Assignment 1 Blog 5: Symbiotic Networks Capitalising Through Death: Bowie, Brixton, and Bourdieu

Rogers (2016) suggests that when a pop star that is adored dies suddenly, what they stood for becomes immediately relevant and real, the life of the mind, the realm in which they exist, becoming of incredible worth, and their presentation manipulated more so by the media. In a year riddled with the death of popular music icons – Bowie, Prince, and Cohen, to name but a few –, cultures otherwise worlds apart have come together intrinsically as if grieving as a whole rather than an individual, mourning the loss of culture rather than a singular visionary.

Bruner (1990) suggests that we make ourselves and our identities through our autobiographical narratives, which ultimately allows us to build a set of social practices and cultural rules and understandings (Trevarthen, 1999) that guide us not only through life as a whole, but through individual moments shared culturally, collecting our own bank of cultural and social capital, a symbolic currency that provides you with a particular status among particular groups or society as a whole (Bourdieu, 1984; Thornton; 1996). Contextualising and modernising this path of thought, I would argue that we not only create and develop our identities through our own autobiographical narratives, but of the autobiographical narratives of others, particularly highlighted by the coming together of seemingly unrelated communities to grieve the deaths of cultural icons such as Bowie, whose fans created and gathered at impromptu street shrines, only mere hours after his death in his birthplace of Brixton as well Berlin, Los Angeles, and New York.

Vist (2011) suggests that it is not the work of art, but the individual and contextual experiences of the art in question that is important, as if to say it is not the work Bowie produced as Aladdin Sane, but the experiences that were conceived from it that its image evoked at his Brixton shrine. Ruud (2010) claims that the way we experience music and are influenced by it depends on the context, our background, and the music itself, functioning as a mutual relationship between the music, the person, and the situation. I develop this thesis by suggesting that our own narrative paths are intertwined with those of others when the music remains the same, yet the situation changes, and the person becomes the people through a culturally symbolic moment. In one way, this symbiotic networking of people as a whole is a bank of cultural and social capital, an enriched experience enhanced by its shared notion, however on the other hand, you could argue that cultural capital is in fact a static notion, and ultimately what counts as cultural capital does not change over time (Sablan and Tierney, 2013), no matter the context, and thus the symbiotic network is nothing more than a group of people reminiscing individually. Whilst there is certainly room to discuss this notion in further research, I agree with and update Throsby’s (1999) suggestion that a cultural group can assign a cultural valuation to a given item – in this case, David Bowie and his life’s work – which ultimately differs between individuals, re-appropriating itself in particular cases as if a sufficient societal consensus is ranking the overall value against specific moments in time.

Our own autobiographical narratives are altered symbiotically through the shifting value of our own cultural capital – highlighted by the communal grieving of popular musical and cultural icons – in the sense that for a culturally and socially significant moment in popular culture, we are sharing our individual experiences collectively in a bank of capital, alleviating the high taste of that particular icon posthumously.

Bibliography

Rogers, J. (2016). Bowie, Prince, Cohen & The Quiet Power Of Public Grief. [online] The Quietus. Available at: http://thequietus.com/articles/21436-2016-david-bowie-prince-leonard-cohen-grief-music [Accessed 11 Dec. 2016].

Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of meaning. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Trevarthen, C. (1999). Musicality and the intrinsic motive pulse: Evidence from human psychobiology and infant communication. Rhythms, Musical narrative, and the Origins of Human Communication, Musicae Scientiae, Special Issues, 1999-2000, pp. 157-213. Leige, Belgium: European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Routledge, Oxford.

Thornton, S. (1996). Club cultures. 1st ed. Hanover: University Press of New England.

Ruud, E. (2010). Music therapy: A Perspective from the Humanities. 1st ed. Gilsum, N.H.: Barcelona Publishers.

Sablan, J. and Tierney, W. (2016). The Changing Nature of Cultural Capital. In: M. Paulsen, ed., Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 29th ed. Springer Netherlands, pp.153-188.

Vist, T. (2011). Music Experience in Early Childhood: Potential for Emotion Knowledge?. International Journal of Early Childhood, 43(3), pp.277-290.

