Music

Autoethnography and Underground Music

Autoethnography is a type of research and writing unlike any other. Combining the process of ethnography; the study of culture, and autobiography; the product of personal experience. It is the study of one’s own experience with a culture outside of their own. It is a fairly new research process, first becoming popular in the 1970s, which expanded upon anthropological studies of the past which were conducted in a far less personal, experiential, or reflexive manner. Autoethnography is seen as an ethical form of research as it focuses on ones’ own experience with a culture rather than making anonymous observations which may breach privacy, disrespect customs and simply be untrue.

As autoethnography is the combination of autobiography and ethnography it adopts elements of both practices in its methodology. In commencing an autoethnography one must ensure that they communicate with the community or culture they are studying, this is a matter of ethnically giving those who do not wish to participate a chance to voice their concerns and opt out if need be. As per traditional ethnography upon communicating intentions, the researcher must then interact with the culture, making note of observations and interviewing persons within the culture, becoming participant observers. In conducting an autoethnography one must also practice reflexive behaviour which is the practice of questioning their personal the biases and cultural framework that shape their observations. The aspect of autobiographical aspect of autoethnography refers to the epiphanies as to how one understands a culture; its social conventions, practices, values, and beliefs.

The Asian media I am interested in participating and observing is its underground rock, at this point in time, I am unsure of what region or country I am wanting to pinpoint in my practice as a researcher. My interest in the Asian underground music community has been spurred from this Vice documentary which focuses on a group of Indonesian street punks upon their release from a moral rehabilitation centre. As I want to limit my bias I will aim to avoid Indonesian underground music in my study as I would like to go into this study with as little preconceived ideas that may skew my observation, analysis, and insights as possible.

References

Wall, S. (2008). Easier Said than Done: Writing an Autoethnography. International Journal Of Qualitative Methods7(1), 38-53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/160940690800700103

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

 

 

Bebop Box

In first approaching this autoethnographic task, the four of us had grouped together in order to determine what would be our field site. Travelling to Asia, was out of the question, and we had all experienced Asian food to a similar extent as well. What we did however determine was that we had all held differing experiences in regards to Japanese anime, ranging from the extensive, to almost nothing at all. Although this determined our media format, the plethora of anime in existence made the selection of a single series extremely difficult. However, the one that continuously entered the conversation was Cowboy Bebop.

As influenced by Ellis’ definition of autoethnography as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience” (Ellis et al, 2011), we decided to present our project in a gogglebox-esque format, combing clips of the show and our recorded reactions. This provided real time responses to each of the four viewers as they happened, allowing direct comparison of responses and both a visual and verbal account of individual epiphanies.

The selection of Cowboy Bebop was quite interesting in itself as we had never seen the series screened in Australia. The show is not available on Netflix, and due to its creation in the late 1990s, no advertisements are currently being used. Access then became somewhat of an issue, resulting in us borrowing a physical DVD set of the series. However, the quality of the DVD itself became very questionable after cutting on halfway through the first session. A quick search on YouTube provided us with the first three episodes in full, with English dubs and high definition. This forced us to question how these episodes were getting past the stringent copyright laws on YouTube, questioning whether the age of the series was a factor, or did the series just slip through the cracks. YouTube’s community guidelines rules specifically state that you cannot “use content in your videos that someone else owns the copyright to, such as music tracks, snippets of copyrighted programs, or videos made by other users, without necessary authorizations” (YouTube, 2016). Each of these three episodes was taken from a different channel, each demonstrating blatant copy write infringement. YouTube even flagged our video when attempting to upload! Further research into Anime message boards and forums provided no conclusive answer the problem, with some users stating that their posting of videos were taken down almost immediately, while others list channels hosting over 500 clips of Anime, to which they don’t own the rights.

