Friday, July 31, 2009

'Gangsta Rap': Louis Theroux's Weird Weekend, BBC2

I've just been watching a re-run of the Gangsta Rap episode of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekend. Louis is infamous for craftily highlighting the abnormality of his subjects - usually religious fundamentalists, sex cults or celebrity eccentrics - by acting so unassumingly "normal" himself (read: white, middle class) that they appear to tell their own story. Here he is out to spear a bigger fish, the way in which the rap industry sells social dysfunction to America's black community.

What the show makes clear, first, is that gangsta rap is promoted by a legitimate industry - a constellation of associated cottage operations (marketing, lyrics, recording, radio, etc). These craft units steer emerging artists towards a market place that demands extreme masculinity, rebellion and violence. They recruit raw material based on a dream of "making it", a dream which in this case - and this is what makes gangsta rap problematic - is associated with "keeping it real": dabbling in illegitimate industries like drug dealing and pimping.

In this murky world exploitation seems to be the watch word, as every element symbiotically feeds off each other. Sometimes the exploitation is mutual and sometimes it is not. Aside from his fumblings as a budding, white boy rapper who rhymes "Fiat" with "biatch", Louis' main point is that there are black victims here, as the gangsta industry revels in the glamour of the outlaw. Thus there is the black rapper who decides that he needs to keep pimping in order to stay real and avoid the tag of "studio gangster"; his prostitute, who is herself lured with the offer of making an album; and even the college-educated New Orleans black kids who are making porn while playing at the rap game.

In the weirdness of Louisville, rap becomes a hall of mirrors in which rappers pose as gangsters and real drug dealers also pose as drug dealers. Beneath the romanticist affirmations ("keep it real... you gotta have heart") that Louis encounters, everyone has a financial game plan and publicity agenda (including Theroux), and nobody is quite as they seem.

I am reminded of James Clifford who in Writing Culture described how anthropological explorers conceptually constructed the tribes they claimed simply to report. As a construction, Louis's Weird Weekend is a white report from the ghetto - still understood as a bitter-sweet gangsta's paradise. If the elements of tragedy are what keep us watching, what we forget is that gangsta is a variant on two much wider-spread ideologies of western life: the American dream and consumerism. While a select few like Master P make it, as Louis shows, the others can only live in poverty and in hope.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Discussions about academic writing

I recently found this article in which Lindsay Waters (commissioning editor for Harvard University Press) bemoans the focus on books and gimmicks in academia. Instead he celebrates the essay and journal articles as part of the solid groundwork of academic research. (Also see this piece by him.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

IASPM International Conference 2009 - Some readings

I've just returned from the 2009 IASPM International conference in Liverpool and want to list a few sources mentioned by the many speakers. I will also categorize them...

Salgado-Correia, J. (2008) 'Do Performer and Listener Share the Same Musical Meaning?,' Estudios de PsicologĂ­a 29, 1, 49-69.

Kun, J. (2005) Audiotopia: Music, Race and America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Major, K. (1989) Dear Bruce Springsteen. New York: Vikings Children Books.

Mulvey, L. (2005) Death 24 x a Second. London: Reaktion Books.

Regev, M. (2007) 'Cultural Uniqueness and Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism,' European Journal of Social Theory 10, 123-138.

Staiger, J. (1992) Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historic Reception of American Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

St John, G. (2009) Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures. London: Equinox.

Bode, L. (2008) '"Casting From Forest Lawn Cemetary": Re-animating Dead Stars,' Conference Paper, 14th International Symposium on Electronic Art, Singapore.

Clarke, D. (2007) 'Elvis and Darmstadt, or: Twentieth-Century Music and the Politics of Cultural Pluralism,' Twentieth Century Music 4, 3-45.

Cowan, S. (2009) 'The Elvis We Deserve: The Social Regulation of Sex/Gender and Sexuality Through Cultural Representations of "the King",' Law, Culture and the Humanities, 2010; U. of Edinburgh School of Law Working Paper No. 2009/05.

