City and Space: Music Edition | In Conversation with Benjamin John
Updated: Jun 26, 2019
The Multilogue Collective in collaboration with House Concert India is working on a research narrative based around 'City and Space'. For the initial story, we wanted to cover the music scene in different cities and ask a few questions to musicians, organizers, and supporters of original music in India.
We were glad to have a conversation with Benjamin John, who hails from the city of Bengaluru. He is a City Planner and Designer by training and currently works at the National Institute of Urban Affairs here in Delhi. In terms of musical instruments, he plays the piano and guitars (acoustic, bass etc). He used to play the bass for a blues band called The Turquoise Trail in Bengaluru.
As an artist/musician/individual, what are your views on the ever-changing scenario for live gigs/concerts within the city and how performance spaces in your city have evolved for different kinds of music?
"I believe there is music everywhere in the city, there is rhythm in the movement of people and sonic qualities in the revving of a car engine or chirping of the birds. I would specifically talk about this from the perspective of Bengaluru, the city always had a good supply of performance venues coupled with diverse musical acts making it one of the meccas of live music in India. From a built environment perspective, there is an abundance of performance venues like the cafes and pubs, parks, old industrial godowns and even spaces below the metro station. With an abundance of talent in the city, organisers and promoters are always trying to find unique SPACES and convert them into live music PLACES."
Place-making capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well being.
What are your views/suggestions on the idea of music (any genre/any kind of artist - gigs/festival etc) as a place-making tool, to activate the public life and create a sense of community within a city?
"Historically music and performance venues were the outlook of a benevolent ruler and musicians held high posts in the king’s court. Over time record labels have become the new kings but the musicians don’t have much of a say in the court anymore. Nevertheless performance venues musicians and promoters continue to play a huge role in place making. Again from the Bengaluru experience, the historic Bible Society Building in Bengaluru got converted into Hard Rock café many years ago." "People had no idea of the beauty of this building, after its adaptive reuse into a music venue it has become a lot more accessible to many people. Other good examples include use of space along transit corridors like below the metro stations or even derelict industrial units, which are great spaces for performance venues. Music cannot be promoted by a single person (the benevolent ruler) anymore but needs to be a localized collective action which brings local talents/ sounds to the forefront and adaptive reuse is a great tool to realize this."
Cities start getting a tag of the kind of 'music scene' it has established over the years or is now adapting to. How would define the music identity of your city? (You may talk about specific genres or in general.)
"A large city is an amalgamation of diverse cultures which goes on to define its socio-cultural character. For instance, one of the main reasons Bengaluru has had a thriving music scene for decades is because of the migratory inflow from surrounding cultural centers like Mysore, Mangalore, Goa, Chennai and even Kochi. Thermal and a Quarter, a rock band which defines their sound as Bangalore rock and has been playing for over 25 years got their name from the fact the band included “Three Malus and a Quarter Malu”. The Raghu Dixit Project, one of the biggest folk exports from Bengaluru and India, Raghu Dixit is actually from the city of Mysore and is influenced by the sounds of Mysore. One’s early life experiences play a big part in influencing creative endeavors in a large way."
Any organisations you would like to mention which are creating this spark of the community through alternative experiences?
"The British Council has this interesting initiative called “Mix the City” which gathers various sounds from a city and allows a person to create music out of it. The Alliance Française in Bengaluru every year during World Music Day has a big music festival promoting the local music scene. Every month in Bengaluru there is also the Sunday Jam where local bands can forward and play. Then there are those big battle of the bands like Strawberry Fields etc."
We would like to thank Benjamin for being a part of this narrative and for being a wonderful individual in the music fraternity while he represents his city, Bengaluru.
You can connect with him at: https://www.instagram.com/benji.mat.yohan/