Bengaluru: 23-year-old Aadarsh Subramaniam was on the phone with his mother at the time of this interview, telling her about the worrying developments here in Bengaluru. "I will wait and watch," he says. It's a sentiment many young musicians echo: "Let's see what happens." The impending closure of two major venues - The Humming Tree and Bflat - and earlier, Take Five - has left them shaken. With many of these young musicians dependent on live gigs for a living, this is a big blow - many are now considering leaving the city for good.
Aadarsh, a pianist who plays with a couple of bands and also as a sessions musician, says, "Bengaluru is becoming like Chennai - there will be big venues for established artists, but what about us?"
His teacher, Aman Mahajan, is a well-known name here in Bengaluru, a regular feature at BFlat. "This is outrageous," he remarks. "I haven't been playing at clubs so much these days and I also teach, so really, it's the younger musicians, who depend on this for their income, who will be hit. A lot of them may end up moving elsewhere."
Bflat was founded back in 2008 by Arati Rao Shetty and her husband, Suniel Shetty. A musician of repute, Arati would curate BFlat's gigs herself, bringing musicians together, providing them with a community here in Bengaluru and providing them with the platform they so needed. "Live gigs help us meet other musicians and also give us a chance to see how the audience responds to our songs, to find out what works and what doesn't," says Aadarsh, who will accompany Arati Rao on the keyboards at one of BFlat's closing gigs. "Arati saw me play at BFlat too," he says.
Mahesh Raghunandan, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter, whose voice has taken the city by storm, remembers his first meeting with Arati and with Nikhil Barua, the founder at The Humming Tree. "I was playing a gig at a startup festival and my performance, which was during lunch, was just before a panel on music culture in the city. After I was done, both Arati and Nikhil came up to me and said they would like to have me play at their venues. Both venues are home to me, the crew is like family."
Mahesh, who has opened for acts like Anderson Paak and received praise from Norah Jones herself after he covered one of her songs, says, "I am just a kid from a village. Now I can say I have opened for Anderson Paak. This is how much BFlat and The Humming Tree have done for me, a monument to culture is being taken away."
The decision has been a while coming, as venues continue to battle a slew of legislations and demands from the government, from building regulations, license laws and of course, live music. Gigs have been called off at the last minute and musicians are told to expect this. "It's really scary for us," says Mahesh. "We spend quite a bit of money, more than we can afford, to prepare for a gig."
On August 29, a gig for which Mahesh had been booked was called off just before the show, as the police were expected to do rounds in Indiranagar. "We played anywhere, completely unplugged," he recalls. This was at BFlat and the audience huddled around the stage to hear them play. "It was incredible, actually, one of the best gigs ever. It was amazing that people would do that for us. A week or so later, BFlat announced its closure."
Parvaaz, now one of India's most loved bands, first played at bFlat at the start of their careers. "It's been a long association with them," says Kashif Iqbal, Parvaaz's lead guitarist. "It was one of the first few pub gigs we played and its' always been a great place to perform. It's a sad ending, but you never know, perhaps things will change." He recalls a conversation with other musicians last year, when they decided that "Bengaluru has a better scene than Delhi or Mumbai. There were so many venues, other musicians were envious. This is a big setback."