Davis, S. (2009) Lionel Richie: Hello. London: Equinox.

Dibben, N. (2009) Bjork. London: Polity Press.

Griffiths, D. (2007) Elvis Costello. London: Polity Press.

Laing, D. (2009) Buddy Holly. London: Polity Press.

Marshall, L. (2007) Bob Dylan: The Neverending Star. Cambrdige: Polity Press.

Negus, K. (2008) Bob Dylan. London: Polity Press.

Whitesell, L. (2008) The Music of Joni Mitchell. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Witts, R. (2006) The Velvet Underground. London: Polity Press.

Bredbeck, G. (1996) 'Troping the Light Fantastic,' GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 3, 1, 71-107.

Clarke, E. (1993) 'Generativity, Mimesis and the Human Body in Music Performance,' Contemporary Music Review 9, 1-2, 207-219.

Dibben, N. (2002) 'Constructions of Femininity in 1990s Girl Group Music,' Feminism & Psychology 12, 2, 168-75.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, B. (2005) 'The Corporeal Turn,' The New Jewish Quarterly Review 95, 3, 447-461.

Maus, M. (2005) 'Techniques of the Body,' in Fraser, M. and Greco, M. eds The Body: A Reader. London: Routledge, pp. 73-77. (Listening can be seen as a "technique".)

Middleton, R. (2006) ‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life’: Avians, Cyborgs and Siren Bodies in the Era of Phonographic Technology,' Radical Musicology 1, available online:

O'Neill, J. (2004) Five Bodies: Refiguring Social Relationships. London: Sage.

Potter, J. (2008) Vocal Authority: Singing Style and Ideology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scott, N. (2008) 'God Hates Us All: Kant, Radical Evil and the Diabolical Monstrous Human in Heavy Metal,' in Scott, N. ed Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil. New York: Editions-Rudopi, 13-240.

Toth, K. (2002) 'Looking for Hip Hop: Seeing the Body Communicate in Everyday Social Encounters and Visual Commodity Culture,' Yale Journal of Sociology 2, 25-64

Anderson, B. (2004) 'Recorded Music and Practices of Remembering,' Social & Cultural Geography 5, 1, 3-20

Frith, S. (1984) 'Rock and the Politics of Remembering,' Social Text 9, 10, 59-69.

Moore, P. (2009) 'Practical Nostalgia and the Critique of Commodicification: The "Death of Hockey" and the National Hockey League,' Australian Journal of Anthropology 13, 3, 309-322.

Van Dijck, J. (2007) Mediated Memories in a Digital Age. Stanford. (Also see his article

Belk, R. (2001) Collecting in a Consumer Society. London: Routledge.

Regev, M. (2006) 'Introduction: Special Issue on Canonization,' Popular Music 25, 1, 1-2. (Plus other pieces in the same issue.)

Shuker, R. (2010) Wax Trash and Vinyl Treasures. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Wheeler, L. (2006) 'Collectormania! I am a Woman... Record Collector,' Goldmine 673, 28.

Burnett, R. and Wikstrom, P. (2009) The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud. London: Wiley.

Buxton, D. (1990) 'Rock Music, The Star System and the Rise of Consumerism,' in Frith, S. and Goodwin, A. eds On Record: Rock, Pop & the Written Word. London: Routledge, 366-377.
Huhn, T. ed (2004) The Cambridge Companion to Adorno. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Robertson, R. (1995) 'Glocalization,' in Featherstone, M. and Lash, S. et al eds Global Modernities. London: Sage, 23-44.

Stahl, M. (2008) 'Recording Artists, Works for Hire, Employment, and Appropriation,' Social Science Research Network, working paper.

Stratton, J. (1983) 'Capitalism and Romantic ideology in the record business,' Popular Music 3, 143-156.

Bernstein, D. ed (2008) The San Francisco Tape Music Centre: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Brown, S. (2006) The Perpetual Music Track: The Phenomenon of Constant Musical Imagery,' Journal of Consciousness Studies 13, 6, 25-44.