Throsby, D. (1999). Cultural Capital. Journal of Cultural Economics, [online] 23(1/2), pp.3-12.

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Assignment 1 Blog 4: Grime MC’s as Organic Intellectuals

On Friday 2nd December 2016, Grime artist, song-writer, and record producer Skepta ended his year headlining a sold-out show at the Alexandra Palace in London to 10,000 people, following a year that included a Pyramid-stage appearance at Glastonbury and winning the Mercury Music Prize, the first Grime artist to do so.

Mosanya (2016) has suggested that one of the mass media’s main mistakes in understanding grime is its lack of knowledge of its customs, noting reviews of the Alexandra Palace gig mistaking ‘track-reloading’ for ‘systematic glitches’, and further referencing the misinterpretation of lyrics in reviews which reinterpret the representation of the artist in slanderous lights.

McIntyre (2008) suggests that the Western popular music industry insists on a belief in individual genius figures, whom are inspired by various muses who are unconstrained and free to channel their songs from seemingly mystical sources. This is a viewpoint shared by Western audiences who oppose art over commerce, pursuing a logic that sustains the myths to proclaim and maintain cultural territory (Negus, 1997; Martin, 1995; Stokes, 1994), however I would argue that with the success of Grime this year, the genre has broken through British cultural barriers by extending their subcultural practices.

Through listening to Grime, we can experience unfamiliar social environments and conditions as seen and told through the eyes of its participant observers who communicate a sense of a lived life through communicating musically, acting as organic intellectuals (Jorgensen, 1989; Barron, 2013). Organic Intellectuals are defined not by the job they are doing but by their activities as thinkers and organisers of elements of the class to which they organically belong (Gramsci, [1930] 1999). On albums such as Kano’s Made In The Manor and Skepta’s Konnichiwa, grime emcees present themselves as organic intellectuals who are constantly interacting with society, struggling to change minds whilst engaging in the evolution of knowledge, raising issues in the public domain and defending decent standards of social well-being, freedom, and justice, all the while using their communal-based production techniques and Grime crews to redefine the music-making process (Becker, 1996; Tickle, 2001). By acting as organic intellectuals, Grime emcees are extending their subcultural communal practices by informing a wider community of their lived experiences, exposing a different side of British culture to a different class.

Grime’s success can be conceived as a victory over the aforementioned concept of genius figures channelling songs from mystical sources, as Grime lyrics attack this ideology through their reflections on lived experiences derived from harsh urban spaces marked by class, gender, and ethnic conflicts as well as financial hardships and gang violence, whilst also expressing the components of everyday life, from the pleasure of dancing and music to personal pride and relationships (McRobbie, 2005; Barron, 2013). Whilst it could be argued that numerous forms of music from folk to pop achieve this lyrically, Grime is more specific in the way it represents and conveys historical, social, and cultural moments in which the music was produced, consistently reflecting specific social conditions collectively culminating as a constituted body of music that is fixated with mapping socio-economic cultural configurations (Quirk, 2004; Stokes, 1997).

Grimes culturally-focused communal-based song-writing is just one aspect of their customs, and further research into its processes is key to correcting mass-media mistakes in understanding it.

Bibliography

Barron, L. (2013). The sound of street corner society: UK grime music as ethnography. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 16(5), pp.531-547.

Becker, C. (1996). The Artist as Public Intellectual. In: H. Giroux and P. Shannon, ed., Education and Cultural Studies, 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks. London: The Electric Book Company, [1930] 1999.

Jorgensen, D. (1989). Participant observation. 1st ed. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications.

Martin, P. (1995). Sounds and society. 1st ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

McIntyre, P. (2008). Creativity and Cultural Production: A Study of Contemporary Western Popular Music Songwriting. Creativity Research Journal, 20(1), pp.40-52.

McRobbie, A. (2005). The uses of cultural studies. 1st ed. London: SAGE.

Mosanya, L. (2016). The biggest mistakes people make about grime music. [online] Bbc.co.uk. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/38238718/the-biggest-mistakes-people-make-about-grime-music [Accessed 9 Dec. 2016].

