Iconic Music Venues In India That Changed The Game

Iconic Music Venues In India That Changed The Game

[On 16th-19th January, 2019, Homegrown is throwing a first-of-its-kind music festival in Mumbai designed to celebrate the city’s vast and diverse music culture. Dive deep into a wide variety of dynamic workshops, exhibitions, curated tours, panels, pop-ups, performances and parties that promise to be inclusive of all kinds of tastes and people.

There’s something for everyone, click here to find what’s perfect for you.]

Leading up to the India Nightlife Convention & Awards, we take a look at venues that changed the nightlife and music movements across the nation. Join us as we take these conversations offline at the INCA on the 30th of September and 1st October at the Four Seasons Hotel, Mumbai. Register here. Buy tickets here.

Despite the fear-mongering and the piecing apart, live music and live musicians in India are experiencing opportunities in this industry like never before. The burgeoning independent music scene of India today would not have been possible without venues whose approach to programming was progressive enough to accommodate new and evolving sounds. With the 90’s, we hit a new wave that opened up soundscapes to us like ever before but as we moved into the new millennium, the magic of some of these places unfortunately started waning, a casualty of commercial interests and the reluctance of businesses to take risks. While the last two decades have witnessed what is indisputably an aural revolution, lately, there’s been a rapidly growing need for venues that persist in creating an environment that allows indie music to flourish.

“Who’s doing anything different today?” Anil Kably, owner of Zenzi, says. “Nobody’s ready to step out of the box and dirty their hands; no one’s doing anything innovative. There’s a complete lack of programming in venues and no one’s making an effort anymore, choosing instead to be content with being a one-dimensional performance venue. Exhibitions, book launches, farmer’s markets - bars and pubs could turn into full-blown cultural hubs if only they made the effort; it’d be great PR for them as well, plus they’d be able to network with upcoming talent.”

Even though it isn’t viewed as being ‘commercially viable’, it is quite evident that there is a huge market for independent music in India today, with scores of music sharing and uploading websites making the music of smaller artists more accessible than ever - not to mention the overwhelming response music festivals have been getting over the past five years. There are a couple of venues, though, that have held onto their distinct identities and really carved a niche for themselves, providing a space for independent musicians to flourish and really come into themselves. It is these venues that we pay homage to in this piece.

Mumbai

I. Zenzi

Zenzi, a collaboration between Indian, Dutch and Israeli partners that opened shutters in 2004, was for many the zeitgeist that first breathed life into the independent arts and culture scene.Perhaps before most people had even defined what alternative culture was. A tastemaker at its core, photography exhibitions, salsa evenings, live graffiti and stand-up comedy flourished right beside performances with a grittier approach to music spanning alternative genres, such as dub and drum n bass at a time such programming went beyond the parameters of what we labelled ‘experimental.’ The Indo-French collective Bhavishyavani Future Soundz would drop by to do their bit for the Bandra venue’s soundscape, and one evening every month was reserved for Microgroove, a vinyl club. Law and the wrath of neighbours prevailed, alas, with the allegedly illegal outer area of the lounge being demolished in October, 2010, and its cavernous Lower Parel counterpart shutting shop not too long after. It marked the end of an era but the fiery, indelible legacy left in the cultural fabric of the city blazes on.

Blue Frog had acquired the revered status of the city’s ultimate venue for live gigs, with performances here becoming a sort of coming-of-age rituals for upcoming artists. Started in 2007 by five partners Mahesh Mathai, Srila Chatterjee, Simran Mulchandani, Dhruv Ghanekar and Ashu Phatak, some of them musicians themselves. Blue Frog’s acoustics are designed expertly for a range of genres. Initially opening shutters as a live music venue, with some of the earlier artists who performed here including the likes of The Mango Blues and Sara Tavares, the partners were incredibly aware of the wave of electronic music over the last decade and tuned in to it almost reflexively, with DJ’s and music producers joining the live acts onstage seamlessly.

The versatility of local and international artists (including artists like Richard Bona, Anoushka Shankar) and genres they have hosted over the years has been instrumental in building a reputation for themselves as one of the most popular venues in the country cultivating a taste and culture for going out to watch live music, opening their arms to a melting pot of artists, metalheads, indie darlings and bass faces alike. Suffice to say, it had made its mark on the city’s cultural landscape and it has emerged as an institution pioneering the cause of independent music in its time. The closing of Blue Frog in Mumbai was truly the end of an era. Though the Delhi and Pune outlets were looked forward to given its predecessor’s approach, neither could make a mark as integral. Delhi’s Blue Frog shut shop over a year ago, while Pune and Bangalore’s doors are still open.

Image Source: Bonobo

Deriving its name intriguingly from an endangered ape that carries a reputation for championing the ‘make love, not war’ approach, Bonobo is undoubtedly one of the more open-minded programmers the city has witnessed. And luckily for all of us, it’s continuing to go strong even almost a decade since its launch in December, 2008. Many heralded it as the ‘new Zenzi,’ and it came through for audiences when times were most bleak–the time between Blue Frog’s closing and Anti-social’s opening was a dark one for alternative music-lovers in the city. Not to mention, it’s continued to come through when the going got particularly tough. Forced to shut down last year for a few months in what was a gruelling period for event organisers and gig-goers alike, the love for the venue really came alive as loyal Bonobo-goers rallied around the venue’s owners–Sahil and Neville Timbadia–with their support.

