With the independent music scene finally making a dent in the national consciousness, it’s easy to forget that non-Bollywood and essentially non-cinematic Western music found its foothold because of certain establishments and certain people that believed in the underdog instead of making going for the big bucks and promoting the bigwigs. Blue Frog is the iconic Mumbai venue that has been showcasing talent – musical and otherwise without any bias or prejudice for a significant amount of time.
They started out small. The team recalls the origins, the time when “blueFROG was the vision of five people from different career fields (music, banking, film making) who shared love of music and wanted to revive the live music scene in Bombay, giving voice to independent musicians, up and upcoming artists and international acts that Indian audiences may not have heard of, but who commanded tremendous respect in their home countries.” Such noble sentiments don’t pop up too frequently in this land where, even now, live music means, to most people, tiring covers of Bollywood/whatever-cinema-you-like tracks, and if you’re really ‘lucky’, celebrities thrusting their pelvis to some repetitive chorus.
Blue Frog’s penchant for originality goes all the way back to its name. To quote the team again: “There are many urban myths around this, that we encourage! The truth is that we initially named ourselves Sound Garden, but didn’t think it was very original, naming ourselves after a band. Many names were thrown around – Tulsi Pipe Sound, Parel Jam, Pond Life, Bombay Music Company (guess why we didn’t use that one!) and finally in an act of desperation on the Chinchpokli Bridge – stuck in a traffic jam – the name blueFROG emerged. Just in time to register with the ROC July 2006.” This contradicted the dominant musical tastes of the time and their dedication to presenting music brilliance undiscovered among Indians paid off when Blue Frog saw its first live performance: “It was a tremendous feeling of awe and respect. There was an incredible feeling of achievement when Portuguese artist Sara Tavares walked onto stage. Sara represented our vision of what we wanted to see on our stage – a well-known musician in Europe, but almost unheard of in India.”
The recurrence of prominent musicians on the Blue Frog stage has been pivotal in providing a point of exposure for emerging Indian musicians as well. How? The team explains: “Well-known bands demonstrate blueFROG’s capability to pull in big names to the stage. This in turn helps newer or less-established musicians gain a platform on a well-recognised and established stage. There is a certain prestige attached to the blueFROG stage that we worked very hard to achieve and we are happy to share this platform with upcoming musicians.” They have gone further in establishing in 2010, The Early Set which is, essentially “A platform for budding musicians to perform on a stage that they wouldn’t normally have access to this early in their career. Several of these Early Set artists have now gone on to successfully establish their bands and musical careers and are even actively touring international festival circuits. The Early Set was also the genesis for the leapFROG to Coke Studio on MTV, a talent hunt where 300 people from all around the country participated. Shortlisted artists performed at blueFROG, Bombay and Delhi and the winner took part in Season Three of Coke Studio on MTV.”
They’ve also moved to other parts of the musical understanding having been “Curating bespoke radio channels for various retail outlets. This runs from play-listing music to writing content, which radio jockeys record. The content is custom-made for the brands. It could be only music or music interspersed with speech highlighting special offers, sales etc. The channels may also be recorded in different regional languages depending on where the stores are.”
As is obvious, Blue Frog has become a model for the formation and operation of independent music culture. They combine “a music venue and an F&B establishment. We program DIFFERENT genres of music every night thereby engaging a wide audience. However that is just one part of what we do. For the past four years we have been aggregating content that has been shot on our stages and have a well-received youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/bluefrog where we air it. These can be anything from short three minute clips (Frog Shorts) to full length episodes. We have also produced a six-episode series called the Absolut blueFROG Diaries which airs on Jet Airways international and Malaysian Airways. These are thirty minute episodes on Indian and international artists like Nitin Sawhney, No Jazz, Chicane etc. We have recently entered into film production producing a twenty-two episode series for Fox Traveler called Sound Trek. We are working with various sponsor partners to create “brand identity” and brand driven films which will tap into our growing production capabilities, creating tailored content for brands much like production houses or ad agencies. These could be anything from films for brand properties to videos for mobile companies as add-on content for phones. Having this variety of business verticals certainly sets us apart from others in the field. This, in addition to our music distribution and licensing services positions us as an emerging media company.”
This stringent attention to organization is a model to be followed, especially amidst the gig and festival organizers known for their notorious indifference to punctuality, quality and reception. Naturally, the team espouses a profound ideology behind their working. “Initially we were starving for good artists. These days however, especially in the electronic space, we are almost saturated with artists from all over the world, flooding into the country at all times, with huge club shows, massive outdoor arena shows, and EDM festivals.
In the live space, the really huge bands still don’t visit India often, however today, compared to five years ago, there are many more festivals, a lot more awareness, and a much greater amount of activity going on when it comes to live gigs.
Basically, it’s coming to a point where a music consumer knows that at any given point in the year there will always be big shows and big artist performing. That is a great thing, but it also de-values the events in a certain way, because regularity dictates that the feeling of a ‘special’ show is lost.
I feel the future of the scene lies in creating good EXPERIENCES, not just providing great artists.Great artists will continue to happen, but the events / venues / promoters who provide a 360 degree experience around the event, where all the angles / factors are addressed and the event is tailor-made into a holistic engagement of all the senses and sensibilities – those will be the events that become successful.Concept needs to drive the content, not the other way around.
Of course good quality content is important, but it needs to be relevant to the direction the event wants to exist in. One can have an amazing list of artists, but when you put them all together they might not make cohesive sense. One could have great programming and a closely-knit artist lineup, but if one forgets about good quality production design, marketing, on-ground experience of the ticket buyer, the event will not do well.”
Cohesively and conclusively, Blue Frog seems to be the best locale for our Friday nights.