Negus, K. (1997). Popular music in theory. 1st ed. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Quirk J (2004) It’s grime’s time. The Guardian, 7 August. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/ music/2004/aug/07/popandrock (accessed 10th December 2016).

Stokes, M. (1994). Ethnicity, identity, and music. 1st ed. Oxford, UK: Berg.

Stokes, M. (1997). Voices and Places: History, Repetition and the Musical Imagination. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 3(4), p.673.

Tickle, L. (2001). The Organic Intellectual Educator. Cambridge Journal of Education, 31(2), pp.159-178.

 

Assignment 1 Blog 3: Beats 1 Beat The Radio Star

Research undertaken by Music Week (2016) suggests that radio’s power to break songs is under increasing threat from streaming, with some of the biggest airplay hits of the year failing to crossover to the singles chart. Four of the years overall top ten airplay hits have failed to make the corresponding overall singles chart, whilst nineteen of the year’s streaming top twenty appear in the year-to-date equivalent.

Percival (2011) argues that the relationship between the radio and music industries as a symbiotic one, a relationship built upon the needs of both industries: the radio industry needs records to fill airtime and to attract audiences, whilst the music industry needs the pervasive exposure of airplay to sell singles and albums. Percival (2011) further suggests that music radio still has a profound influence on the sounds of popular music, however I would argue that the curation of music streamers such as Apple Music and Spotify are becoming more crucial and influential to the sound of popular music, especially with the creation and affirmation of Apple Music’s Beats 1 – an interactive on-demand hub that is layered with podcasts from curators (Zane Lowe, Julie Adenuga, Ebro Darden) to established artists (Dr. Dre, Corey Taylor, Fatboy Slim).

Greenwald (2015) argues that no matter how varied the music on Beats 1 can be, it’s ultimately a homogenised experience similar to that of traditional radio outputs, however I would argue that Beats 1 provides users with an unprecedented level of possibility and choice regarding what they listen to and when they listen to it, offering up vast libraries of on-demand content (Maasø, 2016). Whilst traditional radio outputs programme their music and use their presenters to act as tastemakers, attempting to legitimise their selections whilst Apple Music’s Beats 1 has built their presenters as cultural intermediaries – contextualised actors operating within a field of relations, in this case, popular music, whose authority is based upon their accumulation of cultural capital combined with their positions in the marketplace (Bourdieu, 1984; Morris, 2015) – who legitimise the sound of Beats 1, and ultimately of contemporary popular music trends, by having each individual presenter curate the soundtrack of each show so that each playlist is the taste-makers taste to a tee.

Furthermore, I would argue that music streaming is far more influential on the development of the sound of popular music than radio due to its ability to provide a totalising musical atmosphere, which ultimately satisfies any musical need at any moment (Morris and Powers (2015), which should be seen as more of a utility like water and electricity that consumers pay for monthly (Kusek and Leonhard, 2005) unlike radio which is ultimately free to listen to yet entirely homogenised and inflexible. However, when arguing for streaming against radio, one must not forget that away from the radio-like Beats 1, playlist recommendations remain as difficult to programme digitally as they are physically for radio, as the current technology cannot tell why a customer decided to choose to listen to a song, they can only make tautological correlations, thus comprehensive maps of musical genres cannot be created as they are continuously proliferating, evolving, and fusing with other genres (Burkart and McCourt, 2006; McCourt and Zuberi, 2016).

Whilst music radio is very much alive, I would argue that the continuing development of music streaming, and its adaptability to the users’ specific needs, whilst still acting as a progressive curator of popular music, is reaffirming itself as the dominant purveyor of popular music.

Bibliography

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Routledge, Oxford.

Burkart, P. and McCourt, T. (2006). Digital music wars. 1st ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Greenwald, W. 2015, “Apple Music: Not Exactly Revolutionary”, PCmag.com, [Online].

Kusek, D. and Leonhard, G. (2005). The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution. 1st ed. Berklee Press, Boston.

Maasø, A. (2016). Music Streaming, Festivals, and the Eventization of Music. Popular Music and Society, pp.1-22.

