India's live music industry stares at losses, as tours cancel, venues shut indefinitely over coronavirus outbreak

With the global outbreak of coronavirus, everything in India’s live music circuit is being reconsidered, as venues shut their doors and shows and tours stand cancelled indefinitely. Performers are expected to shoulder the worst battering in this crisis, predict industry insiders.

Anurag Tagat April 04, 2020 10:24:23 IST
India's live music industry stares at losses, as tours cancel, venues shut indefinitely over coronavirus outbreak

Mumbai-based music management company Mixtape completes 10 years in business. They’ve previously been associated with flying down every noted musical artiste to the country — from multi-instrumentalist wiz Jacob Collier, to Saharan folk masters Tinariwen, besides executing festivals such as Disrupt and SulaFest.

Founder Naveen Deshpande, however, is currently experiencing the lighter side of being unable to execute any of their 10th anniversary plans – he’s having a laugh over a video of sounds and sights, usually saved up for live event production crews. It’s like ASMR for stage staff, listening to and watching trucks backing up and unloading, followed by wheeling around equipment.

There were grand plans of bringing in artists, with India tours lined up until September. However, with the global outbreak of COVID-19 , everything in India’s live music circuit is being reconsidered. Similarly, electronic music agencies, such as UnMute (who are also completing eight years in 2020), Krunk, Slick and others, are all playing the wait-and-watch game, for when things get better. “Everything is on hold right now. We don’t know when things are going to settle down, in India or worldwide. Until that happens, the artists won’t have an answer for anybody – whether it’s a promoter based in India, or the UK. They need to figure out what’s going to happen,” Deshpande says.

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Beyond the obvious strain on income for musicians, music festivals, venues and promoters are also set to see tough months ahead. Representational image via Reuters

Event organisers and artist promoters all over the world have been calling off all plans due to the pandemic, as the novel coronavirus continues to spread. In India too, the Indian Music Industry (IMI) issued a statement last week, which said that “daily wage musicians will face a hard time”, and expressed concern about smaller recording labels being unable to recover the investments they're set to lose. Artists such as Coma Rossi, Bloodywood, Gutslit, Godless, and Perfect Strangers were all in the process of carrying out international and nationwide tours, but have been forced to press pause right now.

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Beyond the obvious strain on income for musicians, music festivals, venues and promoters are also slated to face tough months ahead. Bengaluru’s Fandom at Gilly’s Redefined – one of the few regular music venues in the city that can host about 500-600 attendees – shut on 14 March after government advisories against public gatherings were released. They were set to host artists like Peepal Tree, The F16s, and two gigs attached to metal festival, Bangalore Open Air (which has moved from 21 March to 11 July). Suvan Mathur, general manager of events at Gilly’s says it’s definitely a setback, but artists are affected more than venues like theirs, who do have a parent company backing them. He adds, “We’re playing it by ear. We’ve told everyone to look at gigs as potentially canceled. The moment we see things changing, we’ll probably postpone most of the events. Once it’s clear, we’ll start planning again with bands and artists.”

Kochi’s annual Mojo Rising festival was postponed in the nick of time, when it was scheduled to be held on 14 and 15 March, featuring the likes of Sid Sriram, Agam, Anand Bhaskar Collective and Aabha Hanjura’s band Sufistication, among others. Lakshmi Venugopal, head of corporate communications at organising firm Wonderwall Media, says they just decided to prioritise “safety and health over anything else”. She adds: “The situation now will definitely lead to an unimaginable crisis if this status quo continues. Even during the floods (in 2018), we faced issues, but this pandemic being a global crisis has shut down the industry in totality.”

Kolkata's newest venues TopCat and Skinny Mo’s have also had to cancel about six gigs, in addition to their regular nights. Nishit Arora says, “We had some tours lined up — Bhayanak Maut was a tricky one. They would’ve taken the flight, and the decision was whether we should or not. We had an artist coming from outside and his visa was cancelled.” Not exactly keen on “creating noise digitally” via livestream concerts or home gigs, Arora is waiting for the uncertainty to pass. He says, “Going by how things are, it’ll still take time to be in control, and then after that, it’ll take more time for people to start coming out and interacting.”

At Mixtape, Deshpande and his team are plotting ways to get back into the space they keep running for most of the year, except for the monsoons in India. He’s looking at pop-up gigs at corporate offices and using their office rooftop space for intimate pay-what-you-want gigs, but this is only once the coast is clear, and the crisis has passed. He’s more concerned about another aspect of events – how brands will all be approached for partnering and sponsorship at the same time by different promoters. “Everything’s going to overlap towards the second half of the season. That’s a big problem. Eventually, a person will have a limited amount of money to spend in a month. So how will they do four festivals a month? No one’s going to do that," he signs off.

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