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?

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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  

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