Mumbai is a terminus where artists flock to with bells on but living in the city famous for its dizzying property rates can become their ball and chain. To find, let alone set up, a space dedicated to showcase their art becomes a challenge. Existing music venues in Khar and Bandra struggle with space and financial constraints. These venues do not readily open up to experimental artists and would rather have mainstream bands. If their bet falls flat and the venues fail to breakeven, the mainstream bands are replaced by comedians.
Unconventional spaces around the city have served as music venues in the past. Way before house gigs became a thing, Bajaao’s B69 in the early 2010s, which was an abandoned dance bar; Garage 52 and the Coral Studio for REProduce Listening Room sessions hosted independent musicians.
At a short auto ride from Malad station, in a bylane of the Navy Colony, is Dorf Ketal Tower 3. On September 7, the office building housing an unused indoor basketball court turned into a venue for Slam Dunk, a DIY gig put together local punk rock bands. Death By Fungi guitarist and one of the co-organisers, Vrishank Menon, says, “This space is meant for unconventional and unpopular music. Mainstream bands have their venues but we kinda have to fend for ourselves.”
With a minimal PA which the organisers rented from a local equipment vendor, some basic floor carpeting, guitar and bass amps brought by the bands themselves and a drumkit owned by members of Death By Fungi, the makeshift stage was set. A cardboard box functioned as a daanpeti, into which attendees could donate the minimum fee of INR 200 and more if they deemed fit.
All five bands on the bill, who play punk music of different flavours, played original music from their past EPs and albums. Gig opener, Punk On Toast, played songs from their full-length We Abuse A Lot, So What?. The band, who had a lineup change a year ago with Kunal Dole on guitars and Dev RK on drums, warmed up the 30 or so people that had arrived at venue despite intermittent heavy rain that evening.
Second on the bill, Pune based group False Flag, known for their high-intensity performances, had guitarist Shaunak Phadnis fill in for frontman Pushkar on vocals for this gig. The band did not hold back from playing their brand of fast-paced hardcore/crust-punk and also from making commentary about the current socio-political climate in the country. Phadnis made several hard-hitting statements during transitions of every song, like the 2017 Gauri Lankesh assassination, the current lockdown of the northern state of Jammu & Kashmir, and also took a jibe at Mumbai thrash metal band Sceptre’s ‘ridiculous’ album cover of their latest EP.
Pacifist and Death By Fungi, fresh off their tour, played songs from their latest EPs Greyscale Dreams and Die In Mumbai respectively. Pacifist in particular has an uptempo, groovy punk rock sound that gets people in the crowd moving along right from the first few songs. Pacifist’s set broke out the first moshpit of the evening with frontman Sidharth Raveendran jumping right into the middle of it. Death By Fungi bassist and drummer Kamran Raza and Aryaman Chatterji pulled double duty after their set with False Flag, and the band played through their entire catalogue of songs from their four releases.
The Riot Peddlers played with their new drummer Dhruv Sarker and closed the gig with several new songs from their upcoming EP scheduled for release by the end of the year. Sarker, who replaces the band’s original drummer and founding member Ashwin Dutt, brought a fast and complex style to the band’s music.
Punk rock music doesn’t usually come without socio-political commentary, and all bands on the bill are known to be politically charged. Punk On Toast played a song about how democracy is a lie. The Riot Peddlers had a take on casteism. Pacifist and Death By Fungi played songs on struggles and hardships of living in Mumbai city. False Flag was heavily critical of the current central government.
At DIY gigs like Slam Dunk, the lighting and sound isn’t usually the talking point. A gig like this, in a makeshift venue, with a PA which at times was too loud for the space, with the band and the audience on a level footing, is similar to how punk gigs happen around the world. The concept of “pay-what-you-want” for entry fell in line with the DIY ethic, and total proceeds from the gig led to the organisers breaking even.
Apurv Agarwal, guitarist of Pacifist and the other main organizer of Slam Dunk said, “This is a trial for us. If it works, we are planning on having more gigs. We would like to keep it DIY and are building an inventory to do it without any rentals.To reach a bigger audience we wouldn’t mind outside support, but if you have the right people working on it, it can sound as good as a venue.”
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