Bailey, P. (2004) 'Breaking the Sound Barrier,' in Smith, M. ed Hearing History. Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 23-35.

Born. G. (2005) 'On Musical Mediation: Ontology, Technology and Creativity,' Twentieth Century Music 2, 1, 7-36.

Chow, R. (1993) 'Listening Otherwise, Music Miniaturized: A Different Type of Question About Revolution,' in During, S. ed The Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 382-402.

Cooper, B. (1990) Popular Music Perspectives. Chapel Hill: Bowling Green University Press. (Explores lyrical themes and includes chapters on trains, death, etc.)

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1986) Nomadology: The War Machine. Semiotext(e).

Deleuze, G. (1990) The Logic of Sense. Columbia: Columbia University Press.

Katz, M. (2004) Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Keightley, K. (1996) 'Turn It Down! She Shrieked: Gender, Domestic. Space, and High Fidelity, 1948–59,' Popular Music 15, 2, 149–77.

Keightley, K. (2007) Long Play: Adult-Oriented Popular Music and the Temporal Logics of the Post-War Sound Recording Industry in the USA,' Media, Culture & Society 26, 3, 375-391.
Lebefvre, H. (2004) Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life. London: Continuum.

Murray, C. and Sixsmith, J. (1999) 'The Corporeal Body in Virtual Reality,' Ethos 27, 3, 315-343.

Nardi, C. (2004) 'Zen in the Art of Sound Engineering,' Playing by Eye, University of Berlin - Humboldt, PhD thesis.

Sterne, J. (2003) The Audible Past. Durham: Duke.

Straw, W. (2009) 'The Music CD and Its Ends,' Design and Culture 1, 1, 79-91.

La Chapelle, P. (2007) Proud to be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music and Migration to Southern California. Berkeley: University of California.

Mazor, B. (2009) Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ramesy, G. (2003) Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-hop. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Schloss, J. (2009) Foundation: B-boys, B-girls and Hip-hop Culture in New York. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brackett, D. (2000) Interpreting Popular Music. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Everett, W. (2009) The Foundations of Rock. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Garrett, C. (2008) Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hayward, P. ed (2009) Terror Tracks: Music, Sound and Horror Cinema. London: Equinox.

Moore, A. ed (2003) Analysing Popular Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Partridge, C. and Christianson, E. eds (2009) The Lure of the Dark Side: Satan and Western Demonology in Popular Culture. London: Equinox.

Thompson, G. (2008) Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Waksman, S. (2009) This Ain't No Summer of Love: Conflic and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Wald, E. (2009) How the Beatles Destroyed Rock'n'Roll. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Walter Benjamin's 'Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century' (1939)

I've just been reading Benjamin's classic essay and wish to summarize and comment on it here as a piece of critical historical research. The Paris essay is a summary of a vast collection of quotes called 'The Arcades Project' which itself a blueprint for a different history of Paris. In this history Benjamin ignores the grand narratives and collects the detritus and refuse of the past instead, piecing it together to let it tell a story that subverts the recieved version. If the recieved story talks of great men, grand inventions and teleologiocal progress, Benjamin wants to talk about it as an apology for capitalist society. He does this by creating a different history that corrodes capitalism's centre piece: the exchange value of the commodity form. The Frankfurt scholar starts off with a quote from Maxime Du Camp: "History is like Janus; it has two faces. Whether it looks at the past or the present, it sees the same things." This sets up a resonance between the past and present that Benjamin will further exploit. I will now summarize Benjamin's work (in bold) with commentary.

The grand version of history forgets the effort that society makes to create its new inventions and forms of behaviour within a universe of illusory distraction. We can see this illusion by looking at its ideological work and separate details. Here the flaneur (wandering consumer) abandons himself to the illusory distractions of the marketplace. City dwellers need to stamp their individuality on their rooms. Commodity-producing society surrounded itself with pomp and glamour, but the Paris Commune showed it was nevertheless vulnerable. This is because newness cannot really save society so long as its inhabitants are still distracted.

