A music festival set in the wilderness of Pakistan is changing the landscape of electronic music
In a few days, somewhere on the outskirts of Lahore tucked in between rugged canyons and a serene lake, there will be Pakistan’s first ever boutique festival. The organisers are dubbing it ‘Pakistan’s very own Burning Man’, but even from the promotional material, this festival – aptly called Lost Path – feels different.
Boutique festivals are difficult to describe, but easy to parody. Burning Man, for example, has already become a hub for Silicon Valley techbros to take drugs and have out of body experiences, and use their newfound philosophy in their next Monday morning scrums. When I used to work in London, I helped organise a boutique festival in the countryside of Wales that was similarly niche: a philosophy and music retreat that ended up catering to old age pensioners and new age young philosophers.
So it might be easy to brand Lost Path as the recreational activity of the bored and wealthy. After all, tickets aren’t cheap – this definitely isn’t a festival ‘for the masses’. But after talking with the organisers via email, I got a sense that this festival is about much more than just having a good time. In being so out of the ordinary, so far off the beaten track, Lost Path is aiming to expand Pakistan’s cultural horizons, to show that there’s a lot more to our electronic music scene than farmhouse raves and private parties.
“Often, when you read interviews such as these, you’ll see people talking about promoting a positive image; culture; and the like”, said Salaar Khan from the Decibel Collective, the organisers of Lost Path. “All of that is true, in part… but there’s a lot more. When we first decided we wanted to do this, it seemed like such an overly ambitious task: the destination; the lineup; the duration; the sheer scale of it all. But all of that was deliberately so. We wanted to prove to everyone, including ourselves that this could be done in Pakistan.’
Ambitious is a pretty modest description of Lost Path. According to the organisers, the festival promises to be ‘a two-day electronic music experience, nestled between a broad expanse of gorgeous canyons and a calm natural lake, complete with original art installations. There will be a multi-genre lineup of 20 artists from 7 different countries spread across 3 separate stages, and, to top it all off, the event-goers will be free to camp at the venue; explore the natural area; relax by the lake; or even take part in some of the great opportunities for adventure in store.’
Lost Path is aiming to expand Pakistan’s cultural horizons, to show that there’s a lot more to our electronic music scene than farmhouse raves and private parties.
One of the three stages at the festival will be the Soundistan stage that will be primarily showcasing a more eclectic mix of dance music from both local and international artists. Sameer Arshad, founder of Soundistan, a platform for the alternative Asian music scene, has invited DJs from Thailand over to play at Lost Path and offer something different to the audience. “We wanted to showcase an eclectic mix of music that isn’t just focused on one genre”, he said. “We’ll have everything from live electronica to trip hop to quality house and techno on our stage, whilst still maintaining a smooth flow to the evening musically.”
“I know personally that all the artists, especially our guests from Thailand – Koish, Dott and Elaheh – have really been looking forward to this event and have been digging deep for music for a while, so it should be something to remember!” There will also be a selection of local artists on the Soundistan stage, mainly from the electronic scene in Karachi: “The Forever South guys (Rudoh, Tollcrane) are some of our favourites and it’s an incredible feeling to have them play on our stage.” On the Shotbox stage, created and curated by Hamza Haris, there will be a deep well of local talent for festival attendees to enjoy.
As you might expect, setting up a festival experience like this, complete with international acts, hasn’t been easy. Fuzzy, head of the Decibel Collective, gave an indication as to how difficult the process was: “Since the electronic music boom in the country, having a proper event is impossible these days because the amount of people who would want to come is insane. Especially since we have to go through so many difficult process for NOC etc. It isn’t easy to organise a decent scene unless our government decides to support us. Not to mention the religious/extremist pressure we face. Everything is on the edge until the last minute.”
This is often the case with electronic music events in Pakistan, which have the threat of police raids hanging over them even if they are backed and supported by big brands. But the hard work of going through official channels seems to have paid off when it comes to Lost Path. The Trippers, a tourism company, owns the land upon which the festival is to be held. Jehanzeb, founder of The Trippers, said that the organisation hopes to “promote tourism and events like Lost Path in Pakistan”, and are providing NOC and security for the weekend.
Even the sustainability and environmental consequences of the festival have been taken into account in the planning. Trash cans will be provided on site in abundance, and the architecture itself will be chosen to be as environementally friendly as possible. HSG+Architects, a multidisciplinary design and fabrication firm based in Islamabad, is using bamboo as their material of choice: “Bamboo is a low cost and sustainable material that grows intensively locally. By considering event architecture from the start, we’re able to ensure that every structure/installation, whether permanent or temporary, offers an enhanced experience to every participant of the Lost Path and leaves a lasting memory.”
This attention to detail and willingness to experiment has marked the festival as a unique experience. “We have managed to get the government onboard and it’s a totally different concept than the usual events”, said Fuzzy. “I’m surprised at the amount of appreciation and support we are getting. We’ve set up extremely secure processes in place so that the worst is avoided. We hope this will be a game changer as so many experienced platforms and brands are involved, as well as individuals.”
Calling Lost Path the ‘Burning Man’ of Pakistan seems to be a bit of a disservice, then. The festival promises to be something totally unique, a first in the cultural landscape of the country, pushing the boundaries of what an event should, and could, be. And although there’s sure to be people there philosophising about ‘finding themselves’ (a boutique festival pre-requisite) the Lost Path experience feels bigger than the individual.
I asked Hamza Haris, why are you doing it? Why go through the headache of putting on such an event, of tearing your hair out with Pakistani bureaucracy? “What signifies Pakistan”, he said, “is not that it is a postcolonial hangover dipped in a Sufi medley where the east meets the west. It’s not the lush valleys in Gilgit or the mesmerising beaches in Balochistan. But it is this profound sense of hope that we have as a people”.
“And I think it is this same sense of hope that enables us to believe that we can provide the people of this country with avenues where art is not only catered to but also celebrated.”
This is a road seldom taken in Pakistan, but when it is, it’s worth celebrating.
Lost Path will be held on the 17th November. You can get tickets and information by contacting the following numbers: 0303-4195212 or 0321-1553555