Room Sessions

The Asian Age.

Entertainment, Music

Secret gig is the talk of the town where a limited gathering of like-minded people enjoy live music. Nobody talks and everybody listens.

A SofarSounds gig. (Photo: Aryaman Dixit)

A sprawling verandah, a few musicians and and bunch of young enthusiasts sit quietly, engrossed in the performace. An extremely well-managed show with like-minded people who simply come for serious music collectives. This is typical secret gig, being organised in a house party environment, with selective guests.

While there’s a mushroom of clubs and collectives of late, ones that promise you art, music, poetry in a more intimate setup, somewhere in your lawn, living room is what is taking the world by storm. The guest list is limited. These gigs are mostly sponsored or crowdfunded, and the result is a spectacular gathering of like-minded people who truly wish to enjoy the music.

It all started when London-based Rafe Offer and his friends found it frustrating during a live music show in a pub with the crowd talking over the performance and a distorted sound system. They decided to take the performance to a smaller audience where people are only enthusiastic about the music.

Reimagining the live event experience through curated, secret performances in more than 400 cities around the world, this movement Sofar Sounds is a global music series today and India forms a big part on its roadmap. Their secret (invite-only) shows bring music lovers together in an intimate setting to re-discover the magic in live performance. Nobody talks and everybody listens. This London-based concept finally reached Delhi in 2016.

Over the last year and a half, global secret gig series have established in a big way, hosting monthly shows in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, New Delhi and Chennai.

The whole idea to create a different ambience, bring in suspense about who are the artists and the venue till the last minute, says Tanya Nath, city lead, Delhi NCR for Sofar Sounds. Coming from music industry she first heard a team play in a New York Park, while returning home. As she checked out more details she was in awe with the style. It’s run by volunteers who arrange the event and create videos for youtube channel.

They’ve gone from living rooms in south Mumbai to garden balconies in skyscrapers, to lawns in Delhi villas to verdant backyards in Bengaluru and gallery spaces. There is always a room full of attentive listeners.

On a similar wavelength are Delhi’s REProduce Artists and their founder Rana Ghose, who hosts monthly ‘Listening Room’ sessions featuring the newest and edgiest electronic music producers and collaborations between artists. Thus far, Ghose has held these gigs in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru in India, London, New York and Los Angeles.  They have booked artists commercially in Vietnam, China, Thailand, across Europe, US and Canada.

What started as an experiment because pub and club music had way too many disruptions, has become a rage. Although their gigs are not as secretive, and details are available about, band venue etc in advance on social media pages. “We do not believe in marketing much. It is best spread through word of mouth among friends,” says Rana Ghosh. It’s purely based on voluntary service where a sum of Rs 300 is collected per person at the entrance and this amount is used for all activities. “We are making profits,” claims Rana.

Rana recalls his journey, saying, it started as an instinct. “It was a reaction to not being able to go to shows that I wanted to.  

The catalyst was a post New Year’s Eve slightly hungover conversation on Facebook messenger with my friend Bhanuj Kappal about how we were both…kind of bored?  We wanted a change?  We knew there was a slew of amazing, uncompromising, totally inspiring talent that wasn’t getting gigs in commercial venues because their work didn’t effectively score people eating pizza and linguine proxies?  In many ways you can blame a Kolkata two piece called JESSOP&CO. – they were making some of the most welcomingly hostile sounds I’d ever heard and Bhanuj and I were just keen to present that to a public.  

The rest - the “secret” nature of shows, the marketing — we didn’t really think about any of that too much.  We just wanted to showcase art we could get behind, not pander to anyone’s expectations, and never lose money doing it.”

It’s the people who add to the event and despite the challenge of getting right venues etc and this is great fun, feels Tanya.

Says Janvi Anand, who is an Indian acoustic guitarist, singer, songwriter, and composer. And has attached herself with Sofar Sounds, “The music scene in India has changed a lot. Today people come to concerts for serious listening. These secret gigs have become extremely popular. Unlike the US where the artist has to ensure tickets are booked, here there is a host of people who ensure footfall and I can just perform. Moreover, with a global reach performers can have many shows in different cities across the world.”

Having performed extensively as a solo artist, she performs in California and India as an Acoustic Pop Rock artist. She likes to talk about human relationships and vulnerabilities through her cross genre compositions.

The beauty is that neither the artists are aware of what the audience would be like, nor is the audience briefed about the artist, and that leads to a discovery of sorts on both parts.

Being a secret gig artist also opens up avenues for performing at various gathering around the world, something that not only helps independent artists grow, but also introduces them to new listeners and new artists every time.

Another gig is HouseConcert, which is about clocking off and gathering for mind-bending original music and arts, follow the same formula.

Except, they have theatre, poetry and other performing arts too in their list of gigs.

Founders Varun Srivastava and Manu Mathew feel Bangalore being a hub poetry lovers has a lot to offer to its fresh talents. After a success in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore, they are going to Guwahati and Chennai. They have done 45 sessions so far.

“It all started four years ago at a friend’s basement in Gurugram with 8-10 people. Delhi didn’t have venues for serious upcoming musicians those days. It came from an angst when artists sought more attention from their original numbers as compared to commercial composition,” recalls Manu.

Artists from across genres, - electronic, rock, pop, jazz, blues, Hindustani classical have performed so far, says Varun. “There is a direct interaction with artists where they share anecdotes on why they came up with the song. The mandate is to play or sing original music. No covers are allowed because the audience has come here to support a fresh talent.”

Pranav Dwivedi from Fresh Fruit Sessions too agrees. “We are trying to promote independent artists. We organise house concerts with an intimate setup – with 30-35 people. This is more experiential in nature.” Apart from managing the gig, Pranav also manages artists and curates shows. The whole idea of gigs, he says, is that young professionals want to go to sessions where music is not very loud and yet original.

Most of these secret gigs operate through social media like facebook, instagram or youtube, apart from their own independent sites. Guests create a profile online where they apply to attend a gig in any city. Locations and artists are unannounced. From there, names are put into a draw and selected by local teams. Emails are mostly sent to guests with the venue location closer to the show. Guests learn about the artists at the show. About Rs300-500 is collected at the venue per audience in the form of donation money, which is used for future events, logistics, payment to artists etc.

These shows are unique experiences. Each show lineup features two to three acts where every performer is given equal attention to connect with an engaged and passionate audience.

“When we started in Delhi in October 2016, we had 100 odd people. Today we got entry requests from 3500 people,” exclaims Tanya.

Sofar hosts performances at various locations across the city. “We do one secret gig a month, and one can apply for the guest list online. We disclose the date and time to the guest list just days before the performance and function on a ‘pay as you like’ basis, where attendees contribute money (about Rs300), which helps future performances. Artists for the performances are also reviewed, so everyone can have a good time listening to some quality music,” says Tanya.