McCourt, T. and Zuberi, N. (2016). Music and Discovery. Popular Communication, 14(3), pp.123-126.

Morris, J. (2015). Curation by code: Infomediaries and the data mining of taste. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(4-5), pp.446-463.

Morris, J. and Powers, D. (2015). Control, curation and musical experience in streaming music services. Creative Industries Journal, 8(2), pp.106-122.

Percival, J. (2011). Music Radio and the Record Industry: Songs, Sounds, and Power. Popular Music and Society, 34(4), pp.455-473.

Sutherland, M. (2016). Will Streaming Kill Off the Radio Stars?. [online] Music Week. Available at: http://www.musicweek.com/media/read/will-streaming-kill-off-the-radio-stars/066701 [Accessed 28 Nov. 2016].

 

Assignment 1 Blog 2: Straight Outta X-Factor – Honey G and the return of Gangsta Rap

Anna Georgette Gilford, a 35-year old IT Recruitment firm runner, has been labelled as ‘grotesque’ and ‘diabolical’ by the likes of Piers Morgan, and has broken through the barriers of the British media to be at the forefront of viewer’s eyes and ears every weekend. Anna, whose alter-ego is the infamous Honey G – currently competing in this year’s X Factor competition – has divided opinion with her old-school hip-hop imitations which essentially come off like a parody music act.

A parody is essentially an exaggerated, twisted, and preposterous imitation of a particular genre, often attempting to criticise yet sound like the subject of the performers choice and is often comic, blurring distinctions between the progressive and the conservative (Williams, 2011). The parody, often or not, is a protest against a particular genre of music, a statement of creative free will or genre resentment. However, with the popularisation of Honey G through her mimicking of the subculture and genre of late 80’s/early 90’s West Coast hip-hop, I would argue that she is merely reaffirming Adorno’s (1990:306) suggestion that popular music is standardised, particularly when the attempt is made to circumvent standardisation, which Honey G does each week with her covers of famous rap songs, which she often freestyles her own bars within.

Honey G’s parody of old-school hip-hop is operating in a British culture currently interested in Grime music – landmark artist Skepta won the prestigious Mercury Prize earlier this year – and is essentially using her new-found platform to style-surf between the new and the old, allowing her to re-interpret and negate various levels of authenticity (Berzano & Genova, 2015).

Whilst Morgan (2005) argues that women in hip-hop are striving to forge an identity and presence that is consistently feminist, progressive, and passionate, in which the scene can then become an energised space where all hip-hop artists, regardless of gender, gain membership through artistic skills, I would suggest that Honey G’s parodic nature reinforces hegemonic ideologies that suggest that misogyny within hip-hop is as alive as ever, particularly with the re-emergence of gangsta rap (Watkins, 2005) in the shape of films such as Straight Outta Compton (2015) and All Eyez On Me (2017) – which are about N.W.A. and Tupac Shakur, both major players in gangsta rap – and is therefore delaying the progressive nature femininity in hip-hop is striving to push. Amongst the various covers Honey G has performed during her time on The X Factor are records such as California Love (1995) by Tupac Shakur featuring Dr Dre and Roger Troutman and Gangsta’s Paradise (1995) by Coolio which are both classified as West Coast hip-hop and gangsta rap, genres that are seen as clearly degrading and marginalising towards woman, yet a clear trend in contemporary mainstream hip-hop (Jeffries, 2011; Brunner, 2015).

Whilst Honey G’s performances are in a way reappropriating traditional hip-hop ideals and repurposing them for a contemporary white British audience, I would argue that she is instead standardising and reinforcing not only her portrayal of the hip-hop genre as music – which is often seen as a rebellious genre, rather than a standardised one – but of its hegemonic misogynistic ideals.

Bibliography

Adorno, T. (1990). On Popular Music. In: S. Frith and A. Goodwin, ed., On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, 1st ed. New York: Pantheon, p.306.

Berzano, L. and Genova, C. (2015). Lifestyles and Subcultures. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.

Williams, C. (2011). Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: Columbia University Press.

