At home, on your terrace, in your garden… House concerts are the new space where indie artistes get to perform before a select, attentive audience
One spring evening, a young man sat in the fading glow of the setting sun, strumming a song on his guitar… Sounds like the start of a fairytale, doesn’t it? But this was a real-life scene at a session of House Concert India in Delhi. For the last five years, this community-led initiative has been bringing gigs with independent musicians from across India and abroad, to the intimacy of people’s homes. “The idea is to create alternate spaces for musicians to showcase original music,” says founder, House Concert India, Manu Mathew. “A space where the attention is on the artiste and the art.”
Earlier this year, audio streaming giant Spotify launched their services in India and within a week, clocked a million users. Others such as SoundCloud and Bandcamp as well as the home-grown Saavn and OK Listen, have already been making independent music accessible to music lovers. However, while the digital space to discover great new music looks promising, the chances of experiencing it in real life at a physical setting are only getting bleaker, since pubs and other live music venues are increasingly veering towards commercial music and crowd pullers. Initiatives like House Concert India are trying to bridge this gap and introduce interesting new platforms where listeners can connect with musicians.
YOUR HOME’S A STAGE
It all started at a friend’s basement in Gurgaon with an audience of eight — mostly friends. Today, House Concert India has grown into a multi-city project, with over 80 sessions held in places as far apart as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune. Many of these are organised at people’s homes — in living rooms, gardens or terraces. “We’ve also organised a few gigs in other alternative spaces, such as design studios, small theatres, art galleries, fashion boutiques, co-working spaces and travellers’ hostels,” says Mathew.
Homebound Sit-Down Session, a property of the Chandigarh-based artist management and music events company, Worker Bee, was started last year with the idea of taking the emotion called “home” to other intimate setups devoid of any distractions. Five such sessions have been held so far in different cities in closed amphitheatre setups. “The essence of a Homebound Sit-Down Session is its intimacy,” says founder, Worker Bee, Kunal Malhotra.
While the venue may vary, there are a few things common to all such gatherings — hosts who open up their homes and other spaces to strangers, an audience that is attentive, and a community of highly driven people behind it — all of who come together for their shared love of music.
ALL FOR THE MUSIC
Back in 2009, three friends in London went to a concert by an indie rock band. Annoyed by people talking over the music and the general inattention to the musicians, they decided to put together their own gig in a north London flat that belonged to one of them. Thus was born Songs From A Room, popularly known as Sofar Sounds, which today has chapters in over 400 cities across the world, including 13 in India. Private and quiet, a Sofar evening usually showcases three artistes at a unique space in the city.
The lineup is not disclosed to guests until they’ve arrived at the venue. “We curate unique, new and diverse lineups varied in genre and sound for every show,” says chapter head, Sofar Sounds Delhi NCR, Tanya Nath. “To ensure that there is no bias, all music submitted to the Sofar website is reviewed by our team.”
For House Concert India, original music is the only criteria. “We have featured seasoned as well as upcoming talents across genres, from multi-instrumentalist composer, Tajdar Junaid to jazz-punk band, Jass B’stards, to rapper Doktor Gandu, and more. Many international artistes such as American singer-songwriter Scott Moses Murray and Heather Andrews from London, have played at our concerts too,” says Mathew. Acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter, Damien Rice also pulled a houseful crowd at a session of Sofar Sounds in Delhi. It is this curation of line-ups and the audience engagement it generates that draw artistes to be part of such initiatives.
Lawyer-turned-musician Aditi Ramesh, who’s been making waves in the indie scene with her Carnatic vocal and jazz fusions, says that such gigs create a special connection between the artist and the audience. “That is simply not possible in a traditional venue,” she says. “Apart from the music itself, the audiences here are interested in the stories behind the songs and in getting to know the artist who is performing.” Singer-songwriter Saby Singh, one of the most promising young musicians, feels that playing at intimate gigs is a surreal experience. “I haven’t played a gig so quiet and to an audience so receptive,” he says.
The right size and the right mix of people in the audience are important for these gigs. How this is ensured, varies. For instance, you can only attend a Sofar gig if you’ve been sent an invitation after registration. “We get over a thousand applications per show, and are only able to accommodate 70-90 guests. Our automated curation process selects people based on the number of times they’ve applied,” says Nath.
For the two-year old, Mumbai-based venture Beatmap, this curation process has an added layer, one designed towards the introvert and the socially-awkward. “The initial hour of a Beatmap party is dedicated to icebreakers and conversations,” says co-founder and chief executive officer, Beatmap, Hari Sankar. A self-professed introvert himself, Sankar says the idea came to him when he realised that he didn’t have any friends outside of work. “Going out to the same place was boring and would burn a hole in my pocket. Which is why I thought of bringing the party home.”
Besides the idea of a music gig in your living room, the opportunity to network with new people is, in fact, one of the primary draws for hosts to open up their homes to such initiatives and for people to attend such events.
Amogh Shurpali, a civil engineer, hosted a House Concert India session last year at his house in South Delhi. He talks about his initial apprehensions of letting strangers into his house and if the neighbours would be bothered. “My apprehensions faded when I saw how meticulously the concert was organised. But what really cut the deal for me, apart from the music, was the fact that I got to meet so many interesting people, with shared interests—and without stepping out of my home.”
Graphic designer Chayanika Moulik has been religiously attending such intimate gigs. “I’m old school when it comes to music; I remember those rock festival days when I’d root for my favourite bands,” she reminisces. “But the music scene has changed a lot since.” She feels these new initiatives are a refreshing treat for music lovers like her. “I’ve had the chance to listen to gems such as Menwhopause and Tejas Menon at such house concerts. I plan to get more of my friends and colleagues to these events. After all, what better way to de-stress after a long work week than to sit in a cosy living room with your friends, listen to some great music, and connect with new people along the way!”