Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Music Genre as Method

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Music Genre as Method

Article excerpt

Music Genre as Method

Jennifer C. Lena Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music Princeton University Press, New Haven, 2012 ISBN 9780691150765 RRP US$3a7.50

Michelle Phillipov

Death Metal and Music Criticism: Analysis at the Limits Lexington Books, UK, 2012 ISBN 9780739197608 RRP US$39.99

Graham St John Global Tribe: Technology, Spirituality and Psytrance Equinox Publishing, UK, 2012 ISBN 9781845539566 RRP US$29.95

Writing about popular culture always involves inclusions and exclusions. In popular music studies, these inclusions and exclusions are often made tacitly through the use of genre taxonomies, ranging from the broad (pop, rock, jazz) to the highly specific (the Gothenburg sound, Hi-NRG, Krautrock). Since the early 1980s, genre has graduated from being a subset of popular music studies to being an almost ubiquitous framework for constituting and evaluating musical research objects. One rarely has to make a general case for genre, so long as one can tell persuasive stories about what genres mean in cultural context: metal as transgressive, hip hop as community building, punk as counter-hegemonic, and so on. Jennifer Lena's Banding Together, Graham St John's Global Tribe and Michelle Phillipov's Death Metal and Music Criticism each employ genre as a principle of selection and hence raise questions about the strengths and limitations of genre criticism as a heuristic method in popular music studies.

Jennifer Lena's Banding Together analyses 'how music communities in general operate: what shared obstacles and opportunities creative people face, what debates tend to characterise different states of the field, and so forth'. (3) According to Lena, musical communities are predisposed to genre formation, since they exist 'when there is some consensus that a distinctive style of music is being performed'. (6) These genre-based communities are in turn classified by Lena as avant-garde (loosely experimental or innovation-centred), scene-based (locally networked music practices), industry-based (explicitly commercial), or traditionalist (historically preservationist or conservative). Each community generates distinct criteria for classifying musical objects: fro example, avant-gardists focus on originality, while industry-based music communities focus on commercial viability. Having outlined this schema in the introduction, Banding Together then elaborates on numerous genre communities with case studies ranging from within the US music industry (P*Funk and Crosby, Stills and Nash) in a chapter on music and the State taking its examples from Chile, China, Nigeria and Serbia.

To explain the social production of genres, Banding Together sustains four normative premises about how musical communities work. First, genres 'emerge out of creative circles where potential innovators interact in face-to-face settings' (161); second, people listen to music based on genre classifications; third, people seek to form collective agreements about music genres; and fourth, commercial life intervenes in the 'commodification' of music but not in the identities, aspirations or habits of those who make or consume music. Innate social tendencies towards creativity, classification, consensus and autonomy are thus at the heart of Lena's vision of creative musical communities. Consequently, the themes of social contradiction, antagonism and social (mis)recognition found in the work of sociologists like Dick Hebdige or Sarah Thornton do not figure in Banding Together, and this leaves more space available for Lena to construct elegant typologies and taxonomies of musical practices. Felt throughout the book is the influence of twentieth-century economist Joseph Schumpeter, whose speculative inferences about 'creative destruction' and innate social 'inventiveness' have shaped the works of popular music scholars like Richard A. Peterson and others working under the creativity and innovation umbrella. …

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