Why doesn't Mumbai have warehouse parties like Berlin?

Updated: Sep 24, 2018, 17:25 IST | Shunashir Sen

There is a multitude of reasons why promoters of warehouse parties have their hands tied in Mumbai

Why doesn't Mumbai have warehouse parties like Berlin?
Gig at Famous Studios

It was a night that beggared belief. We had never seen anything like it in Mumbai in recent memory. Helena Hauff, an underground German DJ who plays no-questions-asked techno tracks, had taken over the console before a packed crowd at Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi.

Around 700 people had spilled over into the smoking alley just outside the large performance space, even as neon strobe lights washed over the indoor area, while the thumping tracks left people's ears ringing. It was, in effect, what you call a warehouse party, the likes of which we remember witnessing in the outskirts of Birmingham, an ex-industrial city where defunct car factories have now been turned into nightlife venues. The closest you'll get to the same vibe in this city is usually inside clubs like Kitty Su, where similar events are a dime a dozen. But you can't really call those warehouse gigs since they are way too sanitised. And to have one in a venue like Famous Studios, where a large empty room is temporarily turned into a massive dance floor, is a genuine rarity. So like we said, it was a night that beggared belief.

The facade of Richardson and Cruddas in Byculla
The facade of Richardson and Cruddas in Byculla

That was in late June. Then, in mid-August, another underground DJ, New Yorker Anthony Naples, recreated the same experience at the same space, albeit to a lesser degree. And next weekend, there will be another one, helmed by the Scottish duo Optimo. So, it makes us wonder. Mumbai has a rich history of defunct mills. Many of these are either lying unused or are let out for weddings, like it is with Colaba's Mukesh Mills. Of course, a majority of them have been turned into shopping malls or office clusters. But why is it that the rest can't be utilised now and then for pop-up warehouse parties? Why is it, in other words, that Famous Studios seems to be the only go-to place for such gigs, which are a distinct feature of global nightlife capitals such as, most famously, Berlin?

Helena Hauff
Helena Hauff

No simple solution
The answer, we realise after speaking to a cross-section of people, isn't straightforward. There are a multitude of reasons why promoters of warehouse parties have their hands tied in Mumbai. Curiously, strict government licensing is no longer a major hurdle. Yes, you still need around a dozen permits and no-objection certificates (NOCs) from various agencies before getting a green signal to host such parties. "But all these have now been brought under a single-window clearance, which has made life easier," says Manish Chandnani of events management company Only Much Louder, who was instrumental in turning Byculla's Richardson and Cruddas (R&C) - a former manufacturing space for heavy engineering goods - into a short-lived venue for musical gigs.

Jai Anand
Jai Anand

A bigger issue, then, lies in the very first NOC that the promoters need to procure, which is from the proprietor of the venue concerned. If they are against the idea of a warehouse gig in the premises, the ball can't even start rolling. "And the problem is that the moment you mention 'music', there are negative connotations that come associated with it - party, alcohol, drugs, girls. Something like art, on the other hand, is considered to be more educational [as was the case with the St+Art Festival at Sassoon Docks last year]. But what people don't understand is that all we want to do is have a good time," says Jai Anand, the founder of Milkman, a one-year-old company that was behind bringing Hauff and Naples to the city.

He continues by saying that another hurdle, at least with outdoor venues like R&C, is the government's 10 pm deadline. And the reason this is a real concern is the fashionably late party culture in the city. "People are like, 'Even if the party is ending at midnight, we'll enter at 11 pm.' No one likes to go out early. So let's say that I get a suitable outdoor location. Where will the crowd come from? People get home from work at 8. They want to take a shower and then head out. Next, they face traffic. So it's 11 pm by the time they reach, when the party ended at 10. And that ruins everything," Anand laments, adding that patrons aren't willing to travel far distances either, such as to Film City in Goregaon.

Show them the money
So is it then a case of the audience getting what it deserves? Yes, feels Roycin D'souza of Impresario, the firm behind venues like the now-shutdown AntiSocial. "If there is a culture of 3,000 people in a city of 26 million going out every night to listen to alternative music, then there is hope," he says, adding, "See, the Mumbai Port Trust is the city's biggest landlord. Most warehouses where you can host such gigs are resting with them, on the eastern seaboard. But they don't want to entertain anything like this because of the fact that they will make such little money since you are drawing only a few hundred people. The economics just doesn't work for them."

D'souza also says that this is why such spaces are turned into venues like G5A in Shakti Mills or Magazine Street Kitchen in Byculla's Gupta Mills Estate, given the source of steady rental money for the owners. But he also tells us about an event called Far Out Left that Impresario is a partner for. It's a straight-up electronic party that will be held at Great Eastern Mills in Byculla in November. "The place is basically a warehouse for really expensive antiques, where there is a large empty room next to a lake we'll be utilising," he reveals, adding that there are many such spaces even in cities like Delhi - Dhan Mills Compound in Chhatarpur being an example - that are conducive to warehouse gigs.

So the point he, and the others, are making is that if there is a collective will, then there is a way. Otherwise, it will remain a case of proprietors shaking their heads, the audience reaping what it sows, and the promoters being restricted to the same old option of Famous Studios, which, in our books, would be a crying shame.

Here's what a warehouse party is
Warehouse parties are usually held in abandoned industrial complexes and have been a feature of global nightlife culture since the '70s. The venues are turned into spaces where electronic music, such as techno or deep-house, is played, with the audience being able to truly let its hair down.

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