signs & tee shirts

AT THE Kingfisher Rocktober Fest, a three day rock music festival at the Palace Grounds in Bangalore, I took pictures of people’s band shirts. Thanks to the guys who let me take their pictures – too bad we all had had a couple too many Kingfishers and  I wrote their names down on a napkin I then lost. Sorry.

iron maiden

iron maiden

iron maiden and manowar

iron maiden & manowar

beatles

beatles

I’m trying document as may of these signs and tee-shirts as possible, but inevitably I see one flashing by when I’m in the back of an auto or when I don’t have my camera.

I take pictures of these signs not because they’re so especially notable in Bangalore but because they’re so very not notable: they’re an integral part of the visual field, normalized –  but, I hazard,  highly symbolically meaningful.

IDENTITI you just got to have it

IDENTITI you just got to have it

This is a store on my street that sells jeans and tee shirts.  You can’t really see the sign on the right but basically both signs together read “IDENTITI you just got to have it.”  I double take every time I walk by because it’s just so…postmodern.

the mobile store

the mobile store

Another favorite near my house – The Mobile Store: Buy a cell phone. Be a rock star.

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Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 10:31 am  Comments (1)  

field notes from bangalore’s rock scene

IT’S OCTOBER and I have finally arrived in Bangalore, in Karnataka, in the south of India.  I’m an PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at UCLA here on a dissertation research grant from UCLA’s International Institute, and will be living in Bangalore for the next nine months doing ethnographic research and writing on rock music, studying Tamil and Hindi, as well as exploring the urban culture of the city, doing some yoga, and volunteering.

Billboard for the "Levis Freedom Jam" rock festival, August, 2007

Billboard for the "Levis Freedom Jam" rock festival, August, 2007

It’s my second time here –  the last visit, for a month, was in 2007.  During that time I started gathering ideas for what would eventually become my dissertation research project.  Tentatively titled “Rock Bands/Rock Brands,”  it explores the development of the local rock music scene in Bangalore  in relation to various forms of media and advertising. During this fieldwork I’ll have the chance  to see how things have changed in the rock music community here in the last two years. Soon I hope to re-connect with some of the people I met when I was last here, like the cool “post-rock” band Lounge Piranha .

This blog is going to serve several functions – as a kind of public fieldwork journal, a place to describe my research, but also as a travelogue and descriptive journal of living in a vibrant, bustling, and occasionally  life-threatening (the traffic is really very bad) city.

Le Rock Pub, downtown Bangalore, going full tilt

Le Rock Pub, downtown Bangalore, going full tilt

I’m a newcomer, a lucky visitor, to a rock scene that has been quietly building in Bangalore over the last decades and which now has a proliferation of bands, venues, and publications, as well as a bunch of passionate people who make the whole thing work and carry on, despite various setbacks.  In 2008 the city of Bangalore  instituted a ban on live band performances that temporarily restricted the rock scene (more about that in later posts, I hope).  The ban was lifted, though, and it definitely seems like there is more going on here musically than there was in 2007.  There are also more websites devoted to Indian rock and to the cultural events around the city than ever before.  I’ll be linking them here as I come across them.

IMG_1785I’m especially enamored of the magazine Time Out Bengaluru, which is a fairly recent addition to the city’s print media and a good way for the urban cultural scavenger  to get a handle on the events, art, dance, theater, and music that is happening in Bangalore.

Published in: on October 12, 2009 at 8:28 am  Comments (3)  

music/media/ethnography/activism

I’VE BEEN thinking a lot this week about having this time in India, about having the opportunity to do my research on rock music, and about what kind of social “worth” my project might have.  Rock music here is, to put it frankly,  a pursuit for people with some disposable income.  The relatively expensive pubs and clubs that host live rock bands are most often frequented by people from cities in India and from abroad who have come here to Bangalore to work in the IT sector, for various start-ups, or in media professions.  They are not from the working classes.

What this means for my research is that I spend a lot of time getting dressed up and going out to really nice places to hear music while in a country which, like my own, has many social/health/poverty issues that many hard-working and intelligent people, Indian and non-Indian, are working to overcome.   It makes me wonder what my project, which looks at media and advertising in relation to rock music, might be doing (or not doing) to understand, address or educate about such pressing social inequalities.

In ethnomusicology, as in anthropology, this is a long-lived discussion: what imperative does an ethnographic researcher have to give back to the communities she/he is in? Many ethnomusicologists do research that is explicitly activist in scope and works towards social justice ends.  Some do research on the uses of music to strengthen or weaken political regimes, others examine the role of music in strengthening cultural identity.

My work is concerned with two aspects of rock music in Bangalore:  the first is what Lawrence Grossberg has called “affective alliances” – the types of social cohesions/exclusions and the negotiations of personal identity that may be forged by participation in musical activity.  The second part of my research is concerned with ways in which corporations like Nokia, Coca-Cola, and Levis harness, fund, support, and represent rock music or rock images.  Practically speaking, in my research I talk to people about their music, their feelings about their music, and I “read” and critique media representations and advertisements that use rock music.

This intersection –  the intersection of the affective power of music and the profit motive of advertising in the context of the rock performance – is the crux of what I’m studying.  I think that it speaks to the juggernaut of cultural globalization and people’s responses to it, which is an important aspect of resisting globalization’s more pernicious effects.  For example, Coca-Cola has been involved in long-running disputes about water rights in rural India; simultaneously, through advertisement and media “synchronicity” they harness rock music’s symbolism, aligning themselves with the vision of a wealthy, “modern” India.

tee-shirts for sale on the 100 ft road, Indiranagar

tee-shirts for sale on the 100 ft road, Indiranagar

So I do think that there is a place for research like mine, research that is subtly oriented towards understanding social injustice as it operates in the realm of the imagination. It is necessary and important to examine a network of power like the transnational music media – because it works to create images that many aspire to and few can attain.  It works to create a culture in which the ability to consume is a precondition of the ability to participate in certain kinds of music.

Published in: on October 12, 2009 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  

welcome to bangalore

AFTER A 26 hour journey I arrived at 3:00 in the morning to Bangalore airport.   The first time I landed in India I wandered dazedly around the outskirts of the terminal for a while, this time I whisked myself off in an air-conditioned cab to Indiranagar, my neighborhood in eastern Bangalore.

IMG_0244Although it’s a week into my trip now the jet lag is still killer.  I can’t sleep through the whole night and get deathly groggy by day.  My room, small and purple, is on the top floor of a marble building on a leafy street.  Indiranagar is a very pleasant neighborhood but there is a metro being built right through the middle of it, so the street is torn up and the loudest work is done, for some reason, in the middle of the night.

IMG_1788One of the lovely things about South India is the food.  It’s paradise for anyone who loves vegetarian food – spicy, rich, flavorful vegetarian food especially. This is sambar idli – spongey rice cakes with tamarind flavored broth and coconut and chili chutney.

Published in: on October 11, 2009 at 2:06 am  Comments (1)