Brunner, J. (2015). Rap Music: Differences in Derogatory Word Use Between Mainstream and LGBTQ Artists. Undergraduate. University Of Gavle.

Jeffries, M. (2011). Thug life. 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Morgan, M. (2005). Hip-Hop Women Shredding the Veil: Race and Class in Popular Feminist Identity. South Atlantic Quarterly, [online] 104(3), pp.425-444. Available at: http://saq.dukejournals.org/content/104/3/425.short [Accessed 17 Nov. 2016].

Watkins, S. (2005). Hip hop matters. 1st ed. Boston: Beacon Press.

Assignment 1 Blog 1 – Live After Death: Elvis, Tupac and a Tourist Walk Into A Bar

Weeks covered: Heritage, Archives, Moving Image

Its official, Elvis Presley will complete a fully-fledged arena tour of the UK in 2017, almost forty years after his death. Hanley (2016) suggests that the concert – which will feature archive footage of Elvis on-screen accompanied live by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – ‘will widen the boundaries in terms of the artists you can see play ‘live’ again’, and furthermore, will provide the basis for the future of the live touring business. Cull (2015) argues that the digitisation of dead music archives reaffirms the authenticity of non-digital musical forms, a notion which has been discussed thoroughly since the appearance of the Tupac hologram at 2012’s edition of Coachella, most notably by Jones, Bennett, and Cross (2015), who argue that whilst these technological advances can broaden the horizons live music can transcend to, if the technology used to create the presence of the ‘dead star’ becomes too visible to the audience, their ability to suspend their disbelief is broken and the authenticity of the performance will shatter. With the notoriety of the Tupac hologram, and the emergence of a six-date arena-tour for Elvis Presley, I would argue that the prominence of digital archiving has never been as important as it has now, especially as it enters a new era of usage due to technological advancements, and yet scholars such as Baker and Collins (2015) argue that the sustainability of popular music heritage institutions and archives face pressing issues such as funding cuts, limited space, public outreach, and various impacts of evolving digital technologies. Whilst their concerns lie mainly with the sustainability of community-led do-it-yourself archives, I would argue that the advancement of archival footage into the live music arena is the first of many doors to open for archives of all nature.

Whilst the notion of authenticity and how much of it can be created through these technologically-led performances is yet to be fully realised, I suggest that it could begin to impact the musical tourism and heritage industry due to the postmodern society we as consumers have ushered in, with this style of concert having the ability to dethrone museums as exclusive spaces for high culture where the relics of the past are on display, instead replacing it with interactive concerts that tourists – and concert goers – can use to actively create their own personalised intimate experiences (Fremaux and Fremaux, 2013; Wearing, Stevenson, and Young, 2010).

The relationship between archival material, the tourism industry, and music and the moving image – which of course is one of the most important topics for discussion here as it’s the primary way of realising the return of the ‘dead’ artist – is beneficial to examine as it reveals to us the possibilities this technological advance in live music consumption can offer the various elements. Edgar, Fairclough-Isaacs, and Halligan (2013) suggest that the traditional approach to the visualisation of music, such as the coverage of festivals on TV, presupposes the event as a one-off dialogue between artist and audience, purposed for a particular time and place, as well as a set historical and social context. However, I would argue that performances based upon archival footage such as the Elvis concerts and the Tupac hologram, are open realms of both individual and interpersonal exploration, an intimate reimagining of the relationship between the artist and the audience in which one social and historical context is relived, repurposed, or reviewed in another, which goes beyond the simple notion of it being a ‘substantial feat of phantasm’ (Arnold, 2016).

Bibliography

Arnold, R. (2016). There’s A Spectre Haunting Hip-Hop: Tupac Shakur, Holograms in Concert and the Future of Live Performance. In: C. Strong and B. Lebrun, ed., Death and the Rock Star, 1st ed. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Cull, F. (2016). Dead Music in Live Music Culture. In: A. Jones and R. Bennett, ed., The Digital Evolution of Live Music, 1st ed. Massachusetts: Chandos Publishing, pp.111-120.

