Thursday, December 9, 2010

Popular Music and Television in Britain

Another shameless plug here as Ian Inglis's edited volume on popular music and British television has just been released by Ashgate. I have to say, it's an impressive volume. Alongside my own chapter on the Sex Pistols infamous Bill Grundy interview (and the role of imagined memories), there is top notch scholarship from a range of academics working in the popular music field. Sheila Whiteley, for instance, has done a chapter on that most British of comedy series, Dad's Army. There also are chapters on various topics written or co-written by Andy Bennett, Tim Wall, Rupa Huq and a number of others. By exploring various themes and moments, the book will likely set new standard of debate in the area of popular music and British television.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Faking it

F for Fake (1973) was Orson Welles' unique last film project. Drawing on his recurrent interests in dramatic art and psychological illusion, he used his filmmaking talent and cinematic charm to construct a tale of three charlatans: art forger Elmyr do Hory, biographer Clifford Irving, and himself as the familiar blustering, self-made director. As the film cleverly oscillates between storytelling and documentary it uses both archival and constructed footage. Along the way, F for Fake provides a masterclass on the meaning of fakery, with Welles reprizing his favourite role as the portly imposter, the ranconteur whose charisma is just real enough to string us along, even though, ultimately, we all know for sure that he is a fake.

Welles's discussion put me in mind of the constant debate in popular music over authenticity. Whether the discussion is about the verissimilitude of tribute artists or the bogus talent of 'manufactured' bands, enhanced vocals or X-Factor celebrities, biographers twisting the truth or "setting the record straight", studio gangsters or street credientials, white negroes or disco faking the funk, it seems that at every moment someone wants to separate "real" music from the marketplace's capacity to conjure up shoddy phantoms of the muse. Take Paul Morley, for instance, who, in a recent piece for the Guardian discussing boy bands, earnestly argued, as only he could, that, "They should not, though, be talked about as though they are anything to do with music, or music alone." Is Morley telling us that these singers are charlatans? That as an audience we need to be more discerning and accumulate more expertise, lest we be taken in by them and their fake music?

This clarion call to defend music as an object of purity seems obsolete in a culture of where the real is an unstable category and where 'faking' (of various sorts) has become not so much a criminal practice as an industrial norm. Against Morley - though not necessarily in defence of boy bands - I wish to recount some of the philosophical musings of F for Fake as I think they might help us advance the discussion on popular music authenticity. As Orson melts into the shadows from where he came, apply these questions like tools to your own particular project and see what insights they can help to deliver:

- If a faker leaves the authorship of their piece unclaimed, have the actually make a fake? If a faker admits faking, are they really a faker? Is a false promise really false if everyone knows it is false? A faker who admits what they are doing moves from criminality to honesty. If I draw attention to showing I am constructing something, am I really faking? Some fakers just want to be seen as top criminals. Can't unmasking one act of fakery simply serve to hide another?

- Can or should we admire a fake? Is a good fake better than a bad fake, or a bad original? Isn't a great faker themselves something of an original? Or have they forgotten their own identity - are they simply a parasite who is condemed to feel frustrated because they are unble to express any creativity independently? Does all their identity come from copying the work of another? Fakes could be seen to exploit originals, but don't originals also exploit fakes to cement their status? Sometimes a faker can (symbolically) destroy (the notion of) the original. Aren't original creators also in the habit of faking their own work? The original is really a function of our own needs.

- How do fakes (and fakers) manage to hide in plain sight? Faking is premised on rarity. Fakers are simply supplying (market) demand. As an audience we dismiss fakers but also collaborate with them. Good fakers are appreciated and have their own fame. Do we really care about facts when we are fascinated with mystery? Don't we also love to be shocked (by fakes)?

- If there were no experts would there actually be any fakers? In a sense fakers are jesters who unmask the stupidity of the experts who fail to discriminate the forgeries - so who are the real fakers? When fakes succeed are we dealing with great fakes or poor experts?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Judge Dread

For some reason recently I have become academically interested in Judge Dread, not the 2000AD comic character ("Judge Dredd"), but Alex Minto Hughes from Snodland in Kent: a rather vulgar white cockney reggae artist who, inspired by Prince Buster, had a successful career on Trojan records in the 1970s. He had eleven UK hits, all banned from the airwaves.

In 1973 Hughes was interviewed in the NME by the jeering, bohemian, faintly Leavisite ego Nick Kent, who had him pegged as a "working class hero and the Robin Hood Of reggae." Kent's interview is full of the expected sniggering sarcasm and it frames the Judge as a joke. Hughes in turn, defends himself as a true folk phenomenon (he was rarely helped by TV or radio) who loved reggae and had his finger on the commercial pulse of popular taste.

What is interesting about the Judge is that he offered nothing redeeming: no creativity, no meaningful artistry, no utopian alternative, no deep soul, no revolutionary politics, no hip poses or super cool rock'n'roll swaggers; only obscene nursery rhymes done to a reggae beat, viral as Eminen and every bit as tasteless. And yet he had a huge record collection and was one of the few white men to run a disco sound system. He loved his chosen music genre, knew how to speak patois, and as an adept performer endeared himself to "authentic" black audiences in Jamaica. Yet it was back at home that he really mattered: he was as bawdy and English as Chaucer. In a Robin Hood stylee the Judge articulated an oppositional form of sexual vulgarity to launch a blue assault on middle class tastes.

I saw the video for his song Big Six, I think, on a documentary in the 1980s. The footage was shown just in passing, but I was still shocked at the style of it - the bad production values and topless dancers, his ebullient stance and silly gangster clothes. It was as if Hughes came swaggering out of nowhere, located perhaps only in the decadent Soho club circuit of the decade before, where cockney geezers might plausibly tell dirty jokes but never to an inter-racial beat.

Judge Dread was literally a rude boy, but given the permissive state of Britain by the early 1970s, at what exactly was he waving those two fingers? His microbial music seemed predestined to launch a moral panic without any real content. While casually revelling in the sexism of his era, he did something perhaps to challenge working class racism. He cultivated a knowledge of "uncultured" black music. Later Hughes released a charity single and died of a heart attack in 1998, and his legend died with him. We rely on meatier myths and more easily located footage to valorize our idols, but it's his slipping away from the canon that - given such commercial success - makes a million-seller like Hughes interesting. What I am saying is that the Judge seems antithetical to so much of what we are now. He was, in a sense, written out of the script for being the wrong kind of multi-culturalist.

Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop

Anyone stuck for 2010 Christmas present ideas? Continuum have just published a rather excellent edited volume on the German electronic music enigma that is Kraftwerk, edited by David Pattie and Sean Albiez. Yes, this is a shameless plug: I have a chapter on the racial politics of the group. I also genuinely think that more work needs to be done on the difference made by this outfit to dance music, post-punk and everything beyond.

With their unique blend of nostalgic futurism Kraftwerk caught the imagination of a generation. The music world might have been a different place without them. In Foucault's sense, they were therefore "transdiscursive authors", people who caused an avalanche of cultural activity in their wake. As we acquiess towards a strangely bloodless world of coke machines, sat navs and talking elevators - where computers monitor our every movement and soothing robotic voices steer us towards synthetic good behaviour - I can hear their echo: in a calm, teutonic voice it says, "Told you so."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Don Cherry: Canadian Patriot

Since I am off to Canada quite soon, I have decided to do a post about the country's most prominent patriot, the legendary Don Cherry.

