On a warm evening in June 2014, ten people gathered in a basement in Gurgaon for a “house concert” - a public performance hosted at someone’s home. They chatted, listened to a couple of singer-songwriters, a folk band and had a good enough time that they decided to do it again.
Two years and 24 such house concerts later, 28-year-old Manu Mathew, who started it all, is happy with the response. Mathew, who works at a public relations firm, loves putting together these intimate gigs where strangers gather to discover new music and new people.
He now does this with the help of six others, all of whom have day jobs like him. They call themselves “House Concert Delhi.” Their 25th concert is around the corner- somewhere in south Delhi’s Geetanjali Enclave, four upcoming singer/songwriters will perform on Sunday for a crowd of roughly 30 people.
This is how it works: details on the next performance go up on the group’s Facebook page. Who, when and where? They disclose the neighbourhood but not the exact location. Those who are interested are asked to “RSVP” via a mobile number provided on the page. They cap the number of people depending on the capacity of the venue, which varies for each performance. The people who make it to the list of invitees find out the address hours before the performance. Entry, if one may call it that, is free but the audience is encouraged to support musicians with a small donation.
The goal, Mathew explained, was to create a dedicated space for both performers and an attentive audience. Given the intimate, non-commercial setting, he said, musicians could also experiment or play unreleased work to test how the audience reacts to different compositions. Music, he insisted, takes center-stage during these evenings.
These intimate concerts are common in the US and Europe, but they are picking up in India only now. Sofar Sounds, a global initiative that also hosts gigs in “intimate spaces,” is active in several Indian cities but it’s not exclusive to homes.
So who are the people who are willing to invite strangers into their homes and play host? Mathew and his team have hosted concerts all over the city, from rooftops in Hauz Khas to living rooms in Gurgaon to backyards in Jorbagh. The biggest one was in Sainik farms: nearly 70 people showed up. Initially, it was Mathew’s friends who agreed to open up their homes for these gigs. Soon, however, strangers reached out and offered to do the same. Often, it was people who attended a performance and enjoyed the experience so much that they wanted to support it.
First, Mathew or someone from his team goes and check out the place. They help set up for the gig and they also help clean up after. “We have had audience members help us set up stage and sound if they turn up early,” said Mathew. They also help decide who should perform. They suggest a local artist or may know an artist-friend who is visiting from elsewhere and who’d like to perform at a house concert in Delhi.
“There is no restrictions in terms of music,” said Mathew. The list includes reggae, rappers, jazz musicians, electronic acts, singer-songwriters and folk bands. The mix is especially refreshing in a city that has been accused of being preoccupied with Bollywood songs and Punjabi hip-hop. Since the concerts are often based on audience suggestions, they have even morphed into theatre, poetry readings and Indie film screenings.
“It’s a very nice, humble setting, open to conversations, open to new experiences,” said Mathew. What he loved most about it, he added, is how strangers walk into strangers’ homes in a city like Delhi where “people have a lot of guards up compared to any other city.”
One reason for these concerts’ consistent popularity is the size of the crowd. It’s small, usually no more than 30-40 people, and well-behaved. Free entry and the emphasis on music attracts a considerate audience, according to Mathew. But there are other rules too. They always invite the neighbours, Mathew said, and they make sure they wind up before 11 pm. They stick to acoustic performances and avoid any equipment, such as plugged instruments, that amplifies sound.
The effort seems to have paid off because out-of-towners who have attended concerts in Delhi have volunteered to do the same in their cities. So starting next month, there will be Bengaluru and Mumbai editions of House Concert. If you’d like to attend, or maybe host, one in Delhi, check out their Facebook page.
Music by singer-songwriters Vernon Noronha, Saurav Debnath, Soham Mallick and Dil Pratap Singh
December 18, 3.30 pm to 8.30 pm
Geetanjali Enclave. Nearest metro station: Malviya Nagar
RSVP Manu Mathew for the address: 8860870491
Entry is free