If there is just one thing music lovers would lament about, it’s probably the lack of performance venues around. Having contributed a great deal to the music culture is one such music, arts and performance based venue in Bangalore – The Humming Tree. Founded and developed in 2013 by Music Enthusiast – Nikhil Barua, The Humming Tree strives to make a difference in the art scene by providing a space for upcoming and promising artists from all disciplines. Built with a hope to promote artists and their talent and exposing people to the wonders of good live music, The Humming Tree acquaints a platform that will get them the recognition that they deserve and ensure their craft is not lost.
Having said all that, we got a chance to connect with the Founder and Owner of The Humming Tree, Nikhil Barua and share his view on changing dynamics of the music industry, the need for a platform to engage artists, Music Festivals and more.
The Humming Tree has landed up being quite a known venue for indie music in the city. How did you think of starting it?
I thought of starting a music venue after seeing a lot of friends who were musicians playing in bars and clubs that put two crappy PAs in the side on the night and turn into a “venue”. From the way artists were treated to the way a live music experience was being branded, it all made me feel terrible. Personally a gig in a small venue was the best and most rewarding experiences I had in my life so I felt there was a need to build that ecosystem of respect for the artists and to the music itself as venues.
The ability to be able to program and put on artists who we felt were great and deserving and not based on anything else could only come about when the space was yours to run without the numbers people behind you. During this, I saw a Rajasthani folk band called The Dharohar Project along with Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling when they came down ages ago and seeing this amazing band from Rajasthan for the first time was an eye opener in terms of how much talent we have here in the country that is criminally under represented. So the idea of a venue where we could do what we felt was right and done in the right way seemed a natural conclusion to me.
Talking about your journey with founding Backdoors, how has the experience been so far?
We started Backdoors with the genuine interest of bringing music from around the world that we felt needed to be heard here in the country, in an inclusive and the right climate. There’s so much potential for growth in the industry, both for international artists seeking to build an audience, and for domestic artists here seeking to find a bigger audience to music that really does deserve to reach more people. Backdoors gave us the opportunity to get slightly larger artists to India because of the larger format as well hopefully showcasing the Indian artists we really feel need to be exposed to a larger audience that are now coming to see the Big International Artists. Backdoors is meant to be artists we love, who we think you will love, in spaces that are large but still familiar and comfortable and an experience that gives you a takeaway of a purer musical experience and not your typical festival. The first edition was only in Bangalore and had Steven Wilson, Jose Gonzalez and Patrick Watson and we sold out so that was a pretty special feeling, this edition we built on that to take it to Mumbai and be bolder with our programming and have artists that we feel are at the top of their game and relevant and not safe/comfort bands that would be an easy ticket sell. Wolf Alice is personally one of my favourite bands and think they are as good as it gets right now so for me was a definite booking, Anderson .Paak with The Free Nationals has been on everyone’s lips for a while so to get the king of soul and groove was an easy call on many fronts. Watsky embodies who we are as people and the festival and we were thrilled to get him back, this time along with the band and Danny Goffey being britpop royalty (ex supergrass) is indulgence again. Mahesh and WCMT are artists here who feel really are going to explode this year and are thrilled to feature them on the second edition’s lineup and Divine and Prateek are just great and heart bookings for artists who rightfully are at the top of their game in India.
What kind of change is The Humming Tree planning to bring forth in the current music scene?
We have remodeled us as a venue as of this year where we are now a purely performance driven space and not a bar where people go out for a night out and maybe catch a gig as well on the side. We would love to see music, art and performances only being viewed in spaces that are conducive to the inherent value of the act and not overshadowed by a loud crowd that isn’t there to see the gig/performance predominantly. That’s a change we would love to see implemented more across the country since that we truly believe in art being appreciated the right way and proper dues given. We also want to do more THT tours with international artists along with Indian artists, again in spaces that are unique and special in them, as well as be bold and brave with the artists we bring down and feature. We’ve had the opportunity to host some of the biggest artists in the world at our venue. We see the potential in good music even when it’s an act that’s probably not so well known in India but the reaction afterwards validates bringing that artist to the venue/country. We want to actively reach out to people and nudge them towards something that is both rewarding, and should be recognized and appreciated in the right way.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while putting this concept and bringing new artists on board?
In India being an artist or a facilitator of the arts is a pretty thankless task to be honest. It’s a daily struggle to have people understand the value in what you are bringing to the table and it really should not be that way, art/music should not be a sell. It constantly is in India apart from a few and far between exceptions. New artists come to the table after being influenced by other artists and their reach and forward trajectory, if we don’t have an ecosystem that supports that, we really won’t have genuinely good and exciting new artists come out. I do think we as a country are at a tipping point, there’s so much potential here and opportunities to really be a big player in the international cultural scene but we need to simple base to really come through for that to happen. Mainly people go out and buy tickets for performances, which in turn spurns the artist to improve every time and get something new to the table (and most importantly giving the artist the financial freedom to do so), which in turn brings in the stalwarts like management companies, labels, agencies etc to the table and then the game becomes the standard stable ecosystem that exists everywhere. It’s always still going to be a struggle but we need our base to be really solid as the simple and essential starting point.
What’s your take on the growth of music festivals in India?
The massive spurt of music festivals in india is very encouraging but also something we need to be careful about. Music festivals abroad are built on a foundation of smaller ecosystems like proper live music venues and loads of smaller tours of bands that they have a proper fan base in the country. This is slowly happening in India which is great and fundamentally important but we all need to be a bit sensible and not just jump on the music band wagon for the sake of it since it’s a steady way up and just plugging in as many festivals and “big names” is not the way to go. As Vijay Nair mentioned last year, Bacardi NH7 Weekender is probably the only live music festival that turns a profit so it’s red flags all over when people don’t understand the market and jump on to an impression of a music culture and not the reality of a music culture. I think it’s great that there are levels of music festivals happening, think that’s a really good and sustainable way of building both the festival and a festival going culture here in India. For every Weekender there’s a Backdoors, for every bigger “electronic festival” there’s a Magnetic fields, special mention to the lovely and beautifully run Ziro Festival here.
Finally, what’s next for The Humming Tree?
(Laughs) A bit of a loaded question. As a physical venue we are looking to expand into Mumbai and Delhi as an intimate and pure performance venue (not run it as an f&b space with music/art on the side) and looking to do loads more THT tours with some artists who we really can’t wait to bring to India as well as a Backdoors every year.