Week 4 Blog -Meaning in Music and Making it Together

When Schutz speaks of ‘making music together’, he is referring to the social relations between a composer, listener and the intermediary party (performers primarily, although recorded music would fit into this category). He looks at the ‘mutual tuning-in relationship’ between the participants, arguing that this relationship occurs due to simultaneity within a specific dimension of time. Schutz refers to the music-specific dimension this occurs within ‘inner time’.

‘Inner time’ isn’t measured in the same way as real time, but for musical communication to be possible, it must occur within a shared temporal continuum – ‘inner time’. In order to ‘make music together’, musicians have to relate their ‘inner time’ experience of the music to their physical actions taking place in real time.

Whilst Schutz’s work is certainly an interesting analysis of a composer-led concert, today’s popular music proves problematic when applying Schutz’s framework – most popular music acts are presented as the songwriters as well as performers – there is no real ‘intermediary party’. Musicians in bands have to keep to ‘inner time’, but the rhythm of this ‘inner time’ is provided by a percussionist or drummer – even singers and guitar players tap their feet to keep to time. The structure of conventional bands has changed to musically connect ‘inner time’ to real time. The ‘inner time’ (the beat of the song) is provided by the drums, then tied to the more melodic and ‘real’ elements of the music by the bass guitar.

Simon Frith also identifies problems with Schutz’s framework by pointing to African musical ensembles – it is impossible for African music to have a conductor; the music is always becoming, never being (Frith 1998). Another challenge to Schutz’s work is made by those who believe that music comes from nature – Leonard Bernstein supported the tonal system, believing ‘musical poetry’ comes from the Earth, and that the sources of this poetry cause a phonology of music to exist, having evolved from the universal harmonic series (Storr, 1992). Essentially, Bernstein is arguing for musical monogenesis – all music comes from the same place. Storr goes on to argue that music is best understood as a system of relationships between tones, similarly to how a language is a system of relationships between words. The reason we order it as we have (and other cultures have as they have) is the simple human desire for order rather than chaos.

After reviewing the surrounding academic literature on meaning within music, as well as working at a small indie music gig (Youth Club/Young Kato), I believe context is the origin of meaning within music. Context refers to both musical and extra-musical entities. For example, the exact song performed in two different venues (a stadium and a bar for example) will have different meanings due to their physical extra-musical context. At the aforementioned concert I was working on the guest list, and found that many of Youth Club’s parents came to the show – this context gives the entire concert a different meaning; it can now be seen as a triumphant homecoming gig (the audience reaction certainly attests to this). Similarly, within the music itself context is important. One note by itself has no meaning – it is a simple, unwavering sound. However, when combined with several other musical elements it becomes a cog in the machine that is the music being performed/played. Lyrics take different meanings based on how they are sung within the context of both the song and society at the time of the release. Third Eye Blind’s ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ comes across as a tongue-in-cheek, bouncy, upbeat, ‘sound of the 90s’ American radio rock song with the semi-rapped verses, catchy yet defiant chorus and the frontman’s falsetto. However, the song takes a considerably more sinister tone when the lyrics are simply read out loud rather than sung. The song is about crystal meth abuse, yet simply doesn’t sound that dark. The rapped verses were a reaction to hip-hop’s growing influence on popular music at the time.

Of course, context by definition involves anyone associated with the performance; the audience’s reaction to Young Kato’s performance adds meaning to the performance both extra-musically (the songs meaning is amplified when a room full of untrained vocalists are singing it rather than one competent one) and musically (crowd chants, crowd singing creating a natural reverb within the small venue (Sunflower Lounge)). So I believe in the idea of making music together – consumers can produce (Long and Wall refer to these as ‘prosumers’ (2012)), but meaning is produced by both musical and extra-musical context.

