Last month, Amrita Hom Ray, a 29-year-old publicist and a music festival regular, was invited by a friend to attend a special gig. She had no idea about the artist line-up or the venue. “It turned out to be at an under-construction building in Bandra. I love seeking out new music, and enjoyed quite a few of the acts that I heard for the first time,” she says. The music session in question was organised by REProduce Listening Room — an initiative that promotes homegrown indie artists who may not get a chance to perform at mainstream venues.
Events that focus on indie and underground music in an intimate set-up — be it at studios that can seat 50 people, or in unusual settings such as terraces — are gaining popularity. There are Secret Sessions (where the venue is disclosed to a select few on the day of the event), and Amaad Stage, a series of curated performances by Aamad Studio (Andheri). At a time when indie music festivals draw crowds by the thousands, a certain section of the audience is keen to experience eclectic music in a cosy, intimate setting.
“In India, most of the venues are actually restaurants. It’s uninspiring for everyone involved. Musicians do it for the money, but they get disillusioned by the experience,” says Rana Ghose, producer and curator of REProduce Listening Room.
At smaller gigs, musicians are given the freedom to play what they like, and even encouraged to experiment. After all, there’s no sponsor to be pleased. “We rely on ticket sales, rather than the food and beverage model,” adds Ghose.
So, who’s listening?
At The Listening Sessions, another series of events, the focus is on discovering music videos and upcoming musicians. Launched in April 2016, the editions have so far been held at smaller venues, like The Mumbai Assembly (Bandra) and the now-defunct space, The Hive (Bandra).
Romel Dias (37), the co-founder and an advertising professional, says, “Vipasha [co-founder] and I used to discuss new music videos all the time. Our friends encouraged us to do it in a formal, organised way.”
While last month’s edition (held at Dias’s Versova terrace) featured Piyush Kapoor (vocalist of Daira), in the past, there have been performances by singer-songwriters Aarifah Rebello and Vernon Noronha. On an average, The Listening Sessions have an audience of 25 people, which includes professionals from creative fields and from the music fraternity, as well as people who are hungry to check out new venues.
An unexpected twist
One of the major draws for the audience is the excitement of not knowing what to expect, and the chance to discover something offbeat. “I don’t program happy-sounding music,” says Ghose, adding that he wants to expose people to all kinds of music — even if they find it weird.
Unlike large-scale music festivals, these are not places to be seen at, nor are they always conducive to taking pretty selfies. People show up purely for the music, and even invite others to introduce them to a certain genre of music. “Parents often bring in kids here because you usually get to catch live performances only at clubs and bars,” says Ishita Sharma (29), founder of Aamad Studio. So far, Amaad Stage has seen audiences of 35 to 40 people at each edition.
For musicians, it’s also a great way to engage with audiences: there’s no stage that divides them, and the feedback is immediate. “At times, there have also been impromptu jams with audience members,” Dias says.
The choice of venue also plays a part in the appeal. For an event like the Secret Sessions, the venue can make or break the turnout, and dictate the hype around it. REProduce Listening Room’s events have also been held at offbeat venues, ranging from an old hotel to an art gallery. “I’m drawn to dishevelled spaces,” Ghose says, adding that their upcoming event will take place at a Catholic boys’ hostel in the city.
The atmosphere at these performances is suitably informal. The chance of meeting like-minded people is also higher, as these events are not heavily publicised and only those who track the indie music space are likely to be present. “The minute you sit down on the floor and get comfortable, there’s a sense of community,” says Sharma.