The Paris arcades were built 1822-1837 by the textile trade as forerunners of the department stores. They sold luxury items and represented art put in service of commerce in microcosms of the city where construction was like the subconscious (a blueprint of what was to come). Their frames were developed of iron girders, themselves facilitated by the prefabrication technology used for rails. The utopian philosopher Fourier wanted society and its individuals to operate smoothly like a machine (not guided by moraility or virtue). His ideas were crystallized in the new shops and the apartments inhabited by flaneurs.

Preceeded by exhibitions of industry, world exhibitions were entertaining and educative place of pilgrimage for commodity fetishism. They taught the workers to believe in exchange value by the display of luxury goods from a world marketplace. Fashion was the ritual by which commodity fetishism demanded to be worshipped, as it made unnatural material sexy. With the emergence of the individual person (as opposed to group or class member), places of dwelling became important as private spaces. In a city lacking privacy it was here that people could sustain some illusion of it. In charge of this space, each individual collected and used art to represent their ideal universe, assembled from traces of far off places and distant memories. Their interiors became their cockpits. Yet by the end of the nineteenth century there is nowhere left to hide, so people started personalizing their offices instead.

The poet Charles Baudelaire used allegory to talk about his alienation on the streets of Paris. He was a flaneur - an intellectual grappling with the marketplace - a bohemian. Yet he couldn't rebel as he was too asocial to be anything more than an individual; in cities, individuals were now just representatives of their types. Allegory is like exchange value in its ability to compare everything, so Baudelaire added novelty to his work, but by now that too was a strategy of the commodity form.

Meanwhile Baron Haussman's despotic urban planning no longer made poor Parisians feel at home. Financial speculation drove them into the suburbs and Haussman demolished part of the city to prevent civil unrest. He was unsuccessful. As the Commune raised the barricades it broke an illusion by reminding workers that they had yet to succeed in collaboration with their masters. Finally, in 'Eternity via the Stars' the bohemian Auguste Blanqui traced out a version of society which was to be its next illusion - Paris as hell! - because "progress" really meant novelty parading as antiquity in diguise. Novelty and distraction are the hallmark of modernity, but for Blanqui they could be seen as attributes of everything sentenced to damnation.

... Benjamin's work is exemplary in some ways for the way it combines criticism with explanation and moves so smoothly between real place and events, ideas and sociological phenomena. The Frankfurt scholar goes after some big fish here (the ideological function of history, premised of the commodity form), but does so in a way that keeps things literary, fresh and interesting. There are a lot of lessons in that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Great bifurcations: Michael Jackson's posthumous roles and remainders

Already a motion in the US Senate to declare Michael Jackson “an American legend and musical icon (and) a world humanitarian” has been blocked by Republican Peter King who said on Fox News and CNN that Jackson was an alleged pervert, child molester and paedophile. Beyond its interesting racial and party political context (Texan Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee represented Congress and the U.S. Black Caucus at the Jackson memorial on Tuesday) this moment of cultural politics says something important about memory and celebrity in a wider sense. Jackson is not the first hero in popular music to be disputed: on a smaller scale memorials for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were both challenged by their home towns. How then should we see this debate?

Writing about Elvis in 1990, Lynn Spigel opposed official and popular memory, arguing that official memory seeks to close down the meaning of a life, but popular memory (such as tabloid gossip) continually opens it up, creating a welter of stories in which elements of the star's life become founding myths. Any moments of ambiguity about the star facilitate an endless stream of speculation and gossip. Here one example would be the genetic origin of Michael Jackson's children: Were they really his? Was Debbie Rowe their biological mother or was she impregnated invitro? Who was the real father - his skin doctor? etc. Equally, Jackson's sexuality and activities with children have always been in doubt.

It is important to realize that official and unofficial memory are both the vehicles for and results of different commodity markets. State institutions see Michael as a hegemonic figure as much as the tabloids that print revelations about him.