 

Bibliography

  • Frith, S. (1998). Performing Rites. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Long, P. and Wall, T. (2012). Media Studies. Harlow, England: Pearson.
  • Schutz, A. (1976). Making Music Together. In: A. Schutz and A. Brodersen ed., Collected Papers II. 1st Dordecht: Springer Netherlands.
  • Storr, A. (1992). Music and the Mind. New York: Free Press.
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Week 2: Devising a tourist strategy for Birmingham

Like Liverpool, Hamburg, Memphis and Detroit, Birmingham, has always had a strong industrial cultural identity. Its industrial backdrop has somehow contributed to the musical landscape, producing some iconic artists within the sphere of ‘popular culture’. With heritage being an ‘ever-changing concept’ (Frost, 2008, 177), and a current tendency towards seeing popular culture icons as something worth preserving, there seems to be a shift from the conventional approach to heritage as objects of ‘high culture’. The ‘MTV generation’ bemoaned by Rothman (2003, as cited by Frost, 2008, p177) could lead to urban regeneration for some cities, having a stronger pull than other types of cultural capital, owing to music’s ‘more powerful emotional influence’. Associations with political movements add a sociological context that helps to create a more fluid ‘history’ (however ‘totalising’). The danger in having a ‘flagship band’, as seen in the AC/DC study by Frost, and to a large degree with The Beatles in Hamburg, as researched by Fremaux & Fremaux (2013) is that the identity of that ‘flagship’ might create tensions, given that the cultural identity of a city is largely shaped by it. Liverpool has The Beatles as its flagship band, but has a vast infrastructure supporting new artists alongside them. Fans have continued to add to the heritage, solidifying the concept of their city having a ‘sound’, an audio identification.

CLICK ON THE PIC BELOW FOR A PREVIOUS TOURIST STRATEGY FOR BIRMINGHAM!telly_s_brum-copy

The Fremauxs cite Gibson & Cornell’s 2007 Memphis case study, “Sound Tracks: Popular Music, identity and place”, in looking at how music is used in, ‘creating a relationship between physical space, memory and identity’ Fremaux, 2013, p2). Other cities have tried to recreate, sanitise, regenerate, romanticise, dramatise and totalise iconic musical moments with nostalgia and claim ‘cultural ownership’ of music. Where does that leave a city like Birmingham? Its sparse, sometimes overlapping, sometimes hidden musical heritage is so multicultural and diverse, largely thanks to the industrial opportunities attracting people from all over the world, that at first glimpse it might seem almost impossible to put into a musical nutshell. But that, to me, is the beauty of it…

Strategy for Birmingham

Avoiding walks of fame and hero worship, Birmingham’s strength lies in the diversity of musical output, which by my reckoning is second to none. There are obvious flagships but all genres need to be represented. If there’s one thing Brum is lacking it is connecting the dots, mapping out interconnections and celebrating all the different hexagons in the honeycomb. Collaborations are already rife within the city, and not just across genres and between musos. Music is ever more visual; festivals like City of Colours position street art in a family-friendly way (the present and future), alongside a nod to the musical ‘roots’ of the city (the past) and relevant local music acts. Such mixing of mediums and the past, present and future is a solid ethos and something that could contribute towards a wider strategy.

  • Birmingham needs a centralised ‘House of Music’ (not house of rock or reggae-centric ‘flagship’-driven exhibitions but a massive building which encompasses many musical twists and turns, truer to its character and identity)
  • Key ‘players’ from all scenes should be brought together to research and help represent (in an ongoing dialogue between the people of Birmingham to help create the ‘House’, which has many ‘Rooms’)
  • UNIFICATION: A giant musical map connecting the dots and ongoing history of important locations across Bham, and ‘key’ artists across all genres / cultures
  • A series of launch events to help instil pride and encourage more connections. (Once Bham people become excited about their city, this will spread internationally)
  • Universities need to be involved (designers and creators are needed in the infrastructure of ‘heritage making’, There are indigenous  and international community that is not being tapped into.)
  • Interactive elements & new technologies to encourage ‘personalised experiences’(again looking at students potentially innovational input)
  • Primary Schools across Birmingham do projects about Birmingham’s musical history
  • Branding – we have no tagline ‘sound’ like ‘MerseyBeat’, ‘Madchester’ or ‘Memphis Soul’; do we need one? 
  • ‘Cross-cultural exchange programmes’ (eg. Mix up the Royal Ballet with local musicians).
  • Celebrate pioneers (past, present and future)
  • Get infrastructure sound (and encourage private investment, crowd funding and public sector interests
  • Get choirs celebrating Birmingham music from across the decades by singing them
  • Target Audience is local to international (Pride from the inside out, with international student involvement and a digital marketing plan alongside for global access- let’s avoid being internationally represented by ‘Peaky Blinders’ alone).

