Contemporary, cool, affordable and 21st century are the first words that come to mind when you to think of any venue that is accredited to Impresario and their unstoppable rise to the top of the list of India’s most respected nightlife chains. The Social bouquet of lounge bar and pubs are known across the country for largely being millennial-based and consumer friendly.
However the personality of this brand however has as much to do with programming events, music and gigs as it has to do with quirky dishes and cocktails. From hosting the global elite of the dance music scene such as Martin Roth, Jeremy Olander and Secret cinema to throwing down fun, intimate parties featuring local icons such as Arjun Vagale, Vachan Chinappa and Unnayana to name a few, Social have always been a forward thinking brand that refuses to follow the norm.
We go behind the scenes with Nikhil Warrier – the man responsible for programming the group’s venues in Bangalore to find out what it takes to schedule, book and execute events on a weekly basis.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started out working in the music events and programming industry ?
Born and raised in Bombay (Thane to be more specific). I went to Hotel School, was supposed to join Marriott as a revenue manager but two weeks before I was supposed to start work, I decided to throw that plan out of the window and decided to join Bobby Talwar and Vijay Nair’s team at OML, a company which back then was a about 15 strong working out of a three bedroom apartment in Bombay.
I have been a bassplayer and have played the tabla for many years. I’ve played in a couple of bands here and there, was going to gigs at venues like Rang Bhavan and the original Razzbery Rhinoceros since I was 14. So the thought of ditching a corporate career and do something epic, new and revolutionary in music and live entertainment seemed like a great idea. I started off doing whatever was told to me and moved on to working on festivals (Nh7 Weekender being the biggest), started getting into music bookings, working on live IPs for various brands and programming venues, one thing lead to many others.
What made you decide to join the social offline team ? What was it about them that made them stand out from other club chains ?
The management’s and our boss man Riyaaz Amlani’s obsession with innovation, standing out, pushing the envelope and being straight up cool. Social and antisocial, when they were starting off, were very much a reflection of the core values and vibe that the team that put it together, shared. Everyone from Shobita Kadan who Heads Marketing, Riyaaz, Mayank who heads our Business nationwide are some of the most amazing people I’ve had the fortune of working with. So definitely the people who I knew I was going to be working for. If the people are right, the vibe is right, everything else falls in place anyway.
Image Credit : Whitefield Social
As the head of programming, how do you merge the vision of the brand with the demands of a varied audience?
Social’s entire brand identity is based around getting people from varied backgrounds to get together in a space that’s easy, cool, has spunk and to get them to make connections and collaborate, be creative together, work together, have fun together. The makings of a good party all the way from the start I’d say. So then things become very clear.We celebrate diversity, a clash of varied audiences under one roof. You play to everyone’s strengths while throwing in surprises at the same time. I find it very rewarding to see people’s reactions (good or bad) to something completely new.
What goes into deciding on an artist for a regular club weekend such as a Wednesday, Friday or a Saturday ?
Is the thought process different for that of an international artist and usual the modalities involved with planning and logistics
Im not going to directly answer the question because then that just lays out a template and that would be of no use to anyone. But I can shed light on the various factors at play when programming a well rounded calendar that I know are important considerations.
What does the audience want?
By virtue of existing as Social or antisocial there is a specific type of audience each brand attracts, by-default. To change that would be stupid because then you’re going against the very nature of your brand. But listening on your core audience helps not only in figuring out programming that caters to that taste but also helps one figure out, what else can we bring to them that will be completely new, progressive, new age yet accessible. So its like finding out that your core audience loves Bollywood (of course, haha) and then figuring maybe these guys would like disco or trap or some Asian massive sounds.
That said, we are the curators here. So taking the liberty to switch things up and experiment and bring the audience something they don’t know they want or not is also so important. Otherwise you’re never going to know what the next big thing could be. A healthy Club/venues/mid sized events scene is key to growing communities and having a healthy festival scene too.
What does your business need?
I keep saying this all the time, Anyone can put together an event with great ‘vibessss’ (lol) when there’s no restraints. Restraints wrt budget for artist, revenue (ticketing/bar) expectations, production etc. I find no merit in programming events that make no sense economically. I find no merit in programming for the (sole) ‘love of music bro’, if you know what I mean. If your business model is not sustainable, you will burn out and that’s just downright sad.
When businesses don’t make enough money from curated events, the first fall back is to blame the audience or the business itself. It’s the other way around in my head. It’s my fault, the programmer’s fault. We aren’t doing something right, we aren’t innovating, we aren’t pushing the boundaries and challenging norms. But that’s not to say one shouldn’t experiment, bring in events that are completely alien. But if you don’t make decent monies on 5 out of 7 days a week, you’ll never be in a position to do something epic on those 2 special nights.
Understand that this is a marketplace:
This is VERY important. This is market place where promoters, agencies, artists, collectives are merchants and the booker/programmer are buyers. Both sides have to respond to market forces and behave as a market collectively. That keeps things healthy and sustainable. So, as a buyer, I will only buy the right event for the right time and place and for the right PRICE. I learnt about this a great deal from Mayank Bhatt, our business head. In a burgeoning scene like ours it’s easy not to separate personal tastes from what’s good for business or for the calendar. So there are times when I would have loved to do an event because I feel a personal connection/fandom but will let it pass because it’s either not the right event for my business or the right time and place or hasn’t come to me at the right price.
Social offline also does a lot of workshops, stand up comedy nights ( Im thinking this has been done ) , vinyl appreciation workshops. How do you program these and not affect the roster of the night that have musicians programmed ?
Our community/culture events like the workshops, etc. are all at different times of the day compared to music events and through the week. So we had Éclair Fifi play on Friday night post 10pm but had a Urdu poetry and literature appreciation with Rektha Foundation on a Wednesday evening at 5pm. You cant have people only coming to you in the night on the weekends.
Social is one of the few venues that levy a token entry that is very affordable. Do you feel his is a necessary step to encourage patrons to pay at the door and support the music industry and shy away from the guest list culture ?
Absolutely. Like I said earlier, we celebrate diversity and for us it has been important right from the start to make the entire Social/antisocial experience extremely inclusive and accessible to a wide range of people. Otherwise we are never going to grow. I personally find a room full of people from all sorts of backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, magical
And wrt guest lists, fuck guest lists, for good 😉
The brand also vehemently opposed the highway liquor ban imposed by the central government very haphazardly and drew support from a lot of sister venues and chains. Is that a step in the right direction, to ensure that clubs and venues present a united front when dealing with government issues?
United we could only stand taller.
What has been you best experience working with the brand so far?
Working with the most talented bunch of people I have met, ever, everyday. It’s an ongoing process.
One gig at the club you really loved and one artist you would love to book at your venue ?
Most difficult question so far. There’s just too many honestly, lol. Would love to book Haitus Kaiyote and The Black Madonna sometime soon 😉 !