The word-of-mouth recommendations of Cowboy Bebop by numerous individuals (both our age and older) and thus, representative of its cult following. Furthermore, research into this cult found over 46,000 subscribers to the Cowboy Bebop sub-reddit, a rating of 9/10 on IMBD, and two differing ratings on Rotten Tomatoes for the movie, 64% critics from critics and 90% from the audience. It was this cult following that led us to the conclusion that the series must be quite long such as other cult anime series like One Piece. However, we soon determined that this was wrong with the series holding only one season, and one movie. This furthermore made us question, why Cowboy Bebop had such a popular following in both Western Countries and Japan.

A particular element of the episodes that puzzled us was the music soundtrack that accompanied fight scenes as well as the theme song that played at the introduction of each episode.  Jazz has its origins in New Orleans, so it was surprising to see it use in a Japanese film.  Despite this, the music in Cowboy Bebop was composed by Yoko Kanno with The Seatbelts, a blues and jazz band.  These composers wrote the iconic Cowboy Bebop opening song titled Tank which has been embedded below if you wish to listen to it.

Interesting, the Cowboy Bebop sub -reddit has many positive comments about the inclusion of original music, supporting the ideal that the original sound track in the series is a key factor for its popularity.  Maybe the utilisation of jazz music was a way to attract audiences from more Westernised backgrounds.

Importantly, director of Cowboy Bebop, Shinichiro Watanabe was so impressed with Kanno’s score that he was inspired to go back and re-write scenes.  Each scene essentially had its own unique score and song.

Charlotte found the use of the jazz music quite odd, as having grown up playing Jazz music herself, her interpretation of where jazz music fits in in terms of interpretation, art and self expression was not in line with the use of jazz in Cowboy Bebop.  However all four of us noted that the theme music was similar to what we had heard in more Westernised films such as Mission Impossible and James Bond which also have orchestral music in some of there scenes.

All in all, the experience of anime was different for all four of us.  Perhaps this was due to the contextual knowledge we already had about elements of the series, including how much anime we had previously consumed.  Because of this, not all of us enjoyed the episodes as much as we thought, because we had pre-conceived ideas as to what it was about.  Cowboys fighting people.  I guess we were all wrong!

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1

K-Pop 101

Even as someone who has been following the K-Pop scene for years, the industry still holds many secrets from me and even with the music itself, the language will always be a small barrier to my complete understanding. Although my sister will be the one participating in the autoethnographic study, researching deeper into the industry and the music videos has shown me that the ideals and themes are absolutely teeming with Korean culture – even more so than I initially realized.

The final product for my digital artefact will be Prezi which will include not only my sisters experience with K-Pop, but also a breakdown of what are the most important parts of the music and a small case study to give a relevant example. One question that I chose to look at was whether K=Pop is actually Korean. My initial reaction was yes, of course it is. It comes from Korea, the choreography and fashion trends that become popular because of their video clips is not something seen in American music charts, and just the sheer size of some these groups is unheard of in Western culture. But then I delved a bit deeper and found that it is definitely more Westernised than you’d initially believe.

When the latest wave of K-Pop rose in the 1990s, artists began incorporating popular styles of American music like rap and techno house while simultaneously following an American song model. There are quite a few K-Pop songs out there that are essentially covers of popular American tracks although the lyrics are changed to Korean and a memorable choreography is also included. Girls Generation have done this several times and to great success with a track called Run Devil Run which was originally sung by Kesha. Surprisingly, I actually heard Girls Generation cover of the song first since Kesha’s version did not gain much traction on Australian billboard charts and I wasn’t a big enough fan to listen to her full album. It was interesting to learn that this had initially been an American song, but in my mind, with the addition of the music video, Girls Generation definitely changed it to a K-Pop track.

Although the music is influenced to a degree by American music, the K-Pop industry itself is unique to what you would find in the USA and this can be be attributed partly due to the differences in culture. Even in Australia, we grow up with an “every man for themselves” mindset while Korea holds a more collectivist culture which can be reflected through the way the K-Pop industry operates. Being a fan, it has been clear for me from the onset of my interest that solo artists are definitely the exception rather than the rule and many of those who end up moving towards a solo career were often in groups beforehand. However, I didn’t look further into this unique characteristic and, as it turns out, there’s actually quite a few reasons why Korean music companies prefer larger groups.

