Pandemic fallout: Bengaluru musicians, DJs are taking to online platforms, but there is uncertainty in the air
Following the lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, industries across the board have seen their business dip and have suffered losses. The live music and the nightlife scene in Bengaluru is no exception.
While many musicians and DJs have moved to online platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, as a way of staying connected to the audience even if it isn’t always monetised, there is a palpable sense of uncertainty about what the future holds.
For Thermal and a Quarter, who recently released their new album, A World Gone Mad, the prevailing situation meant that tours and performances to promote the album had to be cancelled. Frontman Bruce Lee Mani, who has been doing a series on Instagram called #Overlooked Licks, says, “We have done only two such live online events so far but they were solos with just me performing since we couldn’t get together as a band. But we have been working on new tunes and sending ideas up and down. That’s what is keeping us busy.”
Stating that this is a curveball that none of them had faced, Gaurav Basu, frontman of death metal band Inner Sanctum, says: “Live events are the bread and butter of the industry. They aren’t going to happen for some time now. So, most artistes are trying to cross over into that digital territory and trying to figure out how to monetise online performances. It is, however, difficult to make those investments to set up a studio, record, and upload. There may be technical issues as well that the audience faces. There, however, does seem to be an energy that is driving artistes so that is good for the time being.”
On the subject of monetisation, Radha Thomas, jazz vocalist and leader of the UNK: the Radha Thomas Ensemble, who has performed online for fundraising, says: “There is no money in doing lives on social media. I don’t know who is getting money, not me.”
Another point is that the experience is not the same for either the artiste or the audience during an online performance.
DJ and KJ Martin Dsouza, says: “It is obviously not the same because it is an experience that involves the artiste, ambience of the place, the food, and just having people around you. As artistes, we play to a crowd. We feel what the crowd is feeling and we play according to that. Now, the only way you can see how the crowd is reacting is through the comments. It is not easy.”
What the future holds
On the all-important question of what the future holds for the music and nightlife industry in the city, Basu, Dsouza and Mani are in agreement that it is too soon to say.
“I think it can swing both ways. Either people are so frustrated staying home that they will come out and party or they are so paranoid that they are not going to step out into a public space. None of us are sure about how it will work. People will probably organise parties in such a manner that the number of people is limited. So, from 500 or 600 people, it will probably be reduced to 100 or 200, depending on the size of the venue,” says Dsouza.
But how will social distancing be enforced in spaces where the enjoyment of the experience is synonymous with there being a large crowd dancing or headbanging together? This is in contrast to a performance by say, a singer-songwriter or jazz artiste where the possibility of people sitting down and maintaining distance is higher.
“In Germany, there was a party where circles were marked in the area and people were allowed to just be in their own circle. The DJ booth was at a distance and of course, people were wearing masks and there were hand santisers all around. So, that is one of the ways forward,” Dsouza says.
Adds Basu, “Because metal is a niche genre, the community vibe is a little more. People really want to come out to the shows and congregate with like-minded people. They will definitely miss that crucial aspect. But we can probably start with smaller venues or show a negative COVID-19 test to purchase a ticket. Invested bodies need to come together and pitch different ideas to the governing bodies and agencies on how things can be done.”
Noting that Thermal and a Quarter has been around for 24 years and consequently seen many ups and downs, including the restrictions on live music, Mani, is a bit more philosophical. “It is too early to say (what is going to happen); definitely for the next six months or so live gigs are out of the question. When there is so much up in the air and with the (state of the) economy, we are definitely going to see all kinds of changes, constrictions, and limitations on what people can and will do.”
“The entire industry is home to lakhs of jobs, both directly and indirectly. You can’t completely stop the industry. It is going to be difficult but we will all have to adapt,” says Dsouza.