Academic journal article Nebula

Sheffield Is Not Sexy

Academic journal article Nebula

Sheffield Is Not Sexy

Article excerpt

Abstract

The city of Sheffield's attempts, during the early 1980s, at promoting economic regeneration through popular cultural production were unconsciously suggestive of later creative industries strategies. Post-work economic policies, which became significant to the Blair government a decade later, were evident in urban centres such as Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield in nascent form. The specificity of Sheffield's socio-economic make gave context, not merely to its industrial narrative but also to the city's auditory culture, which was to frame well intended though subsequently flawed strategies for regeneration. Unlike other cities, most notably Manchester, the city's mono-cultural characteristics failed to provide an effective entrepreneurial infrastructure on which to build immediate economic response to economic rationalisation and regional decline. Top-down municipal policies, which embraced the city's popular music production, gave centrality to cultural production in response to a deflated regional economy unable, at the time, to sustain rejuvenation through cultural consumption. Such embryonic strategies would subsequently become formalised though creative industry policies developing relationships with local economies as opposed to urban engineering through regional government.

Building upon the readings of industrial cities such as Liverpool, New Orleans and Chicago the post-work leisure economy has increasingly addressed the significance of the auditory effect in cities such as Manchester and Sheffield. However the failure of the talismanic National Centre for Popular Music signifies the inherent problems of institutionalizing popular cultural forms and resistance of sound to be anchored and contained. The city's sonic narrative became contained in its distinctive patterns of cultural production and consumption that ultimately resisted attempts at compartmentalization and representation through what became colloquially known as 'the museum of popular music'. A personal narrative that is inextricably bound up in the construction of the city's sound has informed many aspects of the article, providing subjective context to the broader discourse, that of sound and the city image.

How to Retune a City

Attempts to resurrect a cultural phoenix from the extinguished ashes of Sheffield's moribund industrial past were unsympathetically derided by the words of Conservative Member for Parliament, Michael Fabricant. Unwilling to acknowledge the growing momentum of the leisure economy in urban regeneration, Fabricant's headline generating assessment that, "Sheffield is not sexy, it is old and dirty" (1) reinforced the perception of sclerotic post-work northern cities that defy restoration. The politician's belief that an engrained deficit of glamour held back the city's pursuit of the World Athletics Championships in the early 1990s suggested that cities like Sheffield, once the engine room of the nation's manufacturing hegemony, had atrophied irredeemably. The city's push for global interaction, through an international sporting event, where commerce and service are deemed high-end goals, was compromised by the unfashionable image of an archaic and corroding landscape. The struggle for control and re-branding of its urban image is one that provides a narrative of well-meaning, but flawed, urban engineering in which the city attempts to negotiate its popular cultural present through its industrial past. The process also signifies the centrality played by the cultural industries, of leisure, sport and music, in redefining post-industrial economies and infrastructures. Sheffield sought cultural redemption in and through a sonic landscape continually shaped and stretched through osmosis by the once relentless rhythms of the city's industrial pulse and emerging popular pastimes. Sheffield's working class consumption and production practices grew from the dancehalls and working men's clubs, through sixties' northern soul, to eighties electronica, and millennial super-clubs, refracted through the sardonic pop and rock from Pulp to the Artic Monkeys and Richard Hawley. …

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