Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music (Music Culture)

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9780819568106: Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music (Music Culture)
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Britain is widely considered the cradle of independent music culture. Bands like Radiohead and Belle and Sebastian, which epitomize indie music's sounds and attitudes, have spawned worldwide fanbases. This in-depth study of the British independent music scene explores how the behavior of fans, artists, and music industry professionals produce a community with a specific aesthetic based on moral values. Author Wendy Fonarow, a scholar with years of experience in the various sectors of the indie music scene, examines the indie music “gig” as a ritual in which all participants are actively involved. This ritual allows participants to play with cultural norms regarding appropriate behavior, especially in the domains of sex and creativity. Her investigation uncovers the motivations of audience members when they first enter the community and how their positions change over time so that the gig functions for most members as a rite of passage. Empire of Dirt sheds new light on music, gender roles, emotion, subjectivity, embodiment, and authenticity.

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About the Author:

Wendy Fonarow is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles. She has worked for music labels including Domino, Reprise, and MCA, and is an active participant in the indie music community.

From Publishers Weekly:

Fans may find it sad, but the fact is that Indie rock is fair game to academic cultural anthropologists like Fonarow, a former record company employee and now a lecturer at UCLA. Her study began at an L.A. show in 1991 by the Glasgow band Teenage Fanclub, when she wondered why members of the local rock scene, even though they weren't performing, felt perfectly comfortable crossing the stage. The result is this "ethnography of audience members' behavior" at shows by British bands, specifically, "a study of multiple subjectivities and the spectacle of music performance in the independent music community." Specifically, Fonarow seeks to codify the unwritten rules that normally govern audience responses-"I treat musical performance as a ritual." After uneasily defining the term "indie" from multiple angles, Fonarow identifies three main audience "zones of participation" at a concert, and (with b&w photos and illustrations) carefully delineates what normally happens within them. She then zeroes in on "Zone Three and the Music Industry," picking apart the ways commerce and status are established at the back of the hall. By the time one reaches chapter six, "Sex and the Ritual Practitioners" (i.e., how band and crew get laid), one cannot help but start thinking back on past shows as elaborate ceremonies. Fonarow's book may not have the excitement of a My Bloody Valentine show, but it convincingly describes many of its cultural components.
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