The Music Arena: New Sounds In New Spaces
“I feel so blessed. The Experimental Theatre is such a humbling experience and to go up there and launch my new album – I could have asked for no better setting.”
This past week saw the launch of an interesting solo project – Yohan Marshall, known as the beat poet for Chennai based alt rock act The Family Cheese, launched his solo album Your Silence last week at the second edition of the Music Arena – a monthly audio visual property organized by Krunk and Homegrown India at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai. “We have been curating club gigs and festivals for over five years now and felt that there was a big gap for musicians – mainly live – to showcase music in a non-club environment,” says organizer Sohail Arora of Krunk, “a place where a performance is heard and the visual experience is felt in the right manner. Where people are not socializing but coming and witnessing music. There are bands and artists that make music that do not necessarily fit the club environment. Also given how prestigious the NCPA is, we felt it was the right place to do this.”
The evening also featured Big City Harmonics – the solo live electronica act of talented Pune based musician/producer Rohan Hastak (have a listen here). This performance featured Rohan collaborating with Scribe guitarist Ajay Rajpurohit and visual artists Kit and Varun Mehra to showcase a more live, audio visual set. “We don’t always get to play at a sit down venue”, said Rohan, “the fact that the audience is seated – rather than standing on a dance floor – means that they can be engaged in a totally different way. I wanted to try making the visual aspect of the show more interesting and was improvising based on a loose set I had planned, while Kit and Varun were pulling up visuals based on those moods”.
The NCPA has a longstanding reputation for hosting some of the most renowned acts in the national and international dance, theatre and music circuit – artists including Parveen Sultana and Vilayat Khan have graced the space with their presence. Though this isn’t the first time for indie acts to perform at the NCPA, it certainly is a relatively uncommon phenomenon for a venue that is known primarily for showcasing more classical art forms and for often attracting older audiences. “I did look up a few times, and saw some members of the crowd look a bit shell shocked (and not in a good way)!” laughs Rohan about the performance, “but I think it’s a great direction for the NCPA and I think Krunk and the other groups involved in the gig are doing a great job – because it isn’t often we get to play a show that has the word experimental in the title. It was a great experience for all of us because we can now work backwards from that experience and fine tune the setup for the upcoming audio/visual gigs. I’d like to see more venues open themselves up to this kind of experience – it’ll give acts the freedom to try something new without worrying too much that they’re playing in the right setting”.
Perhaps like any other new initiative, this one simply needs the required time, fine tuning and dedicated audiences to allow it to organically settle into its new shell. Farrahnaz Irani, Senior Music Manager (Western Music), NCPA, is optimistic about the property’s vision and potential. “Our aim is to showcase new genres at the NCPA and promote upcoming talent,” she says. “This music is totally new to the NCPA – not in terms of the sound, but in terms of the technique – blending and synchronising sound with visuals. I was glad to see people accepting it, liking it, and that it’s growing. I also saw many older members in the audience just coming out of curiosity – it’s definitely picking up!”
“It’s hard not to react when you are paying attention to a good band or artist,” Sohail told IndiEarth. “Big City Harmonics was amazing with his well curated visual show that went perfectly with the music. It was definitely a very trippy experience!”
From an artist’s standpoint, the space offers a uniquely elevated experience as compared to performing amidst the casual chatter and buzz of a nightclub or pub. “Venues sometimes have an inherent character that makes for a very intimate sharing experience,” said Yohan about the evening. “Now that is something musicians dream of. As someone who has been playing at bars and pubs for years, I generally speak quite a bit on stage. At the NCPA gig it didn’t seem important. We just said hello and started — I could share the idea and almost the moment that inspired my album, with the audience.”
Yohan’s solo pathway incorporates influences from bands like Radiohead, Switchfoot, and Now vs. Now, and he makes it a point to give credit to the teachers who helped carve his musical path — including David Anderson, Jovol Bell, and Prasanna Ramaswamy. “The music is about reaching out to the universe with questions. It speaks about how life can sometimes get repetitive and how one moment can change you forever”. Check out the album here.
Part of The Music Arena’s aim is to offer a space for alternative sounds like Yohan’s and Big City Harmonics’, incorporating a visual experience to add an enriched, atmospheric dimension to the performances. “The idea is to have good performances and eventually have a multi-auditorium concert series or festival of sorts. Let’s hope we can also bring down some good quality international artists to this stage!” said Sohail, about the future of the property.
The next Music Arena is slated to take place in July – more details will be revealed soon.