Some of India’s most exciting and talented indie acts will take the stage in Mumbai on 9-10 March, as crowdfunded music festival Control Alt Delete (CAD) returns for its 11th edition. Spread across five stages, the festival will showcase 45 acts from around the country, including Mumbai neo-soul quartet Smalltalk, Delhi trap duo Seedhe Maut, Chandigarh alt-rockers That Boy Roby and Bengaluru extreme metal veterans Inner Sanctum. Started in 2011 as a club gig, CAD has grown to become one of Indian indie’s biggest and longest-running DIY initiatives, owing much of its success to a community-focused approach exemplified by its pay-what-you-want entry fee.

“I was sitting with the boys in (Mumbai alt-rock bands) Split and Blakc and we were discussing Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want album release for In Rainbows when one of them suggested we use that same model for a gig," CAD founder Himanshu Vaswani, who runs event management company 4/4 Experiences along with business partner Nikhil Udupa, told me in an interview a couple of years ago. After a few years of sustained growth, the live music scene in Mumbai had plateaued in 2011, due to a lack of both sponsors and affordable concert venues. So Vaswani and a number of local bands pooled their resources to put together the first CAD, at a dingy underground venue in Andheri East.

That first show—which had a cardboard box at the gate for fans to pay as much or as little as they wanted—just about made enough to pay for the venue and gear, but Vaswani could see that the concept was sound. By the third CAD, held at Sitara Studios in Lower Parel in 2013, he had been joined by Udupa—then an employee with entertainment conglomerate Only Much Louder—as well as Rishu Singh, who runs the ennui.BOMB label and artist agency (Singh left the team in 2016).

The trio decided to try online crowdfunding, and also recruited talented young designers to create posters and merchandise for the property. They modelled CAD as a collaborative non-profit initiative where musicians and fans were equal stakeholders. They ensured transparency by releasing their accounts to the public, and split any profits equally between the acts.

It worked. There have been obstacles along the way, but every edition of CAD has seen a major uptick in both audience and funding contributions, allowing the team to scale up from a club gig to a full-scale music festival.

For the latest edition, to be held at the 6-acre Roaring Farm venue in Malad, they have brought in artists like Sajid Wajid Shaikh and Aniruddh Mehta to handle stage design, introduced overnight camping facilities, and put together their biggest line-up yet. And, once again, they’ve managed to do it all without sponsors, which just goes to prove what you can achieve if you focus on building goodwill and community.

“We’re only able to do this because so many people have contributed not just money but also their time and skills to make it happen," says Udupa. “It’s a very grounding experience and a reminder of why we got into the music business in the first place."

Control Alt Delete 11 will take place at Roaring Farm, Malad, on 9-10 March. Entry, pay-what-you-want.

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