Meet the champions of Mumbai's alternative music scene

Oct 18, 2014, 05:15 IST | Nirmika Singh

They work around the clock braving difficult sponsors, networking with artistes and prepping infrastructure to ensure the city gets its due share of good, and most importantly, regular, gigs

Calling music promoter/gig organiser Rishu Singh, who has somewhat of a cult status in the Indie music circuit, a businessman would be like calling roti, bread, or something worse even. If you’ve grooved at any of the crowd-funded Control+Alt+Delete gigs in the city, you couldn’t have missed this friendly, Mohawk-sporting hoot-machine, who’s as famous for launching new bands on the circuit as he is for his own endearing on-stage antics.

Likewise, if you have been a regular at the All Starr Jamm gigs that are held every few weeks at a suburban fashion store, it’s impossible to miss Daddy (organiser Sameer Malhotra). These men, along with a few others, are part of the handful of people who are doing all they can to ensure that its legendary live music scene never dies out. We spoke to three minds about the hurdles and the challenges that they must encounter to hit the right note for a successful gig.

‘People want that ‘extra something’ out of a night’: Sameer Malhotra (a.k.a. Daddy)
Gig milestones: All Starr Jamm; Daddy's Windsong Wednesdays
One might say that with the success of the All Starr Jamm gigs, Sameer Malhotra a.k.a. Daddy has cracked the code to organising gigs that tick all the right boxes for a music fan — a good artiste line-up, a redeemable entry ticket, free-flowing (and free) booze and a great ambiance. “I was lucky to find like-minded people in places of power who enabled me get these events off the ground, or I’d still be day-dreaming,” believes 42-year-old Malhotra.

Singer-songwriter Raxit Tewari in the left and guitarist  Vinay Lobo  at the All  Star Jamm
Singer-songwriter Raxit Tewari in the left and guitarist Vinay Lobo at the All Star Jamm

According to him, there are two main problems that plague Mumbai’s music scene: the dearth of venues that are built to host gigs and “not reverse-engineered in retrospect”, and the ad-hoc/disorganised nature of organising events.

Sameer Malhotra
Sameer Malhotra

The way forward? “To get big-ticket sponsors on board for monthly and weekly gigs so that the production design of concerts (sound, lights, clothes, visuals etc) can reach the level it deserves.”

And, going by the progress he’s been able to pull off, it appears absolutely achievable. “People want that ‘extra something’ out of a night, and we have been able to provide that. My budget for bands in 2009 was R20,000; today, it is R 2,50,000,” he reminds us.

‘The biggest challenge is to convince a sponsor’: Suyash Mohan
Gig milestones: Weekly gig nights at The Little Door (Andheri) STFU It’s A Bar (Malad) and Cafe Infinito (BKC)
Suyash Mohan started his stint in music as a manager to fusion guitarist Ravi Iyer and pop singer Chin2 Bhosle a few years ago. Now, as part of Indie music promoters Artist Aloud, the 33-year-old is currently programming bands for three venues across the city.

Acoustic Thursdays at The Little Door in Andheri
Acoustic Thursdays at The Little Door in Andheri 

Support from musicians has kept him going in his endeavours where he keeps pushing for more gigs in a city that is starved of such acts. “If it wasn’t for their music and their talent, I wouldn’t have been in this industry. My trade secret is to not do this for money. There have been so many times I’ve paid musicians out of my own pocket and waited for months to get payments,” he says.

Suyash Mohan
Suyash Mohan

He admits that getting a brand to share its wealth for the cause of music is the thorniest part of the job. “Even if you promise them a large audience with a Bollywood celebrity artiste headlining the show, and good media coverage, they are not easily convinced. They still playing it safe with investments in traditional media like TV, radio and print,” he says.

Although Hard Rock Cafe and blueFrog continue to enjoy the status of the most popular live music venues in the city, Mohan points to a change. “Andheri is now becoming a hub for gigs and Malad is next in line for that. There is also a whole underground scene in Thane and Navi Mumbai that will be picking up soon,” he informs.

‘We need newer venues without a genre bias’: Rishu Singh
Gig milestones: The Control+Alt+Delete series; Bomb Thursdays at Kino 108; Vans Fresh Off The Wall
Besides the lack of venues, Rishu Singh points out another chronic malady afflicting Mumbai’s gig scene: “Getting an intelligent sponsor that identifies with live music versus objectifying it”, he says. The 36-year-old took the job of organising gigs a decade ago for a simple reason.

A Control +Alt+Del gig at Sitara Studio in Dadar
A Control +Alt+Del gig at Sitara Studio in Dadar

“I like seeing fresh bands do their stuff on stage, and I’m glad some people like it too.” In his efforts to help bands to do their stuff on stage, Singh has had to embrace many financial losses. But they’ve also been successes that made the efforts truly worth it. In 2012, Singh and a bunch of like-minded people turned to crowd funding for organising gigs.

Rishu Singh
Rishu Singh

Control+Alt+Del, held in the then-defunct Sitara Studio, provided a purely music-based and no-frills experiences to Indie scene-sters. “Newer venues without a genre bias are a need of the hour. If every place has the same bands performing, who is going to land up at gigs for the band?” questions Singh.

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