How To Run A Club Night In India
8 April 2015
The first easy step, really, is making that decision.
You’ve decided to start your own club night. It’s a brave move – creating a successful event property with the capability to draw in crowds time and again isn’t easy in a country where club culture is still in its infancy, there’s limited assemblages for non ‘EDM’ music and only a handful of venues check even some of the required boxes.
Coming from an attendee based in a larger, metropolitan city in the subcontinent, whining about the state of nightlife right now is all too easy – if the venue doesn’t disappoint, the unenthused audience will and if the music looks half decent, the sound system will drive away any hope of enjoying it.
Running your own event series is far from simple, but when and if you get it right (and it’s happened) – the music is on point, the crowd is just right and the venue can barely be faulted - it’s all worth it. Successful club nights have served as bedrocks for the growth of music and alternative culture around the world and it’s time for us to work on our own nightlife revolution.
That’s the basis of this feature. I’ve never had to run a club night myself. The most I’ve had to do is show up. So I got in touch with some of the leading promoters in the country to tell us how to run a (successful) club night in India.
Let’s break it down.
Image courtesy Grime Riot Disco
1. Have a Vision
“I felt that when we started 4 years ago there was a lack of straight up dance parties, where you could come in and wear anything and be who you wanted and just close your eyes and throw your hands up, sweat all night and dance. The concept was a no ego dance party. Some of the other bars at the time, which were doing similar stuff, had dress codes and pretty steep cover charges. We got rid of these and made cheap drinks and a nominal entry charge to cover basic costs.”
Mumbai based Kunal Lodhia, knew what he wanted when he began the ongoing Grime Riot Disco series. Divij Kaul from stayLiMN wanted to take back club culture from bars. The Bhavishyavani Future Soundz team couldn’t afford their own club so instead decided to run events they believed in. UnMute boss Dev Bhatia and his team knew they wanted to take electronic, techno sounds to seemingly obscure corners of the country with their various properties. Delhi Sultanate a.k.a. Taru Dalmia had the distinct idea to introduce old school reggae with BASSFoundation Roots. You get the drift. Knowing where you want to go with your club night is imperative and having a unique, original take doesn’t hurt either.
Image credit Kriti Bagga
2. Think Of A Good Name
Anything that sticks. The name is going to be allied with and reflect your property till its dying day, so you might as well make it count. With largely social media based marketing and promotion (and diminishing attention spans), something easy to remember, immediately associable and, if possible, clever, can do wonders to create the image you want.
Image courtesy Barsoom
3. Know Your Audience (and how to promote directly to them)
Joel Paes, responsible for Trippy Tuesdays at Barsoom says “knowing EVERYTHING (sic) about your target market” as the most important criteria for running a night. “If you don't know who's likely to come to your events, there's no point even trying since you'll most likely be sitting at the bar around closing time, scratching your head wondering what went wrong. This really comes in handy when selecting a club and knowing who to book since you already know where people that are likely to show up already go and what music they like.”
And GRD’s Kunal Lodhia shares the sentiment: “The people that come are contributing their energy to the night, make sure you are aware of who is coming and what is going on inside.” Adding, “Girls first, if girls don't feel safe and aren't having a good time at your events, re-evaluate everything!”
We can’t stress enough how important the right crowd is to make a club night enjoyable and memorable. On the other hand, nothing kills the atmosphere faster than a vacuous, unenthused crowd or worse, a rowdy group of people who came to get wasted. Identify the people who will understand and appreciate what you’re trying to push and market to them directly.
Image credit Nishant Jhamb
4. Don’t Fall Back On Names
It won’t do you any good to focus on ‘big name’ DJs who are more hype than substance. Create a concept, build a story and try and think of a night that you’ll want to attend. The musicians you’re booking should fit in with every aspect of that story. Equally important is picking the right support – a warm up means exactly that i.e. you don’t want aggy D&B blasting before melodic electro pop, it just won’t work.
A lot of new event organisers also make a big gaffe in booking completely unheard of and mediocre musician buddies. There’s a difference between pushing smaller, legitimately talented producers into the spotlight (tricky, but possible) and indulging in outright nepotism. Then again, it’s only your time, effort, reputation and money on the line.
Image courtesy High Spirits
5. Be On Top Of Your Lights (and more importantly) Sound
Don’t be fooled. Good sound and light (or the lack of it) will make a colossal difference to an event. The heart of a club night, boiling it down to the basics, is music. Almost all the promoters we approached repeatedly recognised the importance of getting the right equipment.
