Music

How the crackdown on Bengaluru’s live music venues has affected independent artistes

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With The Humming Tree and bFLAT shutting down, artistes and owners of establishments give their perspective on the situation

On September 29, The Humming Tree had its last day, and October 2 will mark bFLAT’s last day. As the owners of the two performance venues put it, it had simply become untenable to continue. They join the list of other causalities: Take5, Blistering Barnacles, and Bacchus, to name a few.

The live music issue is a longstanding one, going back all the way to 2005. On August 29 this year, the Central Crime Branch served show cause notice to 107 pubs, restaurants and discotheques that are allegedly hosting live performances illegally.

After the Supreme Court upheld the 2005 ruling in 2018, it became mandatory to get the Public Entertainment Licence (PEL) to play music, live or recorded, in a place serving food or beverages. To get the PEL, establishments need to submit several documents, including the Occupancy Certificate (OC) for the building (a document that the owner of the building is supposed to obtain) and No Objection Certificate from the Fire and Emergency Services Department.

The word that Nikhil Barua, founder, The Humming Tree, uses the most while describing the situation is “frustrating”. “There are no clear set of rules to start with and when the rules are activated retrospectively, they are still not applied across the board. We are a responsible business and we want to do things only the right way.”

He adds, “Honestly, in the last two years, we have run the venue like we wanted to probably only for two months.”

Timeline
  • In 2005, the High Court of Karnataka, as per The Licensing and Controlling of Places of Public Entertainment (Bangalore City) Order, told restaurants and pubs to obtain a licence for live music performances
  • The Supreme Court on January 2018 upheld the 2005 order
  • Following protests at Indiranagar and other residential areas against live music venues, the city Police Commissioner, in July 2018, asked the outlets to seek a permit from his office as per the court’s order
  • The Defence Colony Residents' Welfare Association, other RWAs and individuals from around Indiranagar file Public Interest Litigation petition in High Court in January 2019
  • The Central Crime Branch on August 29, 2019 served show cause notices to 107 pubs, restaurants and discotheques that are allegedly hosting live performances illegally

Apart from the obvious loss of employment, Nikhil says, “Bands are not going to get a chance to play music. It’s so sad because Bangalore was one of the few places in the country that always had around six venues at the same time.”

Sunil Shetty, co-founder of bFLAT, where artists such as Parvaaz and Rhythm Shaw have performed, says: “It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s supposed to be a cosmopolitan city but it’s a city where music can’t be played. We have been supporting independent musicians for the last 10-and-a-half years. What will they do? The smaller musicians who don’t have any other jobs, they are going to starve.”

Bands such as Perfect Strangers got their start in Take5, says Viraj Suvarna, who owns a chain of Take5 establishments. He shut the original outlet on 100 ft Road last year after 14 years. In March 2018, he shut Blistering Barnacles in the same building and closed down three other establishments in Indiranagar. Rather than take a loss and a beating, we closed, he says. As for the music, Viraj says, “We have such fantastic talent in the city. Take5 has showcased so many artists; more than 500 bands have performed there. Not just from India but from all over the world.”

Junket, an event management company, on an average, had five to 12 gigs marked on their calendar every month, says founder Mikey. Since the end of August, however, he’s been staring at an empty calendar. After the notice was served, many venues stopped hosting such events.

Bengaluru-based DJ Stalvart John hasn’t performed in the city since August 31. He’s been a DJ for nine years and has, over the last few years, formed a disco and house music community, ‘Dynamite Disco Club’. Every month, he says, he used to have at least two gigs in the city. “I definitely miss performing in Bangalore. But, at least, I have the luxury of choosing to perform in other cities. The upcoming DJs are the ones who are really affected.”

“It is a difficult situation,” says Mikey, who has been running Junket for over three years. “People even jokingly ask if we have backup degrees so we can do something else to survive. We are now looking outside Bangalore for events.”

Though the livelihoods of established artistes aren’t affected in the same manner as upcoming artists, the fact that they can’t perform in their hometown is an issue.

Peter Isaac of the 28-year-old band, Chronic Blues Circus, says, “You can’t match the Bangalore music audience. They know their music. Most musicians all over the country want to play in the city. Plus, the bands here have a unique sound.”

There is also an attachment to the venues, especially if their early gigs took place there. Peter says, “Take5, in particular, was really special. They helped a lot of musicians.”

Jishnu Dasgupta of Swarathma reminisces about a concert with composer-singer Clinton Cerejo at The Humming Tree and a 2010 gig at bFLAT, which was a part of the band’s first South Indian tour. “These places are a big part of music lovers,” he says, “In some ways, they stand for what the city is known for. A vibrant music scene is something that the city and the people can make it their own.”

Vasu Dixit says even though Swarathma performs at bigger venues, “If we don’t have these places [such as bFLAT and The Humming Tree], then it's very hard for us and other bands like us to be in touch with the fans. This is where we build memories.”

The hope is that the restrictions are temporary. “This happened last year as well around September or October. Then, it was back to normal again. Every time the officials or the government changes, the rules also change,” says Mikey.

While appealing to the authorities to allocate a space for live music in the city, Peter reckons the artistes might “go back to the old school way of performing concerts in places like Chowdiah [Memorial Hall] or Ravindra Kalakshetra like how it used to be in the ‘60s and ‘70s.”

However, Sunil has a different view on that. “Not everybody can perform at Chowdiah.”

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 11:24:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/how-crackdown-of-bengalurus-live-music-venues-has-affected-independent-artistes/article29568825.ece

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