More power to the fans

Bhanuj Kappal | Updated on January 12, 2018

Good vibrations: A performance at the eighth edition of Control Alt Delete, held in Mumbai in 2015. Photo: Himanshu Rohilla

Control Alt Delete, the crowd-funded gig series, is into its 10th edition this weekend, having grown to become one of the highlights of the Indian touring circuit

This weekend, hundreds of indie music fans will make the trek to Malad to catch the tenth edition of Control Alt Delete, a crowd-funded gig series that is one of Indian indie’s biggest experiments in alternative business models. Started in 2011, with the radical idea of replacing fixed ticket prices with a pay-what-you-want system, the community focused, sponsor-free initiative has grown into one of the highlights of the Indian touring circuit at a time when even established, well-funded music venues are folding or scaling down. The 10th edition of Control Alt Delete — to be held this weekend — will be the biggest one yet, a two-day, five-stage shindig at a Malad resort that will feature 35 independent acts from 13 cities across India. The lineup features everything from metal band to singer-songwriters, alt-rock bands to electronica producers. There’s even a hip-hop contingent, with rap acts from Mumbai and Shillong. It’s the biggest DIY show the city has seen in years. And it all began as a drunken conversation over Old Monk and chakhna.

“I was sitting with the boys in [Mumbai alternative bands] Split and Blakc and we were discussing Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want album release for In Rainbows when one of them suggested applying the same model to a gig,” remembers Control Alt Delete founder Himanshu Vaswani, who ran artist management agency Sidestand at the time. 2011 was a strange time to be an indie musician in Mumbai. On the one hand, there were more bands putting out more amazing and original music than ever before. The scene had had its ‘grand coming out party’ in the form of the first NH7 Weekender a couple of months ago, and companies like Rolling Stone and Only Much Louder were aggressively promoting independent music and alternative culture. On the other hand, the city’s music scene was still struggling to deal with the loss of Razzberry Rhinoceros, the venue that had been its home for over a decade. Gigs were scarce on the ground, and there was a real danger that all the momentum built up over the last few years would dissipate. “We had no sponsors, no gigs, and good musicians were sitting at home and wondering what to do,” remembers Vaswani.

Working with a bunch of bands, Vaswani held two very successful shows at Mumbai’s cult underground venue B69. Then in early 2012, B69 shut down and Vaswani had to put the experiment on hold. In 2013, he started planning CAD’s grand return at Sitara Studios, the erstwhile TV studio that was keen on exploring the possibility of hosting live music. He also roped in Rishu Singh of ennuidotbomb and Nikhil Udupa, then working at OML, to work on the gig. These three would form the core CAD team till last year, when Singh left due to personal commitments.

The gig they put together would set the template for future editions, putting in place many of the ideas that now define the initiative. The first of these was the idea of online crowd-funding. “We were just working towards the gig and one day Udupa said that if we’re taking pay-what-you-want at the gate, so why can’t we take it online?” remembers Vaswani. Inspired by the CAD crew’s DIY ethos, indie fans contributed generously — both online and at the gate, which still operated on the pay-what-you-want model. Hundreds of kids thronged the cramped bylanes leading to the venue to watch 10 of Mumbai’s most exciting young bands. CAD 3.0 saw the team lay out an alternative approach to the business of live music. They modelled the initiative as a non-profit, aiming to make fans and bands stakeholders in a grassroots approach to scene building. They prioritised transparency, diligently releasing their accounts to the public after every edition. They even upended the traditional hierarchy in performance fee — where bands get paid according to their position in the lineup — by splitting profits equally. “We basically took all the fan conversations that we had in club parking lots or on online forums and put them in action,” says Udupa.

Since that third edition, CAD has grown by leaps and bounds. In the years since it started, many others have come up with their own takes on alternative gig-building. There’s the Bring Your Own Headphone series in Pune, Reproduce Artist’s Listening Room (full disclosure: I’m part of the team that runs Listening Room) that does music interventions in non-commercial spaces, and the international Sofar Sounds series of secret gigs held in volunteers’ living rooms. The models may differ, but all these initiatives share a disenchantment with the sponsor-driven commercial logic of the indie music ‘industry’.

“The honest fact is that our independent scene lives in an upper middle class bubble,” adds Udupa. “However much we call it ‘for the people, by the people’, it actually exists only for those who can afford it. This circus has existed on self-congratulatory efforts for far too long — everybody loves everyone, and everyone is basically 20 people. We’ve always tried to break out of that circle and I believe everything we’re doing is part of that effort.”

(Control Alt Delete 10.0 takes place on February 11 and 12 at Roaring Farm, Malad. Entry: pay what you want)

Published on February 10, 2017

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