Rock Bands/Rock Brands: Mediation and Musical Performance in Post-liberalization Bangalore

This dissertation, based on twelve months of ethnographic research in Bangalore, India, examines the city’s six decades-old rock music culture, a rapidly professionalizing musical genre that has been largely overlooked in studies of Indian popular music. Though historically an English-language genre, contemporary Indian rock is performed in myriad regional languages and comprises heavy metal, indie, folk rock, cover songs and a variety of other styles. Observing its predication on the historical and contemporary circulation of transnational popular music media, this research posits Indian rock in Bangalore as significantly shaped by mediation and coextensive commodification: in addition to its grounded performances rock music plays out in a materially configuring and symbolically significant intertextual field composed of mediated sounds, images and discourses found in advertisements, television, print and film. Through historical, textual and ethnographic analysis I explore how these mediations are implicated in the changing symbolic meanings of rock music practices in India, and comprise a modality through which rock music subjects make sense of their own musical projects and their positionality as post-liberalization citizens.

Rock music performance in the context of Bangalore’s post-liberalization economic and social reconfigurations is a strategic and reflexive practice in which, through creative forms of musical and lyrical expression, musicians negotiate differential forms of tradition, modernity, locality and globalized positionality via a transnational popular repertoire; rock also, however, functions as a vehicle for the reproduction and re-inscription of socio-economic hierarchies taking new shape in the globalized economy and consumer culture of urban India. Thus a study of Indian rock music culture is instrumental in understanding the emergence of new forms of social identity and new or newly contested forms of globalized nationalism in Bangalore’s public culture. Indicative of these concerns about national identity are questions about cultural “authenticity” and musical originality that sound out repeatedly throughout the scene. From the many instances of musicians, producers, and local and international media functionaries demanding a “more Indian” or an “original” sound emerge insights into deeper anxieties about the transformations wrought by cultural globalization and the role of music in mediating such social and cultural changes.