So was Michael a pervert or great entertainer? Maybe he was both. However, popular memory seems to have a hard time accepting the duality. Instead we are beginning to see a bifurcation: the emergence of two Michaels, each with its own shadow (or, in Lacanian terms, remainder). A good example of this was ITV's recent decision to rebroadcast Martin Bashir's extended interview documentary Living with Michael Jackson next week without the segment in which the singer argues for the appropriateness of 'non-sexually' sharing your bed with under-age boys. Is the channel appropriately celebrating a music hero or capitulating in the face of mass emotion supports that seeks to whitewash a celebrity criminal?

The media has such dilemmas because we increasingly unable as a society to separate cultural workers out from the contents of their work. While peers in the music industry can understand that, say, a songwriter can invent dramatic material which is totally unrelated to their private lives, audiences raised on the romantic myth of the artist have a tendency look for links between the two things. As the private lives of stars become commodities (commodities that they too manipulate), audiences are left to investigate a new distinction: the difference between the image and "the real man" (another phantom). Industry figures like Stevie Wonder and Quincey Jones could therefore happily separate the entertainer from the person, but the rest of the world could not.

This, then, is the irony: when a star dies their private life reaches rock bottom (at least in how we interpret it), yet their career reaches its peak. The renewed exposure of both their life-as-tragedy and their monumental work opens the floodgates for all manner of ambiguous readings, but it gradually extends the process of bifurcation too, as the "both / and" Michael - entertainer and potential child abuser - restlessly disappears under a growing need to simplify his legend. One wonders how the Neverland tour guides will cope!

On a ghoulish note, one way that cultural critics decided to close down the "both / and" reading of Michael was to see him as a ghost before he died, a reading which also fits in with the metaphysics of tabloid culture. On one hand Paul Morley said on BBC2's Newsnight Review that Jackson was already gone: his finest musical work behind him and over by the 1990s, as the tabloid freaky took over to recycle remnants of the giant that once existed. Equally, Paul Burger of Sony said in Music Week that they had already lost Michael ten years ago. In parallel, press coverage of Jackson's last days as paint him as a "frail" old man. Taking it to extremes, The National Enquirer this week discussed "The Shocking State of Michael's Body", anatomically breaking it into elements marking both his bodily abnormality (skeletal bodyweight, etc) and artificiality: wig, fake nose, pills in his stomach, surgical scars.

Pale as a corpse, in his last days Jackson was more than ever a ghost, fading from his musical achievements and public interactions, continually ghost-busted by the paparazzi. Despite the public's interest in his live musical comeback, in tabloid culture it was still as if, by popular demand, the man in the mirror had swapped places with his monstrous role in Thriller, and now he was post-natural and - in Deleuzian terms - a body (of work) without organs.

Check this blog on the cultural myth of Michael Jackson.

Mark's posts on Celebrity

Great bifuractions: Michael Jackson's posthumous roles and remainders

The "Mention Elvis" rule

Ronnie James Dio - laid to rest (a heavy metal funeral)

Fiske Matters Conference (11th - 12th June 2010, with audios)

Faking it (some useful questions to ask about imposters)

I Have Admired You for Many Years (Star-fan encounters and the performance of identity)

All Watched Over By Machines (Adam Curtiz' BBC2: our emotions as commodities online)

Making Things Whole Again - Take That Reunion Events (Anja Lobert and Tim Wise's conference and exhibition on the living culture of 1990s Take That fandom)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Michael Jackson bibliography

Anthony Neale, M. (2009) ‘Conjuring Michael,’ Blog post - available online: (retrieved 6/7/09)

Awkward, M. (1995) ‘“A Slave to the Rhythm”: Essential(ist) Transmutations; Or, the Curious Case of Michael Jackson,’ in Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender and the Politics of Positionality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 175-192.

Baudrillard, J. (1993) The Transparency of Evil. London: Verso.

Brackett, D. (2002) ‘(In Search of) Musical Meanings: Genres, Categories and Crossover,’ in Hesmondhalgh, D. and Negus, K. eds Popular Music Studies. London: Arnold, pp. 65-84.

Dyson, M. (1993) ‘Michael Jackson’s Postmodern Spirituality,’ Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 35-63.

