It would not seem entirely unusual to find groups of men smashing up used cars in the compound of a heavy engineering company. Rather than workers however, this scene expected to unfold at Richardson & Cruddas (R&C) on a weekend in mid-January will feature revellers at an extreme metal music festival BIG69. The 156-year-old, weather-beaten complex in Byculla, which houses a number of rambling workshops and warehouses, has in recent months been doubling up as a preferred venue for indie music events.
Heavy engineering activities still continue in one half of the compound today, but it has opened up the other half for cultural events to generate revenue, says a source requesting anonymity. The company had its beginnings in 1858, when Noble Carr Richardson started a small cast iron foundry to make manhole covers, benches and girders. In 1880, John Cruddas, the manager of Nicol & Company, joined to form Richardson & Cruddas, which won projects to build railway stations and airport hangars. At the time of India's independence, the British partners sold the firm to light-bulb salesman turned industrialist Haridas Mundhra.
Mundhra was later found guilty of one of the biggest scams, where he coaxed Life Insurance Corporation of India into investing Rs 1.24 crore in six of his struggling businesses. Following this, Richardson & Cruddas was taken over by Government of India. The firm was at its peak in the early 1990s but posted losses soon after liberalisation and had to let go of most of its 4,000 employees as part of restructuring activities. After nearly a decade, Richardson & Cruddas began considering other options, including renting space to raise money.
The storehouses in Byculla had turned into junkyards as scrap accumulated after a large number of employees were given the pink slip. Around 2012, the rubbish was cleared, old furniture and equipment were auctioned and some large devices were moved within the factory to create space. The odd machine still sits around the bays but organisers like Ashutosh Pande of Bajaao Consulting and Entertainment, which manages BIG69, say that only adds to the industrial vibe. The space is rich with Instagram-ing opportunities as antique pulleys hang by dusty doors while beams of light enter gaps in the tin roofs and intense metal scaffolding.
When Manish Chandnani, head of production at music management company, Only Much Louder, came across a circular by Richardson & Cruddas in his office, offering space for events, he wondered, "Who else still sends letters? It seemed very sarkari but I decided to visit." Chandnani was excited by the grungy 15-acre expanse and several months later, they decided to hold the show, Converse Rubber Tracks, in India at one of the workshops there. Another surprise for the production head was the lack of bureaucracy. Unlike other spaces in the city, there was no monopoly system where organisers were pressured to use a particular caterer or contractor.
One of the attendees at that first show was Bajaao's senior manager, Himanshu Vaswani. "The moment I stepped out of the car into the parking lot, my reaction was - Wow, I want to do a gig here," he recounts. For BIG69, his team will bring in international musicians such as Carcass, an extreme metal band known for morbid lyrics, and progressive metal group Sikth. Nepal's Underside and local favourites Demonic Resurrection are also part of the lineup.
Other than installing air conditioning in the warehouse, not much was needed during the Converse event in terms of restoration, says Arjun Ravi, co-founder of NH7, which has hosted several events at the venue. Battered is better and the structures are safe, he observes. The maiden music event featured eight young bands from and three headliners, including Mumbai's Zero and Superfuzz. The red-black-yellow graffiti created for that show last April continues to add colour to the dank compound. Artist Harshvardhan Kadam and his team of four took four days to finish the artwork, which shows old-style music controllers and instruments. "The brief was to make it come alive. The primary subject of my design was how digital is taking over the analog world."
Before the indie scene, Bollywood and the ad industry had been holding shoots at Richardson & Cruddas. Portions of popular films including Ajay Devgn-starrer Action Jackson, Ranbir Kapoor's Besharam and Salman Khan's Jai Ho were filmed here. While situated just on the main road, the space still offers privacy behind its large walls. Khan, in fact, is said to have worked there for as long as one month without any of his frenetic fans realising it. Two police stations in the vicinity ensure security, note event managers.
Although mostly fortuitous, Richardson & Cruddas ' idea to host cultural events has turned out well for the city's culture scene. Internationally, decrepit warehouses are preferred venues for underground parties. The dearth of good venues in South Mumbai led to a shift in live entertainment to open grounds or sports complexes in the distant suburb of Andheri. Organisers in the city have been itching for interesting locations, leading to the revival of establishments like Sitara Studio in Dadar. The opening up of new venues will hopefully revive the once-bustling metal scene in the city.