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A Sofa,a Swig and a Song

Small music gigs are thriving both privately and publicly


June 15, 2013 5:26:10 am

It’s strange how things expected to be worlds apart can sometimes be so reminiscent of each other. I first read about the international “living room gig movement” Sofar Sounds online some months ago while procrastinating on a deadline. Sofar Sounds (a play on ‘sofa’) is a movement wherein music lovers can host small gigs in their homes — if they can manage to convince the artistes and technicians to work for free,a task becoming more and more forbidding with every Facebook share of a touching “Build your heart to pay

for art” poster by Delhi-based doodler The Filmy Owl.

Just a handful of gigs have been hosted around the country,with Pune being the first venue back in 2011. Frankly,it’s quite difficult for the average person to track down Sofar events because they’re based on the principles of zero publicity,zero commercialism and bring your own cookies — making the set-up very stealthy.

Most people imagine a sharp divide between private and public gigs. Music performances at pubs and clubs often entail hefty ATM withdrawals,distractive elements disguised as overdressed or over-gelled patrons,and a lot more din than you would credit to just the band. Private performances,on the other hand,are expected to be soul-satisfying experiences as restitution for the painstaking bringing-together of artiste and the audience by goodwill and word of mouth.

Nevertheless,I was pleasantly surprised by the cosy informality of last Wednesday’s gig at Swig (which will never have the panache of its old name North Main). The Empty Café Duo and Miss Mellifluous Gowri Jayakumar a.k.a. Kozmi Cow kept a thin yet enthusiastic crowd hovering near the homey alcove-stage,on which they performed music “so avant-garde,” as my companion put it,“that one would have to wear horn-rimmed glasses and a black turtleneck to be here”.

Now,scheduling an event on a weeknight is an interesting move. You know you’re not going to make any money anyway,since all the white-collar ants are busy earning the cash that you will rake in on the weekend. What you’re left with then are the other struggling artistes,the injured athletes,the transiting backpackers and the freelance journalists. A happy flock of bums.

And since nobody expects to turn a real profit from this lot,most of these jam sessions are free and unencumbered by the sweaty,crowded,maddening juggernaut — that is the Saturday Night Party Scene. Pune is no stranger to the weeknight gig. Folks with keen ears have been showing up at Shisha Jazz Café on Thursdays since before I started going out without my parents.

At Swig,I observed that social rarity; people having a great time without being spoon-fed great ambience,glamour or victuals. The original bar is small and unexciting to look at. I recall calling it “claustrophobic” as I once passed by the easily-overlooked façade of Prem’s restaurant. Adding beanbags and a foosball table outside was an atmosphere-building stroke of genius. Wandering in and out,catching and humming a live tune,with wisps of real conversation coming from quieter corners — it almost felt like a living room gig.

The author is a chess grandmaster and

former national champion

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