Week 1 Blog – Canons

My own experience with popular music culture began somewhat late – I was completely disinterested in music until I was a teenager. I didn’t own my first mp3/iPod until I was 14. Since then however my interest has skyrocketed – both from a casual listening, fan and academic viewpoint. My tastes have changed but I’ve found music often reminds of times in your life you were listening. Seether’s grunge-y radio rock still reminds me of my younger self walking back from school with my headphones firmly in. I am particularly interested in learning about the recorded industry’s songwriting processes, and how these impact and are impacted by popular music cultures. I also have a keen interest in live music through my career aspirations – I am interested to see which of the subject areas will prove most relevant to music in the live form.

I will now highlight which of the three ideas of production, distribution and consumption culture each week falls into. Week 1 fits into distribution and consumption – history is a method of both distributing and consuming popular music. Week 2 fits into all three – all three come together to create a culture, which is essentially what is focused on through heritage. Week 3 falls into all three. Production in the creation of the archive itself, distribution and consumption in the use of an archive. Week 4 can also fit into all three – all three areas have potential to add new meaning to a song, album, and action etc. through choice of method of implementation. Week 5 would fall primarily into consumption – it is how music is consumed in combination with another medium. Week 6 fits distribution and consumption – how music is commodified and physically sold and stored. Week 7 perhaps fits consumption best. It is how we consume music (choice of genre, method of listening etc.) which provides the identifiers of a music culture. Week 8 goes into all three; DIY culture itself is about how members of a culture went out and produced, distributed and consumed on their own merit. Week 9 is clearly about consumption and distribution – how music is disseminated over the internet. Week 10 seems more inclined towards production; specifically the process of creating a ‘hit’. Week 11 is similar to 5 in its relation to another medium, and so falls into the same areas.

I have been involved in all three areas at some point in my life. I have been playing bass for about five years now – I am not in a band and don’t write full, original songs but the variation in notes and flourishes most players begin to experiment with whilst learning songs arguably can be seen as music production – creating something new. I have shared countless songs, music articles, and posts from my favourite bands on my Facebook – effectively distributing music and music culture throughout my social media profiles. In terms of consumption I rarely pay for music – however I have bought physical copies of albums as souvenirs. For example, a Deaf Havana ‘Old Souls’ vinyl sits proudly on a shelf in my old bedroom. More generally I listen to music during commutes, whilst working and during leisure – it effectively provides a soundtrack to my life.

When looking at ideas of the popular and common it is difficult to situate yourself within a culture without coming off as arrogant or self-deprecating. I can be somewhat of a snob in terms of how I look at music I believe to be of low quality – I give meaning to music I feel to be low quality by speaking about it in a certain disapproving tone. The first example to come to mind would be Coldplay – despite huge commercial success I find their music to be uninspired, bland and technically average. In particular I dislike the vocals – when I speak about the vocals I construct Chris Martin and his voice to be undeserving of the success him and the band have achieved. In contrast, by buying and displaying a Deaf Havana vinyl I am putting them into the same category as one might put a ‘legacy artist’ into, in spite of the band’s young age.

I believe this documentary does challenge the totalising methods of how moments of popular music are constructed, documented and historicised to a certain extent. The most obvious challenge is the lack of coherence with the conventional punk canon – anarcho-punk is rarely prominent in the punk canon yet takes the forefront here. The beginning of the documentary highlights a lyric from Crass – “They said that we were trash but the name is Crass not Clash”. This could be viewed perhaps as a direct challenge from Oey directly at the punk canon through the use of Crass lyrics. It sets the tone for the documentary.

The exclusion of Crass from the punk canon would seem to match their ideological identity. Crass go against the ‘mainstream’ success of ‘big’ punk bands who signed to major labels – they were not a part of any major popular music canons created by chart companies or otherwise. In a way it could be argued that this anti-canonisation is in itself a canonisation; Crass and anarcho-punk are ignored (until the last ten years) by the ‘tastemakers’ – the academics, journalists, critics etc – could this anti-establishment, contrarian career path in actuality be a canon formed by the academic interest garnered within the last decade?

The documentary, whilst going against convention in terms of music documentaries, still sticks to several conventional methods. The documentary is roughly an hour – this means the entire history of Crass had to be compressed to a small period of time, and arguably be ‘totalised’. The use of music clips could also be a totalisation – how are the songs used in the documentary decided on? Were these the equivalent of ‘hits’ for the band? As someone unfamiliar with Crass’s body of work until this documentary, I assumed these songs were there biggest in terms of success or critical reception solely from their inclusion.

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