At 9 pm on a Wednesday earlier this month, hundreds of youngsters rushed past a large glass façade, made their way past mannequins and racks full of designer clothes, grabbed a complimentary pint of beer at a pop-up bar and settled in to watch live performances by indie musicians Karsh Kale, Benny Dayal and Shilpa Rao and Bollywood composers Salim and Sulaiman Merchant.
The venue, though, was not Blue Frog or even a neighbourhood restobar. It was the Linking Road retail outlet Vero Moda, Jack & Jones, ONLY.
Once a month, the 1,400-sq-ft store adds some mood lighting and amplifiers, sets up a temporary stage and turns into a concert venue for All Starr Jamm, a concept in which the store and event management firm Cream Events work together to bring in musicians to perform on the second Wednesday of every month.
December’s was the seventh edition of All Starr Jamm. With tickets priced at R500 coming with a complimentary beer and a store voucher for R500, the event is seeing numbers grow.
The first edition had 350 attendees; December’s had 1,200.
Graphic designer and photographer Alvito Falcon, for instance, has attended three gigs here so far. “I keep coming back because of the good line-up of artists, the reasonable entry fee, friendly bar — and the fact that it is not overcrowded,” says the 27-year-old.
For the store, the gigs are a lively, interactive way to reach out to the city’s youngsters.
“In a sense, it’s technically free,” says Vineet Gautam, country head of Bestseller Retail India, the parent company of the three brands. “The idea is to get attendees to buy and try our products in the hope that they will like them and come back.”
In a city starved of cultural spaces, a number of fashion, furniture and lifestyle stores are beginning to offer their premises as platforms, hoping to draw in new customers via new-age entertainment acts featuring stand-up comics, independent music artists and even workshops on areas of growing interest such as photography and belly-dancing.
“This does mean that hobbies and entertainment are now being consumed in commercial rather than cultural spaces, and many purists might frown at this,” says Pankaj Joshi, executive director of the Urban Design Research Institute. “But in developing metros like Mumbai, cultural enhancement is not always linear or black and white. As more consumers become upwardly mobile and get used to a certain lifestyle, markets evolve, and subsequently a city transforms too. It has to. It’s only natural.”
Adds sociologist Kamala Ganesh: “The lines between what is commercial, what is cultural and what is pure entertainment have blurred. This has led to the evolution of new activity centres, new spaces for public engagement, especially when it comes to new forms of popular culture such as stand-up comedy and independent music.”
It started with sponsors’ advertisements at gigs, then spread to restobars acting as hosts, drawing in more diners with the promise of ‘free’ entertainment.
“This is the next step,” says Ganesh. “Just as you encounter brand names of sponsors on tickets, now people are stepping into retail spaces and experiencing live entertainment in the midst of merchandise.”