What event managers can learn from Delhi’s boutique performance venues

What event managers can learn from Delhi’s boutique performance venues

By VINEET GILL | | 17 October, 2015
At the Piano Man Jazz Club.
What do you do on the day you have a gig to attend in Delhi or the NCR? You first prepare a personal checklist — not for things to carry at the venue, but the other way around. This is to ensure you don’t end up carrying stuff that’s not allowed inside, like laptops, tablets, cameras, phones, blades, guns and so on. After this, you leave home at least four to five hours in advance because traffic is going to be murder, and you’ll anyway have to park at least a mile away from the venue. All this achieved, what happens finally? You watch the gig, right? Not quite. You get news that the event just got cancelled, and so you find yourself hastening to the end of a queue near the box office for refunds. And at long last, you drive back from where you’d started, a defeated man who resolves never to watch a live performance, even 
on DVD. 
Such a scenario is usual when it comes to large stadium gigs around these parts. I saw the Metallica fiasco at first hand in Gurgaon in 2011, when the band declined to play at the venue at almost the eleventh hour citing security issues. So live performances in my imagination are always tied up with either the hassle that attending a show entails (traffic; crowds), or the no-show misery, the unfulfilled yearning that the Metallica gig — more exactly, the non-gig — came to embody. 
I am resigned to the fact that the city is unlikely to host a major, popular act in the near future. But what stings even more is Delhi’s proven inability to get even small-scale gigs (which is to say anything played to an audience of 500 or smaller) right. Restaurants that provide platform to musicians do so only perfunctorily, routinely underpaying performers and raking in huge profits as cover charges from the visitors. The more bona fide smaller venues themselves, gauged in terms of the quality of audio equipment and stage setup, have been found to be second-rate at best, with many of them now mercifully shut down. 
But this isn’t a fair assessment, especially if we consider that in the last one year or so, some of the finest performance venues, catering to those who take their music seriously, have cropped up in and around Delhi. Take for instance Arjun Sagar Gupta’s initiative — the Piano Man Jazz Club. “But see,” he tells me, “I don’t want the place to be categorised as a small-scale venue. It is a performance venue; it is a professional gig venue.” The venue was inaugurated in Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave Market less than a month ago. “And it’s possibly the only place in the country that has performances lined up for all the seven days of 
the week.”
At Delhi’s small-scale “performance venues”, the idea is to give both the performers and audiences their due and the respect they deserve. This can happen only if the intent of the proprietors is not simply to make money but to stand for a cause — the cause of “community-driven and community-curated” public spaces where attending a live performance is enjoyable and relaxing. 
Gupta, the club’s owner, is himself a veteran musician and, he tells me, a former Fulbright scholar of music. “So what you get here are well-curated performances, put together by people who know a lot about the genre. This was why I installed a ridiculously high-quality sound system here, with well-designed stage and lighting,” he explains. 
The idea is to give both the performers and audiences the respect they deserve. And this can happen only if the intent of the proprietors is not simply to make money but to stand for a cause — the cause of “community-driven and community-curated” public spaces, like Hauz Khas’ antiSocial, which opened in November 2014. “The idea is to continually host events here, which, rather than being commercially inspired, are driven and curated by our community of friends and members,” says Pravan Sawhney, senior culture manager, Social & antiSocial. 
Getting the economics right, making the business sustainable, still remains a challenge for the young proprietors of these venues. Sawhney tells me that people often embark on similar projects, only to realise later that their business model isn’t financially viable. So is antiSocial incurring losses? I ask him. “Not losses, but it’s not the same money as you could make opening a regular bar,” he says. 
Things, though, seem like they’s beginning to work out. International approval is always a good sign. If bands from Europe, theUnited States and Russia are willing to perform at these places, then clearly the tide seems to be turning for the better. The Russian jazz ensemble, Igor Butman played earlier this month at Qla in Mehrauli. “The show was great,” Prateek Dhillor, the restaurant manager tells me. “We expected only some 150 people for it. But we got double that number.” Qla opened in May this year, and Dhillor tells, the venue will play host, in the coming months, to bigger and more popular international acts from the world of jazz and blues. 
Before taking up his job here, Dhillor was an event manager in London, and he says that Qla has been set up on a very European model. “The ambience, setup and everything here is very European, and you can’t say that for many settings in and around Delhi,” he says. In the coming years, one can only stay hopeful, more such places would open up in Delhi. And then perhaps the city may be able to compete in the cultural sphere with Mumbai or Bangalore. Then perhaps all the major international acts — Metallica, even — would not fear, would even look forward to, putting up a show in Delhi. 
 
The Piano Man Jazz Club,  Safdarjung Enclave Market, Tel: 011-41315181;
Qla, Kalka Dass Marg, Mehrauli, Tel: 08527098766;
antiSocial, Hauz Khas Village, Tel: 07838652039

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