This thread is really interesting. For me, there are two key questions here.
The broad one is around how underground or independent music cultures operate within the structures of late capitalism: e.g. if no-one pays for music or other cultural products any more, how do artists sustain their careers? Part of that has involved artists becoming more mercurial themselves, but part of it is a much more subtle and intricate knitting-together of independent culture and advertising.
Red Bull is the big one here, as people have mentioned (there’s a fantastic piece in The Wire recently, where Derek Walmsley sits in on an edition of RBMA and tries to unravel what it means; it captures the uncanny, ambiguous nature of this sort of stuff perfectly), but I’m sure anyone could name plenty of similar examples.
I’ve recently finished working on a series of music documentaries which were funded by Gucci: they gave the artists directing them complete editorial control, and enabled the creation of work which couldn’t possibly be sustainable otherwise; it felt like a really positive process. On the other hand, I’ve known people who’ve sunk months of incredibly stressful work into producing a similar documentary series for another brand, only for them to refuse to release it at the last minute because they changed their brand positioning.
There’s also the ongoing debate over Boiler Room (fuelled by venture capital, owned and founded by a guy who went to one of the most prestigious private schools in the UK) being given hundreds of thousands of pounds to film and promote Notting Hill Carnival, vastly more than the Carnival itself receives, and the difficult questions that throws up about the friction between cultural and capitalist priorities, or the way in which cultural production ties into class, wealth, gentrification and so on (I think the points about housing being a fraught social signifier in relation to this particular advert are really important).
The more specific question here about modular, and its role as a lifestyle accessory, is equally fascinating and thorny. However affordable it might be for some (I’ve built my rack on a modest salary over several years) modular is unquestionably positioned as a luxury item, and coded in a way that (possibly unconsciously) speaks predominately to an audience with higher-than-average disposable income. The modular nature of things is also inherently acquisitive: there’s always another module you can add to your setup, right?
I think much of the culture around modular perpetuates that: breathless gear reviews on YouTube, soft-focus Instagram-filter performance videos focusing solely on the equipment not the artist, endless messageboard exhortations (not necessarily here) to buy another case, all of which essentially function as advertising, albeit consumer-generated.
I feel like ultimately, for much of the culture around modular it’s less about the creative potential of these instruments than the process of acquiring and constructing them: a friend described it as the synth equivalent of a model train set, which I think is harsh but ultimately pretty fair. So for me, it’s not really that surprising to see modular used as a lifestyle signifier in a more formal advertising context: so much of how modular functions in an underground setting is already about branding, advertising and aspiration that it translates smoothly to the sort of imagery in the original post. I think if we want to interrogate the way external brands come in and engage with underground cultures, we probably need to start by examining the way those cultures operate already.