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How Bengaluru Is Reclaiming Its Nightlife

In March, the Karnataka government extended the live performance deadline for bars and restaurants; bands tell us how this could result in a drastic, long-lasting impact on Bengaluru’s nightlife

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Jessica Kilbane Apr 08, 2014
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Bengaluru residents at The Humming Tree  Photo Credit: Shashank Abraham / The S&M Project

The Humming Tree, one of the most popular venues in Bengaluru, always packs in a crowd for its gigs | Photo Credit: Shashank Abraham / The S&M Project

 On an unremarkable evening last month, electronica producer Suhrid Manchanda took to stage at an uptown bar called Loft 38 located in one of the buzziest areas of Bengaluru, Indiranagar. Manchanda, who is from Delhi, was accustomed to the dance floor filling up close to midnight, but in Bengaluru, he anticipated that the floor would empty out by 11 pm. But he was in for a surprise. What turned the evening around was that the crowd stayed on way past the witching hour, thanks to the state’s new deadline for performances at bars and restaurants, announced in early March. Says Manchanda, “I was lucky to actually have a gig in Bangalore on the first night of the extended deadline and the excitement was palpable! After it passed 11, everyone realized that no one is shutting it down. There was this feeling of uncertainty, of is this actually happening?”

Jishu Dasgupta of Swarathma | Photo Credit: Shashank Abraham / The S&M Project

Jishnu Dasgupta of Swarathma
Photo Credit: Shashank Abraham / The S&M Project

The new deadline, announced by Home Minister KJ George on March 7, which now allows licensed bars and restaurants to remain open until 1 am on Fridays and Saturdays, seems like a new lease of nightlife for Bengaluru. Says gig regular and 22-year-old student Anna Joseph, “People drink early and leave early, generally they start walking out by 11. After the deadline, every single pub was packed till 1. ” Bengaluru’s gig goers and clubbers have been baffled by the ever-changing laws. According to local news reports, the city’s nightlife first took a blow in 2008 due to a strict ban on live music in venues that served liquor. This meant these bars and pubs had to shut down by 11:30 pm. Earlier in 2007, an obsolete 1967 law was brought back, banning dancing in pubs and clubs that served liquor. Last year, a Supreme Court order issued in 2006 banning loud music in open places after 10 pm was reinstated. Says Bengaluru folk rock band Swarathma’s bassist Jishnu Dasgupta, “Playing in Bangalore, we’ve gotten used to the fact that someone will come in and tell you that you can play only one more song. We had our apprehensions about whether people would be watching us if we started at 12, but we still had a packed house at the time.” Late last month, Swarathma headlined a battle of the bands competition at The Humming Tree which is a popular music venue in Bengaluru, after the new deadline came into effect, “Five bands played before us. Getting to play a 9:30 pm slot in a club on a Friday night, for a band that’s been around for a year and has a demo – that’s great.” 

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Clubs and bars now plan to experiment with their music programming. With the additional two hours because of the new deadline, programmers can squeeze in more performances ”“ whether that means more live bands, international acts or even adding opening acts or closing DJs to their lineups. Says Nikhil Barua, who manages the The Humming Tree, “From a music perspective, it’s changed a lot for us. It is a challenge because we’re going to try to program at least two acts per night. But we can definitely fit in more artists now and we’ve got some amazing acts coming out of Bangalore.” Rahul Giri of Bengaluru-based electro duo Sulk Station believes that deadlines have never influenced fans. He says, “They will show up for all of the gigs whenever you start playing. But there’s also a different crowd that just want to dance, so that kind of crowd has definitely increased.” 

Bengaluru is also a regular spot for other bands from the South including Chennai and Kochi. Says Vikram Kannan, guitarist of Delhi-based rock n roll band The Shakey Rays, “We moved to Delhi [from Chennai] because it has a better support system for music, it has a bigger independent music scene. In Chennai and Bangalore there’s more of a pub culture. The extension is a good thing if people are going to have a good time and you get more time to play.” Since the city is also favored by bands from across the country for its easygoing pace and an audience that is open to experimental music, artists from other cities are also optimistic about the deadline extension. Says Mumbai-based DJ Reji Ravindran, “There’s no doubt about it, Bangalore has the best crowd. I think it’s going to make a big difference; it’s going to put Bangalore back on the map. It’s going to be a big boom to indie culture and live bands.”

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While it’s too early for Bengaluru artists to celebrate, since the law might be reviewed or even revoked after three months if the government decides to play moral police again, both artists and audiences feel that the city needs time to adapt to the new clubbing experience. Says Gaurav Vaz, bassist and band manager of contemporary folkband The Raghu Dixit Project, “Bar hopping has always happened but that happened at 3 pm, so now it can happen a little later than before. Each city has its vibe ”“ the way Bombay’s work life has been structured makes sense because people are leaving office at pretty much the same time people in Bangalore are returning home from pubs. Bangaloreans are used to a different structure completely, they are out of office by 5 or 6 – so everyone’s habits shift around that.” 

Sulk Station | Photo Credit: Shashank Abraham / The S&M Project

Sulk Station | Photo Credit: Shashank Abraham / The S&M Project

Arati Rao, music programmer at Bengaluru bar BFlat, believes that three months is not enough to effect change. Rao adds, “We are talking about changing a mindset, almost like changing a culture. We need time to create a scene. Very importantly, we also need resources to increase the entertainment options or feature more acts in an evening, you need to figure out how to gather the financial resources to maintain that.” With law and order a key concern, it is believed that 1,000 home guards will be appointed to assist the police with night vigilance. So far however, there have been no reported incidents of misdemeanor.

While the future looks promising for Bengaluru’s nightlife, its success depends on whether the deadline will be extended beyond the three-month probationary period and in due course, to all days of the week. Says Sohail Arora of artist management agency Krunk, “Bangalore has been the biggest city for gigs after Mumbai and maybe Delhi. A lot of our artists frequent Bangalore and love the vibe and the crowd. This is a big step in the right direction, hopefully it will last.”

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