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 / Dustyspringfield.info

‘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 Last.fm, 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 Murmurs.com, 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.

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