 

Popular Music Heritage and Archiving

It has become apparent for years that popular music heritage culture of the past present and future is at risk and faces a slow desolate death yet ironically music plays and integral part in everyday life with so much talent, memories both tangible and intangible. Music heritage more so amongst the ‘ordinary’ people (as you don’t have to be rich or famous to make or enjoy music) is important in understanding, remembering; moods, social, cultural, places, lifestyle, food, fashion, language or types people during a particular era. It is worth noting that as music history does not only happen in buildings but encompassed a whole plethora of activities and events surrounding music making. Compared to other forms of heritage most institutions in countries all over the world music heritage is one that is never given its fair share of care, love and treatment it so deserves and is the least of priorities.

screenshot-2016-10-25-07-21-08

There are two distinct types of music archival practices; the first and probably the conventional is physical locations and these are also divided into 2 categories; physical authorised and physical do-it-yourself (DIY) a term coined by Baker and Huber (2013a) cited in Collins and Baker (2015). The second music archival practice is digital and online with three salvaging activities; online institutional (officially authorised), online community (self-authorised) and informal (unauthorised). Collins (2016) argues use a bottom-up approach of “doing-it-together” (DIT) and DIY philosophy connecting through FB that allows prodigious amounts to content be shared with a broader view. In each practice the latter has community has no economic attachment rather built on passion, personal experience as a collective usually started by activist archivists the likes of Birmingham-born Jez Collins.

One wonders whether is it the musician’s fault, institutions or the public at large. It goes without say that it is a challenge and almost impossible to create comprehensive archives for collecting, preserving, sharing that is sustainable in the long-term. Zimbabwe, as mentioned in my previous blog, suffers economically without a currency of its own at present and many other issues that make it difficult for musicians or volunteers to venture into any form of activity that may not raise eyebrows from the government, however genuine. The folk music (archive of the memory) was passed from generation to generation these intangible archives are also at risk in this age of technology. History and culture are written through lyrics in music making, understanding of one’s own history allow inspiration and influence. Legendary musicians like Oliver Mtukudzi have created a Facebook (FB) pages and Twitter where he shares his recordings, flyers etc., however, upcoming musicians are also doing the best they can using online resources Zee Guveya and Heritage survival band.

Other enthusiasts the likes of Professor Fred Zindi, Joyce Jenje Makwenda to name a few, have written books to preserve some this musical heritage culture. There are also other physical authorised archives such the International Library of Afrikan Music founded by Hugh Tracey (now attached to Rhodes University in Grahamstown). However sad to note, that a country so rich with musical heritage culture would not have much to show for it.

Social Media

There are barriers and limitations with digital and online archiving due to copyright law. There are different approaches to collecting, archiving and preserving, which proves a to be a real challenge. There are not enough volunteers or custodians available to Mann and maintain these spaces. They require time, funding. Should anything happen to these aging generations, be it ill health, death aging or if the owners of the corporate site such as FB, MySpace, Soundcloud, twitter, blogs, Facebook, YouTube decides to pull the plug, go bankrupt or crash a whole history will be wiped from the face of the world in the blink of an eye. (Baker and Huber 2012; cited in Collins 2015). States…also at risk is the accumulated vernacular knowledge and expertise held within the communities that form and are sustained by these practices. Musicians, enthusiasts and activist archivists have their own reservations when it comes to handing over their archives institutions for fear that they are notorious for breaking collections, burying collections, losing, and subsumed. Hence sustainability remains a challenge for both physical and digital archiving it is, however, impossible to archive everything that pertains to popular music culture this can only be partial or selective.

 

References and Bibliography

Baker, S. and Huber, A. (2013a) Notes towards a typology of the DIY institution: Identifying do-it-yourself places of popular music preservation. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 16(5), pp. 513–530. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1367549413491721.