For anyone who doesn't know, hockey is a Canadian obsession. By coaching the NHL's Boston Bruins (with its legendary player Bobby Orr), Cherry managed to earn himself a footnote in the national myth. He expanded upon that by being sports commentator for CBC and growling the macho catchphrase "Rock em, sock em!"

Slowly but tenaciously, Grapes, as he is known, took up his place beside Pierre Trudeau and Wayne Gretzky as a national cultural icon.

... So why the cult of Cherry? The truth is that if Don had been born an American, he would probably have sunk without a trace. What matters is the way he contradicts Canadian notions of national identity: the way he flatly ignores his country's reactive, introverted, intellectual, multicultural, ironic, anti-American wilderness mythos; the way he chooses to forthrightly pursue an unusual, viking version of Canadian nationalism. Those are what matter, because Cherry speaks directly for a mythic, beer-fuelled, hockey-obsessed common Canadian male. In doing so, some might argue that he simultaneously acts as a jaw-dropping curio for the rest of the nation.

Some key elements in the Don Cherry phenomenon:

1. Staunch patriotism (fighting for the underdog):

2. Occasional absurdist old school sexism ("You women are gonna get mad at me out there"):

3. Willingness to be a sport and make techno records (a bit like a Canadian Muhamed Al Fayed):

4. He can effortlessly wear a pink suit (while retaining his mythic aura of masculine power):

In a sense, then, Cherry's mythos centres around the strained couplet of "Canadian patriotism"; a phrase that seems contradictory in the context of a country defined by its subdued multiculturalist humanism. When read in that way, his hypermasculinity arguably articulates a sense of national insecurity that can only be quelled, temporarily, by talk of past victory and present braggadacio.

As Cherry's own commentator said, “He often has awkward moments, because he invites them.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Frank Sidebottom, RIP

Tonight Manchester is staging a live tribute to Chris Sievey, the recently deceased creator of one of the city's most-loved comedy characters, Frank Sidebottom. Sievey made his career by donning a papier machee head that made him look like a kewpie doll, and then exploring a kind of happy northern amateurism. Predictably, it was not long before Frank disappeared into his own parody. From the 1980s onwards the big-hearted, big-headed figure straddled a line between underground and mainstream media. In his heyday he appeared on national TV shows like The Tube. Indeed, Frank's forays into comedy, TV presenting, cabaret and popular music were ongoing. Sievey had been in a band called The Freshies and there is now a campaign to get Frank's recent football song to the top of the charts.

Hailing from the mythic town of Timperley, Frank was already the stuff of nostalgia. He will now be able to take his place alongside Tony Wilson and others to become part of the cultural pantheon of the city. The character's larger than life head branded him as an icon, and now he can begin to find his place as a minor but very welcomed legend. Tonight's tribute show is being headlined by fellow Manchester eccentrics Badly Drawn Boy and John Cooper Clarke.

The odd thing about Sievey's death is simply seeing the man behind the mask; during Frank's heyday you never did. Credit must go to the late Mr Sievey for his struggle against the slick professionalism of the corporate media to construct what became a genuine folk legend. One wonders if, like some mythic superhero, the character might return with his huge head on fresh new shoulders, propped up by a heroic yet anonymous citizen who agrees that entertainment should remain a genuinely public service.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Metal on Metal: Notes on the Crash in Popular Culture

James Dean, Jackson Pollock and Princess Diana died in them. Jim Morrison was supposedly traumatized by watching one. JG Ballard thought they were sexy. What am I writing about? Car Crashes. I can remember some years ago there was a headline in my local paper, "Double Death Smash: Wall of Silence." Since then, I have been interested in the social symbolism of these violent accidents and the way they resonate in popular culture.

I should say right from the start, this has nothing to do with the immense personal tragedy of real crashes; real horrors that nobody wants and that have touched the lives of many I know. Ironically, popular culture glamorizes what in real life can only be experiences of deep personal shock, pain, loss and bewilderment.

To focus instead, then, on the mythos...

Catastrophic, momentary and spectacular, car and motorcyle accidents have inspired stories, films and many, many songs. So how do we explore this complex subject? I want to argue here that the mythos of highway crashes romanticizes them as tragic comments on modern society.

To understand the crash, we have to start with the car. Cars are, in some senses, the ultimate symbols of modernity. They are machines for living in which represent the triumph of Enlightenment science and the will to create new technology as vehicle for social progress, but also the flip side of the era too: alienation, the belief that science can solve human problems and the submission of the individual to mass consumerism. Henry Ford's famous Model-T is still resonant here as symbol of massification and advanced form of industrial cloning.

As expensive commodities, cars have become both gendered and sexed up by the advertising industry. They have also been customized, used symbols of individualism and personal style. In America, they represent the steel horse: a vehicle for men to negotiate the new frontier. The pleasure of driving a car on the open road marks an obsession with power, control and speed. To recklessly and aggressively push the limits is a characteristically masculine response... In a sense, then, the car crash can be read as a catastrophic implosion that is actually an inbuilt in contemporary society. The mythos of the car crash therefore positions it as burn-out: an ironic fulfilment of patriarchy, the military-industrial complex, and commodity culture.

On top of this, there also is an inherent ambiguity in crashes: was the glamorized tragedy a complete accident or macho suicide? The way that celebrities die is often taken to be an indication of how they lived. James Dean's troubled mind was projected into the violent crumping of his Porsche Spyder. Diana's last moments already placed her as a victim hounded by the paparazzi. In the same way, car crashes in popular songs and biographies have become symbolic of their era or particular. Take Jan and Dean's famous surf tune 'Dead Man's Curve' from 1964: the song is about wreckless, adolescent boy racing in the face of mortal danger. In a similar way, The Shangri-La's 'Leader of the Pack', from the same year, paints the death of a motorcycle gang leader as a romantic melodrama. The ideological message in these tunes suggests that those who epitomize wayward youth will come acropper before they can enter the more mundane realm of adult responsibility. Two years after 'Dead Man's Curve', Bob Dylan's motorcycle accident near Woodstock was represented as an epiphany which alerted him to the absurd pressures of the celebrity machine: "I realized, " he said, "that I was just workin’ for all these leeches." The smash jolted him into a moment of personal authenticity that was represented by the spartan folk of his LP John Wesley Harding.

Another high watermark in the cultural history of the traffic crash was in 1970, when JG Ballard released The Atrocity Exhibition: a bizarre, fragmentary novel that made reference to President Kennedy's televised motorcade assassination, from which the author drew emotional intensity because he indirectly associated with the death of his wife. That book, and the 'Crash' story that came from it (made famous later by David Cronenberg's screen version) featured the idea that car crashes were orgasmic experiences. Ballard's perverse metal-on-metal sensuality combined an air of futurism with a cryptic critique of modernity: the end point of all this fetishization of logic and machines, he said, would be pornographic. It would be about as human (or rather as dehumanizing) as an alienated sexuality. Ballard's tactical implosion inspired a wave of creativity in postpunk music led by both Bowie and, more famously, The Normal's missing-link electro track, 'Warm Leatherette'. The cover featured crash test dummies, which in turn vouched for crashes being a normal part of the industrial process (and of course crash test dummies then being idealized as post-human citizens).

That shock wave, I think, pretty much brings us up to the contemporary era, where the road is no longer entirely real. If we live in the era of the "information super-highway" (already a tawdry cliche), then the crash is now between the virtual and the real. As we implode across the unnatural terrain of cyberspace, we will encounter unforseen curves and new injuries to our humanity.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What are imagined memories?

