Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music

By James, Martin | The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, March 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music


James, Martin, The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music. By Jennifer C. Lena. Princeton University Press. 272pp, Pounds 24.95. ISBN 9780691150765. Published 3 February 2012

Jennifer Lena attempts to take on two of popular music's most regularly debated areas and get to the heart of the problems in previous scholarship. Given that academics working in different areas of popular music studies can barely agree on the difference between genres and styles, let alone subcultures, scenes and communities, she is arguably taking on something of a poisoned chalice.

Her approach to these areas of debate has been to create a conceptual template in order to create data through which she attempts to show the relationships between community and genre and, perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate just how many similarities exist within the various genre communities. The result is an interesting, if at times rather frustrating, approach that ultimately unlocks two of the key problems with previous models.

Taking the issue of communities first, Lena is able to challenge an underlying tenet of the study of music communities that has continued to hang on since subcultures first became an area of research interest. In such work, the music itself was considered to be secondary to style and of minimal importance to the debate; even to those outside the debate, this seemed more than a little strange when observing music-related movements such as punk. Certainly many academics have gone on to pull apart the early subculture work in their explorations of varying types of music scenes and tribes. However, the bonding aspect of music and the way that communities drive their associated musics has been largely under- discussed.

As you might expect, discussion of genre (and style) has placed community as a bit player in the story of how music is brought together under collective music markers. One reason for this might be that communities are relatively fluid, while on the whole the models proposed for understanding genre have been quite rigid. And it is Lena's understanding of the fluidity of both community and genre, and of the reasons why some music styles gain mass popularity while others thrive in small niches, that makes this book an essential read. …

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