2021– The year we’re back to live music in full swing?

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2020 has been brutal for everyone, especially the entertainment industry. From being the first ones to shut, to being the last to open – live shows have definitely taken a massive blow.

Everyone in the industry, from musicians, venues, artist managers to photographers, stage crew, etc have slowly witnessed the cancelation of their shows last year mid-march onwards and it wasn’t until November-December that music gigs slowly started surfacing again, testing waters if it was viable.

Despite such a bleak future or present (at that time) most musicians started figuring out what worked best for them and what deemed best to engage with their audience.

An article on Music Ally states that according to the trade body of Indian Music Industry (IMI) the listenership on audio streaming services has increased by 40% in the first half of 2020. This is a positive indication that the consumption of music has increased and hopefully shall remain the same, if not more. The months spent in lockdown, have also witnessed a large rise and growth of non-film music which also comprises of independent music releases.

Renowned venues such as Antisocial in Mumbai, Fandom at Gilly’s Redefined in Bangalore, The Moonshine Project in Hyderabad, Swig and High Spirits café in Pune have opened up and are doing their best to have artists perform. This is a step in reviving the scene again. Antisocial broke its months-long hiatus by hosting Chennai-based band TheF16s. However, wasn’t possible for every venue to host artists from different cities now due to financial setbacks. This is why, Ashwin Naidu, the artist manager at Swig said that they have been hosting artists from Pune or around such as Vicky&Tejas, Vishwa Khare, and others.

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It was satisfying to see Antisocial, Fandom, The Moonshine Project to host artists such as TheF16s, Zygnema, Aswekeepsearching, Bombay Brass, Blurry Slur, Gutslit, Seedhe Maut, The Deccan project, Jammers and many more over the past few weeks. However, as much as it is commendable, venues like Swig had duos, as well as bands such as Coffee For Giraffes, Prachi & Karan, and many more performing but the venue is back to hosting duos in the month of January. Based on the Naidu’s observation, bands seem to attract more footfall, but due to the current situation, it is risky and scary.

Boxout FM did commendable work with a 24-hour live radio pan-genre broadcast ‘Indie as Fuck’ for independent music on 15th August 2020.  Motojojo with its community-based live experiences has been able to give smaller artists from smaller cities a platform to perform live music again after months. Bohemian Live also played a major role in the opening up of the scene with their initiative ‘Unlock the Scene.’

With these venues functioning, there won’t be any halts now and the live gigs are sure to continue, as the venues mould according to new government guidelines. The number of gigs may be less and the artists hosted may be local ones but that is also a boon in itself, giving small local artists more recognition.

While most major music festivals such as Magnetic fields, Echoes of Earth, Locals District had to be cancelled this year – NH7 Weekender managed to fine-tune their festival in this situation. This online edition of Weekender strived hard to provide the best and closest offline experience but after all, it was still across a screen but the line-up definitely made it up for being online. Ziro Festival of Music also organised a virtual music festival ‘Ziro Focus 2020’ which featured artists from India and Wales.

While music festivals happening in the latter half of 2021, may have hopes of being offline, but the ones which occur in January-February are definitely online. Goa Sunsplash, the biggest reggae music festival in India, along with VH1 Supersonic are virtual too.  

However, what artists and audience should look out for from the scene this year is this optimism towards having offline live gigs soon. Echoes of Earth had to cancel their festival this year, but as posted on social media, they have claimed to be back with their 5th edition in 2021 and are open for collaborations. To attend an offline festival sooner, Magnetic Fields Festival has also announced their offline festival, a new festival launched under the brand, in Ranthambore from 19th-21st March 2021. Cymbal India Festival has also had an offline edition and another one on 26th-27th February 2021.

As much as everyone wants things to get back to normal, we have to keep in mind that COVID-19 is still a raging pandemic. Gigs have started, but in order for them to keep continuing, it is our responsibility, as an audience, to follow proper safety protocols and measures. Bassist of post-rock band Aswekeepsearching (ASWS) Robert Alex mentions how it’s the band’s job to perfom and the venue’s job to ensure safety protocols and for them Antisocial was one such venue which followed the required guidelines.

Besides live shows, what an audience can look out for is also a plethora of new music. 2020 has been a year where artists got a lot of time to work on new material which they’ve already released or shall be releasing too. Alex mentioned how the AWKS’s focus wasn’t a lot on the revenue but just to get back on stage to perform. Whereas their focus for 2021 would be working on their new album.

All in all, 2021 will see a lot of new releases just like 2020 but now we can look out for more live shows even if they are with a limited capacity. In fact, venues like Antisocial are back to hosting some new artist and having gigs almost every day, the way it was before these “unprecedented times.”

“Just a matter of time till we figure things out and be hopeful for things to work out for the better. If anything, 2020 has taught us to be prepared for the worst and work around with what we have,” concludes Alex, of ASWS on an optimistic note for fellow musicians in the scene.

By the end of 2021, we can definitely hope to get back to the gig life. The same gig life we have longed and missed so dearly.