Baker, S., ed. (2015) Preserving popular music heritage: Do-it-yourself, do-it-together. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Baker, S. and Collins, J. (2015) Sustaining popular music’s material culture in community archives and museums. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 21(10), pp. 983–996. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13527258.2015.1041414.

Baker, S. and Collins, J. (2016a) Popular music heritage, community archives and the challenge of sustainability. International Journal of Cultural Studies, pp. 1–16. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1367877916637150.

Baker, S. and Collins, J. (2016b) Popular music heritage, community archives and the challenge of sustainability. International Journal of Cultural Studies. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1367877916637150.

Celebrating Birmingham’s popular music history (2016) Available at: http://www.birminghammusicarchive.com [Accessed 17 October 2016].

ILAM (no date) Available at: http://ilam.africamediaonline.com/page/aboutus [Accessed 17 October 2016].

International library of African music (ILAM) (2015) Available at: http://musicinafrica.net/directory/international-library-african-music-ilam [Accessed 17 October 2016].

Heritage survival (no date) Available at: http://www.heritagesurvival.co.uk/default.html [Accessed 22 October 2016].

new, 2016 and require (2016) Tuku Musik official. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/tukumusik/ [Accessed 16 October 2016].

Posted and Baker, S. (2012) Jez Collins on ‘activist archivism’. Available at: http://diyarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/jez-collins-on-activist-archivism-at.html [Accessed 17 October 2016].

Rhodes (2015) ILAM, Rhodes university. Available at: http://www.ru.ac.za/ilam/ [Accessed 17 October 2016].

User, S. (2016) Roof contact Info. Available at: http://www.archives.gov.zw/index.php/sections/records?showall=&start=1 [Accessed 18 October 2016].

 

Week 4 – Popular Music & Meaning

This week, one of Grime’s biggest artists held a show in Birmingham that i attended. Globally recognised ‘Skepta’ attended a relatively small venue in Digbeth. For a rapper as big as Skepta is right now, i was surprised to find out that he was booked into such a small venue. Usually, big names in the music industry always hold shows at the Genting arena, O2 Academy or The Institute. Even the Skepta could have easily sold enough tickets to perform at these venues, the reason behind the venue choice may be due to its destination in Digbeth. Digbeth is a very creative area in Birmingham. It holds plenty of independant fashion shops and skate shops, and is also known for its underground music scene. Therefore, the crowd that will attend the show may bring a more raw, gritty edge to the vibe. Which is perhaps the kind of audience Skepta prefers turning up at his shows.

During the show, Skepta surprised the audience by welcoming some local Birmingham rappers that are big in the grime game named Sox and Jaykae. The audience responded in such a positive manner and it instantly made them respect Skepta a lot more for connecting the Birmingham scene to his big movements.

Grime is a very motivational genre. The BPM (beats per minute) of grime tracks are usually quite high tempo, therefore when you listen to it (depending on your taste) it could get you quite pumped up and full of energy. This positive, lively energy was very infectious and you could feel the vibes of the beats bouncing amongst the crowd.

Music can have a very converse, unique meaning to everyone.

“I may give a name to a specific piece of music, calling it “Moonlight Sonata” or “Ninth Symphony”; I may even say, “These were variations with a finale in the form of a passacaglia,” or characterise, as certain program notes ate prone to do, the particular mood or emotion this piece of music is supposed to have evoked in me. But the musical content itself, its very meaning, can be grasped merely by reimmersing oneself in the ongoing flux, by reproducing this the articulated music occurrence as it unfolds in polythetic steps in inner time, a process itself belonging to the dimension of inner time.” (Schutz, A. 1951).

The main way a grime track expresses meaning and emotion is through its lyrics. Some artists talk about their rough lifestyles, daily struggles and how they overcome them, and some talk about their toughness and the amount of money they make. So these different artists may mean more to you as you may relate more to their songs emotionally. However, Theodor Adorno suggests that the emotional feeling you get is false. That the song was not made to make you feel that way, it has made you think you feel a certain way based on the way you have perceived the audio.