Even if you haven’t experienced it first hand, many music fans would have had to deal with a cancelled concert due to an artists sickness or even injury. With the large amount of performers that these K-Pop groups have, if a misfortune befalls one of the members the rest of them are still able to continue a concert allowing for more flexibility for the label. Recently JinE, a member of group Oh My Girl! was put on hiatus because she has been suffering from anorexia nervosa and her label felt it was best for her to receive the treatment she required. However, since the life of an idol is kept busy with promotions and performances, the rest of the eight-member girl group will continue with their activities. This example raises questions about beauty standards in Korea and the pressures idols receive to maintain an ideal look, but that is a whole topic within itself.

Apart from the focus on groups, K-Pop artists tend to hold lower agency over their work. When I was approached with this idea, it made me think of record companies and how in the Australian industry, making music independently from any label is seen as a badge of honour. Then, when I thought about the K-Pop groups I followed, I realized that every single one was part of a larger entertainment company. This means that K-Pop songs are heavily regulated and prepackaged which you can see through their pin-point choreographies and the similar fashion they wear in music videos. Although fans will have their bias (favourite member of a group), it is only through variety shows and sometimes live performances where viewers actually get a better glimpse of individual idols personalities.

It was interesting to find that even after years of following the K-Pop industry, my knowledge was still quite limited and, in some ways, I was still an outsider looking in. I was aware of the typical themes found in K-Pop such as the choreography, fashion and those memorable English phrases scattered throughout the songs – after all, this is what drew me to the genre in the first place. However, there will always be things I don’t understand simply because of cultural and language barriers; some of the translations may not be exact in English and there are some cultural references that I would never have heard of before. Luckily, completing this digital artefact will hopefully fill in a few holes of missing information and allow me to continue enjoying K-Pop, just on a more detailed level.

Baby who?

For my individual autoethnographic research project, the focus of my investigation will be on the adorable Japanese metal band, Babymetal. The genre of music is a cross between Japanese Pop (J-Pop) and metal, and the effeminate voices of the three girls which make up Babymetal bring a refreshing change to the rock/metal genre.
I was first introduced to the band around six months ago. I love music and have been a fan of alternate styles of music for as long as I can remember, (however I must admit heavy metal has never been a preference of mine). One day as I was listening to Triple J on my apprehensive drive to work, I came across a song that I was unfamiliar with, a song that was both funky, yet heavy to a certain degree. I found myself really enjoying it even though metal is not my thing at all, and it was extremely evident that the music wasn’t stereotypical metal, more a combination of a few different genres.

I was so focused on the instrumentals of this track that, admittedly, it took me around two minutes to realise that the song I was listening to wasn’t actually in English, and that’s what intrigued me the most. Triple J considers itself a radio station for ‘alternate’ music, but in reality the music played is very westernised and it’s rare to hear a song in a different language or from a different cultural background. When the song finished the presenter announced that the artist was a Japanese metal band named Babymetal and that this ‘new’ group was taking the world by storm. I legitimately could not think of another Japanese artist that I know of or have heard on the radio, so I was quick to look up a bit about the band and what they were about. It was from this day, when I heard a Japanese metal band amongst the acoustic sounds of Chet Faker and the electronic vibes of Tame Impala, that I discovered a new found liking towards metal, and a new found respect for Triple J for exposing this diverse sound to Australian audiences.

