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Bangaluru Bleeding

After the 2005 ban on dancing in discs and the 11.30 pm deadline in Bangalore, came the ban on live bands on 3 August this year, moves that the Bangalore music fraternity says has completely muzzled the music scene in the city.

The last few days have seen a series of protests by musicians, artistes, disc jockeys, theatre artists as well as music lovers expressing themselves against the reinforced ban. Associations like Guruskool Music protested on 3 August, followed by a protest staged at MG road in central Bangalore on 11 August. Guruskool has now planned to sing a specially composed anthem at 5 pm today at the Cubbon park, where over a hundred musicians plan to gather and affix their signatures to memorandum that will be handed over to the authorities.

The government seems to be in no mood to relent, however. After the Sunday protest, 32 clubs, pubs, lounges and discotheques were closed down. Nightlife in Bangalore is governed by ‘The licensing and controlling of places of public entertainment (Bangalore City) order, 2005’ and the Karnataka Excise Act of 1965. The 2005 order clubs all entertainment under a common banner, not differentiating between dance bars, discotheques or regular restaurants with live music. Taking advantage of this blanket law, dance bars emerged all over the city in early 2005 and this resulted in a brawl between owners of lower end dance bars and the upper end discotheques. The Bangalore police then allowed dancing and live music shows at pubs, restaurants, nightclubs and discotheques and on the other hand imposed ban on dance bars on the grounds that they encouraged prostitution. This move was later challenged by owners of dance bars in the High Court resulting in a complete clampdown on all nightlife.

People like freelance artist manager and event producer Arpan Peter have taken the lead by creating awareness through social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook with communities like ‘The big Bangalore protest’ and initiatives like ‘Bengaluru bleeding’. Bhoomi band manager Srinivas, who was part of the Sunday protest, avers, “The music industry is not a major revenue generator for the government, which is why we are often ignored.

The Karnataka government however has a different take on the issue. Stressing that the decision has been taken in the interest of maintaining law and order in the city, the state's home minister V S Acharya on Sunday rejected the petition to allow disco and live music during night hours. “The line between the dance bars and discos is very thin. We are not allowing disco and live music during night in the interest of law and order,” reports quote Acharya as saying. The government reiterated its seriousness about the ban with the Bangalore police cracking down on 32 discotheques operating without valid licenses in the city on Monday.

Bands hit hard

As a city, Bangalore has always had only a few select restaurants that allowed live band performances. Srinivas insists, "This ban is a move to curb our freedom of expression. Despite the 11.30 pm deadline, live gigs at one or more pubs were being held. The new restrictions will severely hit musicians' earnings.

Artistes claim that the government and the state's moral police have always taken a dim view of pubs and discs, associating live bands with prostitution, drugs, smoking pot and rapes. "Bands have often had to perform in unknown locations with no promotions from the fear of being caught,” points out Rahul Ranganath of Plunge band.
Ranganath also adds that the 11.30 pm deadline is impractical as audiences start filtering in only post 9.30 pm. "With the government now hesitating to give land for open air performances at places like Palace grounds too, we will be left with no choices, although many bands have the money to conduct these events,” he says.

Music fans too have been vociferous in their opposition to the ban and ordinary citizens too were part of the protests. Software engineer Ahmed Qasi says, “The law says live music cannot be played at pubs and restaurants and the later says we cannot dance or react to the recorded music being played. This simply means we are supposed to sit like statues when music is played.”

“There has always been a problem in Bangalore either with the language of the bands performing and worse enough even the colour of the tee worn by them. International artistes visiting India prefer playing in the North-East, other metros and then Bangalore,” says die hard rock fan Mathew.

Just as new talent is beginning to emerge in Bangalore (the Swarathma band won the Radio City band hunt earlier this year), the government appears to be averse to giving it the space to perform. Says Nithya Dayal, founder of music portal www.muziboo.com, “The result of moral policing getting tighter in Bangalore is that, none of the lounge bars or restaurants can have dance or dance floors and worst still no live music because that can provoke people into dancing! The worst hit places in Bangalore are places like Taika, Opus and few other pubs. The ban is disheartening, because things were slowly improving in Bangalore with bands and individuals getting a chance to perform to a live audience."

Clubs hit too

It isn't only the musicians and bands that have been hit by the latest missive from the government. Hard Rock café, which opened up in Bangalore in December 2007, abstained from holding live gigs regularly from the beginning, unlike its counterparts elsewhere in the country.

HRC Bangalore marketing manager Misha Pamnany recollects, “Bangalore was a city with live Jazz, Karaoke, rock and DJ nights at every second block, but today when the music boom is happening all over India, such a ban means death of music in the city.”

“When we came to Bangalore, we envisioned that the law would change eventually, but the scene has worsened in the past few months. With the 11.30 pm deadline, they were curtailing entertainment to some extent but by banning the live performances, the night life has completely been slammed,” says Pamnany.

Opus, known for its live gigs and a dedicated audience for performances too claims to have been affected adversely. Opus owner Gina Braganza says, “There has been a 50 per cent drop in the footfalls at our outlet. But we are not approaching the government for a solution right now.”

Is migration the solution?

Event managers who have already booked shows for the year end in Bangalore with international artistes, are looking out for other venues due to the unexpected ban.

“If you consider migration to other cities as a solution, it is easy for a DJ to shift base and move on but when it comes to a whole band migrating to another place, it is not easy,” avers Srinivas.

Ranganath adds, “Known bands can at least make a living by performing outside Bangalore. Migration of bands to other cities is already happening and bands are even performing for free just to gain exposure outside Bangalore.”

Pereira joins in, “Musicians from Bangalore are migrating to other places as only small shows are happening here now. Many pre-organised shows have been cancelled and it is only the half hour shows that happen during the day time for music lovers. Such shows are organised at short notice, via networking sites and there is no money in such gigs.”

No integrity in voice

An element which is hitting the protest is the lack of integrity among the bands, pub owners and musicians. As Srinivas remarks, “The problem lies in the fact that not many bands turned up for the protests. They felt the protests would only help the pubs which wouldn't fight for their cause."

“There is groupism among the bands too on the basis of genre like rock and roll, electronic, metal etc. There is no professionalism within the musicians and this division is a major hurdle within the community. Everybody is not united for this cause and we don’t believe in the protests,” comments Ranganath. “Protests will not help as nobody seems to be bothered with our problems. The solution will be big organisers taking interest in some bands and then working to promote them”.


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