Lots of Planets Have a North: Remodeling Second-Tier Cities and Their Music

By Brabazon, Tara; Mallinder, Stephen | Nebula, March-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Lots of Planets Have a North: Remodeling Second-Tier Cities and Their Music


Brabazon, Tara, Mallinder, Stephen, Nebula


Abstract:

Our paper asks an unspoken but fascinating question: why do particular cities become associated with their music at a specific time? Seattle, Manchester, Chicago and Liverpool are urban spaces that summon a type of rhythm, a mode of movement and a way of thinking about sound. This article probes the connection between urbanity and music, with attention placed on Perth in Western Australia. Often known as the most isolated capital city in the world, it is currently undergoing a musical boom, but with little cultural or creative industries policy support. This paper therefore initiates a study of how to connect second-tier--or non global--cities like Perth, so that lessons can be learnt from these other places of urban rhythm. We commence with an exploration of soundscapes, then move into the specificities of the second-tier city, and conclude with an affirmation of the value of sonic mobility--or intercessions--between these urban environments.

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Rose: Are you an alien? The Doctor: Yes. Rose: Is that alright? The Doctor: Yeah. Rose: If you are an alien, how come you sound like you're from the North? The Doctor: Lots of planets have a North.

Doctor Who, "Rose." (1)

Doctor Who is one of the great survival stories in popular cultural history. Like James Bond and Star Trek, it has survived the end of the Cold War, the decline of British power and ambivalence at American global domination. It is timely and appropriate that when Doctor Who reemerged in 2005, the ninth regeneration was not only trendier than Colin Baker, funnier than Tom Baker and stauncher than Peter Davidson but, unlike the other Doctors, did not summon an affluent inflection from the south-east of England. With leather jacket and new accent in tow, the Doctor could reclaim credibility and popularity, confirming that 'lots of planets have a North.'

Like the most evocative of cultural texts, Doctor Who not only provides an example or evidence, but a model for thinking (about) space and pop. Our goal for this Nebula article is to align mobility, urbanity and localism. Most significantly, we invert and shatter theories of art and challenge readers to admit embedded assumptions about urban musics. Commencing with a Doctor Who reference was intentional. It not only provides the title for the piece and its modality, but offers an unusual reference point to position our words in time, space and politics. Within creative industries policies, there is little time for the pretensions of 'the arts' as intrinsically bringing value and enrichment to the viewer or listener. The goal in the new economy is to facilitate the commodification of creativity through leveraging patents, copyrights and designs. This economy--often labeled after Charles Leadbeater's description of Living on thin air--actively seeks out and markets that which is different, new, innovative and creative. The local and the regional are granted intercessionist roles to freshening the market and development of products. That is why The Doctor's statement--'Lots of planets have a North'--is deployed as a statement of difference and defiance, to acknowledge and celebrate a different way of living through urban spaces, and how these regions connect.

Much popular culture is complicit in compliance and acquiescence. Deviations from sameness and conformity are marked, labeled and judged. Tabloidization, the blurring of news and entertainment, simplifies the demarcations of insiders and outsiders. In such an environment, specific cities and regions are spaces for the negotiation of difference. For Doctor Who, the notion of 'the North' signals not only separation and distinction, but a thread of connectiveness between regions. Charles Landry, (2) Justin O'Connor (3) and Richard Florida, (4) using distinct methods and agendas from each other, confirm the value of cities in enabling cultural diversity. Landry suggested that "there are special reasons for thinking about the problems of cites today in terms of creativity and innovation--or lack of it. …

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