In the first of a series on the fastest-growing spots for live music in the country, we look at how the central Indian city of Indore now has an audience that’s hungry for concert experiences.
At the end of this month, Indore will host, what is arguably, its first Indian independent music festival. Rock bands The F16s, Kraken and Long Distances, singer-songwriters Taba Chake and Frizzell D’Souza and an as-yet-unannounced act will play the inaugural edition of District Six, a two-day event organised in association with local promoter Bodhi and Friends. It will launch Seed Centraal, a 500-capacity venue that plans to stage at least 12 gigs a month, include stand-up comedy shows. The new festival and venue are further indicators that Indore is among the fastest growing cities for live music in India.
Indore is becoming an essential part of the touring circuit
To most, Indore is best known for its delectable street food and as one of the cleanest places in the country. But the city is fast becoming a market that can’t be ignored by Indian independent music stars when plotting national tours. Singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad, rappers Divine and MC Stan, electronic musician Ritviz and pop-rock band When Chai Met Toast have each played to thousands there over the past couple of years.
Artist management company Represent, the roster of which includes Stan and singer-songwriter Anuv Jain, now counts Indore among its regular touring stops. Founder Aayushman Sinha says that the number of gigs in the city has shot up from just six a year before the pandemic to two a month now. The scale of the events has expanded too.
According to promoter Jignesh Soni, who runs Indore-based JD Events, getting “an audience of 8,000-10,000 isn’t impossible now, but on an average we have 3,000 to 4,000 people coming in”. For instance, in December 2022, Kuhad performed to over 6,000 fans at the Phoenix Citadel, as part of his The Way That Lovers Do tour. That same month, an express edition of the Beat Street festival, featuring Jain, pop vocalists Lisa Mishra and Zaeden and rapper Yashraj, drew 4,500 attendees at The Park hotel.
New venues are catering to the growing crowds
Thanks to the rise in ticket buyers, Indore now boasts numerous large, outdoor locations that host gigs including hotels and wedding venues such as Essentia, Jardin, SkyLine Club & Resorts, Sheraton Grand Palace, The Park and Velvet Garden. On the flip side, it greatly lacks stand-alone live music spots, with the 500-capacity Ring Road Social – part of the SOCIAL chain of bars and restaurants – one of the few available options.
That’s among the reasons Khandelwal, whose family was in the food processing business, decided to open Seed Centraal. The entrepreneur, who embarked on a career as a singer-songwriter in 2017, said he was faced with a severe lack of opportunities to perform. “I realised there’s literally not a single place that would allow a newcomer to play,” he says.
The options improve when it comes to electronic music, hosted by spots such as the aforementioned Ring Road Social, Sho Sha, The Piano Project, Yoi Toki and the recently opened Coco Loco. However, Popular local DJ Disko Samosa aka Mukul Nagori – who has been playing professionally since 2016 – says that until fairly recently, even the electronic music scene was dominated by its most commercial forms and a predominantly male audience.
The audience is evolving
Photo credit: JD Events
In 2019, he started hosting sundowners at The Piano Project and the daytime sets, held from 3 pm to 7 pm, drew much more of a mixed crowd. “Indore is still a conservative city, which is why we always used to see this heavy gender [imbalance] during parties that would happen at night,” he says. “But the sundowners were at a very comfortable time when even women could come out and chill.” Now, he adds, Indore has at least six to seven sundowners every Sunday plus gigs through the weekend.
Nagori, who would programme DJ producers from across the country for The Piano Project, says that “they were always amazed by the crowd’s energy and the response they’d get.” Notably, Seed Centraal will hold an electronic music edition of District Six entitled District Six Flip co-curated with Mumbai-based artist and event management company Krunk.
“Everyone I’ve talked to is like, we need this in our lives,” says Khandelwal, who is also a drum and bass DJ. Both Nagori and he cite Indore being declared India’s cleanest city by the Ministry of Urban Development and Central Pollution Board in 2017 – a distinction it has held on to for six consecutive years – as a turning point for their hometown. “That infused a lot of confidence,” says Nagori. The citation increased property prices and attracted investment, with IT companies such as Infosys and TCS setting up campuses.
Brands and bands will help build a bright future
“Business is booming,” says Nagori. “Soon we’ll have a single, service-class, living-away-from-home, [high] spending kind of crowd. I feel we’re going to see the same effect that had on Bengaluru and Pune. There’s a lot of possibilities for nightlife.” He says he’s heard that there are “15 to 20 new venues coming up in three or four months”.
Soni attributes the growth of the Indore scene to a couple of additional factors: revenge partying and the desire to enjoy experiences offered in larger cities in one’s own hometown. “Post COVID, the perception of people has changed drastically; they want to live every day like never before,” he says. “Also they keep seeing concerts happening in other cities on social media, which makes them feel that they too want to live this.”
And where there are audiences, there will be brands. Indore, where the gig-going lot skews younger than in larger cities at between 18 to 30 years old, is slowly but surely attracting the attention of alcobev companies looking to promote and drive sampling of their products to new consumers.
“It has become a target market for brands planning activations and sponsorships, as exemplified by Royal Challenge American Pride’s successful club activations last year and their continued focus this year,” says Roydon Bangera, the chief business officer at Skillbox. These have included gigs by electronic music and pop acts such as Sickflip and Kayan.
That said, most local concert organisers tie up with national promoters or ticketing platforms to co-produce events, which are concentrated in the festival season from September to March. For the scenes to truly scale up and be sustainable, there needs to be considerable effort and investment in fostering homegrown talent that can build an audience base that doesn’t just come out to watch Indian indie’s biggest acts. That’s a gap Seed Centraal aims to fill.
“If we include those from nearby cities like Bhopal and Ujjain, the hope is by the time we are in July 2024, we should have five local bands that we can programme every month,” says Khandelwal. Among the acts Khandelwal plans to programme are guitarist Amit Tare and his classic rock band Grim Reapers and thrash metal group Sinduct. Long Distances was chosen to open District Six because its guitarist Apurv Agrawal is from Indore.
Seed Centraal – which will function as a vegan cafe and have a vinyl bar where customers can buy and sell records – will also host open mic nights. Says Khandelwal, “There are new kids on the block who are itching to play somewhere.”
Image courtesy: Disko Samosa and The Piano Project.