Yesterday I had fun talking to Matt Grimes, a music industry lecturer at Birmingham City University who is starting a PhD on canonization and fans' memories of Crass. Matt is writing up a blog post about our day of discussion. He is particularly interested in the idea of 'imagined memories' that I developed in 2002-2003 in a pair of articles about Paul McCartney's webcast from the Cavern. At one point Matt asked me to explain how imagined memories come about. What I will do in the rest of this post is to define imagined memories and answer that question.

Seeing the Beatles early live shows at the Cavern and seeing the Sex Pistols taunt Bill Grundy on The Today Show at the end of 1976 are classic examples of imagined memories. The first thing to notice is that these incidents really happened: they can be located in time and place. For any individual audience members who experienced these, they were supposedly transformative moments. Yet there is also a mass of fans who never had these experiences but wished they did. In that sense they are investing in imagined memories.

Each imagined memory is the thing you wished you had experienced, but never did. It is not exactly a fantasy, because it really happened to someone else. However, it is not your memory either, because it happened to someone else. By a process of valorization in the narrative of history and in the media it is therefore a kind of fantasy which authenticates itself as a (false) memory. The term points to the paucity of phrases like 'cultural memory' in describing popular music's past: for a few people these memories are real enough (although, even for them, the memories have been inflected by the subsequent success story of the performers). Imagined memories are spaces of emotional investment that are necessarily contradictory since they only matter because of what came after them. In a sense, then, they are memory commodity templates: they are both valorized (made to matter by stories) and characterized by their own rarity value. Not everyone has the 'real' memory. This is precisely why they become starting points for further commodities (media documentaries, heritage tourism, anniversaries, re-enactments, etc).

So imagined memories are like fetishized moments of fan subject-positioning from the early career of iconic artists, but how do they come about? What is the socio-cultural process through which they are fabricated?? Perhaps they emerge through a four part process of collective appreciation:

1. Mass performance: A classic performance (live or on record) marks a new peak of an artist's mass adulation.

2. Historic Narration: Band biographies, etc, are created to contextualize, romanticize and therefore extend the pleasures fans have invested in the artist or piece of music. These narratives say things like "It all came about by accident" or "It almost never happened" or "There was a unique confluence of circumstances." They are designed to show that the emotions motivating the performance are 'real' (phew!) rather than fabricated by technicians or commentators in the culture industry.

3. Recognition: Cultural entrepreneurs recognize the moment in the narrative that appeals to fans because it shows the artist at their rawest and seemingly most powerful (not yet diluted by the industry). The moment becomes a touch-stone in retellings of the narrative. The template now complete, fans begin to fantasize, fetishize and discuss these historic moments. New cultural products are formed around the reminscences of those that experienced the moments. They are given a mediated chance to speak about what happened.

4. Extention: The imagined memory can now become a generative resource for other narratives and commodities.

In time, of course, even the mass performances (in step 1) can themselves become imagined memories as more people start talking about their previous viewing experience and fewer fans have access to a real memory of the event. (I note, too, that the idea of "real memory" is itself a contradiction, as all memories are invented by the ways in which the brain interprets, records and remembers events.)

I want to briefly mark out some subtle differences between imagined memory and myth. The key thing to say here is that imagined memories and myths are not quite the same. Myths are ways to tell an artist's story that satisfy the public. A star's mass performances (step 1) can still help to generate myths, but those myths need never actually have happened. In theory, imagined memories may be based on myths, but usually they are not. Also, myths don't have to be imagined memories: a myth can be almost anything, whereas an imagined memory is a specific moment of performance in some sense, a time and place when fans begin to wish they had been there.

Finally, this idea is still in a process for formation. There may be interesting work to be done on the intersection of imagined memories and various fan practices. One example is the question cultural capital. Given that imagined memories are invitational containers for affect that are retrospectively recognized, in what ways does their construction invite the collection and display of cultural capital? I don't think that fans need much capital to locate these moments, since they are usually prominent in discussions of music phenomena. Nevertheless the moments may become a focus for the collection of facts and stories that allow fans to play further games of distinction.

What I hope to have shown here is that although narratives of popular music history move forwards in time, we create them by looking backwards when we are steered by the affective attachments that come from our engagement with crucial performance. This process generates imagined memories of earlier times, the significance of which gets fully recognized only in retrospect.

My thanks to Matt for making me think a bit more about this. I hope other researchers like him can now find new examples of this phenomena and take the theory even further forward.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Without Fathers: John Lennon and Jim Morrison

Tonight I got round to watching two biopics of 1960s icons, BBC4's Lennon Naked and the new Doors feature documentary When You're Strange. What unites these films is their father and son rejection narrative. In Lennon Naked, Christopher Eccleston does a fine job of playing Lennon at his most acerbic and asinine - an angry and creative man who constantly walked out on his own family. Variously that family was represented as Cynthia and Julian, the Beatles, his fans, his home in Great Britain, and, ultimately, his absentee father (played by a Christopher Fairbank).

The film climaxes with Lennon finding his rawest feelings of abandonment in the context of Primal Scream therapy, then recording 'Mother' as a record of his pain, and - in what may well be a fabricated dramatic moment - using the recording to directly confront his wrinkly old codger of a dad about his dereliction of fatherly duty.

As an aside, I have to add that Barbra Streisand, whose own father died when she was about a year and half old, recorded a showy version of the tune:

While Lennon's life story was ultimately about abandoning the parents who originally abandoned him, the Doors' film (which contained no actors, only footage of the band) showed how frontman Jim Morrison reported his entire family were dead. Morrison's claim was a lie of course, but in a way it was also true: his father George was ideologically dead to him. While Jim was spreading a gospel of free love, free drugs and hedonistic pacificism, George was fighting for his country. He was an Admiral in the American Navy.

There are multiple levels in these narratives. Both stars emerged in an era where a generation gap was establishing itself around the formation of a counter-culture. Both men rejected their fathers and joined that culture, becaming its icons.

In the familial rejection argument - which seems reductive but still convincing on many levels - Lennon's personal struggle is projected outwards to become his political protest. The confrontation of his childhood demons is also the culmination of his quest for musical authenticity.

Jim's loss of intimacy with his family, meanwhile, becomes a desperate quest for something that he can never quite find. He is let down by the hypocricy of the media, the falsity of stardom, the vacuuity of his fans, the cheap thrill of casual sex, and, ulimately, the false comfort of drugs and alcohol. Morrison's chronicles his lack of trust and a failure to find true intimacy. Despite having more adulation than most people can dream about, he is therefore romanticized a tragic rebel whose dreams were never fulfilled. Indeed his personal quest for freedom from the shackles of society was miscarried because it was pursued in the absence of any rewarding sense of intimacy.

Of course their struggles feed back into their own myths. After all John and Jim were just eligible and troubled young men begging to be loved. Meanwhile, fatherhood is the missing term from the lexicon of rock'n'roll. It is the present absense around which the adolescent ego pleasures of the form cohere. The 'double fantasy' of popular music is that fans sometimes dream they can create the intimacy missing when their heroes engage with the alienated process of stardom. In this context evidence of the celebrity's tragic childhood act as vouch-safe for an ego need which is taken to drive their quest for fame.

Psychologists say that we learn more in the first four years of our lives than in the rest. Jim Morrison often said that when he was four he witnessed a traumatic road accident where some Native Americans were killed. I doubt it ever took place. More likely, Jim created a glamorous poetic mystery by fusing a crucially early but mundane failure of parental availability (like his mother being ill or in grief) with one of America's most potent myths: the car crash as a masculine metaphor for the frenatic, breakneck pace of life - the obsession with speed symbolized in James Dean's death smash and chronicled by Paul Virilio and others.

