growing a grassroots scene

waiting for the sun to go down at the mushroom cloud fest

I’M not 100% sure what “grassroots” means in relation to rock music, though I throw the term around a lot.  Both politicians and art people talk about things being “grassroots” and generally I’m suspicious of dynamics that transect both art and politics (propaganda, e.g.).  When I use the term I think of it as everything I like about rock music (jamming with friends, teenagers making zines in their bedrooms, DIY shows) and nothing I don’t (mtv, big record labels, etc). The term is probably functioning as a straw man for me – it’s facile thinking about a complex issue: the issue of money, profit and commodification in relation to creativity and musical community.

mushroom cloud fest

But I can’t shake the idea that there is something, some meaningful vector, within the idea of the “grassroots music scene”…I think it has something to do with preserving the sense that making popular music is creatively satisfying and worthwhile – in a world where the word “satisfaction” tends to be prefaced by the word “consumer,”  and the idea of worth more often than not is about capital.  That scene is about listening to amateur bands and new bands, it’s hearing music in parks and at open mic nights, it’s doing your first few shows and getting paid in beer rather than money, and it’s about recognizing what the idea of marketing your “product” has in the life of a band – working around it and in full recognition of both its possibilities and its problems.

In Bangalore there are now open mic nights happening frequently around the city, and several platforms for newish bands to play.  The Mushroom Cloud Festival had some fairly established bands (Parachute XVI) and some newer (The Bicycle Days, Drones from the Turbine, Clipped Wing Satellite, and Cactus Lepers) and was put together by the Live Gig team.  Mushroom Cloud was a great night that took a lot of work on the part of the organizers and the bands and I hope there are more shows like it…see some short videos of the bands HERE and HERE, HERE and HERE.

I don't know who this guy is but I like his style

Rolling Stone and Ballantine’s sponsored an open mic last week that I attended. There were acoustic acts, a nice cover of a great old soul classic (see video HERE), a craaazy metal band doing really strange and original ‘melodies’ over thrash-y drums and guitars (see video of them  HERE and remember – screwing around with sounds is what the early days of your first band is for!) Wrapping up the evening was the band K.A.R.T., which is made up of some established musicians on the scene.  They were clean, exciting, and their singer, whose name I don’t know *Sherin Jacobs* was really quite mesmerizing (see video of them HERE).

KART

The audience for the show were kind of great and supportive.  The mid-size venue was packed and people were generally attentive and respectful of the bands…and none of the TVs were showing cricket so that was helpful.

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 7:14 am  Comments (1)  

bangalore experimental

LAST WEEKEND I saw three local bands I’m very fond of: Parachute XVI at HRC, and Lounge Piranha and Bicycle Days at B Flat.  I’ve  written about all three of these bands before.  They, along with Drones from the Turbine (and I’m sure several other bands around town that I have not yet heard/heard of) seem to be slightly and gradually – and maybe somewhat purposefully – gelling into a particular sub-genre within the larger Bangalore rock soundscape. Variously termed experimental, post-rock,  alternative, or psychedelic, a couple of these bands and some others will play Saturday’s Mushroom Cloud Festival at Suburbia. I’m thinking it’s gonna be a good and fun day of interesting music. See a good Bicycle Days video HERE.

I’ve been mulling over the dimensions of this particular emergent sub-genre for a while. I’ve hesitated to partake in the dreaded practice of genre-defining because so many musicians here have expressed that they find it limiting and/or artificial –  that it makes static the flexible process of making sounds.  And the three bands I saw last weekend do have very different sounds: Parachute – maybe because of members’ heavy metal backgrounds – have a classic Bangalorean hard rock foundation under Ananth’s Jimi-reminiscent, psy-blues solos. Bicycle Days’ spacey, phased sound effects support Karthik’s resonant vocals and sometimes spare instrumental layers; LP’s fuzzed melodies enhance Kamal and Abhijeet’s indie-plain vocal delivery…in short all are particular, specific and immanently aesthetically satisfying.  And what these bands have in common sonically is, then, up for debate.

