Ever wondered how it would be if a bunch of guys just plugged in guitars and started singing lovely songs on the corner of the street where your workplace is? Or the subway? Or while you were at a café with your amigos? Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Say hello to busking, described as the act of performing in public places for gratuities. While this is a concept is fairly common in the West, it’s not entirely unknown in India either. Back in the day, folk musicians would do the rounds in villages and perform. However, over the course of time, this reduced drastically owing to the digital age. But just because smartphones and social media have made it possible for you to get fans’ attention from the comfort of your home or studio, doesn’t mean you can no longer take music to the streets. Busking, in today’s time, can help musicians think outside the box when it comes to taking their music to a larger audience.
Busking Although currently prevalent at a very small level, the ones who are doing it swear by it, as it opens newer possibilities and different experiences. “Busking is like a surprise gig for me. Just get into people’s faces and share your talent with them,” says Sidharth Kadadi, the guitarist of Zygnema. He will love it, of course, as his thrash metal band Zygnema, progressive Hindi rock outfit Coshish, and grunge rockers Blakc employed busking on a large scale to promote their DIY concert Party La La La which happened earlier this year. Blakc, as a band, has been busking for promotion for a long time. “The idea started in '10. We had a headlining gig in Pune around the time the scene over there wasn't doing too well. We always want a lot of people at our gigs, so Shawn (vocalist) and I went to Pune a day in advance. We gathered peeps from some of the opening bands and just went to random places. By the end of the day we had 10 odd band members and had played in some 6 places. We repeated the same during NH7 (Weekender) last year,” informs Anish Menon, the guitarist for Blakc, when asked about how it all began.
Did it work? This brought us to our next question – did it work? Anish says, “(We had) More people at shows. The first one at Pune was off the hook! We got, like, 350 people at 300 bucks a pass. The last gig with a full blown lineup had like 180 people at 200 a pass. So that was slamming.”
What Party La La La did... Party La La La, their latest endeavour towards getting a live, independent, DIY concert to the people, and having a raw, authentic musical experience for the musicians and fans alike, took place at Sitara Studios on the 27th Feb 2016. Since this was DIY, there were barely any sponsors, or a huge marketing budget for the billboards. So, what is the next best thing to do? Show people a glimpse of how you’re going to bring the roof down at the concert, of course. Members of Blakc, Coshish and Zygnema went to over 30 corporate offices, colleges, and pubs and cafés in a month and showed people a trailer of their kickass music. And how did it help? “When you manage to sell 520 passes before the gig and you see 200 new faces at the show, you know you have done something right.” says Sidharth. Party La La La opened to a packed house and the jumping, dancing, and moshing audience was only testament to the success of the DIY attitude and the efforts taken to promote the gig majorly through busking.
It would be exciting to see these bands do it again, and even more so to see some more bands come forward and surprise people. On asking if they plan to busk in the future, Anish is prompt to respond, “Yes! And we will take it up a notch. There are a huge number of people out there who would love to be part of our scene but they just don't know about what's going on and why we do this. Busking is a great way to get our scene across to the rest of the country.” Sidharth adds, “We have been encouraging other artistes to do this. One has to experience it to believe in it.”
The Satisfaction of Busking The promotional benefits of busking are great. There is a surprise element in it for the fans and the musicians alike. But, busking as an activity can be enthralling for the performer, as well. Both Anish and Sidharth agree. “For a band that plays so much ON-STAGE with electric guitars and drums, it's humbling and daunting to have no wall of sound and no boundaries from the audience. So you're nervous at the start, but you truly learn to let it go and groove. And the people start to feel it which becomes a beautiful vibe for everyone”, describes Anish. Sidharth seconds that thought, “It (the busking tour for Party La La La) felt like playing a show on a daily basis. Being a full time musician is a dream and when you play your instrument every day for a new set of audience, it just instils that faith in your heart.” It is that faith that brings the musicians and the fans closer. A surprise, intimate gig is always a pleasure to watch, especially when it is good music. Plus, busking has promotional benefits, too. So the next time there is an album coming out, or a major concert happening, brace yourselves, gird your loins and stay prepared to headbang it out, you never know which one of your favourite bands might just walk into your office or coffee shop and make your day!