So, then, what can we say of these bad boys of rock? They lost their parents at a young age, lived fast, died young, and numbed the pain with the playful outlets - sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. If you don't want to end up like them, just keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jews, Race and Popular Music by Jon Stratton (2009)

I was recently asked to review Jews, Race and Popular Music by Jon Stratton for the journal Popular Music. The book is an interesting case-by-case study of the Jewish input into musical performance, from torch singing to Amy Winehouse. Stratton suggests that dominant WASP culture has positioned Jews as neither black nor fully white, but oscillating in a kind of cultural transit somewhere in between the two. The argument neatly avoids issues of essentialism and self-definition by focussing on how Jewish performers have then manipulated their role to act as racial go-betweens: privileged interpreters of black identity for a white audience. One of the pleasures of the book is simply the roll call of Jews in the music industry: some obvious, some obscure, and some whose Jewish identity was never a big part of their image (Malcolm McLaren, for example).

Covering Australia, the UK and the USA, Stratton's ambitious volume defly combines gender and racial analysis to explore the predicaments of several crucial artists, including Bob Dylan, Bette Midler and the Beastie Boys. In a sense, by positioning their play with identity as a function of white hegemony, Stratton is really contributing to whiteness studies. His book is a worthy addition to the literature.

Fiske Matters Conference, 11th - 12th June 2010

I must be getting slow - I just spotted that Madison, Wisconsin recently had a conference in honour of the work of John Fiske featuring keynotes by Fiske and Henry Jenkins. As I'm sure you know, with their emphasis on the 'active' audience, these two scholars defined a turn in reception studies that aimed to restore agency to fans... Click here for the keynote audios!

Thanks for making it such a great day!

'Popular Music Fandom: A One Day Symposium' took place last Friday and was a great success. Speakers from as far a field as Brazil arrived at the Binks Building and Matt Hills gave a really interesting and dynamic keynote speech on 'post-popular music' fandom.

Another speaker, Tonya Anderson, has just been on Laurie Taylor's long-running Radio 4 show Thinking Allowed to talk about nostalgic Duran Duran fans. The show also contained a discussion of metal's female fanbase and a commentary by Angela McRobbie.

Matt Grimes, who came along and is starting a PhD on anarcho-punk fandom, has just posted an interesting review of the symposium.

Some comments from our speakers:

The conference was a truly terrific event, and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to present and to visit Chester. Wonderful experience overall... Again, an enormous congratulations on a terrific conference. I had a wonderful time, and will certainly recommend its next iteration to my colleagues.

I really enjoyed this event and hope there will be another one in the future!

My experience of the conference has been great. I really couldn't imagine a better start for my move to UK. I had pleasing chats and the atmosphere was very friendly, so I really hope there will be a second edition.

I felt really good about the amount of discussion and feedback that was going around at the conference. I have been to others where that was not so and I felt finally like this was what these things are meant to be doing.

... I enjoyed organizing the symposium and talking to those who came, both at the event and down the pub afterwards. I'd like to say a big thankyou to everyone who attended and helped to make the day a success.

As Brendan O'Sullivan, our Dean of the Arts and Media - who opened the day - said to me afterwards, there was "a strong international and UK presence... this was another feather in our cap."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Still Kissing Their Posters Goodnight: The Shift from Individual to Communal ‘Bedroom Culture’ as Pop Idol Fandom Goes Online

Many young women experience a stage during adolescence when the private world of their imagination is overtaken by a celebrity teen crush, often a pop music idol or band. As early as Elvis and The Beatles, every generation has embraced its own version of the teen pop pin-up. Girls have historically exercised their fandom within the confines of their bedrooms, employing a ‘bedroom culture’, where they listen to music, browse teen magazines, and hang posters (McRobbie 1991). But now with the Internet, this practice has changed. Where pop fandom used to be mostly private, fans can now conduct these activities online and communally, ‘drooling’ in unison (Clerc 1996). This new more community-oriented fan experience has dramatically altered the nature of pop fandom. This research is an ethnographic investigation that explores how feminine identity construction and sexuality are influenced by pop music subcultures. Of particular interest is the way in which the fan experience has changed historically with the introduction of the Internet, specifically how fans now connect via a hybrid of online and offline interactions and how such an interaction mix generates complex dynamics and hierarchies. By focusing on ‘mature’ pop fans as opposed to teens, this project endeavours to trace their transformation from the relative isolation of pre-Internet teen fandom into what has now become enduring and life-long adult fandom that is deeply communal, entrenched in a worldwide network of other fans. The subcultures examined are fans of a sampling of ‘heart throb’ pop artists spanning the last three decades, including The Backstreet Boys, Take That and Duran Duran.

Tonya Anderson, University of Sunderland /

In Media Res - Fan / Celebrity Relationships

My American friend Dave just sent me this link to the commons media journal In Media Res. This week they are featuring academic pieces on media fandom which talk about affect, desire, devotion and stalking. One piece is being released per day, so the next few days should be interesting.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ronnie James Dio - laid to rest

Metal's elfin thespian of metaphysical evil, Ronnie James Dio, died of stomach cancer last month, age 67. Because he started at a vdry early age, Dio - who appeared in numerous metal documentaries and Jack Black's 'Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny' - had racked up over 50 years flying time as a working singer and bass player. He was also the man who popularized the devil hand signal and ruled the airwaves in the mid-1980s with 'Rock and Roll Children'.

Dio's funeral at Forest Lawn was a rock'n'roll affair, with Geezer Butler as a pall bearer and so many fans that it broke all records for the cemetary. (Michael Jackson would have beaten that, but he had a secret interrment.) When Dio's widow appeared, his fans chanted, "Wendy! Wendy! Wendy!" They can now get a memorial t-shirt on his website, the proceeds going to a cancer charity.

Fredrick Jameson famously said that culture can no longer be imagined outside the marketplace, and that seems apt in the Spinal Tap world of metal. The idea that a funeral is a show for fans and that the cemetary keeps a popularity count is indicative, not quite of the penetration of the marketplace (to my knowledge no tickets were sold), but at least of the commercial ideology of rock - that real life is part of the show, that audiences have to be measured, that popularity is the measure of success.

The great thing about Dio was simply his performance. He breathed conviction and always looked the part. One wonders what a man who spent half his life singing occultic peans to wizards, dragons and demons will do in the afterlife.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Heaven 17: Inside Outsiders Playing To Win

Over the past couple of nights BBC2 have screened a couple of retrospectives on the originators of 1980s British electro-pop: Heaven 17. When I was aged about seventeen, I started collecting their singles on vinyl. I felt their music had a sound and a concept like nobody else. In the heyday of New Romanticism here were three twentysomething lads from Sheffield dressed like young business executives forging a strangely alienated dance sound. The cover of the 'Penthouse and Pavement' album looked like they'd just sealed a property deal in Milton Keynes. I’d not frequented a club or seen many concerts back then. Indeed the idea of seeing Heaven 17 play live was unthinkable. Yet I was drawn to the cryptic edge they bought to pop - there was just that elusive and undefinable "something" about them.

Twenty five years later the media are celebrating the early achievements of a band that spawned the likes of La Roux, yet Heaven 17 still sound unlike anybody else. Musically they mixed high BPM machine music with a punk ethos, funky slap bass, and yuppie aesthetic to create note perfect pop. As a listener, though, you got the impression that the music was articulating an impulse that was both from a different world and frustrated with our own.

