Finding Music In Chennai…
Naezy performing at the IndiEarth XChange2015 – image credit: IndiEarth.
About thirty years ago, you’d find only two types of music in Chennai: Carnatic, or film. But thirty years is a long, long time, and the city has changed. You’re just as likely to find a metal head as a carnatic vocalist, a slide guitarist as a veena player and a world music aficionado as an ARR fan.
Chennai now plays host to rock alongside katcheris, and you’re just as likely to hear an electric guitar solo as a veena alapana. But you do have to look in the right places. Although there are plenty of musicians, the city doesn’t have many live venues. The few that are up and running, are however really active, giving hope of a promising future.
One of the city’s best live music venues was the Unwind Centre in Adyar. Unwind had an open floor every Friday, and it was practically a ritual for any upcoming band to perform a set there. The Shakey Rays, The Family Cheese and Skrat are just a few of the many bands that have played there. The Chennai scene boomed in 2011-12, predominantly due to Unwind. Unfortunately, they closed in late 2013, and the live music scene hasn’t been the same since. But the good news is they’re due to re-open soon.
The city is home to a few festivals. GoMadras takes place on the beach and is easily Chennai’s best electronic music haunt which featured acts like Ash Roy, Tuhin Mehta and Yidamin in the 2015 edition. There’s also a dedicated after party in Radisson Blu, at Temple Bay Beach Resort.
For bands, there’s the IndieEarth Xchange and Raw Power. Raw Power, a series of metal and hard rock shows which made an appearance in 2015 after a gap of six years and hosted some of the city’s best metal bands; hopefully it’ll reappear in 2016 as well. IndieEarth Xchange is a platform that aims to connect independent creatives with world media. They host an annual trade event for independent filmmakers and musicians with close to 40 live showcases over three days.
Image credit: Raw Power Facebook
But fests come and go. What Chennai needs are consistent and dedicated performance venues. Here’s a list of spaces that currently feature a healthy live music schedule:
This sports bar is part of GLM Meridian, one of the best executive restaurants in Chennai. While you’re likely to find a football match on Tuesday evenings, US 101 is also a happening live music venue with bands playing there almost every week. ‘Live Wednesday’ is a weekly feature with Chennai locals Skrat being regulars. Grey Shack has also played there. There are scheduled electronic music nights and the pub also hosts standup comedy featuring acts like the Rascals and Stray Factory.
Moon and Sixpence is an Irish themed pub in Hablis that features live shows almost every weekend and quite a few during the week. They also host a fair number of DJs. A relatively new venue, but they’re steadily getting better with more frequent gigs. This is definitely a place to watch out for.
This is easily Chennai’s main metal venue. While their output has decreased somewhat recently, you’re sure to catch at least one Blind Image gig there a year. Mumbai metal band Zygnema had their album launch at Geoffrey’s and every metal fan in the city has head banged at Geoffrey’s at some point. The second edition of Raw Power took place here.
Head over to the Park for an evening of electronic music. They have DJs spinning every day of the week, and the ambience is to die for. Every Wednesday is RocknRoll night and there are also some great techno gigs. DJ Audio Glitch started his Jack on the Tour at the Leather Bar. They also have great variety,with a good amount of experimental DJs and even some acoustic music.
For a mall, Phoenix manages to hold a lot of gigs. It’s the place to go to if you want to check out what the Chennai underground has to offer. You’ll find a lot of bands that are a little rough around the edges, but this is exactly what makes Phoenix exciting. Bands that will go on to become big often play some of their first gigs here.
The Hard Rock in Chennai has a pretty big drawback. It’s an actual café; they don’t serve alcohol. But they do have live music. While it’s mostly cover bands, Hard Rock is a good place to unwind with some familiar music. Stay away if you want original compositions. You won’t find them here.
Not to be confused with the theatre, Escape is the pub at Hotel Green Park. This venue is fairly new, having come into prominence last year. But they’ve already hosted their fair share of gigs, with bands like Eccentric Pendulum and Escher’s Knot coming down; Raw Power III was held at Escape.
Goethe hosts a lot of music shows throughout the year. Though the music predominantly leans towards the classical side, Goethe is a pretty good place to check out sounds that won’t be featured anywhere else in the city. In a similar vein, Alliance Française also hosts shows, but they’re not held as frequently as at Goethe. The Institut also showcases plays, theatre shows and other cultural activities.
As an outsider, it might seem like the city doesn’t have a thriving music culture. But the underground is buzzing, and there is a lot going on. This article just scratches the surface. There are terrace jams almost every month. There are plenty of college bands, and jam pads are constantly booked. The city has a great band culture, but not enough venues. This list looks at a lot of places. However most of these venues don’t pay the bands. That’s good for the casual listener, but not for the bands. Lack of pay equates to them spending less time on music, which equates to lesser music output. The solution isn’t easy; better venues aren’t going to come up overnight. But the scene has grown a lot in the past year, and with Unwind coming back, there is a lot to be optimistic about.
written by: Ajay Srikanth