Has the Mumbai Police campaign to weed out ‘undesirable’ nightlife willy nilly affected the live music scene in the metropolis? Akhila Shankar explores
The year was 2010. Trilogy, a popular club located within Mumbai’s Hotel Sea Princess was in the news for taking the Mumbai police to court. The club, which had permission to remain open till 3 am was forcibly asked to shut at 1.30 am. In events that followed, the club was denied the necessary permissions for running the discotheque. The Bombay High Court criticised the Mumbai police for discriminating against Trilogy. While the situation eventually resolved itself, this was one of the earliest incidents in the city’s recent history where the motives of the Mumbai police and the outdated legislations that govern nightlife came to the fore.
Since then, in just a span of two years, there has been a shift in focus from shutting down illegal establishments to reinterpreting archaic laws that govern Mumbai’s nightlife. The targets of the year have shifted from arguable permit rooms located in the outskirts of the city to high-end establishments within the city. The police claimed to have busted a ‘rave party’ at Juhu, and incidents at Café Zoe, which was apparently playing music without a license, where have caused a mass agitation against these legislations and the compulsive ‘moral policing’ of Mumbai’s nightlife.
An inadvertent effect of these raids has however been on the music scene of the city as many of these venues host live music as part of the scene. Other venues, yet untouched by the police, too are reluctant to lure the Mumbai Police’s Social Service Branch into their premises and have begun suitably tweaking their music programming or dropping it altogether. The result – sinking business at most such establishments.
Live music in Mumbai, already threatened by multiple factors like lack of sponsorship, lack of patronage and decreasing crowds is now slowly being coerced into lowering it a notch. Individuals who work in the industry have already started weighing the situation in the perspective of how it will affect their business. Roydon Bangera, who manages artist relations for Indigo Live elucidates, “Live music business in India is only just hitting puberty. It was never easy in the first place, but now there is an added pressure that has come into the picture in the light of recent events.”
The nightlife crackdown has set in motion a butterfly effect that is slowly starting to affect the business models adopted by establishments that supported live music hitherto. Nisar Tamboli, official spokesperson for the Mumbai Police told Sound Box, “”It is not a crackdown on nightlife, anyone who breaks the law is the target”.
Despite this assurance, precautionary measures are in force and have become visible over the past few weeks. The first to bite the bullet was Blue Frog that is planning to do away with electronica sets in addition to taking measures to closing early. While Blue Frog refused to comment further about the move, there is a more visible change in the pub’s policy towards bands post this move. “Blue Frog is doing everything they can do to keep the live music scene alive. Previously, bands used to get paid a stipulated fee. Hence, the number of people at your show was never co-related to the amount the band gets paid. Now the venue has shifted to a gate-sharing format where the more people you pull, the more you earn. But with this newly induced fear, the number of people showing up for gigs post 9 pm is reducing,” explains Bangera, who also manages The Hoodwink Circle and Devoid. Naveen Deshpande, the managing director of MixTape further illustrated this chain reaction, “Our laws say that a venue cannot have more than 166 people for every 1000 sq. ft. Less people means less revenue in which case the venues then turn towards managers asking to reduce the artist fee, managers asking their crew to reduce fees and so on. So you see it’s a chain and many are getting affected by this.”
Certain factions of the industry are more affected than others. For the booming electronica scene in particular, where any event starts post 10:30 pm, the recent events spell doom. Dev Bhatia, the managing director of UnMute Agency handles some of the top electronica acts in the country and describes the growing concerns thus, “We’ve lost a lot of bookings in Mumbai. Over the years, the electronic scene had built a value in terms of artist fees etc., which has now gone back to where it was five years ago, people are afraid to get out for electronic gigs, as those are targeted (by cops) the most.”