Looking back there was an awful lot going on behind the façade of the British Electric Foundation (their own attempt at a Kraftwerklike institutution). For one thing, despite the ironies, Heaven 17 actually had quite traditional racial and gender relations compared to some of their counterparts; lead singer Glen Gregory’s Germanic tones and Aryan aesthetic brushed knowingly against the syrupy wails of their black female backing singers. Temptation still sounds as genuinely sultry as anything from the decade. They also subverted both pop and society from the inside, showing how you could be both in the game and challenge it. What was really interesting about their music, to me, both then and now, was its adult themes – things like labour relations, class inequalities, nuclear protest and the sex trade.

Unlike the badly behaved adolescents of rock music, Heaven 17 and their fans took the world seriously. We were looking in on adulthood and the capitalist society it enabled with a mature sense of disappointment: were we really being prepared for such a joyless workplace - whether on the factory floor or in an office selling insurance? Was getting on in a YTS scheme and doing some suffocating 9-5 job the height of what life could offer?

After their heyday their music lost its social commentary and therefore its edge. Many of us fans started listening to other things. Yet, three decades on, their lone voice still seems unique in pop. Glen Gregory has lost his hair and now looks like a sharp, good humoured night club owner. Martyn Ware has finally fulfilled his dream of impersonating Ralf Hutter. The music has not changed, though, and it still speaks directly of empty pleasures, alienation, automation and loss - an adult music for 1980s dance adolescents who were wary of the norm in both society and the generic popular culture it held dear.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Post-popular music, mnemic communities, and intermediary fandoms: Challenging general approaches to fan culture?

In Fan Cultures (2002), I attempted to produce what amounted to a general theory of media fandom, tackling issues of fan identity and community. But this approach (see also Sandvoss 2005) potentially neglects the specificity of types of fan object/experience. With this self-critique in mind, I will consider three illustrative ways in which popular music fandom cannot readily be aligned with 'fan studies' more generally, given that this has typically been dominated by screen media debates.

Firstly, film and TV texts cease to be produced if they fall below thresholds of industry success and 'popularity'; popular music is less prone to this sort of cut-off point. As a result, what might be termed post-popular music fandom can be analysed, whereby life-long fandom (Stevenson 2009) is enacted in relation to once-mainstream but still active artists. Secondly, whereas film and TV fandoms have been theorised as 'interpretative communities' (Jenkins 1992), fan relationships to popular music may be significantly less interpretative in character, and this too calls for specific theorisation, e.g. via work on mnemic objects (Bollas 1992). And thirdly, pop music fandom cannot always be reduced to fan-artist relationships (despite excellent studies such as Cavicchi 1998; Echard 2005; Fast 2001; McDonald 2009). Music fans may also relate to a range of industrial co-producers and intermediaries such as labels, music producers (Warner 2003), and (re)mixers (Zak 2001), even within a “cloud” or web 2.0 model of the music industry (Wikström 2009). Screen media fandoms do not possess entirely analogous “productive consumer literacies” (Laughey 2006) despite the presence of auteur/network brands.

I will thus argue that popular music fandom calls for a series of specific theorisations which go beyond, and qualify, approaches taken elsewhere in 'fan studies' (Harrington, Gray, and Sandvoss 2007). Theorising post-popular music fans, mnemic community, and the music industry's intermediary fandoms might all offer specific routes to opening out and complicating general theories of fan culture.

Dr Matt Hills, Cardiff University

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Highlighting Theory and Research Relevant to the Identity Development of GLBTQ Dusty Springfield Fans

As a doctoral candidate in interdisciplinary studies my focus is the meaning of celebrities and icons in the identity development of GLBTQ fans across the lifespan. My dissertation will examine this phenomenon through collective case studies of Dusty Springfield fans. In preparation for my dissertation, I am preparing a qualifying paper to set forth the theoretical underpinnings I have identified in the areas of fan studies, projective psychologies, and identity development. For The Northwest Popular Music Studies Network symposium I will highlight aspects of these theories and how they relate to my research into the meaning-making of GLBTQ Dusty Springfield fans. For example, object relations theory helps explain the feelings of protectiveness Dusty’s music elicits in her fans, as well as how it contributes to their development as individuals. I would welcome the opportunity to receive feedback from scholars in the field, as I move forward in my work.

Nancy Young, Lesley University, USA /

‘Anyone who calls Muse a Twilight band will be shot on sight’: Music, Fandom, and Distinction in the Twilight Franchise

This paper examines the routes that fans of popular music might take into their fandom, considering how this might be influenced by their use of other media texts. Theorists such as Matt Hills and Cornel Sandvoss have argued that fan studies needs to move away from viewing fans as people who are only fans of one text at a time. This paper seeks to consider this by exploring how fans of film and television programmes might find that their fandom leads them to discover particular types of bands and music, examining how such textual links are articulated. This will be undertaken through analysis of Twilight fans and the resultant fandom of artists who feature on the movie soundtracks such as Paramore, Thom Yorke, or Muse. In examining how online fan sites are used to discuss the soundtracks, the paper examines the distinctions and value judgements that might be made in such debates. Drawing on fan studies which have considered issues of distinction, taste and value, the paper aims to discover whether fans who have come to fandom via texts such as Twilight might be devalued by other fans of these bands. For example, are such fans devalued as inauthentic or as not being proper fans? How does this relate to common lines of division within fan cultures such as issues over age and experience, fandom longevity, and gender? Is this related to the way in which the bands themselves position themselves in relation to Twilight? The proposed paper thus aims to consider some of the fan practices and distinctions which operate when fans discover new music fan objects as a result of their interest in other media texts.

Rebecca Williams, Lecturer, University of Glamorgan

Politicizing Fandom: Music Listeners as Imagined Subjectivities in the 1970s Italian Music Press

My proposal aims to explore the historical formation of a certain discourse on music fandom in Italy. In particular, I will focus my analysis on the way in which two 1970s magazines, Gong and Muzak, constructed the image of the pop music listener through a certain kind of “decisionist narrative” (Matt Hills: 2002), which framed fans according to an opposition between rational and 'affective' forms of music fruition. However, providing an overview of magazines' historical and cultural context, I will show that rather than condemning (or denying) the affectivity of fandom, they employed contradictory strategies to legitimize it through politics and 'high theory'. In this way, press' narratives reflect the wider crisis of the dichotomy between 'the personal and the political' that took place within the Italian youth movements toward the end of 1970s. This proposal is part of a more extensive project on the Italian music press history, which employs fan studies to contribute to the historicization of discourses on (and images of) music fandom in the Italian context. My aim is to address the question of the historical emergence of fan cultures taking into consideration their media representations.

Simone Varriale, University of Bologna, Italy

‘Myspace-Bands’ and ‘Tag-Wars’: The Case of Online Social Media and the Deathcore Scene

In my talk I aim to interpret the transformations that took place in the relations of the extreme music scene known as ‘deathcore’ due to online community practices in recent years. All this interests me in respect to the questions concerning genre communities: how do web 2.0 applications affect communities organized around certain genres? How do certain genre-definitions and communities form each other as well as the relation to the transformation process itself, and what kind of conflicts does this engender? First, I look at — through the career of the band Job For a Cowboy on Myspace — how the online success of the band led to the devaluation of the ‘deathcore’ genre label and to the decreased reputation of Myspace as a medium among the people conceiving of themselves as the authentic members of the scene.
Second, by the discourse analysis of the deathcore label on, I sketch out new practices and oppositions deriving from the structure of online publicity that emerged in the scene beside these subcultural conflicts. I argue that using the concept of the ‘genre music scene’ seems to be the most appropriate to understand these new musical / social patterns in the age of online social media.

