In 2006, when this writer first started attending indie music gigs in the city, a lucky stretch would see a show every couple of weeks. And Juhu’s Razzberry Rhinos was the only venue that regularly hosted live music of any sort. A decade later things have drastically changed. Today, fans have a veritable buffet of gigs to choose from, and you can find a show that suits your musical sensibilities almost any day of the week. The people who have made this possible remain largely behind the scenes, but if you look around at the next show you’ll probably be able to recognise them. They’re the ones nursing a beer and keeping an eye on proceedings, with the expression of a proud father at his kid’s graduation. They’re the ones who will run outside to deal with the cops when the neighbours inevitably make a noise complaint. And they’re the ones who have, through a combination of business sense, hard work and charm, helped create the semi-formal infrastructure that keeps the city’s increasingly lucrative live music industry going. Some are music promoters, others are artist management agencies, and then there are those that manage to do a little bit of everything. Meet the people who make things happen, and if you happen to bump into them at a gig, remember to buy them a drink.
Vijay Nair, CEO, OML
The obvious first name on any such list, Vijay Nair has been one of the pivotal figures in India’s independent music scene for over a decade. He started early, working for online music magazine and community gigpad.com at the age of 15. Three years later, he would drop out of Sydenham College to start Only Much Louder (OML) an artist management agency to work with bands like Pentagram and Pin Drop Violence. OML soon started to expand, as Nair partnered with lawyer and Zero bassist Girish Talwar and independent production house Babble Fish founder Samira Kanwar. They started CounterCulture records to put out records by the bands they had signed and eventually putting up shows and later, festivals. In 2010, OML organised the first NH7 Weekender, which has become the biggest indie music festival in the country, thanks to Nair’s commitment to making sure that it offers a truly international festival experience. Other properties such as A Summer’s Day, Invasion Festival and Stage42 would follow. Today, OML is a conglomerate that has its fingers in lots of pies - from live events ranging across music, comedy and theatre to online and even TV content such as the short-lived but popular music show The Dewarists. They’ve helped up-and-coming comedy collective All India Bakchod become national stars. The last edition of NH7 Weekender was headlined by none other than AR Rahman, who played to 20,000 adoring indie kids. There have been problems along the way, such as the All India Bakchod roast controversy and the cancellation of Seinfeld shows due to last-minute permission hassles. But that hasn’t stopped Nair from OML continuing its reign in the Indian music industry.
Sohail Arora, Founder, Krunk
Sporting a varied career arc, Sohail Arora has done everything from fronting a metal to becoming an electronica producer and heading Mumbai’s leading artist agency for all things bass. In 2009, Arora quit his job as a programmer at Blue Frog to start KRUNK as an independent booking agency. He was motivated by the lack of support for artists in the scene even as more venues opened up and the audience grew exponentially. The agency’s first ever gig was a MIDIval Punditz album launch that pulled in a thousand people. The event also ran overtime, landing Arora at the local police station. It was quite an interesting start for a company that would go on to work with some of India’s most promising electronica acts such as Shaa’ir & Func, Dualist Inquiry and Sandunes. In 2010, Arora saw an opportunity and started India’s first music festival dedicated to bass music, called BASS CAMP. Over the years, Krunk has done shows all over the country and brought down leading international artists like Dub FX, London Electricity, Koan Sound, Alix Perez, Lafawndah and Klute. The company celebrated its seventh anniversary last month with a series of gigs showcasing the strength of its roster, which now includes alternative electronica heavyweights like Alo Wala, Aqua Dominatrix, Your Chin, B.R.E.E.D, Delhi Sultanate and Begum X.
