In any number of cultural contexts, persistence can be read in a certain light as a moral and ethical response to the ongoing dominance of particular hegemonic world views. The individual and collective ways in which these different species of enduring/endurance are articulated and made manifest in urban spaces, coloured by the intersecting logics of continuity and change, highlight the problems and promises of persistence as a political gesture as it unfolds in relation time and space.
Different registers and types of persistence “from below” are productively positioned often in negative relation to the more pernicious forms of persistence “from above,” through the latter’s ongoing efforts to secure the perdurability of certain ideologies, social hierarchies, as well as structural and economic inequities. This panel explores persistence in different urban settings and cultural practices, mapping out how it is articulated in each, in ways that can at times be confounding and contradictory but remain illuminating for how these disparate scenes and subcultures each mine the complexities underpinning it as a constellation of social, cultural and political demands and aspirations. Each panelist will present a specific angle of research, ending with a roundtable discussion.
Country was Here to Stay: Persistence in Berlin's Subcultural Scenes
The city is a place of fluidity, circulation and constant change. However, if we look closer at urban cultures, we discover that under the surface lie persisting cultural patterns, no matter how fragmented they might be. It is within these subcultural scenes where the multifaceted city life finds some symbolic order and makes it a source for shared experiences. Berlin's country music of the early 21st century, which has been embedded in some exclusive subcultural scenes, is an example of this persistence. For many years, country used to be the music of Berlin's hipsters and squatters alike, performed in various styles. In order to understand persistence in the city, we will get deeper into some features of these scenes and, not without nostalgia, into Berlin's imaginary structure in a certain moment of history.
The Persistence of Feminist Killjoy in Electronic Dance Music Scenes
This paper will draw upon the concept of “feminist killjoys” (Ahmed) to discuss the reaction of DJs, producers and club hosts to feminist/queer networks and initiatives that seek to challenge gender inequalities in electronic dance music scenes and fight sexism, racism, and homo/transphobia. In particular, I will discuss how networks such as Female Pressure and Femdex articulate their political stance and ideas about an emancipatory politics that addresses the relationship between pleasure, dance, and politics, and intervenes in electronic music scenes dominated by white, straight men. I will also show how the entanglement of feminist discourses and anti-feminist themes informs the reactions to feminist/queer networks and initiatives that are often perceived as an embodiment of what Sara Ahmed has dubbed “feminist killjoys.” I suggest that feminist/queer networks open a tiny window for discussing social inequalities in the electronic music scenes and challenging taken-for-granted assumptions about the history of electronic dance music.
Music from the Margins: Wellington’s Experimental Music Scene as Persistent Problem
For many music scenes, particularly those that aim to foster those spaces underpinning experimental musical cultures, persistence is often a defining element of what sets them apart from the everyday city. These liminal cultural spaces endure as insulators and incubators, where an aesthetic politics (avant-garde, DIY) is articulated in relation to and through an identity politics (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.). This talk considers the productive and often pro-active tension between centre and periphery, local and global, the material and the symbolic, and how the playful and persistent sense of “otherness” cultivated in these sorts of cultural spaces in Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand contributes to a conflicted version of urbanity, one which works to defy as well as define the city.
Notes on Music, Persistence and the Bloody Minded Musician
“Um, the idea of being comfortable I find abhorrent and it frightens the shit out of me, so I’m constantly going to hijack those areas of my life to make sure that never happens! But as far as the continuing to work, I’m not smart enough to be a theoretical physicist or an astrophysicist or any of the things that I’m really interested in but I’m most effective doing what I’m doing now and I think art is worth something, just generally, you know, whatever level you do it on I think it’s worth something. It’s how we know when people became civilised, if you look at cave paintings and it’s an excellent form of communication and yeah, I’m just not done communicating yet. And the idea that I’ve done my best work already, that can’t be true, it just cannot be true.” Bristol Musician, Interview 2018.
There has always been a sense that persistence is a quality that is not understood or not analysed enough to gain a clear view of why people persistently pursue something often to the detriment of other parts of their lives. Howard Becker wrote in Notes on the Concept of Commitment (1960) that commitments are dependent on a scheme of social values, decisions and what he called “side bets,” in other words, the impact of the line of commitment on other areas of life. This paper examines the persistence and commitment of musicians to pursuing a line of endeavour that will not necessarily bring economic, social, and general life security rewards but satisfies a creative commitment and persistence to communicate in new, emotive, and affecting ways through different types of audio activity.
Peter Webb is a writer, lecturer, and musician who specialises in research into popular and contemporary music, subcultures, globalisation, politics, and social theory. He is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of the West of England, Bristol.
Anja Schwanhäußer is assistant professor at the Kulturanthropologie/Europäische Ethnologie department of the Georg-August-University Göttingen. She has published several books and essays on urban anthropology with a focus on subculture and field research, including Sensing the City. A Companion to Urban Anthropology (2016), and Kosmonauten des Underground. Ethnografie einer Berliner Szene (2010).
Geoff Stahl is a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa/New Zealand. His research areas include scenes and subcultures, urban studies, semiotics and food studies.
Rosa Reitsamer holds a PhD in sociology and is Associate Professor at the Department of Music Sociology at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria. She has published on aspects of popular music and alternative media and gender, including work on careers of musicians and popular music histories and heritage formations in Austria.
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