The impending closure of three music venues in Bengaluru has revived the debate over the ban on live music in pubs and bars in the city, particularly in the Indiranagar area, where many well-known music events have taken place over the years.
The Humming Tree, a venue known for its careful selection of music events, announced that it will be closing at the end of September while two other popular venues, BFlat and BTDT in Indiranagar, will pull down its shutters from October 2 onwards.
The closure of BFlat, BTDT and The Humming Tree comes as a blow for musicians in Bengaluru, particularly since these establishments have a history of encouraging independent musicians. The Humming Tree has hosted artists like Steven Wilson and Anderson Paak, and BFlat has played host to artists like Parvaaz, Swarathma and Louis Banks. The venue is known for promoting contemporary jazz and blues artists and contributed to the larger culture of promoting music and artists in Bengaluru where bands like Metallica first performed in the country.
Musicians in the city say that they have had to cancel scheduled gigs in the last two weeks. "We had to cancel two shows for which over 100 people had bought tickets. We were informed on short notice and this is a huge loss for us in revenue we use to pay our rent and survive. It is a threat to music as a profession in Bengaluru," says Rajeev Rajagopal, the drummer with indie rock band Thermal and a Quarter.
Others said that the closure of these venues is â€śdemoralisingâ€ť for many bands which made their breakthrough in music in the city. "Bands invest in practice time to go out and perform on stage. If the artist does not have the space to play music, what is the point of making music? People really don't buy albums anymore so playing live is the only way to sustain ourselves and play our music," says Debjeet Basu, a guitarist with Perfect Strangers.
Debjeet also started a Change.org petition to â€śsave music in Bengaluruâ€ť which has garnered over 18,000 signatures so far. Musicians say that there is little clarity over which venue in the city is compliant with the rules and can host music events in the city.
"No musician in the city knows which venue is legal or illegal. We cannot ask venues to show their licenses. We need the police to inform which venues have licenses and which venues do not. We are being taken for granted and we are upset about the fact that the legitimacy of music as a career is being questioned," Rajeev adds.
In its closure announcement, the Humming Tree cited â€śmyopic rules regarding music licensesâ€ť as a factor in the owners' decision to close the venue. "The last 2 years in Bangalore has been a nightmare in terms of running a functioning performance venue in light of myopic rules regarding music licenses. We do hope that there is clear and fair legislation going forward and we look forward then to coming back in better avatars as a venue."
BFlat co-owner Arati Rao told TNM that it was heartbreaking for her to see the venue close down, but declined to comment further until the bar closed on October 2. In their parting words, BFlat's social media account stated that "under the prevailing conditions it's Goodbye for now", which hints at the establishment having issues with the strict enforcement of rules for playing recorded or live music.
Recently, the police began enforcing rules laid down under Licensing and Controlling Places of Public Entertainment (Bangalore City) Order, 2005, which requires establishments to get licenses for entertainment programmes through the Bengaluru Commissioner's office. The Supreme Court upheld this order in January 2018 following a dispute that dragged on for several years. In addition to this, a group of Indiranagar residents moved the Karnataka High Court against the illegalities in the operation of pubs in the area.
This effectively disallows live music performances to be hosted in establishments that do not have the required documents for obtaining a licence. Two of the documents needed for this licence are an Occupancy Certificate (OC) and a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Fire Department. An OC is issued if the building is built in compliance with a pre-sanctioned building plan. But venue owners argued that a majority of buildings in Bengaluru do not have the OC because it was not a requirement to obtain licenses earlier.
In the past, The Humming Tree's owner Nikhil Barua has mentioned issues in obtaining the building's Occupancy Certificate (OC) and fire safety compliance certificates.
OC and fire safety compliance certificates have turned into a major problem for many venues, which would have to renovate their establishment to comply with the rules. In some cases, venue owners admitted that it is not possible to renovate due to the lack of space. Even recorded music is currently disallowed in Indiranagar's pubs which do not have all the required documents, police officials confirmed. "This applies to all pubs and bars in Indiranagar. Venues hosting live events must submit documents to the police commissioner," says a police official in Indiranagar.