It wasn’t until my first time at last year’s Magnetic Fields Festival that I realized the vitality of the physical space of a live music experience. Set against the backdrop of the sun-kissed Alsisar Mahal and surrounded predominantly by a scenic desert, the festival did manage to create an immersive aesthetic for the audience to relish in. It dawned upon me the importance of the other five letter word in live music : venue.
A good venue can turn entertainment into performance. A good venue can configure a cultural identity of a city. A good venue can break a plethora of budding acts. A good venue can be a home for artists and fans alike.
Keeping it a 100, no matter how hip an underground movement looks on the internet, no real progress can be made unless the digital growth is somehow translated in the real world. Streaming and merchandise revenues are pretty thin so the only way musicians can have a sustainable livelihood is by performing live. Now I’ve always felt apprehensive of blaming the audience, but in this vicious cycle of everyone trying to sincerely earn a buck, you really can’t point fingers at anyone in particular. The live music ecosystem does seem fractured compared to the sheer vastness of possibilities in our country, however, that excuse can’t be used to negate the profound efforts of promoters and venues alike, championing the underground artist. So we wanted to commemorate the endeavors of such venues who constantly have pointed the limelight at budding and alternative acts and have given them the space to perform, here are a few:
Inaugurated in 1969, National Center for the Performing Arts(NCPA), Mumbai, is India’s premiere multi-venue and multi-genre cultural institute. It’s numerous venues have helped hone a spectrum of artistic disciplines like music, dance, theatre, film, literature and photography. In the recent years, it has given a platform to international acts like singer-songwriters like Lucy Rose, to even local favorites like producer Dualist Inquiry.
There are few music-venue chains as universal as the Hard Rock. For a larger spectrum of the audience, Hard Rock Cafes have always been a spot to find something alternative or ‘new’. Over the several years, Hard Rock Cafes in cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Pune has been responsible to break a lot of the local acts and continue the tradition even today.
A rather recent addition to the Mumbai venue space, Raasta has been enticing audiences everywhere with its funky flair. The Caribbean aesthetic also pays homage to a lot of musical titans such as Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, forming a perfect backdrop for live music to flourish. The main venue along with the Raasta rooftop has been the perfect stage for a lot of rappers and DJs.
IV. Bonobo, Mumbai
Bar. Love. Food. Despite following the staple formula of any good venue, Bonobo has managed to turn a lot of heads with its proficiently screened music choices. This Bandra, Mumbai spot has also been the go to music venue for a lot of underground cultural institutions like KRUNK and Rock Street Journal(RSJ) to hold their events at.
V. Flyp@MTV, Mumbai
The venue extension of the MTV India brand has marked its territories in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Chandigarh. With a vision of creating an environment for people of different walks of life to socialize, this venue has successfully managed to appeal to the younger demographic. It recently hosted the Texas trio, Khruangbin and is slated to set the stage for more alternative acts.
VI. Levi’s Lounge, Mumbai
Being known as a brand which encourages authentic self-expression, Levi’s has set a perfect example on why more companies should integrate with the live music space. Levi’s Lounge in Mumbai is a cozy venue which helps nourish fresh music and comedy talents. It’s recent success with a regular flow of weekly gigs is a cue for other brands to approach the live entertainment space as a viable business model.
VII. Social Offline, Mumbai/ Bangalore/ Delhi/ Chandigarh
Probably the hottest chain of cafes/bars in recent times, Social has left quite the mark with its multiple venues in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi. It’s AntiSocial underground branch had been instrumental in being a cultural fulcrum for Mumbai’s music scene, even though it couldn’t be sustained for a long time. Despite that, Social is still in the top spots for finding fresh and hip music for a lot of the urban youth in the mentioned cities.
VIII. Razzberry Rhinoceros, Mumbai
An absolute go to for a lot of bands back in the day, Mumbai’s Razzberry Rhinoceros is anything short of an urban legend. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the sea, Razzberry Rhinoceros was the venue before all the venues. Even though it had a sudden halt in its deserved longevity, Razz Rhino is back and is regularly providing a platform for the country’s music scene.