DIGC330 is allowing me to revisit my affinity towards this band, and learn more about the style of music and culture in both an analytical and emotional way. Through autoethnographic practices such as ‘discerning patterns of cultural experience evidenced by field notes and/or artifacts, and then describing these patterns using facets of storytelling’ (Ellis, 2011) , I will obtain a deeper understanding of the band and their global reception, and aim to answer the question- what is Baybymetal?
I’ve only had a few brief encounters with Babymetal since I was first introduced to the band and I still know very little of their origin and style, so I am eager to begin my autoethnographic research. As if have not yet conducted research into the history of the band and their relevance in Japan (and the rest of the world) I decided to watch a couple of video clips produced by the band and note my observations prior to my research:

Video 1: KARATE- BABYMETAL | 20,522,673 views

• The song that I heard and seemingly the only song that gets played on Australian radio
• Eerie costumes- gothic skull like, yet feminine in the sense that they’re white and glowing
• Use of karate movements and poses as form of dance
• Powerful/thrilling graphics – gothic
• Costuming a significant part of the video – represents different sides to the narrative
• Although the music is ‘hardcore’, their voices remain feminine
• Catchy chorus
• Genre is metal but not as hardcore as traditional metal
• Even though they’re dressed in scary/gothic clothing and accompanied by loud drumbs and electric guitar, I can’t help but think how cute they are
• Use of Japanese tradition – catching fly with hand
• Style of music reminds me of Amity Affliction – heavy but still mainstream
• Refreshing to hear a female voice in this genre
• Don’t usually like this genre but actually really enjoy this song

Video 2: BABYMETAL – ギミチョコ!!- Gimme chocolate!! (OFFICIAL) 59,191,425 views


• Haven’t heard this song before but chose to watch this one because it had the most views
• Costumes significant- gothic yet feminine
• Drums heavy and loud
• Live performance video
• Dancing is succinct and a huge part of the performance
• Cute playful dancing
• Pitch remains high
• Don’t understand the lyrics but appear playful and ironic- “gimme chocolate” innocent and childlike juxtaposed to the heavy music and gothic costumes
• Red and black tutu with leather jacket- irony
• Clearly don’t take themselves too seriously- often seen giggling throughout the performance
• Some sing about loss and heart break, these girls sing about chocolate
• Remain to have cheeky smiles on their face
• VERY big crowd watching

Once I utilise sites such as Reddit and YouTube as field sites for my autoethnographic research, along with other means of research online, my next blog will revisit my initial observations and decipher what was significant to me and why. The use of epiphanies through my research will build the basis of my digital artifact and contribute to my understanding of the significance of Babymetal.

Making Sense of K-Pop

the-best-k-pop-groups-u4

After much debate and thought about the different Asian foods I could try for this study, I settled on going in the complete opposite direction and detailing an autoethnography of K-Pop for my digital artefact. However, since I have a decent understanding of the music genre because I’ve been listening to it regularly for the last couple of years, I am going to show my sister (who has minimal knowledge on the topic) several K-Pop music videos and analyze her experience. (more…)

Reflecting on my research

On my post from last week about live music in Thailand, I received a number of comments suggesting I should look into some other Asian nation’s live music industry, and evaluate how these were either similar or different to that of which I have already learned about Thailand. I found this very interesting – it was something that I hadn’t really thought about doing myself and I think it could give me an added level of insight into my overall topic of Thailand’s music industry, in terms of an added context of related countries.
However, it happens to be the last week of required blogging for this subject – meaning I have little to no time to explore this topic before getting started on my final research project (in the same topic). That being said, I have decided to focus on this issue in this project a little more than I would have done otherwise – so thank you for the suggestion, fellow bloggers!
In this post, I have decided to merely wrap up what I have been discussing over the semester, and discuss with you what I think I have learned over the course of completed DIGC330.
First of all, this was a really interesting assessment to complete due to its methodology of autoethnography. It was enlightening to constantly give my own opinions and perspectives on whichever topic I would be talking about, especially in terms of secondary and academic research – which is something that I have never really done before at university.
This methodology really allowed me to engage with the research material in a way that I had never been able to achieve previously.
In terms of the topic I chose to look into, I feel as though I really learned some new information that I’ll carry with me for a while. Being an avid music lover, it was an easy topic to research due to my own personal interest.
However, that being said, I primarily listen to only Australian music (for no particular reason – all my favourite bands just turn out to be local), which means my knowledge did not really span past this.
Overall, I found this blogging assessment to be really beneficial to discovering what DIGC330 is all about as a subject, and gave me a really good idea into what I wish to be researching in my personal project a few weeks from now!
Catchya on the flipside, all you dedicated readers.