Edgar, R., Fairclough-Isaacs, K. and Halligan, B. (2016). The Formats and Functions of the Music Documentary. In: R. Edgar, K. Fairclough-Isaacs and B. Halligan, ed., The Music Documentary: Acid Rock to Electro Pop, 1st ed. London: Routledge.

Fremaux, S. and Fremaux, M. (2016). Remembering the Beatles’ legacy in Hamburg’s problematic tourism strategy. [online] Journal Of Heritage Tourism. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1743873X.2013.799172 [Accessed 8 Nov. 2016].

Hanley, J. (2016). Elvis Ain’t Dead: How Presley’s UK dates could shape future of touring. [online] Music Week. Available at: http://www.musicweek.com/live/read/elvis-ain-t-dead-how-presley-s-uk-dates-could-shape-future-of-touring/066485 [Accessed 8 Nov. 2016].

Jones, A., Bennett, R. and Cross, S. (2015). Keepin’ It Real? Life, Death, and Holograms on the Live Music Stage. In: A. Jones and R. Bennett, ed., The Digital Evolution of Live Music, 1st ed. Massachusetts: Chandos Publishing, pp.123-137.

Wearing, S., Stevenson, D., & Young, T. (2010). Tourist cultures: Identity, place, and the traveller. London: Sage

 

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 1 – Popular Music Histories

Hi, my name is Jack and I’m addicted to music. I’m as likely to preach to you the reasons why DragonForce are more than just a cultural signifier for Guitar Hero players as I am likely to argue over what constitutes real country music. My understanding of popular music culture, at its purest and simplest form, is the knowledge, behaviours, practices and values that inform our choices in the way we make, disseminate, and consume music. Dissecting the role the word ‘popular’ plays in this is perhaps a blog for another day, but in this context I would argue that it is the music the practitioner prefers. For example, heavy metal legends Iron Maiden have scored five UK number ones but rarely appear on daytime radio – the music is popular to many, but isn’t neccasarily popular in sense of a trend. Let’s be honest, the X-Factor took a post-hardcore/arena-rock band’s anti-ballad and turned it into a pop-filled number one (Biffy Clyro’s Many Of Horror). My particular area of academic interest is the behaviours, practices, and representations of the heavy metal subculture, particularly within the UK, which despite its metal heritage has a lack of academic coverage with scholars who prefer to focus on the subculture within America, often in a negative light (Weinstein, 1990; Gross, 1990). I believe that many aspects of this module will prove beneficial in furthering my expertise and knowledge and inform my research as it develops, including Popular Music as Heritage, Popular Music and Meaning, Music and Materiality, Identity, and DIY Music Cultures and Cultural Activism among others.

It is clear from the outset that all of the ten subject areas of this module fit in with and traverse multiple aspects of production, distribution and consumption culture. Popular Music as Heritage is clearly rooted within the culture of production, in the sense that a city or a town holds a certain musical heritage depending on the music or scenes it spawned. For example, Liverpool is associated with The Beatles whilst Birmingham is known as the birthplace of heavy metal. However, it also fits into the culture of consumption, in the sense that the people who consume the music produced in a particular setting may consume it in different ways – people consume what they know, and they know what they consume. It acts as a positive catch-22, the production affects the consumption as much as the consumption informs the production. Popular Music and Archives ideally splits itself between all three cultures in the sense that archives, whether physical or online, offer us an insight into the ways music was produced, distributed, and consumed in particular ways during particular times. Popular Music and Meaning, similar to Heritage, is mostly concerned with Production and Consumption for similar reasons, however Distribution plays a role in the sense that the artist is distributing their music via their performance and the meaning they evoke with it. Music and the Moving Image again cooperates between the three cultures, as it can offer us insights into each culture, in the sense that it can be used fictionally or non-fictionally to highlight aspects of each culture. Music and Materiality is rooted in consumption, in the sense that a patch-riddled denim jacket becomes a cultural artefact for a member of the heavy metal subculture, as it shows the music they consume, as well as the lifestyle they obtain through it, but it also highlights the idea of production – vinyl record collecting has spawned a new found love for vinyl. Identity and DIY Music Cultures is of course all three cultures. For example, I consume heavy metal music and indie music and I’m just as likely to wear a patch-riddled denim jacket as I am a flannel shirt, the two music’s coming together as one identity. Our identities affect the music we produce, and if we follow a DIY culture, then the way we distribute to. Digital Music Consumption and Data fits into all three, although consumption is of course key to it, the production and distribution cultures are both equally effected by it as much as they effect consumption. The more people buy vinyl again, the more bands begin to produce and distribute music for vinyl. Song-writing and Recording Industry is all three, as is Music Radio, as they both inform and build each culture through their processes and practices.