I guess in the past (in bands I was in in Brooklyn) it felt like being aligned with a particular genre was useful, (if of peripheral concern most of the time) because of community. Opening for friends’ bands and then having them open for you, having mutual fans, working together to put on shows…that’s beneficial – and not just a marketing ploy or a facile definition.

Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Slain at HRC…and my love for early 1990’s Metallica.

Slain at Hard Rock Cafe

SLAIN, THE Bangalore-based power metal band who played at HRC on Thursday night, is pretty great.  They play really well, their performance style is exciting, and I really enjoyed their stadium-rock- centric set list.  They’ve won a bunch of competitions and generally seem to have been big men around the scene since they started out in 2006.  This is the first time I’ve seen them play (I missed them at October Fest somehow) and I’m looking forward to hearing more of them.  HERE’S their Facebook page.  HERE’S a video of them covering Bon Jovi, and HERE’S another video of a pretty kickass guitar solo.  On Thursday night they played a combination of covers and originals – including the Metallica song “Enter Sandman.” As that song’s arpeggiated opening guitar line kicked in I was grinning like an idiot…for whatever reason it’s been years since I really listened to it and it was kind of a revelation to hear it again live, so to speak.

When was 13 or 14 I went through a brief Metallica phase.  It was a Johnny-come-lately kind of fandom, initiated by my purchase of the band’s 1991 black album – that Billboard number 1 eponymous record of power ballads that alienated so many of their rabidly dedicated thrash-metal fans and started Metallica down the path of mainstream success that has culminated (or reached its nadir, perhaps) in the group’s present identity as middle-aged, Napster-suing, group-therapy attending, modern-art masterpiece-purchasing, horseback-riding shadows of their former hardcore selves.

Metallica in 1989 (yikes skinny jeans)

Too harsh, maybe?  Incipient-yuppiedom notwithstanding they’re still musically revered as one of the seminal bands of the genre and rightly so, I suppose.  They (especially with the black album) changed the sound and generally widened the appeal of metal.  And every album they’ve released since the black album has gone to number 1 on the Billboard charts, not that that means much regarding musical quality.

I was a poetry-reading goth girl into mopey-dramatic –  rather than angry-dramatic – music, but I used to listen to the black album at an obnoxious volume, lying on the floor in my bedroom, moodily brooding over whatever it was that eighth-grade me had to brood over, reveling in the operatic sincerity and the melodic opulence of the ballads, the hyper-masculine (yet oddly vulnerable?) growl-singing of James Hetfield and…17 years later and I still get a bit of a thrill from that album.

I’m dwelling on some ideas about the “life” of a pop song and of pop idols (I use the word pop loosely here, as in “popular culture.”)  What kinds of power – affective and emotional power – maintains within a pop recording even with repeated listenings? What changes take place in our listening as we return to old pop song loves? Why it is that listening to the Beatles is an almost completely emotionally bankrupt experience for me now (it has something to do with their songs being used on commercials, as well as the uber-glorification of everything baby-boomer by the boomers themselves and how just so very sick of all things boomer it has made me.  Particularly about how amazing and wonderful Woodstock was – let’s be done with that forever, please.)

It’s subjective, I know.  But that’s the point with popular culture, right?  The experience of it is subjective but it’s shared; it’s commodified and deeply emotional (those aren’t necessarily opposed, of course); it’s mediated but even the mediated experience is powerfully immediate.  It’s of its particular time and place (Beatles, Liverpool, 1964,  Fela Kuti, Lagos, 1974) but it travels effortlessly and weirdly unchanged or else completely reworked and differently-meaning through time and space. It’s about memories but it’s also about the future – about aspirations and visions of who we might like to be.

Well anyway. HERE’S a video of Metallica playing Enter Sandman in 1991.  A hundred-thousand Muscovites can’t be wrong, huh?