I personally think that there are certain cases where songs are supposed to make you feel the way you feel when listening to them or witnessing them be performed live. Especially when it comes to the genre of grime. Just based solely on the energy and similar human behaviours during the live set at Skepta’s show proved that the emotional effect it had on its listeners was shared. However, in other examples, their may be songs that listeners will really appreciate the instrumental arrangement of, yet  others may feel more emotionally involved with the lyrics and vocals of the artist/song.

 

 

Week 3 – Archiving

Pietrobruno (2013) outlines traditional archives as a hegemonic-authorised collection of historical and cultural significant records, each with distinct meanings, which Collins (2014) builds on, suggesting that archives and their attendant communities share complex and interwoven relationships with ideas of history.

Since the summer of 2014, I have been involved in a community-based closed-group on Facebook titled Download Festival (https://www.facebook.com/groups/DownloadMusicFestival/), which serves as a virtual meeting place for fellow Download-goers to interact and discuss various aspects of the festival as well as to arrange group meet-ups throughout the weekend of the festival. However, since joining the group, it has grown inordinately (28,687 members to date) and has become not only a virtual stomping ground for festival goers, but an archive of festival and musical history. The group is administrated by two members of the group who ensure that the topics posted don’t veer too far away from the essence of Download – or music in general – and ensure that any harmful content is removed and blocked. Using Baker and Collins (2015) suggestion that community archives are a variant of heritage practice that doesn’t seek authorisation, and has a distinct emphasis on everyday practice, cultural bricolage, and individual and collective memory, I would argue that this group is an online community archive. The group’s unintentional archival nature allows it to blossom into a collection of gig tickets, band tattoos, photos with famous artists and so on. Only the other day, I was sharing my own tattoos which are all musically-themed after one member of the group shared their latest Avenged Sevenfold tattoo, in response to an earlier post regarding the new Avenged Sevenfold album. The group’s accidental archival nature highlights its importance in preserving what official institutions may see as hoarding unnecessary content which to others is a hive of interlinking memories. The group has also become of importance to the official Download Festival social media pages who have used content posted on the group and provided to them by us to promote the festival (an older thread which asked members to post pictures from their favourite year of Download sparked a series of photos from the first few Download Festivals that the festival itself didn’t have as much archival records of).

Whilst I agree with Joinson’s (2008) notion that the virtual world is increasingly becoming the way in which we learn about others’ ‘life-worlds’, we shouldn’t shy away from the importance of physical archives, particularly authorised ones that operate as official flagbearers of musical heritage.

The British Library holds one of the largest collections of popular music in the world, with their aim being to collect a copy of each commercial release in the UK, as well as videos, radio and television programmes, and their own recordings of various events. There is no particular genre specified, nor format, and various parts of it are open physically and online to members of the public. Whilst the idea of collecting copies of releases as well as videos and recordings is important in upholding heritage traditions, particularly when British music is concerned, I fear that archives like this are held in a sense of elitism and will end up being ignored by younger archivists and researchers, as well as those looking to learn about the heritage in the first place. The British Library’s public and private sections highlights the ongoing debate of access long-held in archival research – how can we create our future if we don’t understand our past?

This is why, through personally immersing myself in accidental archiving through the Download Festival group, I feel that community and social archiving is becoming a far more crucial way of archiving for popular music, as it allows almost always open access to content that can be interpreted differently by each user.

Bibliography

Pietrobruno, S. 2013, “YouTube and the social archiving of intangible heritage”, New Media & Society, 15(8),  pp. 1259-1276.

Baker, S. and Collins, J. “Sustaining Popular Music’S Material Culture In Community Archives And Museums”. International Journal of Heritage Studies 21(10) (2015): 983-996.

Joinson, A.N. (2008), “Looking at, looking up or keeping up with people? Motives and use of Facebook”, Proceedings of the 26th Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Florence, Italy, Association of Computing Machinery, pp. 1027-36.

 

Week 3 – Archiving

The main points made in the last blog regarding Iranian music archives will be extended here with a main focus on their backgrounds.