Throughout my music-riddled life, I have been involved in various ways in the production, distribution, and consumption cultures. As an amateur guitarist, competent lyricist, and beginners DJ, I have been involved in the production side of music. Whilst I’m not quite at the level of confidence to write my own songs on guitar, I have explored its chords and attempted to reimagine songs I like, whilst when DJing, I often blend and blur tracks, and create mixes, therefore producing a weave of music. As a radio presenter, music journalist, and fan, I’ve distributed music via the airwaves, via interviews and reviews within national magazines, and through the simple share of a Soundcloud or YouTube link on my personal social media. Consumption-wise, I am involved all day every day. I subscribe to Apple Music, and there hasn’t been a day I haven’t used it since I first got it three months ago. I am often found rummaging through boxes of vinyl, and listen to my iPod and the radio often.

Wall argues that Thornton’s (1990) four factors in historical importance – sales figures, biographical interest, critical acclaim, and media coverage – is the basis for a totalised history. In this sense, There Is No Authority But Yourself challenges the traditional make-up of a totalised history, whilst still utilising the bands sales figures and biographical interest. Whilst Thornton’s initial idea is that they totalise a history by the bands with the largest sales figure, the idea of money and sales figures is mentioned by all three of the interviewees who act as narrators driving the documentary – Steve Ignorant, Penny Rimbaud, and Gee Vaucher – however, it is mentioned in the context of lacking the figures, and uses the idea of star-power to emphasise their point, when they reference David Beckham wearing a Crass T-shirt (not designed or authorised by the band themselves). The documentary touches upon all of the totalising factors, but not because Crass scored the highest in each one. Centring on a narrative focused more on the operation of Dial House, than Crass itself, there is a high level of biographical interest within the documentary itself highlighted by the constant visuals of Penny working around Dial House and the level of information you discover about it – such as Penny’s “Pay for your bed and breakfast with a story” ethos – and the way they use the house and the house’s important and progression to narrate the story of Crass, interwoven with the story of the house. They lacked media coverage, and therefore lacked critical acclaim, yet the documentary highlights that they were widely applauded among the anarcho-punk scene. Therefore, in a brief sense, I would argue that it doesn’t challenge totalised histories as much as it repurposes the concept to a format far more suitable to itself. Through this repurposing, and in particular the non-linear narration focused on Dial House, the documentary challenges the way a moment in punk history is constructed and documented, and even remembered, as there are scenes where Steve and Penny remember and analyse moments of Crass history differently.

As a Netflix account-holder and avid music nerd, I have watched my fair share of music documentaries, particularly recently, and I do believe that music documentaries are far more impactful and influential on our own perceived histories of popular music, particularly the histories of single artists or bands, then we may initially think. As an avid Nirvana nerd, I’ve watched and read my fair share of documentaries and biographies about the band, and in particular, Kurt Cobain. I’ve noticed through the many documentaries I’ve watched that those featuring Courtney Love are both the ones with the most coverage – 2015’s Montage of Heck and 1998’s Kurt and Courtney being two of the most popular – and the ones people use as the true history of Kurt, whereas in the under-the-radar Soaked In Bleach (2015) looks deeper into Kurt’s final days, and doesn’t feature Courtney Love. In this sense, I’m arguing that music documentaries can be influenced by the players involved to impact on people what they want them to know rather than what they should know. This is further highlighted in the omission of Dr Dre’s court cases and abuse charges in Straight Outta Compton, which happens to be executively produced by Dr Dre himself.