With a marked bias for electronic music over live acts, it still continues to surprise with a few one-off fantastic live shows. Most recently, they hosted Tiny Big Scene feat Dot. and once, they even hosted Fink. Although even its most loyal patrons complain about how quickly the venue gets crowded, the sheer feeling of home it gives to most (not to mention the amiable, laid back atmosphere it always provides) keeps people retracing their steps all the way to its entrance over and over again.

IV. Fire N’ Ice

“We wanted something massive, something with intelligent lighting, sound and music. So we were never a ‘certain’ kind of club because we provided everything for everyone,” Vishal Shetty, one of the club’s creators, told Homegrown in a previous interview. Along with Ketan Kadam, Rajeev Shah, Neeraj Rungt, their brainchild Fire N Ice witnessed a soaring high between 1999-2004, moulding a snug little pocket in the city for nightlife at a time when Lower Parel was considered ‘dark and edgy’, an industrial area without flyovers.

Fire N Ice broke new ground when it came to creating a dance culture, laying down a foundation in grime and sweat for the new wave of electronica that would hit in the mid-2000’s. Their programming was avant-garde with hip-hop, 90’s trance and retro night and Vishal unabashedly declares their status as having been ‘the hottest club in the country’–and most people would agree.Creating one of the most powerful brands in the history of Mumbai nightlife, it brought rave culture to the city and even hosted parties in the afternoon, a hit with regulars. It was around mid-2003 when they ‘began getting feelers that it’s about to sizzle out’ because the area was becoming too commercial and it wasn’t the ideal place to have a club any more. Amidst the nostalgic tears of regulars and creators alike, Fire N Ice pulled shutters on a high as a brand in 2004, leaving a legacy in its wake.

Making an entry at what was easily a period of drought for Mumbai’s music scene as far as venues were concerned, Antisocial created waves right from the start. It came at a time when Blue Frog was just closing, and Bonobo was suffocating under more demand than it could handle, leaving audiences packed in like sardines in a tin.The venue itself breathes grunge down your spine with its dingy, basement decor but what makes it most special is its dedication to a sense of democracy in the scene.

While most other venues’ preference for a particular kind of genre has always been apparent, antisocial has remained steadfast in their attempt to program almost every kind of independent music our country has to offer from live indie bands to cutting-edge electronica. Most notably, it’s one of the few venues in the city that offers metal-heads an affordable gig at least once a month–a significant step for an evolving, loyal community too many ignore.

With an average of 3 gigs a week all at an extremely affordable price range, suffice to say Anti has showcased itself as a champion of dynamic programming - making room for everyone.

Image Source: Antisocial

Delhi

Inspired by the cafes and bars of London’s Camden and New York City’s Greenwich Village, Gautam Aurora developed the concept of his debut entrepreneurial endeavour from scratch with the support of family and friends. Its spearheading motto? ‘Make room to live’. Its unconventional logo strikes the tone for the place, which aimed to be an ‘off-the-beaten-path café serving fine dining in a casual, comfortable environment’ in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi. It ended up being much more.

Moulding alternative culture in the nation’s capital, this was basically Zenzi’s counterpart in the capital, with their impromptu live jam sessions becoming legendary tales passed through the indie community. Word of mouth carried these tales all around town and thus, TLR was flooded with booking offers before their P.A. system was even installed. Flourishing local talent and visiting luminaries alike have taken to the stage here to many a packed house, populated with patrons united by their discerning taste in music. While it is still open today, its programming is a ghost of its former self, but itsearly years have cemented their spot on this list, regardless.

Out Of The Box or OTB, as it is affectionately referred to, can be found at two places in the capital. The one in Khan market retains a funkier energy about it, drawing a younger crowd that can afford to hang out here without burning a hole in their pockets, while the laidback feel and muted decor of the three-floored one at Hauz Khas market has navigated its way through the sensibilities of the gig circuit to make a real impression. True to its name, OTB experiments with a range of identities in every way - their multi-cuisine menu spans seven countries and their genre-free music policy has them playing everything from rock to techno and Latino.

Started in September of 2015, The Piano Man Jazz Club has a gig every single night of the week and has literally revived an almost-dying jazz/ live music community since its inception. Their programming energy could be heralded as one of the most remarkable in the country, what with their 380 nights of music in the last 14 months. Dedicated to their sound of mostly jazz with a touch of the blues, rock and RnB, its founder, Arjun Sagar, was always clear that this space was going to lend exposure to indepednent music. “It’s for Delhi to know that there is always going to be a place where you can go to listen to good music,” he said. Patrons of the venue are quick to agree - there really isn’t anything else quite like this that the city (or even the country) has to offer.

What is most unique about this venue is their fundamentally artist-centric approach. While patrons are highly valued, respect for the artist is key. Arjun tells us that there have been instances where people have been asked to leave if they have interrupted an artist. This attitude cultivates a very serious appreciation for music and gives an artist the respect they are due. As a patron, it is probably best you understand the values of the venue beforehand rather than get caught unawares.

Image Source: Insider


VI. Raasta

The Rastafarian spirit revels in the easy, green charm of this Carribean lounge in Hauz Khas village, as strains of reggae and electronic music undulate over the patio in the venue. Encouraging the ‘simple tenets of simplicity, love and freedom’, Raasta’s sound is decidedly more mainstream than the rest of the venues on this list, with a healthy smattering of bass, dubstep and, of course, Bob Marley but they’ve brought a spirit of resilience and anti-classism with it that is truly refreshing. In fact, Raasta’s Mumbai outlet is one of the few that welcomes Dharavi’s burgeoning hip-hop artists, never using their socio-economic background against them. All in all, this is one of the most unpretentious venues on the gig circuit that doesn’t discriminate against the mainstream or indie, truly finding a space for itself somewhere in between.

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