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A Crackdown of The Music Scene in Bengaluru – The Humming Tree Bids Adieu

Just when people were reeling in the aftermath of BFlat’s official statement about shutting down, Bengaluru’s another live music venue took it to Facebook to announce their closure. The Humming Tree has been one of the prime live music venues that has been serving as a safe haven for independent music artists and stand up comedians. Having hosted film screenings, comedy shows, theatre, and live gigs by indie artists, The Humming Tree has been the go-to venue for almost six and a half years for the people of the city. Amidst the speculations about resident associations complaining to the police about loud music and noise pollution, Bengaluru police have been issuing notices to pubs and bars under Supreme court’s order on Licensing and Controlling of Places of Public Entertainment (Bangalore city) , 2005. According to the act, any place of public entertainment is supposed to have a license to play music, issued by the police.

In an official statement given by the founder of The Humming Tree, Nikhil Barua expresses, “It’s been a great 6 years and 4 months as a venue, and far more fulfilling than we could have ever imagined in terms of the artists we have had the honor of having play at ours, meet as people and the audiences that came out all through this time and supported us (and in the process some become like family to us), the artists and the scene in general.” However, he added, “But 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.”

In a conversation with TIMD, Nikhil shares how disturbing the situation had been for the past two years that led them to succumb to pressures, his thoughts on the crackdown of Bengaluru’s music scene due to licensing issues, and a peek into his plans for The Humming Tree for future. 

What are your thoughts on  Bangalore Police’s methods in order to follow the Supreme Court’s order on Licensing and Controlling of Places of Public Entertainment?

I think it’s hugely important to have consistent and clear legislation across the board when it comes to any commercial activities. But well thought out legislation that is implemented from the ground up and not when convenient. As a business owner, nothing, I repeat NOTHING, would give me more peace of mind in this country than knowing we are covering all bases legally and the only stress that is on the plate is the actual running of the business and no outside forces that we have no control over. The music license as a base requirement actually makes a lot of sense, if anyone is playing live music or DJs by default it will be loud and open to the public and therefore necessary noise insulation and safety norms have to be followed, these processes are followed in bars/venues all around the world. We should have no issues with that, the only gripe we have is that one condition of getting the music license involves having an OC (occupational certificate) that most buildings in Bangalore do not have. Technically/legally no building should be allowed to carry any trade in it without the OC but for donkeys years the relevant authorities here turned a blind eye on it and allowed buildings to carry on without it. The onus is on the municipal authorities and the building owners to get this certificate not the tenants, of course as tenants we should have made sure we go into buildings with an OC but when the norm (80% of buildings in the city don’t have the OC) is that you don’t need it then obviously it wasn’t our primary concern. Fire is a huge issue and I completely agree no allowances should be given on that which is why we spent a lot of money to make sure the building and the venue was completely fire compliant and safe and also got the necessary certificate. So to answer the question about the methods the Bangalore police have used to impose the need for the PEL…I think it’s myopic and unfair.

If their issue is with legality and buildings not having an OC then they should also be going after ALL buildings (and by default businesses operating in them) that do not have an OC. Not just venues/pubs/bars. The law is the law for all.

We definitely feel there is a huge amount of vested persecution of an industry here in the city and they are playing the safe card. There is an easy way around it which is issuing a new building worthiness certificate which we all can all apply for because then we actually can get the PEL. As businesses, we should not be doing the government agencies jobs for them. As mentioned before, at the least, no matter how awful it’s been trying to keep the venue afloat over the last 2 years, if the silver lining here is that there is clear and not corrupt legislation going forward then it’s still a win in the long run.

Bangalore has been a hub for indie music scene in India, how do you think this is going to affect artists and owners of live music venues in the city?

This is massively going to affect the scene, most live venues will cease to operate if they don’t have the necessary paperwork (most not their responsibility) or at least try and run day to day and as a result severely affect the programming and gigs they put on. A lot of gigs for artists as a result is going to dry up, the fees that will be given will come down due to people not willing to take larger monetary risks on gigs that can be canceled at any point. We pretty much had to stop getting artists from outside the city since we knew the gig could be canceled at any point and we’d lose all the monies on tickets. It’s a huge and accumulating downward spiral. Apart the general sense of dread that will affect creativity severely. It’s hard enough doing music in India as it is, as you guys know, from all sides. We need pushes and help, not literally everything that ensures they making a hard situation impossible.

I’m genuinely scared about the future of Bangalore as the hub for independent music that it has always been.

The Humming Tree has been promoting music, film, and stand up comedy industry for almost 6 and a half years. How do you feel about having it shut down?

Mixed feelings really, if you asked me this 2 years ago I’d be heartbroken obviously but the last 2 years of dealing with the situation here in Bangalore has pretty much broken all of us, so in a way it’s a relief to at least have a clear direction now. I know we will never stay away for too long and will find ways to make sure we can keep doing what we love.

We put our hearts and souls into the venue so it is very personal

and it hurts to think that we can’t host gigs and the arts here for a while anymore, it had all become so part of life but overall I’m sure it’s for the good in the long term and will lead to better things, so for now – tired appreciation and gratitude maybe as a feeling? 🙂

The outpour of reactions on the same clearly makes it evident how loved The Humming Tree has been. Are you planning on any project for the future? 

We are actually blown away by the amount of love and support we have received after making the closure announcement. It meant a lot to all of us here at the venue to know that what we have tried to do here did make a difference to people’s lives. Honestly a huge source of encouragement to keep the fight going, we would love to come back even better as a venue as soon as we can but until we have incredibly clear legislation and guidelines we are not touching another physical space, in the meantime we will be working on the non-venue formats that we were working on previously – Festivals (Backdoors 2020), a few international artists, 3 city tours over the next 6 months and hopefully a few artists from here that we can tour with as well over the same time period.

We will be doing one-off shows like we did with Prateek Kuhad as well as and when possible

as well as taking the film clubs we launched at the venue to other formats and really try and build that with the emphasis being on serious curation on the films screened. Basically, we gonna use this time to fall back in love with music and curation again 🙂 and enjoy the process and make sure that no-one who should not be having a say on the integrity of music does have no avenue to.

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