The Music Museum of Iran seems to be the main physical site to visit that preserves rich Iranian music history. As previously mentioned, it holds various artefacts and instruments across 3,650m between three separate floors.

The-Music-Museum-of-Iran-7.jpg

Traditional Iranian instruments have been kept for hundreds of years and you can see very clearly how they have been developed and manipulated to what they are and how they sound like in the modern day. The museum also shows the progress of recording equipment in Iran. From early vinyl and cassette days to modern studio facilities. The-Music-Museum-of-Iran-11.jpgThe-Music-Museum-of-Iran-13.jpgThe-Music-Museum-of-Iran-18.jpg

As good as this place is to visit if you are interested in Iranian music heritage, I think the main aspect that they have avoided is looking at popular musical genres and their progress within the years. They have on display all these fancy instruments and their origins but they lack detail in what style/genre those instruments seemed to have been played.  The historical painting shown below was produced in  1669 in a less privileged city of Iran called Isfahan. This painting implies that these traditional Iranian instruments were played in groups and you did not have to be amongst the richest people in the country to play music. aside from the traditional Iranian Sitar, you can see them playing an Iranian drum known as the Tonbak, which is usually played as a high tempo using your fingers. This ancient piece of art represents people dancing in colourful clothing, which could suggest they played upbeat style genres. Mehmoonifinal2.jpg

As previously stated, there aren’t any significant online blogs/ archives that hold historical information on popular music in Iran. However, there are a couple of websites that carry some relevant information. But in my opinion they lack a lot of detail in several aspects of the histories of each genre.

Iran Chamber Society allows people to post historical information the arts of Iran. It does not seem to be that commonly used amongst people as the last music related post was from 2003. I believe a reason for this could be a restricted access to the internet. Majority of people in Iran still don’t have full access to the internet, and for those that do, are restricted as to what websites they are able to visit. There is a great paper online written by Somayeh Ghazizadeh that talks about the cultural changes of Iranian music after the islamic revolution. The paper looks at how in 1978 shortly after the revolution, the portrait of Persian music was “completely changed and different aspects like absence of women’s voice, emphasis on religious music, increasing of ordered governmental music, imitation of L.A Persian pop artists, omitting dance, and many other ones appeared in it.”

In conclusion, there are various forms of online articles and papers you can learn lots about popular music in Iran and musical culture/heritage, however the information doesn’t seem to be located in one place. You have to search through dozens of various websites and articles to find the information required.

 

 

Week 1: Intro

About Me

So, I’m Shelley; I have worked as a freelancer in music and culture for about 12 years, in music management, tour management, band management, events, festivals, online radio and research. My particular interest has always been creating music, bands and events which were unique and collaborative, often cross-cultural and looking at how audiences consume music, sometimes trying to change it. Lots of boring spreadsheet and finance work alongside lots of creativity means a constant balancing act that is the symptom of doing some projects for the love and others for the money. After much balancing of plates, I realised I needed a break from ‘the industry’ and am keen to research, write, analyse and put into practice some other points of view and get back to why music matters to me and how music has profound meaning and purpose in everyday life.

Looking ahead at the course –  Production, Distribution and Consumption

The Music as Popular Culture course examines the role of production, distribution and consumption of music as a continuing thread that weaves in and out of some deeper topics. In week 1 we explored ‘Constructing Histories of Popular Music’, clearly rooted in the consumption of music, whilst simultaneously and unavoidably delving into the areas of production and distribution of it. How music got from A to B, in an arguably ‘totalising’ way, but nevertheless exploring the ‘history’. Week 2 goes on to examine Music Heritage, another area focusing on consumption, but the first two components of music are always lingering in the background, such is the chain of music’s creation. Popular Music as Archives (week 3), Popular Music as Meaning (week 4), Identity (week 7), Digital Music Consumption and Data (week 9), Music and Materiality (week 6) and Music Cultures and Musical Activism (week 8) are all laced with consumption, but again have a value in the production and arguably distribution, at least as a background note. Music and the Moving Image (week 5) I would say is mostly related to Distribution, though it also becomes part of the production to make a film what it is (would Pulp Fiction even be watchable without the killer soundtrack?). Music Radio (week 11) must surely involve all three components in equal measure, and Songwriting and the Recording Industry (week 10) has the emphasis mostly on production, but distribution and production play a huge part in the process. So, in summary, they are all interlaced, like overlapping spheres of interest.