Tamas Tofalvy, Guest Lecturer, Budapest University of Technology and Economics

Constructing Northern Soul Fandom in the Absence of an Artist: Issues of Identity, Originality, Ownership and Locality

Northern Soul is a British music culture primarily located in the Midlands and north of England. The scene originated in the late 1960s, reaching its heyday in the 1970s and continuing to the present day. The music of choice was, and still is, 1960s black American soul. The 45rpm vinyl records that are fanatically collected and passionately dance to are predominantly rare, non-chart hits from often unknown artists and minor record labels. Via the direct acquisition of these vinyl records from the USA, northern English fans have created a scene unique to them and beyond the original USA intentions for that music. With a notably absent artist (Smith, 2009) the Northern Soul scene sits in awe of DJs and dancers who act as tastemakers, performers and connoisseurs. Dance is used by participants on the scene as a method of displaying fandom to peers on the scene and expressing the originality of Northern Soul to those outside of the scene. This paper will discuss the construction and performance of fandom on the Northern Soul scene, drawing particularly upon the relevance of the absent artist as a route to fan ownership and control of cultural practice, (de)constructions of the relevance of space, place and authenticity, and the altered significance of fan culture artefacts which move into - and are re-marked within – an 'alien' locality.

Dr Nicola Smith, University of Wales Institute Cardiff

'I Love You, Paul!' Adolescent Sexuality and Finnish Female Fandom at the Turn of the 1950s and 1960s

In Finland, popular music fandom developed into a large-scale youth cultural phenomenon at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s. From the start, the most eye-catching feature of Finnish fandom was its femininity: the fan communities of the most popular teen idols like Elvis Presley, Paul Anka and Finnish singer Lasse Liemola consisted almost without exception of adolescent females. This has naturally raised many questions and surmises about the role of sexuality in the fan cultures of the era. In my paper I discuss this theme by studying the different ways in which sexuality was expressed by fans in fan letters, concerts and the popular media of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Furthermore, I will discuss the multiple and varying meanings of adolescent female sexuality as a part of fandom. In this discussion I lean on the earlier and in part contradictory interpretations of scholars like John Fiske, Barbara Ehrenreich and Janice A. Radway on the subject, studying the validity of these interpretations in the context of early Finnish female fandom.

Janne Poikolainen, University of Helsinki, Finland

Metalheadz, Punks, Ravers: Genre, Fandom and the Non-musical Expression of Belonging

When discussing fandom, we refer to the relationship between the fan and his or her liking of a specific object or person. In popular music studies, fans and fandom have been described and analysed in relation to a specific artist, band or performer. When this is the case, certain observations can be made that link the fan to his or her musical star: logos, photographs, items of clothing, accessories, or hair styles. There are genres of popular music whose units of musical production and performance are represented by bands or solo artists. In the case of electronic dance music, fandom has experienced a shift. Due to the public prominence of DJs and their subsequent treatment as stars, the image of a star has appeared from and disappeared into the underground. In this paper, I examine the ways in which fandom is celebrated in electronic dance music. A definition of fandom based on representations of non-musical values that suggest a strong social community and a sense of belonging is proposed. Furthermore, the historical development of superstar DJs and consequences for the practice of fandom are contextualised with a view to re-define the fan.

Dr Beate Peter, University of Salford

When the Researcher is a Fan: Methodological Points on Carrying Out Research into Your Favourite Artist

In many cases, fandom feelings are an important reason why popular music researchers carry out projects into their favourite artists. While doing it, they get into situations where the fan needs to face his or her own feelings in order to have a desirable critical view on the subject and express impartiality. Dialoguing with existent literature, studying historical moments, finding primary sources and having contacts with the artist himself or herself may generate confrontation between the musicologist and the fan… Based on the personal experience of working on the works of Brazilian songwriter and musician Marcos Valle; the researcher being a longtime fan of his, this paper discusses some issues based on fandom in the pop music scene and on some cultural aspects of Brazil (the dialectics of passion and reason, the artists' points of view on audiences and fans, and the local media and music industry interventions) to illustrate methodological difficulties caused by the influence of fandom feelings on the popular music researcher's work.

Alexei Michailowsky, UNIRIO, Brazil

Beatlemania: In the Beginning there was the Scream

“The images persist: four guys in suits or smart raincoats being chased by hundreds of fans, girls frenzied at their merest glimpse, sloping bobbies-arms linked, teeth gritted, straining to hold back the throng.”

Mark Lewisohn’s evocative description of one of the key images of the 1960s helps to focus attention on the phenomenon that was Beatlemania. While hysterical scenes had surrounded male stars before The Beatles (Valentino in the 1920s, Frank Sinatra in the 1940s, Elvis and Johnny Ray in the 1950s) and has subsequently (Rollermania and T.Rexstasy in the 1970s, boyband frenzies in the 1990s), Beatlemania remains, this paper will argue, the yardstick: an alliance between fans, the media and a cultural phenomenon unlike any other in UK pop history. The paper will argue that it is through Beatlemania that The Beatles were established as a global entity and that all that followed-their transgression of traditional expectations about the role of the male pop star, their role as men of ideas, their impact on the cultural landscape of the 1960s and their symbiotic relationship with the decade-stems from this. No Beatlemania - no Revolver or Sgt Pepper. The paper will explore the nature of Beatlemania in an attempt to explain why it remains the ultimate expression of fan worship. This includes discussion of the relationship between The Beatles and their fans, Xmas shows and flexi-discs, their appeal in terms of gender fluidity, early song lyrics as a form of communication with fans, the influence of 1960s girl groups and manager and mentor Brian Epstein’s role in creating a fan-friendly “product”. Differing perspectives on Beatlemania – from Paul Johnson’s damning Marxist critique to Barabra Ehrenreich et al’s claim that “the scream” personified second wave feminism as women found a voice in the early 1960s-will also form part of the discussion. The paper will also examine The Beatles’ first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) - which had a working title of Beatlemania - as a text through which to read both the joys and dangers of fan worship.

Martin King, Principal lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University

Hidden Fans? Fandom and Domestic Musical Activity

Despite Joli Jenson’s (1992) contention that fandom should be conceptualised as being part of everyday concerns, there are still few studies that examine the extent to which fandom intersects with domestic activities. Utilising case studies from ethnographic research on the roles of music in the domestic lives of a group of people with learning difficulties, this paper will explore how everyday musical activities can become integral to communication and identity-formulation for people who are often precluded from engaging in the creative practices usually associated with music fandom. Such an exploration will highlight issues regarding access and opportunity to engage in ‘fan-related’ activity and raise questions about the limits of the concept of fandom.

Dr Nedim Hassan, University of Liverpool

Critiquing the Lyrics, Critiquing the Music: Inverting the Critical Work of Fanvids

In ‘Women, Star Trek, and the Early Development of Fannish Vidding,’ Francesca Coppa defines vidding as “a form of grassroots filmmaking in which clips from television shows and movies are set to music…to comment on or analyze a set of preexisting visuals.” This statement is consistent with the scholarly and popular assumption that a vid’s moving-image source is primary while its audio is lesser, used for framing its critique. It is my contention, however, that the inverse is also true. Vidders are often also fans of the music they appropriate and it is possible to see a critical reading of the audio taking place as well as the visual. To show this I will mount two close readings. The first highlights the critique of lyrics by examining how remixer, Sloanesomething, implicitly critiques the sexism of the song, ‘Too Many Dicks’ by Flight of the Concords, as well as the movie, Star Trek, in her vid, ‘…on the Dancefloor.’ Then, I will look at the melodic content of the music itself, using Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of secondness and reading Sweetestdrain’s ‘West of her Spine,’ in which soft music is laid over and contrasted with violent images from the show, Dexter.