Most of us are regularly subjected to some pretty terrible sound systems (particularly here in Delhi) that glitch over melodies, muffle percussion and mute sub bass frequencies entirely. A good, loud but crisp, flat noise is what’s required and if you manage that you’ve already won half the battle.
Image courtesy Barsoom
6. Choosing The Right Venue
Mathieu Josso, better known as M.MAT from Mumbai’s Bhavishyavani DJ crew continually repeats the significance in choosing the right venue for a club night, and highlighting the consequences of not putting in enough research. A venues ambience sets the mood for the rest of the night. Its owners and managers decide the fate of payment, entry/cover and crowd control. It’s location and reputation pick the crowd before you can. Picking a good venue, as unanimously reiterated by everyone we spoke to, is key. Trippy Tuesdays at Barsoom is a great example of a club night and venue marriage that works (Joel tells us that “Barsoom treats us really well”) as is #stayLiMN at iKandy. Hospitality, security, door staff – all of it matters, and all of it is enabled largely, by a solid venue.
Image courtesy Summer House Cafe
After pouring in their sweat and tears into running their events, most successful promoters also end up picking up the tab. We’re sorry about bursting the bubble but sponsorship isn’t easy to come by, especially if you’re just starting out. What’s far more important is forging a solid relationship with your venue. And if you think you’ve established a loyal customer base, start charging a modest entry at the door. You’ll manage a bit of return in the process and filter the throng down to the people who really want to be there for the music and experience, and not just the booze.
Dev Bhatia once more provides some valuable insight on the situation – “I hope we can all start relying on tickets to fund events fully sooner rather than later. The dependence on sponsorships is a major bummer as the sponsors usually end up funding larger events and don’t really care about smaller, more intimate scenes. Surely they have to worry about their marketing spends etc, fair game, but overall I hope this changes...”
Image courtesy Grime Riot Disco
8. Think About Promotion
Promotion is more than selling a DJ or spamming your friends on Facebook. It’s about the little things – details that matter right from your poster, logo design and overall aesthetic to where and how you choose to advertise right down to who you choose to engage with on your social media handles.
“One needs to ensure promotion is not just done in a big scale, but the promotion also needs to be targeted to the right audience” says Dev Bhatia. Getting the right crowd to come to your event isn’t a word of mouth process anymore. We now depend on social media, for better or worse, so it might be time to finally open that Instagram account. However, use it wisely – it’s best not to believe that 1500 people will be attending your Monday night pool party.
Image courtesy #stayLiMN
9. Money Shouldn’t Matter
And if it does, you’re in trouble. We know it’s important, but realistically, you’re not going to make a ton of cash running a couple of nights. Listen to the clichés and do it because you love it, because that’s going to be far more rewarding.
Running a successful club night means long term investment, it certainly doesn’t mean making a quick buck overnight. Mathieu provides some wisdom in the matter once again - “ there’s no point of creating a property if it is to last 2/3 events. You need to get the word out and people to experience it before it actually starts to run properly”. Once your club night is well known, properly up and running, then maybe (maybe) you can start thinking about making money.
Look at your club night less as a business and more as a perpetuator and instigator of culture instead. Club nights have the potential to create and harness communities and should ideally serve a much larger purpose than to make money. Think of it as a little sanctuary in the middle of a jungle, where people can simply be and belong. If you can find joy in that, you’re heading in the right direction.
10. You Can’t Fight Fate a.k.a. Anxiety Is Part Of The Job
Follow all our steps to running a successful club night in India and we still guarantee nothing, unfortunately. Sometimes you can do everything perfectly, down to the umbrella in the pina colada, and people still won’t turn up, just because. The police will inevitably come banging on your doors at 11: 55 and demand a total shut down. Sweet talking can only get you that much further into the night. Maybe it’ll rain. Fat lot you can do about that, other than shaking your drenched fists at the universe.
And if you’ve ever held a club night you know that unavoidable feeling of doom that sits at the bottom of your gut. It creeps in at about 10pm when you see 28 people at a venue that’s meant to have 400 (and that group of 6 is only there by mistake). There’s no comfort in that period of waiting. While your patrons are only now sluggishly plodding into cabs and cars, you’re playing it cool, informing your headlining act that Delhi’s like that, people come late, don’t fret, et cetera. You might have a packed house by the end of the night, but till then, internally, you’re a screaming mass of nerves - ready to give up and quietly implode in a corner.
It’s all part of the package.
Words: Diya Gupta
Image credit (main and thumb): Kriti Bagga at antiSOCIAL