Published in: on April 3, 2010 at 10:12 am  Comments (1)  

some musings on representation and research…and the weekend’s listings

I’VE BEEN thinking a lot about the difficulties of representation through ethnography – the responsibility that comes with delving into people’s lives, their work and their music and then writing about them, representing them in writing.  Making music can be a highly personal affair and the motivations and meanings of it may not always be communicable or translatable in an hour long interview.  I’ve recently been on the receiving end of a journalistic interview myself (with a very charming and interesting writer) and had the experience of seeing my research represented through someone else’s words.  It was eye-opening in the sense that it made me recognize that in the interviews I’m doing in my own work I need to continue to strive to be aggressively committed to listening as fully as possible to what is said to me, what’s left unsaid,  to what’s asked of me, in addition to the music and the lyrics I’m recording nightly.

As I come into the sixth month of research I’m trying to take stock and to get a sense of where this dissertation might go – I’ll be spending another one or two years of my life writing the diss itself – but I don’t think I’ll ever stop being interested in it or trying to educate my students about this topic, wherever I end up teaching. Three years ago when I embarked on this work I was coming from a background of study in three areas: the cross-cultural collaborations or musical sharing between India and the west; the politics and problems of commodification and consumerism in relation to musical culture; and the study of popular music, primarily local rock scenes. In 2007, when I came to Bangalore for a month (on my way to study Hindi film music in Mauritius) I was struck at the outset by two things – the creative commitment of the bands and music people I met in Bangalore and the fact that in the absence of a large audience or support from the national popular music industries, rock performances had often come to rely, at that time, on corporate sponsors.  Today in my research I’m struck by so many other things other than corporate sponsorship (much of which has dried up in the face of the global recession in any case) but that initial visit directed the project at the time – through the books I read, the classes I took, and ultimately the grant I wrote that brought me back to Bangalore in 2009, “Rock Brands/Rock Brands: Performance, Mediation and Commodification in Bangalore’s Rock Music Culture.”

It is in no way unusual for corporate sponsors to stage and underwrite popular music performances anywhere in the world, I’d suggest; but in my research what I wanted to understand was what types of effects such collaborations might have on a scene like Bangalore’s and how or if the symbolic connections between rock music, consumption, and transnational media may or may not have shaped the dimensions or direction of the scene.  Throughout my last months of research, though, and in talking to many open and interesting people my focus has shifted somewhat – to try to understand not just the industry, but what Bruce Lee Mani from Thermal and a Quarter recently called an “ecosystem” of rock music in Bangalore — the musicians, students, fans, writers, the platforms, gigs, pubs, pub owners, the media and the corporate sponsors who all, in different ways, contribute to a scene that is distinctively and particularly of Bangalore, even while it is connected through people and networks to scenes in, for example, Shillong, Delhi, Mumbai, New York, London, or Oslo, etc etc. In that sense I wonder if perhaps playing rock music is something of a metaphor for understanding some aspects of being a particular type of Bangalorean in the globalized city/world of 2010. Being a rock musician here is in some ways like being a rock musician anywhere (the practices, processes of song-writing, the struggles of collaborating closely with other musicians) while it also has issues and meanings that are specific to Bangalore and its politics and culture.  To play rock music here involves, I think, being aware of and attuned to the transnationally recognizable repertoire that is rock and roll and popular music, while also following personal inspirations and motivations  for making particular sounds – whether metal, fusion, or classic rock; whether partaking in the distinct pleasures of singing a Pink Floyd cover song or performing experimental original music; whether the lyrics are in English, Kannada, Malayalam or Hindi, whether using Indian instruments, didgeridoos, the classic rock lineup or a combination of all of those.

So anyway…some musings.  There are some good shows coming up this weekend and I’m gonna try and hit them all.

Thursday 4/1: Slain at HRC

Friday 4/2: Whiplash Psychedelic rock fest at BMSC

Saturday 4/3: Chilly Potato at Urban Solace

Saturday 4/3: Blues Before Sunrise at Kyra

Sunday 4/4: Pseudo Code at Legends of Rock

Hope to see you there!

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 7:18 am  Leave a Comment