Jack Harrison, Georgetown University, USA

David Bowie: A Case Study of the Established Artist as Fan

“At another Bowie-organised party in Paris Kraftwerk had put in an appearance, receiving a five-minute standing ovation as they entered
blank-faced and got up in full- blown 1930s retro style, like the musical
equivalents of Gilbert and George. Bowie was enthralled: “Look how they are, they are fantastic!” he kept repeating…”

In his book on David Bowie’s Low, Hugo Wilcken recounts an oft-cited non-meeting of musical minds. What is illuminating here is the shallowness, the dumb enthusiasm of Bowie’s reaction, like a kid unable to contain his enthusiasm before a favourite sports hero. Or indeed pop star. This is because Bowie was, and remains, fundamentally a fan. This paper will use the example of David Bowie in attempting to understand the phenomenon of the established artist as fan, and the contribution that the fandom of these figures can make to the forward momentum of popular music, and it’s development as a form. In particular, it will address the usefulness of artist-fans as filters, isolating key elements of the more radical musical conceptions of their (generally less commercially successful) peers and making them suitable, by dilution or hybridization, for consumption by a mass audience; and their role as the ‘musical conscience’ of the mainstream, ensuring that the obscure but influential artists who provide their inspiration get their due.

John Harries, Recording Artist

From Fandom to Stardom in Punk: The Female Experience

Perhaps more than any genre of popular music, early punk rock sought to blur the boundaries that separated performers from their fans and to lay claim to an inclusiveness that encouraged fans to make the transition from audience to stage. Early British spectators like Siouxsie Sioux and Sid Vicious were emboldened to take this step because of punk’s “do-it-yourself” ethos, which challenged conventional notions of musicianship and performance. In the early days of the movement, these challenges seemed to extend to existing gender barriers, and many female fans appeared to make an easy transition to the stage (for example, the Slits, the Au Pairs, the Raincoats, and Sioux). However, as punk was absorbed into mainstream popular culture in the late 1970s, the promise of gender equality quickly evaporated and the genre tended to be more strongly identified with its male participants, particularly those who had signed to major record labels (the Sex Pistols and the Clash). Looking at the portrayal of women in fanzines and album covers, and descriptions of female performances in the press, this study will examine what went awry for female fans in their quest to move from fandom to stardom.

Dr Karen Fournier, University of Michigan

Fan Words: Towards a New Vocabulary of Fan Theory

In 1976 Raymond Williams cemented his position as a central theorist of cultural studies with Keywords, a book that used the format of the glossary as an intellectual device to start rethinking social analysis. Word-by-word musing offered Williams a platform to both summarize the terrain of cultural theory and to extend it. His writing was based on the profound truth that academic thinking primarily takes place through language. While the academic process of ‘keywording’ has continued for pedagogic reasons in subject glossaries and text books, there seems to be precious little space to explore keywords as tools to advance theory. In this paper I will use a small handful of keywords to begin rethinking how we might study popular music fandom. The emphasis will be both on deconstructing existing words and suggesting some which have the potential to take fandom theory in new directions.

Dr Mark Duffett, University of Chester

With(in) the Band: The Queering of the Female Fan Experience

Everyone knows what a groupie is: she’s That Girl, the fan hanging around after the gig, waiting for the nod, the chance to sleep with her chosen guy in the band. Or maybe she’s more than that: she might be his girlfriend, his wife, a woman working in the music industry. Defined narrowly or broadly, she’s there, a marker of an extreme expression of the heteronormative organization of society. The general critical debate concerns itself with the scope of the definition, not the paradigm itself. But there is another possibility, a community-centric approach to sexual desire for their favourite musicians: narrative slash fiction on the internet. Slash, same-sex relationship stories written primarily by and for women, is created to make explicit the interpersonal relationships of these celebrities. In the case of ‘bandom’ – for this paper, the fannish activity around the group of bands loosely held together by one degree of separation from Pete Wentz and/or Warped Tour in America – women are writing romantic relationships within and between the members of the bands. This essay investigates the queer act this entails. These women are not passively waiting by the stage door; they are (metaphorically) taking the members of these bands into their own queer space and using them to enact their own desires. There is no room for female agency in a woman’s interactions with the music industry – unless she finds herself a queer community.

Nancy Bruseker, University of Liverpool

Triskaidekaphobics: R.E.M. Fans in Pursuit of the Ultimate First Listen

In this paper I discuss how the Triskaidekaphobics (Trobes), a social sub-group within, an online community for fans of rock band R.E.M., assume a non-normative status, due to their temporary spoiler evading activities concerning the then forthcoming R.E.M. album. Driven by a nostalgic aim to recapture the experience of buying a new album without prior knowledge of its contents during the first listen other than officially released information, these fans endeavor to resist the new technology and instead aim to restore the pre-Internet experience of listening to and purchasing a new album as a singular event. I demonstrate how this pursuit of pleasure (pursuing the “first listen”) worked to disrupt the exchange of knowledge with other members and resulted in their precise cultural distinctiveness from the rest of the Murmurs community. Drawing on Fiske (1992), I show how this allowed Trobes to create a temporary form of inverted fan cultural capital that was distinct from the rest of the community and argue that this process places Trobes in a position between non-Trobes and “casual” fans, subsequently operating as a different, albeit temporary, interpretive community.

Dr Lucy Bennett, Cardiff University

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

FAQs - Popular Music Fandom: A One Day Symposium

Which airport should I use in the UK?

If you intend to fly straight into the region, use Manchester or Liverpool airport.

Where do I find accomodation?
I'm sure you are concerned to book accomodation as soon as possible as Chester is not a huge place and I don't think there is anything available on campus. Looking for bed and breakfast rather than a hotel might increase your options. Try here or here for a range of accomodation.

If you can't find anything in Chester, you might try looking for accomodation elsewhere in the region. I'll be commuting in by train from Manchester that morning, which takes about an hour, so it is possible if you are willing to face a really early start! It might also be possible to commute in from Liverpool, or a station even nearer to Chester. You would simply have to catch a short cab ride across town once you got to Chester station. Check here or here for train times and tickets.

How do I find the campus?
Click here for directions to the main Chester campus and scroll down for a campus map to find the Binks building. It's right in the middle of the campus.

Do we speakers have to apply officially to the Symposium and pay any fees?
No - this is a little less formal than a paid conference event: there is no registration fee or forms to complete. The reason for this is that we avoid fees for facilities and red tape within our own institution. Hence we are calling it a symposium rather than a conference, but we shall be expecting you to sign in on the day so that we know that you are here to present your paper.

When must I arrive at Binks Building on the Symposium day?
We will be starting in room 013/2 at about 9.30am and running through until late afternoon.

Are we reading our papers in some order? Chronological by alphabetical order, perhaps? Or are there paper sessions that you've devised for us?
To accomodate everyone on the day we'll have to do two streams of papers (except the keynote). I'm aiming to group similar subjects and avoid putting two sessions on the same subject head-to-head. Unfortunately I probably won't be able to supply a schedule until the day itself, as I will have to arrange session chairs, etc. It will probably be just a page in length without any abstracts, so you should have a good look at the abstracts online now and decide on an ideal list of papers you especially want to see. If you miss people on the day, there is no harm in asking them for a printed version of their paper.