My experiences of Production, Distribution and Consumption

I have been involved in all three aspects mentioned. I have conceptualised collaborative music projects and co-produced the actual music, after introducing bands and outlining ideas with them and musical direction, leading to studio time and recording tracks (analogue!). I have also helped distribute music, working for small labels and bands themselves in getting music played and sold to larger markets. In one instance, this lead to a trip to LA, as a radio station there really liked a local artist, and after buying about 100 copies of the album to sell to listeners as part of a drive time package, invited the artist over to do a live set. And, like the vast majority of humans, I have been involved in the consumption of music, as a listener. I would say doing events I have also worked on the other side of consumption, creating atmospheres and landscapes for good consumption to occur. Whether my example of music production or distribution would qualify as ‘popular music’ participation is dubious though. Neither artists in my examples made a ‘mainstream’ impact in the sense that you will catch it archived by the BBC anytime soon. Perhaps my production work at events such as Glastonbury would be a more apt example here.

‘Popular’ and my relationship to it

There are different definitions of the term ‘Popular’, but if we are going to go for ‘of the people’, as a good starting point, and add ‘mainstream’, widely listened to and available, a ‘hit’ or a ‘household name’ as back ups, we start to get a picture of its common meaning when we talk about music, though the phrase brings with it semantic dilemmas. For me, popular music is still a song or composition that is shared with the majority, so when we are formulating repertoire for our ‘pop choir’, though we try and stick in some lesser known gems, the intergenerational group will soon let us know if this is a ‘popular song’, and still prefer the better known ones, as something familial always seems to comfort them. I have personally always been on a mission to get people to hear new things, especially from local sources, but I have a respect for ‘popular music’ in some sense, especially in that it creates a shared identity which manifests at gigs. My personal feeling is that pop was better in the past and is now at a stage of such homogenisation that it is has gone beyond eating itself and is now a characature of music, largely thanks to the X Factor. But then there always was formulae and a star maker machinery behind the popular song, so it might be that I am just getting old.

It’s clear from watching the Crass documentary, particularly after digesting the set reading, that the ‘totalising’ of punk history as a Sex Pistols / Clash affair far from hits the mark for many involved in the anarcho-punk scene. There are subtle and not so subtle nods to a very different ideology, point of view and history for many people involved in the scene, and the documentary aims to illuminate (as Matt Grimes put it) and re-evaluate the current canon. For authenticity, you’d have to check with other people who were there, and there are no doubt swathes of people involved in the punk scene and its anarcho-punk offshoots whose stories remain undocumented, so in that sense there will always be gaps in the story.  It’s healthy though that people try to de-canonise the presumptive and narrow music historians, a situation which is prevalent in all aspects of social history.

Personally, I am a huge fan of music documentaries, my favourite being Respect Yourself: The Story of Stax Records, which positions a record label in Memphis in a time of social upheaval in America, juxtaposing structural influences alongside cultural ones, ultimately looking at how music remained outside of the perimeters of racial warfare and political unrest, and even improved social relations in some sense. This type of documentary looks at a musical movement, whilst other, like Amyabout the late Amy Winehouse, offer an individual life story. As a viewer, we are in danger of falling into the trap of being presented with a full history, which is, of course, impossible. We are always watching a film makers vision, a piece of art, a point of view, an author-driven project. The Britannia series, as well as the ‘rockumentary’ style, all-encompassing totalising histories, like The Joy Of Disco, are often full of sweeping statements to fit a given narrative. Amy (2015) won awards, yet had Winehouse’s father and fiance reeling from their point of view not being included. It shows a good example of not being able to please everyone, but how key players in a given story are left feeling resentful over misrepresentation. Look at the sanctification of Sharon Osbourne, who appears on X Factor and is seen as a music mogul. Many industry stories about her are vile, but the totalising of her character renders her a modern day role model.