Like the sea, open air performances have been iconic to the city of Bombay. The streets have always been throttling to come alive with arts and culture exhibits, perhaps as an outlet. So what does the recent trend of indie music veterans taking to the streets say about the city?
Firstly, apologies to those who’d like to call it Mumbai and not Bombay. For it was in ‘Bombay’, that culture saw sparks of life with the jazz age in the 70s. It was in Bombay that the Hindi film industry or the etymology of ‘Bollywood’ peeled a new layer of awe each decade starting with the 30s. And among so many other things, it was in Bombay that the independent music scene started to boom and got pegged as the ‘competitive other’ of commercial music. So it’s a natural progression that today, in the warm, twilight-streaked air by the sea, or in a corporate landscape of Lower Parel, live music performances have ensnared passers-by, getting them transfixed with music and its live act histrionics.
Earlier in February, Bandra’s Carter Road and its amphitheatre, one of the artist-favourite locales, played host to the event LFTC StreetSide featuring electro-soul band Shaa’ir + Func, alternative rockers The Siddharth Basrur Band and six-piece alt-pop collective Spud in the Box for a day-long initiative called ‘Car Free Day’ that witnessed folks of the city partaking in cycling (including Salman Khan), walking, skating, a few food stalls and free-spirited gully cricket. This street carnival, which was essentially Mehboob Studio’s Live From The Console gig that was moved outdoors, had a message about reducing pollution.
But many such events don’t necessarily need to have a message to take place. Testimony to this is the escalating urban phenomenon called ‘busking’, which we spoke about a month back in March. Busking or street performances aren’t manoeuvred by a preamble. Instinctive jam sessions, incongruent idea exchanges and an invincible camaraderie usually mark the ethos of such busking sessions. Why do musicians do it? It’s sometimes the money, sometimes to get noticed, and mostly, for the sake of a feeling of brotherhood, where gates, walls and boundaries don’t bound the ever-transporting nature of music.
Akarsh Ethos, a freelance independent musician who’s a regular at Bambai Street Collective’s jam sessions held off Carter road, says, “Playing live is more organic. It gives a musician the opportunity to take on the challenge of putting our skills at the mercy of the intent of what we musically wish to express. It might seem like the most obvious thing to do but is more often found to be a harder thing to do when alone at home. And this is all considering playing alone live. Playing with other musicians lets me share that with others, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get to play with someone who is far more adept at the act of embracing one’s own subconscious than I am.”
Akarsh feels it’s a chance to connect with people and grow and evolve like any relationship without an agenda. Speaking of no agendas, he says, “To be called to such a jam is significant simply because it signifies that there are people out there ready to be that honest. It’s humbling to know that there’s someone else too who is ready to say, ‘I have no idea how I will feel today when we have this conversation, but I will give it a shot!’”
The Bandra Fort Amphitheatre is another popular open air venue that plays host to engaging gigs, besides being home to the city’s lovers during the day. In March, Papon & The East India Company did a show against the backdrop of the lashing night sea. Like most of these by-the-sea events, this one too was free. In the past, the fort has acted as a witness to gigs by fusion band Indian Ocean, Advaita and Motherjane (read more here) besides hosting India’s first ever YouTube FanFest, which saw a surprise visit by Shah Rukh Khan.
Among seaside promenades, Carter road is perhaps a go-to for live gigs for residents of Bombay. But the Phoenix Mills compound at Lower Parel that often sees corporate promotion events, all loud and boisterous, is making room for bands to do their jig. Once the sun sets and the subtly lit stores lining the compound come alive, the ambience makes for a warm gigging space. On April 17, Pune-based post rock band A Mutual Question enthralled audiences with their light-hearted jam session that comprised songs from their latest 2013 EP Eyes Everywhere (Listen here).
The beauty lies in the raw and unmitigated vibe of a live performance. Oftentimes, ‘scale’ comes in the way of a live act. Musicians need a stage, a festival or a venue. Those are basic needs. But street performances strip organizers of these worries. Yes, there are concerns about putting the gig together because after all it’s meant to draw attention. But costs and payment-related troubles are usually drowned by the intoxication of the audience at these open air performances. For bambaikars, one thing that’s ingrained is an escape mechanism. To escape the walls of the house one lives in, into the open. Perhaps the well met open air performances tell us why the idea of outdoorsy fits so well in a city that’s cramped on the inside. It’s a good channel for expression – as an artist or as the audience.