New on the scene: The Humming Tree
If there is just one thing music lovers would lament about, it’s probably the lack of performance venues around. When one thinks of performance venues in Bangalore, it’s usually names like CounterCulture, Opus and BFlat that come to mind. These venues have contributed a great deal to the music culture in the city, and this year saw the birth of a new locale – The Humming Tree.
Impeccably ‘placed’ in the heart of the city, this performance venue is considered ‘the place to be’ – whether you’re there to perform, or to listen. Having already roped in big names from around the country like BASSfoundation, Your Chin, Parvaaz and The Lightyears Explode (to name a few), the sound at this place is absolutely impeccable. A warm ambiance, attentive staff and mouth-watering food just add to The Humming Tree’s credibility and ability to deliver to music lovers and pub-goers alike.
Over the weekend, I went in for a gig and cornered the shy yet good-natured owner of this new venue, Nikhil Barua, and got the lowdown on the ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ of The Humming Tree’s conception.
Noopur: Hi Nikhil! So, I have to say that Humming Tree has landed up being quite a known venue for indie music in the city. How did you think of starting it?
Nikhil: Well, I have to say that’s nice to hear. It started about 2 and a half, 3 years ago. Um… I was not really happy with what I was doing, and I said I want a change. I was just… at that point, very very open in my life. I had gone to see Mumford and Sons, this English band that were touring India. I watched them play with this Rajasthani band called Dharohar Project and they were amazing. Absolutely amazing. I spoke to the Mumford guys afterwards and they said “these are the best musicians we’ve ever played with, they intuitively understand music”. It really bothered me that most people in India had never heard of Dharohar Project. I like music, I do go around and I still hadn’t heard of them.
A friend of mine had seen them guys play at a wedding in Jaipur, stuck on stage all day, getting paid a thousand bucks for all their work. Here are these guys who play beautiful music – it’s their livelihood, their sustenance. They are singer-songwriters and they are exactly what we need in this country. And I realized maybe I needed to be more involved with music. A place where we can promote artists, where we get people more exposure to artists… from both sides. It’s good for people to go to a live music show and be affected by music, understand what that means. So, I think that was the start of saying ok, maybe I want to do something in music. And I mean actually as a job, not just ‘like’ music.
I spoke to a couple of people. One of the guys from Mumford actually started this thing in London called “Communion”, which was pretty much the same thing. He got all the folk artists in England together and they’d have a ‘Communion’ night, where you wouldn’t know which artist was playing. But you knew it was good music. It works there also because one of his friends owns a venue in London, so they never had to be answerable to anyone. If they liked the band, they could put them on. It’s their venue. So I thought that would be great. If we have a venue as well, then I can push that. Because if I like a band now, I can bring whoever I want and ask them to play here. I don’t have to be answerable to anyone. It becomes our freedom, and how we do it and when we do it. That’s how the venue was born.
That was about 2 and a half years ago, and about 3 months ago we started with The Humming Tree. where we promote artists as much as we can while giving them exposure.
Noopur: I think that’s fabulous. In comparison to other music venues in Bangalore, you guys have a “No Cover, No Entry” policy. Why?
Nikhil: Um, I don’t think that’s actually a very good thing, in general. It’s great when people pay to watch artists. You go for a movie, you pay for that; you go for anything, you pay for it. Unfortunately in India, we are where we are. People don’t appreciate live music. So we’re probably five years away from people saying “you know what? I really like this artist and it’s definitely worth paying for.” So it’s almost like a social cause right now, where we say “Ok, we’ll take a hit. You come and you understand what good live music is.” Ideally artists should be paid. We pay them regardless of whether we charge an entry or not, but artists should have that respect to say that “you know what; people are paying to come and see us because we’ve really worked hard on this.”
But in India, it doesn’t work. We’ve seen people who say even a 200 rupee cover/entry puts them off. So it’s just a strategy we’re going with right now to expose as many people as we can to good, live music. And hopefully, one day, they’ll say it’s worth it, and “I don’t mind paying for it.
Noopur: I know Humming Tree started sometime in June. You guys have been quite prolific in getting some big names across India to play here. How did you do it? I know bands have abandoned venues to come play here at The Humming Tree.
Nikhil: Well, again it stems from the fact that a lot of my friends are musicians; same with my family.We already have an existing network of musicians. They know why we’ve started this. We’re not starting this for any other reason but to be a music venue that supports them.
The minute you say that to someone, that in itself, is an easy sell. Because they know they’re coming to a place where they’re going to be appreciated. On top of that we want to be professional, we want to treat our artists right, treat them with respect. We also have a good sound set-up… we’ve done music the right way.
Noopur: I completely agree with that because for the gigs that I’ve witnessed, your acoustics – and I have said this before – are absolutely impeccable. What went into producing acoustics like this?
Nikhil: Everything was actually designed from the sound up. So, sound came first and everything else was just worked around that. Again, I’ve been to venues where the sound has been phenomenal. You can’t describe that feeling but it’s in you and it stays in you. So, you have to get good sound. You can be a really good band but if you don’t have good sound, it doesn’t make a difference. That was our first and biggest priority.
We tied up with Acoustic Control, who are probably one of India’s leading sound specialists. We sat down with them, the nicest guys in the world, and they loved the fact that we were sharing this vision with them. We gave them an empty platform and asked them to tell us what we need to do to get good sound. And we just worked around that from there.
Noopur: Across India, to start The Humming Tree, did you have any influences? Any venue influences that inspired you to start The Humming Tree?
Nikhil: I think it’s just the fact that I love music and have been to music venues wherever I’ve been. I don’t think we have enough of them in India. CounterCulture and Bflat have done a great job in Bangalore. There are so many even in Bombay and Delhi. We definitely need more of them.
More people want to go to music venues now, so it’s a great thing to be involved in. So yeah, nothing in particular. It was just the desire to have a good music venue space, that’s it.
Noopur: Any favorite Indian bands?
Nikhil: Dharohar Project… um, I have a lot. That’s the thing… In 3 months itself we’ve come up with so many good young Indian artists who’ve blown us away with how good they’ve become and the talent that there is. Um, big fan of Your Chin – I think what Raxit Tewari is doing is phenomenal. And we need exactly that. We had another band that’s played here before and will be playing here again, The F16’s from Chennai. They’re pretty much on another level and after they played and left, I figured we needed to have them back here again. It was just that good.
Noopur: Well, I have to say that what you’ve done with this space is absolutely brilliant. I’m not musically inclined but as a music-lover, this is where I am quite often. To wrap it up, would you call yourself a musician? Do you play any instruments?
Nikhil: I definitely would not call myself a musician. (laughs) I love music. I think my biggest strength is liking good music, but that’s about it. I play the guitar – very, very badly but that’s pretty much it.
Noopur: What can we look forward to at The Humming Tree?
Nikhil: Well, apart from music, we’d like to have more events at the venue. We’d like to do Open Mic nights, spoken word, interpretative dance and whatever you want to do. Like really good, authentic local comedy shows. Basically, we’d like people to say that this is a place where they feel comfortable and they’d like to express themselves. We’d really like that. We’ll keep it as open and fluid as possible.