In less than two years, Mumbai has lost two of its biggest live music venues outside of auditoriums and theatres. Hard Rock Café Worli (whose shutting down was reported by Mumbai Mirror yesterday) follows on the heels of Blue Frog, which closed in August 2016. These two iconic restaurants had – between them – created a music ecosystem that flourished for around a decade, which now seems to be inexorably running out of steam.
With their generous space and high-quality sound system, HRC which opened in 2006, and Blue Frog which arrived two years later, provided an ideal platform and a springboard for established musicians, as well as up and coming bands to reach out to a new audience in the city. The likes of the reborn Indus Creed, Pentagram, Avial, Mother Jane, Raghu Dixit Project, Swarathma, Menwhopause, Soulmate etc. discovered an eager, post- Rang Bhavan generation of music fans waiting for them at these places.
Their success spawned not just similar spaces in other cities, but also a renewed interest in live rock & roll music across the country, which in turn begat many of the music festivals that continue till today. The net effect of all this was that for the first time in the history of rock & roll in India, band members could make a living out of music, and didn’t have to hold a side job to keep their passion going. And as for the audience, not only were they able to see and hear the best of Indian musicians but also feast on a variety of talented international acts like Australian rockers Wolfmother, rapper Wyclef Jean, British singer-songwriter Jay Sean, Perth-based rock band Karnivool, etc.
But then something happened a few years ago. The audience for live music began thinning in the city. Some say that the younger audience was getting tired of rock music and had shifted to the likes of EDM. Others say that with the arrival of digital services, youngsters had so much good music on tap that they didn’t want to make an effort to travel to see live shows. Added to this, the proliferation of mainstream bars like Social, Bar Stock Exchange, Hoppipola etc. which mostly played recorded music, took away a large part of the fans. Whatever the reason, it sounded the death knell for both HRC Worli and Blue Frog.
To be sure live music gigs are still happening in Mumbai, but at smaller restaurants and bars across the city. But while HRC and Blue Frog would pack in hundreds in their good days, these places count their audience in the lower double digits. As for the sound and ambience, less said the better. Even HRC’s own Andheri outpost has never been able to match the success and the aura of the now shutdown Worli counterpart.
Though the owners of the HRC brand in India have been quoted as saying that they are looking for a new venue in other parts of the city, there are reasons to be sceptical if it would ever be relocated at the same scale. The owners of Blue Frog had said the same when it was shut down. The reason both these places died is strictly economical, and it is unlikely that the situation will change anytime in the near future.
Mumbai is often referred to as the premier city in the country when it comes to live Indian rock & roll. It is indeed a tragedy that it will no longer have a decent size, 7-days a week venue for that kind of music.
And the fans probably have a lot to do with this state of affair.
(Header image: The Local Train perform at Hard Rock Cafe Worli in 2016. Photo: Prashin Jagger)