When the celebrated international underground music streaming platform, Boiler Room, announced in November that it would be visiting India for the first time, there was a flurry of excitement on the music scene.
Known for its invite-only guest lists, innovative locations such as warehouses and expertly curated line-ups featuring the world’s most exciting DJs, the videos from Boiler Room gigs are streamed live on the Web to hundreds of thousands of music fans across the planet. To attend a Boiler Room event, wherever it may be, is to be part of an intimate, lucky group of people. It is also a chance to be part of a platform that has been changing “the face of live music” since 2010.
Would-be attendees for the debut Mumbai edition registered their names on the Boiler Room site, hoping to secure a ticket. The lucky few were notified of their successful registrations at noon on show day – Thursday, December 1.
Somewhat disappointingly, the email confirmation revealed the event’s venue – antiSocial at Khar. antiSocial is Mumbai’s most popular contemporary live and electronic music hotspot, but hardly an exciting new adventure for regulars on the city’s music circuit.
Thankfully, the let-downs ended there. On show night, Boiler Room’s world-class production and a carefully-managed atmosphere resulted in a night entirely unexpected for Mumbai’s music scene.
By 7.30 pm, the queue for entry to antiSocial was already snaking down the road – perhaps one of the few times in recent times in Mumbai that an audience arrived so early for an event. The venue, which typically shuts between 1.00 am and 1.30 am, usually attracts the bulk of its audience between 11.30 pm and midnight – just in time for the headliner’s performance.
It was clear that Boiler Room was a welcome addition to the party calendar, not for its brand or its artists, but for the customs it was introducing to the club culture: show up early for the night, respect the opening artists, and listen – don’t just party.
“I think that people were more open to different sorts of music,” said Arman Menzies, 25, who DJs and produces music under the moniker Zokhuma. “Ordinarily, they wouldn’t have accepted the music that Actress [the British DJ/producer who closed the event] played. But because of Boiler Room’s involvement, they were open to it.”
This was something different, and the event’s unique set-up certainly contributed to this feeling. At antiSocial, DJs and bands typically perform from the raised stage at the front of the venue. For Boiler Room, however, the artists controlled the party from the centre of the dance floor, with the audience clustered around them – savouring every beat, applauding every transition.
“The intimacy of the tightly gathered crowd around the DJ is very important to us,” said Boiler Room’s Dina Marquardt. “This ‘Boiler Room feeling’ is something we try to maintain.”
Actress’s closing set was preceded by performances from three Indian artists: Mumbai-based Sanaya Ardeshir, who performs as Sandunes; Bangalore-based Ketan Bahirat, who goes by Oceantied; and Bengaluru-based Rahul Giri, or RHL.
“When we come to a country, we want to show that Boiler Room is just a magnifying glass for that scene and that culture,” said Boiler Room host and programmer Gabriel Szatan. “So even if people aren’t aware of the artist, [our set-up] creates a quiet reverence and expectation and how to act – because everything’s being streamed in real time, it gives a different air to the party. It’s almost a meta-party... the camera makes a big difference. The crowds are on their top form. They’re far more vibrant and active than they might ordinarily be.”
Not everyone agreed that the Indian artists were the centre of attention.
“It’s almost like a trend to be here,” said Aakansha Kukreja, 23. “While I really appreciate what Boiler Room is trying to do, I feel like a lot of people don’t know who the artists are, and are just trying to be here for the ‘brand’.”
Nishant Matta too felt disappointed. “I’d say, overall, the crowd reacted well to the music that was played, to Oceantied especially,” said the 25-year-old. “But I’ve attended Boiler Room in the Netherlands, and while the vibe was good here, it was better abroad. I’m not sure how to explain it. Something wasn’t quite right – maybe it was the venue.”
Ardeshir opened the evening with an eclectic mélange of glossy, maximalist two-step that occasionally ventured into dark dub, lulling the crowd into a gentle, contended groove. Her performance was mature, understated, and wonderfully appropriate – designed to allow the artists who followed her to shine.
Bahirat shifted gears into an energetic, bass-driven set that immediately energised the 250-strong audience. Effective as his selection was, he showed none of Sandunes’ restraint, playing a peak-time set when a more subdued offering would have been more appropriate.
Or perhaps it was simply a case of sub-optimal scheduling. Giri, the final Indian performer of the evening, opened his set with a thoughtful, melodic introduction that felt like a step down after Oceantied’s high-energy submission. Sadly, some of the most powerful moments in _RHL’s set rang hollow, perhaps because his predecessor had already explored that territory. Still, he was poised and confident on the decks, expertly enticing the audience into a raucous joy just before Actress’s headlining turn.
The success of the night suggested Boiler Room’s future in India is positive, said organiser Szatan. “I think arts councils and organisations like that will be pleased that we showcased local artists, primarily, and that we didn’t just import a big lineup from elsewhere. Maybe this show will be a launching point, and we’ll be able to do another few trips to India next year.”