How long is each presentation?
Each paper will be twenty minutes long with a further ten minutes for questions from the audience. Please rehearse your paper so that we stay strictly to length as the schedule will be so tight there will not be room for over-running.

What about the audio-visual requirements for my paper?
Binks is quite well equipped and I hope we can meet them. It would be useful for you to put any powerpoints, etc, on a USB stick as this is quicker than booting up and hooking up you laptop. It also avoids connectivity issues.

Will there be any social activities on Friday night?
My own inclination with Friday night activities is to encourage them, but also to let them happen informally and spontaneously. While people from the region might be going home to see their families, there are bound to be some national and international attendees ready for a night out in Chester. If I try to organize restaurant reservations it creates work, people drop out, etc. It is very likely that we will be retiring to a local ale house after the event and probably going on for a meal. I always find that the most fun part of these events as people are no longer under the stress of presenting their papers.

Return to main page.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The passing of Malcolm McLaren

Most of us will remember Malcolm as the provocative svengali who (mis)managed the Sex Pistols, but history will remember him as the man who catalysed a marriage between rebellion and commerce so deep that we are still feeling its shock waves. After all, putting punk aside for a moment, where would hip-hop be without Malcolm? Or the fashion world? Would Damian Hurst or the rest of the Brit art crowd even exist? He was a garrulous, effusive man of ideas - a style terrorist who understood that mutiny and exploitation could go hand in hand.

His running for Mayor of London was more a statement of provocation that a tactical moment of political pragmatism. After all, he would have been terrible in the role. In an era where Simon Cowell and Steve Jobs seem to be the biggest remaining forces in the music industry, we will remember Malcolm as the archetypal bohemian and ultimate English eccentric. Mayor of London? I'd much rather have seen Malcolm where he rightfully belonged: as Dr Who!

... Finally, check this link sent in by my Canadian friend Carol.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll (Damian Jones 2009)

"Oi oi!" I've just been to see director Damian Jones's portrait of Stiff's cockiest cockney, the legendary Ian Dury. Jone's highly stylized biopic predictably explores - but I don't think exploits - the disability issue, with Dury hobbling through various moments of rock'n'roll excess in grubbiest London. Andy Serkis, who plays Dury, looks more like a thespian Gary Glitter, but does well in capturing Dury's charming growl and larger-than-life spirit.

What emerges is a story of fathers, sons, and a quest to compensate not just for polio, but for a kind of inferioity complex that expresses itself in Dury's family relationships. This, of course is an age-old formula, as biopics generally follow Romanticist tenets by seeing the artist's life as a series of traumas in which their nose-diving ego flails between broken personal relationships and the precarious recognition of their audience. In order to even connect with a fan base the questing genius must contend with the exploitative relations of the music industry. Entering the commodity form as a celebrity - their version of workaholism - is seen as a compensation that ultimately fails, however, as fame is such a cruel sea.

As we munch our popcorn, ultimately we realize that although performers are hell to live with, these ego-driven specimens more than make up for it with their on-stage charm. The biopic genre therefore becomes an nostalgic exercize (better yet an exorcism). In that respect I would like to have seen more of the pub rock scene and the Stiff Records family represented in this particular movie.

... One wonders what both Jones and Serkis will be up to next on the strength of this one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The "Mention Elvis" rule

The term I used to use was speaking through the popular; another way to put it, as Jeremy Gilbert (2003) has suggested, is that celebrities become our coinage, our currency, and we use them in everyday speech - and media interviews and products - to build alliances. We speak through the popular to create hegemonies. As such, pop culture icons circulate as in-jokes. All this is by way of a preamble to introduce the "Mention Elvis" rule:

The "Mention Elvis" rule states: in pop cultural products that have nothing to do with Elvis but still mention his name, the less he is mentioned, the worse the product.

This law of diminishing returns hits its zero point when the product makes no mention of Elvis at all. Products that make no mention of Elvis are outside of the set of cultural predictions made by this rule... I will give some examples to demonstrate what I mean.

Take Bubba Ho-tep (Coscarelli 2002), which recycled the image of the King as part of a strange scenario starring Bruce Campbell. It's quite a good movie. Honeymoon in Vegas (Bergman 1992), with its flying troop of Elvis impersonators, references Elvis a bit less, and is an passable feature film too. Then yesterday I got to see Daybreakers (Spierig 2009), a new vampire movie in which Willem Dafoe plays a renegade rehumanized vampire, named Elvis, of course. The Dafoe character introduces himself as "Elvis, like the singer" and does a little impression. That moment, and pretty much the rest of the film, are so cringingly bad that even this talismanic mention of the King cannot save it. Elvis gets a tiny mention, and the movie is predictably awful, making lame comparisons between the American military-industrial complex and, um, blood suckers.

So why does the "Mention Elvis" rule hold up? I think it is because film makers using an Elvis theme for any length of time know it will wear very thin, very fast, unless they do something interesting. Meanwhile, scripts that merely reference Elvis are doing so to evoke a cliche that will connect with any audience. Everyone gets the joke. Nobody goes, "Who?" The result is that a stinker about Elvis can give the worst of material just a bit more milage.

Of course the "Mention Elvis" rule does not apply to Elvis's films themselves: neither the films about Elvis (which were usually good) or the films starring Elvis as a racing car driver, native indian or American playboy (which were usually bad). It also finds an exception in Ghostbusters (Reitman 1984) which cleverly used a mention of Elvis to highlight the stupidity of the media.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mark's postings on music genre

Genre proliferation: the disease of the modern era (on noughties genre proliferation)

Genre proliferation: the disease of the modern era

Simon Reynolds, perhaps the only person to really manage an overview of the contemporary music scene, has just written his review of the noughties where, amongst other things, he explores the idea of "landfill indie". Landfill indie notwithstanding, Reynolds cites around twenty-five different genres or variants in recent popular music. The Horrors, for example, are "mashing up Goth, shoegaze, post-punk, late-80s neo-psych in the Loop/Spacemen 3, etc". Here they are, as if to remind us that haircuts still matter despite any purported micro-genre explosion:

Reynolds adds a thumbs up for "Mica Levi, who bridges the considerable gap between riot grrrl and grime, between Woodentops-style indie-bop and Herbert's blippy, micro-syncopated glitchtronica." While I am sure there was always a whole heap of vernacular musics to mix, match and enjoy, the fissile, recombinant "meme-like" nature of contemporary music - or rather contemporary music reporting - in part reflects the recent social obsession with genetic futurism.

It is as if popular music criticism is now a laboratory which dissects the genetic codes of the tunes in order to guide packs of hungry consumers. I think it would be fair to say this linguistic move comes in part from the alienated world of electronic dance music. While the folk-related traditions of popular music were always about enhancing the "feel" of the music and combing those traditions was about getting something "cooking", this style of analysis is more about dissection, mutation and calculated recombination: playing with DNA rather then merely shaking it. The model for the modern musician and his or her critic therefore becomes Gregor Mendel, who of course was both a scientist and a priest.

Ironically, all this freeplay with musical memes not only makes genre lifespans shorter, but it also makes inheritance a more important concept than ever. Tradition isn't age old now, it's recent. That said, I am beginning to feel out of the Futurist loop, and that from a plain old denim-and-jeans (not genes) rock perspective, all this genre proliferation feels like fannish elitism, the endless assertion of cultural capital whose references are lost on any hapless outsider who might happen to catch about the pedigree of a recent tune.

Design by Free Wordpress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Templates