Epstein, D. and Steinberg, D. (2007) ‘The Face of Ruin: Evidentiary Spectacle and the Trial of Michael Jackson,’ Social Semiotics 17, 4, 441-458.

Erni, J. (1998) ‘Queer Figurations in the Media: Critical Reflections on the Michael Jackson Sex Scandal,’ Critical Studies in Mass Communication 15, 2, 158-180.

Frith, S. (2002) Performing Rites. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fuchs, C. (1995) ‘Michael Jackson’s Penis,’ in Brett, P. et al Cruising the Performative: Interventions into Representing of Ethnicity, Nationality and Sexuality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 13-33.

Gilroy, P. (1996) The Black Atlantic: Modernity and the Double Consciousness. London: Verso.

Gray, H. (2006) ‘Michael Jackson, Television, and Post-Op Distasters,’ Television & New Media 7, 1, 41-50.

Haraway, D. (2004) The Haraway Reader. New York: Routledge.

Hills, M. (2007) ‘Michael Jackson Fans on Trial? “Documenting” Emotivism and Fandom in Wacko About Jacko,’ Social Semiotics 17, 4, 459-477.

Johnson, V. (1993) ‘The Politics of Morphing: Michael Jackson as Scientific Border Text,’ Velvet Light Trap 32, 58-65.

King, J. (1999) ‘Form and Function: Superstardom and Aesthetics in the Music Videos of Michael and Janet Jackson,’ Velvet Light Trap 44, 80-96.

Kitzinger, J. and Moorti, S. (2007) ‘Introduction to “Framing Michael Jackson: Celebrity on Trial”,’ Social Semiotics 17, 4, 413-415.

Martin, G. (1995) ‘Slayed in Fame,’ in Kureishi, H. and Savage, J. eds The Faber Book of Pop. London: Faber and Faber, 775-785.

Mercer, K. (1993) ‘Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller,’ in Frith, S. et al eds Sound and Vision: The Music Video Reader. London: Routledge, pp. 93-108.

Silberman, S. (2007) ‘Presenting Michael JacksonTM,’ Social Semiotics 17, 4, 417-440.

Tate, G. (1992) ‘I’m White! What’s Wrong with Michael Jackson?’ in Flyboy in the Buttermilk. New York: Simon and Schuster, 95-99.

Wallace, M. (1990) ‘Michael Jackson, Black Modernisms, and “the Ecstacy of Communication,”’ in Invisibility Blues. New York: Verso, pp.77-90.

Whiteley, S. (2005) Too Much, Too Young: Popular Music, Age and Gender. London: Routledge, 36-44.

Williams, P. (2009) ‘Viewpoint: Michael Jackson – Nothing Left to Prove,’ Music Week 4th July, p.2-3.

Williams, P. (2009) ‘Michael Jackson 1958-2009,’ Music Week 4th July, p.1.

Willis, S. (1990) ‘I Want the Black One: Is There a Place for Afro-American culture in commodity Culture?,’ New Formations 10, 77-97.

Yuan, D. (1996) ‘The Celebrity Freak: Michael Jackson’s Grotesque Glory’ in Thomson, R. ed Freakery. New York: NYU Press, pp. 368-400.

Zuberi, N. (2002) ‘India Song: Popular Music Genres Since Economic Liberalization,’ in Hesmondhalgh, D. and Negus, K. eds Popular Music Studies. London: Arnold, pp. 238-250.

Special bibliographies

Some 2009 pop research books

Global Culture (link to a USC course with a valuable reading list)

IASPM book reviews

Michael Jackson

IASPM-US & Canada 2006

IASPM-US & Canada 2007

World Music Days (Hong Kong, 2007: canons, covers, glitch)

Rhythm in the Age of Digital Reproduction (Oslo, 2007)

IASPM International Conference 2009 (fractions of most topics)

Kraftwerk - men and machines

On Thursday 2nd July my colleague David Pattie, my friend Jon and I descended on the Manchester Velodrome to see a set by the electro-pop legends, Kraftwerk. With only Ralf Hutter left from the original line-up, they still managed to put on an amazing "performance" - I put the term in speechmarks because with Kraftwerk, you just see four men standing at lecturns clicking away on their laptops. They look like they might be aboard the Starship Enterprize as they call up samples and create their pioneering brand of electronic dance music.

