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In a State of Musical Hysteria


In a State of Musical Hysteria

Can you imagine a store that sells memorabilia of your favourite band, Indian or international? Only music, tons and tons of it? Hysteria, Bangalore’s first dedicated original music merchandise store, did exactly the same when it opened in 2010. In 2014 however, they sell pop culture paraphernalia, taking the focus away from music goods. SoundTree inquires.   

From selling t-shirts and hoodies of indie metal bands like Inner Sanctum, Kryptos, Theorized and Bevar Sea to international stalwarts like AC/DC and Metallica, Hysteria has sold it all. In 2010, 2011. Over the years, indie music merchandise requests have reduced at the store. Let alone indie, survival on selling only music-based goods was not an option either. Therefore, marking its success today are products of pop culture at large – ranging from TV shows, movies, games, comics and of course their initial passion, music.

Manujendra Singh Ahluwalia (Manu), one of the two owners of the store, shares his initial sentiment behind Hysteria, which was to build a community that understood, participated and felt for ‘music’ as he did. After researching over Bangalore’s nocturnal scene-scape, Manu and his business partner Vineet Sethi, decided Bangalore’s rock and roll culture was too deeply ingrained into its people; a kind that was indelible to waste. They then decided to start the store with only music as the prodigal child. Ironically enough, the location of their shop, Church Street, was home to the city’s largest unlicensed goods sold – fake Barcelona jerseys to Puma shoes. To their surprise, it wasn’t underfoot. Manu says, “The day we opened we didn’t know if we were going to survive the month because we didn’t know if a person was ready to pay Rs. 1,300 for a t-shirt, who was used to buying one for Rs. 300. As it turned out, people went ape shit on that.” But that was then, four years ago. It may be improbable to find t-shirts or CDs of indie bands today.

“I remember the day Inner Sanctum released an album, we had around 40 orders in one single night. We went berserk packing all those t-shirts and CDs. Three years back we could still do this because rentals were low. Now it’s tough.” Indie music merchandise was sold at a nearly negligible profit. “We used to do (merchandise) of Galeej Gurus, TAAQ, Demonic Resurrection and all of them. We weren’t earning anything.”

Manu, presently a fan of Delhi-based cabaret jazz band Peter Cat Recording Co., feels that EDM hasn’t spared Bangalore’s audience in the last couple of years as much as one would like to equate the city with classic rock. “EDM has become pervasive and not always in a good way. I feel the number of people who listen, understand and appreciate music has gone down. May be the trend has changed and EDM is the next ‘rock’?” is how he likes to put it safely. But the fact of the matter is, the wide variety of latest and innovative items sold at the Hysteria, from Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) bobble heads to Game of Thrones’ mini Iron Throne, has made thorough business sense, but the initial slogan ‘Live The Music’ has taken a back seat.

“I realized how much EDM had affected our business the day I went to Sunburn.” Two items sold from their kiosk at Sunburn’s flea market – a belt and a pair of flip-flops, because the person buying these had broken their pant button and slippers, respectively.

A store in Pune was the next stop, given its youth connect as one would imagine. “It bombed.” To Manu’s surprise, a city that has perhaps the largest adopters of indie music, couldn’t afford merchandise, indie memorabilia being a far cry. “We supported local gigs. We even had their CDs kept at our store but that scene just evaporated into thin air – because the young people would rather spend on their girlfriends, drugs, movies and gaming. Not like we didn’t do that (laughs). (Surprisingly) gigs in Pune had good bands like Goddess Gagged performing and no one would turn up for the show.” It didn’t add up in his head.

A die-hard fan of the cult classics, be it The Beatles or Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Manu believes in the integrity of Hysteria. “I’ve been offered to sell Honey Singh bobble heads and Krrish masks. I’ve got nothing against selling merchandise that is Indian but my point is at Hysteria we want to give things that have a cult status.” Sholay too has been victimized by corporatization, he adds. “Big companies look at mass. They will never look at what a Sholay can be for a discerning customer. They’re all looking at how to milk it, and eventually they kill it. Sholay has become your sadakchap thing.”

Moving to a broader gamut of pop culture items was less of a survival instinct as compared to a societal observation. “We realized that the ‘guy’ who was into music was into movies, sitcoms, gaming and a host of other stuff.” Hosting nearly 150 to 200 bands’ merchandise at one point of time, and selling British rock barons Porcupine Tree’s last 100 tees in 2011, proved how much music meant to them. “We hated doing it. Our slogan was ‘Live the Music’. From that it went to movies and gaming.”

Today, Captain America t-shirts are one of the highest selling products. Manu, though pleased his store is doing exceptionally well that they’ve opened a new store in Delhi’s (Vasant Kunj) DLF Promenade Mall this month, feels a deep need to represent local artists and bands. He cannot pinpoint what and when the crowds changed but they did. There was a time when young students would walk into the Church Street (Bangalore) outlet to jam, or play their favourite music on the speakers. It was that fanfare that Hysteria was stoking. “Fans would come to the store, and start playing songs by Judas Priest, Cream and other bands. Or they would watch the concert DVDs.”

“If Johnny Cash would sell in DLF Promenade I would gladly sell it. (But) people here wouldn’t give two hoots about it.” He believes in a simple ideology – for an army to fight, it needs food. He is more than ready to promote indie acts, artwork and music CDs and merchandise through Hysteria, provided it makes some amount of business sense, even if it comes at an expense of selling film and TV related memorabilia.

If you’re a indie band/artist and want to sell your work, merchandise or CDs at Hysteria, contact Manu, 09871149879.

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