IX. The Quarter, Mumbai
The Quarter situated in the iconic Royal Opera House is a quadruple threat. It’s a restaurant, cafe, cocktail bar and a live music venue. The collaborative efforts of Ranjit Barot and Ashu Phatak has been a fresh addition to Mumbai’s music scene. Its 1950s jazz bar aesthetics have been captivating audiences and musicians from all across the country in a rather short span of time.
X. The Humming Tree, Bangalore
The Humming Tree is a cultural backbone to Bangalore’s music scene. Home to music collectives like Consolidate, The Humming Tree is one of the few venues which has a sense of individualistic identity and a geographic narrative. For years it has helped break a lot of the local acts and is also a favourite for musicians across the country. It’s Backdoors festival has also brought in international biggies like Anderson .Paak, Wolf Alice and more.
XI. bFlat Bar, Bangalore
Bangalore’s bFlat is anything but high pulse. Ever since it’s conception back in 2009, bFlat has taken high pride in being one of the city’s most dedicated live performance venue. Besides regular comedy gigs, bFlat has been the stage for a lot of great Indian acts such as Parvaaz, Raghu Dixit, The F16s, Monica Dogra and more.
XII. Primal - The Bar, Bangalore
Situated in the heart of Koramangala, Primal is another great venue addition to Bangalore’s vibrant music scene. It has successfully given a lot of the budding new acts the center stage to showcase their talents. From solo DJ or singer-songwriter acts, to album or EP launches, venues like Primal are responsible for root level nourishment of any underground movements.
XIII. Auro Kitchen & Bar, New Delhi
A homage to the Aurobindo market, New Delhi’s Auro Kitchen & Bar is one of the city’s finest venues. With sheer dedication, this venue has a monthly showcase of the capital and the country’s multitude of talent. It also serves as the go to hot-spots of the city’s cultural and musical pillars such as Wild City and Boxout.fm.
XIV. Summer House Cafe, Delhi & Mumbai
Not every day does Chris Martin show up at your venue for an impromptu performance. But long before Coldplay’s front man graced Delhi’s audience with his presence, Summer House Cafe had been known for discovering unexpectedly good music. It’s Mumbai branch too focuses a lot in giving some of the newer and upcoming acts the much needed attention.
XV. Jamsteady, Kolkata
Kolkata has always been known for its colonial architecture and dynamic culture. The city’s vital contribution to the country’s musical and artistic landscape has been held in high regards. Jamsteady is Kolkata’s finest venues and has made quite a lot of waves with its festival properties like ‘Big Sunday’. It has also provided the launch pad for some of the city’s great acts such as Parekh & Singh and The Ganesh Talkies.
XVI. Someplace Else, Kolkata
Set in the heart of Kolkata’s heritage spot, The Park, Someplace Else has influenced the city’s cultural landscape for a whopping 24 years. Powered by the rave support of the locals, this Kolkata venue has seen the rise of some of the first batches of independent musicians such as Amyt Datta and Gary Lawyer. To this day it continues to nurture young talent by giving it the much needed limelight.
XVII. Pebble - The Jungle Lounge, Bangalore
The almost charmingly impervious nature of Psytrance has sadly always resulted in it not being at the forefront of music movements. That, however, has not stopped Bangalore’s Pebble from providing the necessary support system for this subculture. With regular psy gigs and artists, Pebble has earned itself quite the reputation for anyone looking to have a good time.
XVIII. Kitty Su
Kitty Su has been rather instrumental in introducing immersive nightclub culture in India. It’s contemporary and industrial chic aesthetics have captivated audiences by bringing in some of the hottest alternative international acts. It has beloved branches in cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Chandigarh and even Bangalore. Kitty Su has also been a trailblazer when it comes to providing a platform for Drag performers to showcase their talents in the country – being one of the only places that actively promote drag culture and have been instrumental in its growth.
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