to Aditya and asked him whether he’d like to bring Exhumation back through Deathfest. They’ve been one of the most respected death metal bands to come out of the country, specially in Bombay where they hadn’t played in the past two years, so who better to headline the fest? So Exhumation was there, and then we went about checking out which other bands are active in the extreme metal scene. Gutslit was an obvious choice. They’ve been doing very well in the scene. We searched for other active Mumbai-based extreme bands, and came up with Orion and Atmosfear. Orion had been playing a few gigs, Atmosfear hadn’t played in a while, so they were both keen. Then for the bands from outside the city, Riju was in touch with Insane Prophecy. He said they’re an exciting prospect from Guwahati. And then obviously Witchgoat, whom he had seen perform at the recent Trenslaughter Fest and said they’d be a great addition. He’s been raving about their performance and their style of black thrash. Ganesh, Nolan and Bharat are part of an exciting lineup in that band. Nolan and Ganesh were in Kryptos when they played the first edition of Deathfest in 2000, so there’s a history associated with them as well. So yeah, that’s how we went about the lineup.

That’s awesome, man. So, it’s always been an extreme metal fest but how much do you actually consider having a little variety? Even in extreme metal there are so many different kinds of styles. Is that important aspect? I guess it can’t be the exact same type of music throughout the show.

Absolutely. As you can see, all these bands in the lineup are not out-and-out death metal bands. Gutslit is brutal grind with an element of slam happening, Exhumation is brutal death metal. Orion is progressive with death metal influences. They even have clean vocals. Atmosfear has evolved so much. It’s not pure death metal, you can say. Insane Prophecy is blackened death metal, with a lot of black metal influences. So all are extreme metal bands. Even Witchgoat, as I said earlier, are black thrash, very old-school in style from the early days of thrash and black. So, it’s an amalgamation of all these older genres and it’s all under the extreme metal umbrella. They’re not really influenced by the new wave of extreme music, the hardcore stuff. So that’s the only common thread amongst all these bands, but otherwise there is a lot of variety. And then there’s also a surprise opening band which I really can’t disclose right now (laughs), which will add even more variety to the whole lineup.

You mentioned that you attended a lot of shows in the past few years and became active in the Mumbai scene again. Were there any Indian gigs that you looked at as good examples when you went about doing this show, or was it purely based on your own past experience of Domination shows?

Well, as for the other shows nothing has changed over the past 18-19 years of me being associated with the Bombay scene. When I started getting back into the scene, there was B69 where the setup was pretty much the same as Razz Rhino. There was better sound you can say, because they had better and more expensive equipment. But the vibe and everything was the same. So even though the venues are different, I’ve noticed that the crowds and atmosphere is the same. The intensity is pretty much the same. So for this edition I’m not really trying to bring in any hardcore production values and stuff like that. The bands are going to put up a show and what we’re going to do is provide the best sound. So Bajao is partnering with us for that. We’re getting a great band lineup and providing them the basic infrastructure to put up a show. That’s about it, and that’s how it’s always been in the past but there’s lesser interference from sponsors or supporters. We’ve kept it tight within the team and let the bands have a good time. The audience will experience that as well.

Final question I have for you is, after this show do you have any solid future plans to do this on a regular basis?

The reason I took at least a couple of years to get Deathfest back is, purely the idea is once you get it back it’s not a one-off thing. That’s something I’ve decided and RIju is also on the same boat when it comes to this. This will be an annual fest for sure, even if we don’t have sponsors or external support. As long as the fest goes well, which I’m sure it will, or even if doesn’t for some reason (laughs), we’ll try to improve it even further next year. We also aim to still do the Metal At The Tavern gig, so we’ll be working on that to get it back. So that’s the plan, not really going to ramp it up to a major fest or anything like that. We’ll keep it underground, will just get a good variety of bands every year, and put up a decent show. That’s the whole outlook going ahead.


Related Interviews: Exhumation | Atmosfear | Orion