To celebrate the last day of college in March, Rishi Bradoo, a final-year student of mass media, decided to throw a one-of-a-kind shindig for batchmates at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. As the frontman of one of the city’s top alternative rock bands, Blek, Bradoo managed to pull a few strings and book the newly launched, 300-cover Sitara Studios at Elphinstone Road for the unofficial graduation party. By 22 February, the event’s Facebook page declared Bash, to be held on 28 March, “The pre-party to the rest of your life!”
Over the next few weeks, Bradoo revealed a tie-up with Mumbai-based indie artist management and booking agency Krunk and a line-up featuring local electronica act Ox7gen, DJ Amul and Krunk founder Sohail Arora’s solo project, EZ Riser. To help spread the word, photographs of classmates who had already bought Rs.500 passes to the largely crowdfunded BYOB (bring your own booze) event were posted with cheeky notes that announced “Trinolda’s coming from Vasai” and “Snigdha will be there”. Google maps with pre-game and after-party haunts around the venue followed; soon, all systems were a go for Bradoo’s Bash.
Bradoo is just one of the few social-media-savvy promoters and event planners in the city who have discovered the trick to treating some of their closest friends, not-so-close peers and assorted indie scenesters to otherwise extravagant dance parties. A few open-to-all, sponsored and independent micro-parties, pop-up events and weekly bar nights at unlikely venues have begun to resemble comfortable house parties. The best part? No one has to clean up the next morning.
Just a few weeks before Bash, media conglomerate Only Much Louder, which organizes the NH7 Weekender festival in Pune, kicked off the monthly version of its indie dance bash, Smash Up, at a gaming arcade, Smaaash, in Lower Parel. Weekly initiatives include Mixtaped! at The Den in Khar, a micro-party curated by Bandra’s top spinner Reji Ravindran; District Fifty at the Yellow Tree Café & Bar in Bandra, a home-grown label night dedicated to house music; and Krunk founder Arora’s Boiler Bar Thursdays at the Andheri outpost of restobar Chez Moi, which hopes to push lesser-known subgenres of electronica out of Bandra and into the northern suburbs.
Although Bradoo’s big affair had just over 150 guests, the 22-year-old proved the average college goer, among other varieties of the party animal, is mostly neglected by the city’s alternative EDM (electronic dance music) scene. “The scene is made up of regulars who have been heavily involved in Indian indie music one way or another, and they will always pay for the big gigs and parties,” says Bradoo, who was inspired by one of the city’s longest-running underground parties, Grime Riot Disco (GRD), launched in November 2010. “But now everyone will begin to target those beyond the scene.”
As Bradoo hunts for sponsors to promote his next big frat-style party, other nightlife experts too are busy adapting the GRD’s party model to suit their own musical niche. In an email interview, Toronto-born Bandra resident Kunal Lodhia, artiste and founding member of the WeThePpl Collective, said the GRD was conceptualized as an inexpensive, intimate and exclusive but not inaccessible party. “This means there is a guest-list policy (through the GRD’s Facebook group), but you can put yourself on it easily if you care to,” Lodhia explains.
Oddball locations such as Madness and H20—The Liquid Lounge in Khar and Rude Lounge on Hill Road have also been central to GRD festivities. They are chosen not only because they are economical but also because Lodhia says his friends will never show up for the parties if he doesn’t throw them in their backyard.
For regular bar nights that offer alternative electronic music, Arora says the key is to pick a smaller venue so it fills up easily. He adds that every artiste booked is expected to get the word out. “Even if 20-25 friends of the artiste show up, the place is half-full,” he explains.
To cut costs further, such events rely on a mix of word-of-mouth publicity, digital marketing on social networking websites and “roots” promotion, which involves pasting posters and distributing flyers, says Arora. Boiler Bar banners, designed by an in-house graphic designer, are among the most eye-catching, with neon-coloured boom-box players and robots.
Kenneth Lobo, DJ Mag India editor and co-founder of the District Fifty Grooves (DFG) record label, says venue hunting for the weekly District Fifty bar nights in Bandra was nothing short of a nightmare. The Yellow Tree Café & Bar was chosen not only because it offered a clean slate to build a new identity for non-commercial house music in the city, but because it also promised several nooks and crannies to chat, chill or get food and drinks. “Just like at someone’s house,” says Lobo.
Kini Rao, an up-and-coming local producer and DJ, says she prefers a bar to perform live. “You connect much more to the crowd when it’s a bar,” says Rao. “Large nightclubs can sometimes be impersonal.”
Rao adds that more bar nights mean more work for local DJs, who are responsible for forecasting international trends and keeping audiences vetted for international acts and end-of-the-year treks to music festivals.
Smaller but regular dance music events like informal bar nights also open up new days in the calendar of an electronica musician whose busiest nights tend to be Fridays and Saturdays, says Arora. The venues benefit from a new set of patrons, and bonus bar sales they wouldn’t otherwise expect on a weeknight. All in all, everyone goes home happy.
A couple of Wednesdays ago, a fair number of Zenzi orphans, including model Binal Trivedi, were at District Fifty. The former hipster haven on Waterfield Road had served as a second home to Bandra’s many freelancers, artist and creative people before it had to bring down the shutters for good in September 2011. As soon as Trivedi entered the jam-packed, matchbox-size bar-cum-dance floor, she cried, “I can’t believe Zenzi is gone!” Trivedi later said she was only too glad to see a regular dance night out courtesy Kris Correya, Zenzi’s former resident DJ and co-founder of the DFG label.
A few buildings away, The Den was as packed, with Reji Ravindran’s Bandra buddies grooving to his hand-picked selection of old-school hip hop and funky tunes. Ravindran came up with the concept of a micro-party when owner Santosh Mayekar of the newly renovated wine bar turned lounge asked him to take over the DJ console once a week.
Ravindran couldn’t imagine playing at the same venue week after week without getting bored, so he decided to throw open the decks at Mixtaped! to anyone with a great taste in music. Instead of restricting Mixtaped! to a clichéd list of local DJs and producers, Ravindran said all sorts of musicians, singers, music journalists and nightlife experts were free to play host and DJ to their own set of friends. To encourage active participation, Ravindran also uploads a micro-playlist (inspired by his beloved eight-track magnetic tapes), created by the artistes slotted to perform, on his blog.
When we ask Lobo how profitable District Fifty label nights are, he says most new dance-music properties without a sponsor make little or no money at all. Lobo and his six-member team claim the time and effort they invest in the Wednesday night parties will pay off only when they attract a suitable investor. Till then, there’s only one way to truly enjoy the new dance properties—crashing them one night at a time.
Boiler Bar Thursdays, 10pm onwards, at Chez Moi, Oshiwara, Andheri-West (67082788). District Fifty Label Nights, Wednesdays, 8pm onwards, at Yellow Tree Café & Bar, Bandra-West (65287800). Mixtaped!, Wednesdays, 10pm onwards, at The Den, Khar-West (26483136). For updates on the next Smash Up event, see www.facebook.com/OfficialSmashUp, and for the next Grime Riot Disco party, visit www.twitter.com/grimeriotdisco