Live Music in Thailand

After looking into Thailand’s music scene and industry over the course of the semester, I realized that I have not yet chosen to look into the live music scene in this region. This is especially strange due to how much I enjoy live music here at home – I’ve lost count of how many bands I’ve seen over the years.

For my project, I’ve chosen to look into more alternative music genres throughout Asia, rather than focusing on mainstream artists. This means that most live gigs that I will be talking about will not take place in large stadiums or well-known venues – rather underground bars and clubs, and old houses turned music warehouses.

After doing a quick Google search of live music in Thailand, I was directed to the Lonely Planet’s website that detailed a few alternative and ‘indie’ venues such as ‘Brick Bar’, a basement pub and ‘Parking Toys’, a nightclub in Bangkok that specializes in local electronic music (Lonely Planet, 2014). It was interesting to discover venues such as these – of course, most cities in any country has their own local and underground music scene that we may not know about, but it is a little strange for me to think of this one in particular.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.26.16 am

This got me thinking about why I hold such views. Why is it that it can be so normal for me to experience Sydney or Wollongong’s local music scene, but almost unheard of for the same events to take place in an Asian country?

After asking myself this question, I find that most of my Asian stereotypes in terms of music stem from the huge popularity of genres such as J-Pop and K-Pop that have penetrated the Western music industry, and that we can now hear here in Australia on a daily basis. Due to the sheer magnitude of K-pop artists and songs such as Psy’s Gangnam Style (with two billion YouTube hits, it’s a wonder if anyone hasn’t heard this song) I feel as if though these types of artists are what I primarily think of in terms of Asian music.

Of course, I know that this is a stereotype and a generalization. This is why I think my research into Thailand’s music industry is really helping me to break these views I used to hold. Music is something that I enjoy thoroughly, and it has been enlightening over the semester to be able to broaden my horizons, and quash any clichéd perspectives I used to hold about the Asian music scene.

Thailand’s music industry and the use of Spotify

In my research of the alternative music genre located in Thailand, this week I have decided to go in a different direction and delve into the actual music industry of this nation, and research concepts such as the primary music producers; influence of content; and distribution of funds.

This will be an interesting comparison to make with the Australian music industry, and to investigate any similarities or differences. I thought that this would be quite a relevant topic to explore due to the personal experiences I have had with the music industry here in Australia – for instance, my mum has worked for Sony Music Australia for my entire life, and I have also worked there on a few occasions.

This personal insight into one music company here is a great advantage when researching something as broad as music production in a particular nation, as it allows me to have a perception on some aspects, that I may not have had otherwise.

In Thailand, there is one music conglomerate company, called GMM Grammy that controls the majority of music production and distribution coming from artists in that nation.

This is split into a few smaller companies, such as Genie Records, Grammy Gold and UP^G Records. The Grammy group principally controls the Thai music industry, with intellectual property regulations, manufacturing, distribution and business models all falling under the Grammy umbrella.

As it has in many other countries, piracy has been of great detriment to Thailand’s music industry. According to GMM Grammy, the sales of the conglomerate’s products have decreased drastically, although the live music scene has actually boosted in recent times. This is thought to be because of the increase in use of digital and social media technology for music access – artists’ names are being thrown out there more often across platforms which leads to a higher level of recognition.

This is interesting to note in terms of comparison to the state of the music industry in Australia. For instance, the piracy epidemic is actually decreasing here. Music streaming apps such as Spotify are allowing users to have instant access to any music they like, which was the previous lure of illegal downloading – although the app comes at a price, which users don’t seem to have a problem with.