Rishu Singh, Co-founder, Ennuidotbomb
If there’s anyone who exemplifies the DIY spirit of the indie scene, it’s Rishu Singh. In the early Noughties, Mumbai’s music dominated by metal bands. Singh, on the other hand, was a punk fan with a strong commitment to the genre’s anti-establishment values. With no place for punk at the time, Singh took it upon himself to establish a space for the genre. Along with his long-time partner Aditi Ghosalkar, he started Ennuidotbomb to organise and promote punk and alternative shows in the city, starting with 2004’s Punk-o-rama. These were small, very underground shows where Singh would hire out a small, cheap PA, print some flyers to market the event and the bands would split the gate money that was left after paying costs. The profit, if any, usually was just enough to buy each person a beer and one of Razz’s legendary club sandwiches. The company soon grew into a record label, releasing records by bands like Tripwire alongside compilations like We Are The Scene, and not long after it expanded into artist management as well. In 2006, Singh and Ghosaklar started the annual compilation Stupiditties, which brings together the freshest, most interesting alternative sounds from across the country. Nine editions strong, Stupiditties is where you are most likely to hear the big sound of tomorrow, today. In 2014, they took things one step further with New Wave Asia, a music festival dedicated to punk and alternative bands from across the continent. The inaugural edition, held in Goa, was headlined by Japanese girl punks - and cult legends - Shonen Knife. Always a believer in the underground, Singh has continued to focus on giving a platform to India’s emerging artists with his Bomb Thursdays gig series, open mic nights and more recently, a series of gigs focused on the city’s nascent hip-hop scene.
Himanshu Vaswani, Business Head, Bajaao Entertainment
Like everyone else on this list, Himanshu Vaswani’s induction into the business of live music happened at Razzberry Rhinos. One of the regulars at the venue’s gigs, he started working with tireless metal promoter and Demonic Resurrection frontman Sahil Makhija in 2005 while still in college. In the next few years, he’d start his own artist management company SideStand and try his hand at playing bass in a punk band called Artificial Red before joining Rishu Singh at Rolling Stone India’s events division. In 2013, he left his job to build ecommerce start-up BAJAAO.COM ’s fledgling events division into a formidable event company. As business head of Bajaao Entertainment, Vaswani organises of gigs all over the country across all genres and works with some of the biggest names in the industry. In 2015, he organised BIG69, Mumbai’s biggest ever metal festival. In his own time, he’s the founder of sponsor-free, crowd-funded gig series Control Alt Delete, (incidentally Rishu Singh is also a part of the team behind CAD, along with Pepsi MTV Indies programming head Nikhil Udupa). Control Alt Delete is now nine editions strong and has become one of the biggest events in India’s live music calendar. It’s also Vaswani’s way of staying true to his DIY roots and is proof that even in a sponsor-driven industry, it’s possible to stay independent and succeed on your own terms.
Naveen Deshpande, Director, Mixtape
This music man’s journey began in the early 2000s as the drummer for Pune metal band Black Hole Theory. Then at 17, Naveen Deshpande got a job at a local Planet M as a radio jockey and member of the international catalogue team. In 2002, he made his first foray into event and artist management under the moniker Noiz Gate, handling some of the top metal acts of the time and also organising a series of underground shows and festivals. But it was when Vijay Nair invited him to come join a then-nascent OML in 2007 that things really changed for Deshpande. He packed his bags, moved to Pune and hasn’t looked back since. At OML, he got to manage and tour with bands like The Superfuzz, The Raghu Dixit Project and Shaa’ir & Func, work on festivals like the legendary I-Rock and even get a taste of record label work with CounterCulture Records. After some time, Deshpande quit OML to work independently and set up Mixtape as an artist management agency in 2010. He signed on some of the bands he’d already impressed with his efficiency while at OML, including Shaa’ir + Func, Scribe, Whirling Kalapas and the newly reunited Indus Creed. S+F eventually moved on, but he added many more to the roster such as indie rock visionaries Sky Rabbit and veterans Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator, while also acting as a booking agent for many others including Shafqat Amanat Ali, Blackstratblues, Junkyard Groove and Lucky Ali. The firm has also expanded its focus over the years, offering expert lighting solutions after Deshpande completed a professional course for the same, running on-ground production for music festivals like Sulafest and Eden Festival, and handling artist liaison for fests like Magnetic Fields and India Bike Week. They’ve even organised music showcases for the President of India at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Six years in, Mixtape, an exciting and well respected artist management startups is only growing bigger.
The author is a freelance writer