Kraftwerk have always faced a dilemma when playing "live": how can such calculated, pre-programmed music also seem spontaneous? They managed to keep the show successfully afloat with several integral gimmicks, the first being the British Olympic team who zipped round the track for 'Tour de France' and added a physicality to the portrayal of gender. Then they wheeled out the dummies (dummies were more performative than they were!). Finally the audience donned 3D glasses for a grand finale.

The group wore dull or "networked" suits for the whole show and - along with some computer animation behind them - audience members were asked in effect to focus squarely on their heads. This, after all, is head-led music. I therefore found myself wondering what I was seeing. As Ralf Hutter gestured to speak out his vocals, was it worth getting a closer look? It was as if the smallest traces of their bodily performance - the tap of a foot here, the shifting of an elbow there - revealed that they were feeling and thus humanly making them music. Their slightly moving bodies gave away clues that they were feeling their form of music into being, and that notion humanized the event. Meanwhile it was clear that artists like Daft Punk and Squarepusher have now taken the thrillride into digital futurism much further than the German four piece, and yet nobody cared. As Ralf Hutter anonymously shuffled back on the shuttle to Dusseldorf, perhaps he was feeling fine with the idea that Kraftwerk are now an object of retro-tech nostalgia.

Fandom and Celebrity - recent bibliographic finds

Some recent sources found when looking for fan-related scholarship:

Beebe, R. (2002) 'Mourning Becomes...? Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur, and the "Waning of Affect",' in Beebe, R. et al eds Rock Over the Edge: Transformations in Popular Music Cultures. London: Duke University Press, 311-334.

Franco, J. (2006) 'Langsters Online: kd lang and the Creation of Internet Fan Communities,' in Holmes, S. and Redmond, S. eds Framing Celebrity: New Directions in Celebrity Culture. London: Routledge, 269-284.

Hamilton, M. (2007) 'Searching for the Blues: James McKune, Collectors and a Different Crossroads,' in Weisbard, E. ed Listen Again: A Momentary History of Popular Music. London: Duke University Press, 26-49.

Hesmondhalgh, D. (2007) 'Audiences and Everyday Aesthetics: Talking About Good and Bad Music', European Journal of Cultural Studies 10(4): 507-27.

Hills, M. (2007) 'Fans on Trial? "Documenting" Emotivism and Fandom in Wacko About Jacko,' Social Semiotics 17, 4, 459-477.

McCann, G. (1995) 'Biographical Boundaries: Sociology and Marilyn Monroe,' in Featherstone, M. et al eds The Body: Social Process and Cultural Theory. London: Sage, pp. 325-338.

Mihelich, J. and Papineau, J. (2005) 'Parrotheads in Margaritaville: Fan Practice, Oppositional culture, and Embedded Cultural Resistance in Buffett Fandom,' Journal of Popular Music Studies 17, 2, 175-202.

Stevenson, N. (2009) 'Talking to Bowid Fans: Masculinity, Ambivalence and Cultural Citizenship,' Euopean Journal of Cultural Studies 12, 1, 79-98.

Zanes, R. (2002) 'A Fan's Notes: Identification, Desire and the Haunted Sound Barrier,' in Beebe, R. et al eds Rock Over the Edge: Transformations in Popular Music Cultures. London: Duke University Press, 291-310.

Mark's current research projects...

For spring 2011 I am focusing on several projects:

a) A book on Elvis Presley for the Equinox series, Icons of Popular Music.

b) A textbook on media fandom for Continuum.

c) An article on Hitchcock's The Birds for the Journal of Celebrity Culture.

d) A conference paper on the reception of Ben Myer's book Richard for the upcoming LitPop conference.

e) Guest editing a special issue of Popular Music and Society on fandom.

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