Being a regular Spotify user myself, I can definitely identify with the attraction that the app exhibits. I love having access to any artists or songs that I like, at any time and across devices (for instance, I have Spotify installed on my iPhone, iPad and Macbook).

This is definitely a difference between music in Thailand in Australia. I am yet to find an app or program that is equal to Spotify in Thailand – i.e., that provides its users’ with music instantly, legally, and for a small fee. It would be interesting to investigate this further to discover whether there have been any attempts for one to be launched, that have either failed or not become popular.

I just love music, okay?!

After discussing with my Digital Asia class this week about the actual aims of our own investigation into different aspects of Asian culture in a digital sense being to investigate from an autoethnographic level, I found that I needed to restructure the way in which I have been going about and recording my research as a whole.

This week I have thoroughly researched what it means to be successful in the practice of autoethnography, and I established an appropriate definition by my understanding – ‘the way that an author studies and in turn discusses a certain culture’s relational practices, values, beliefs and shared experiences to assist outsiders better understand the culture, while relating this back to the author’s own past opinions, stereotypes and experiences’.

I primarily decided on this definition through Carolyn Ellis’ (et. al) article ‘Autoethnography: an Overview’ from 2011.

In terms of my research topic, the alternative music genre in Thailand, and different artists’ experience with various social media platforms, this autoethnographic perspective will be entirely relevant, due to the high interest I personally have into alternative music.

Ever since I can remember, I have had an immense interest in music, along with my entire family. I am a fan of almost any genre under the alternative umbrella – indie pop, garage rock, heavy metal, hardcore, punk – with my favourite at the moment being Australian stoner pop (it seems that this is an official thing now – Dune Rats anyone?).

In addition to this, I have a high interest in the way that the music industry works, not only here in Australia but around the world.

It’s also fascinating to discover how different countries interact with one another in terms of their own industries.

For the remainder of my research, I aim to look into the social media practices of artists from Thailand, while also contrasting the actual music content with that of Australian artists who may be similar. It will be interesting to find similar artists, and discuss my experience of the two – do I like one more than the other? Why might this be?

After finally fully understanding the basis behind autoethnography as a research methodology, I think I will be able to reach the full potential that comes with my research topic!

Research Project finally decided – Alternative Thai music scene

This week, I have finally decided on the final topic for my digital research project for DIGC330. Yes, I know this took me a while to hone in but I felt as if I didn’t have a certain direction – until now.

I have decided to look into the alternative music scene in Thailand, with a focus on particular artists’ social media practices. It will be interesting to discover which artists favor which platforms, and to delve into why these choices may have been made by some.

To do this, I will be finding examples of artists from Thailand that embody the alternative music genre – but not until I define what can be considered alternative! I chose to specifically focus on music from Thailand due to the sheer number of musicians that hail from there – it’s actually quite surprising to discover how big the indie music scene is in their country.

I think this definition is necessary if you want to find appropriate artists and delve into what makes them ‘alternative’ rather than ‘mainstream’. It will also be interesting to find out why these two ends of the spectrum are so different.

This video helped to introduce me to the different kinds of bands that I will be dealing with when researching alternative Thai music. To give a more personal feel to the project

I have chosen to listen to a few different bands in depth and find out which ones I like the most, and try to discover why this could be.

Being a big fan of mainly Australian alternative music myself, I feel as though this could be a very interesting comparison to make – between Thai and local Australian bands.

Through this research, my digital artifact will soon begin to take form. I am planning on making an annotated playlist using music-streaming platform SoundCloud of a variety of different alternative Thai bands, including ones that I did like and also was not really a fan of.

I will include commentary on each track, discussing the make-up of each song, and why this has affected my research.

Although it did take me a little longer than expected to settle on a final research topic, I am happy with the direction in which my project is headed, and can’t wait for you all to see the final result!