Just shy of a month ago, a fellow music industry writer and general knowledge enthusiast, Sunny Stuart Winter, posted his essay on “The Importance of Sub-Cultural Identity,” which was part of his work at Bucks New University for their BA (Hons) degree in Music Management & Artist Development. Winter’s essay astutely analyzes the various components of established subcultural identification and proceeds to discuss the significance (or lack thereof) in viewing said identity through a scope of various theoretical structures and principles posed throughout history. Definitely read through and give commentary when you have time. Anyone who has ever taken to a music genre’s non-musical elements will be able to relate. The dissection of subculture within the specific field of music has always fascinated me for its importance in relation to how well or not, fans of different eras, artists and genres come to either connect or repel one another due to resulting attraction or displeasure with part of, or all, aspects of one another’s musical preferences; subcultural components encompassing a significant portion of those preferences outside of sound recordings themselves.
While reading and contemplating, there were a few select classifications and concepts that stood out to me:
“Style Surfing” [and the argument] that the rules are there to be broken, “mixing sportswear with workwear, the old and the new, crossing traditional gender divides.” (Polhemus 1996, as cited in Winter, S. 2014)
The assertion that, “Hipsters are apparent within multiple genres of music, regardless of whether it is heavy metal or indie, and constantly move between them [while also being] known to fetishise and appropriate multiple aspects of multiple subcultures.” (Muggleton & Weinzierl 2003, as cited in Winter, S. 2014)
The concept of Tribus, conceived by Michel Maffesoli, which provides “the ability for post-subcultures to take on new meanings, change and evolve.” (Winter, S. 2014)
Following a read of Winter’s essay, beyond a fresh perspective on a long existent topic, I found myself internally contemplating this set of inquiries upon finishing:
Given that behavior, image, consumerism patterns and socially communal groupings/mutually understood mannerisms (e.g. signs, words, jokes) have traditionally and historically, all been pieces that comprise others’ accumulated conclusions about “who is a fan of who/what?” (“what” referring to a particular style of music), how might such ideas as the above mentioned, coexist with the very definition of “the generic fan label” that encompasses all listeners, no matter what the preferred style?
Furthermore, beyond the fans themselves, How does and will the music industry, which is continuing to drive itself with genre-fluid and collaboratively-focused endeavors, establish a concrete understanding of “the fan” where all things business oriented (e.g. branding, marketing and even artists’ chosen images) are concerned?
Do we, as a group of people who engage in the interconnected activities of making, selling, buying and listening to music, yet have a set idea of where each of us respectively falls, for the purposes of organizing, easier study and explanation? Is the mixing of social and materialistic segments of previously singular musical crowds, a state of character (like a hipster) or a state of action (like style surfing)?
This question initially comes off a bit like a discussion of trivial semantics but really, a person identifying a term as “who they are” versus “something they do” would most likely have a drastic effect on how anyone on the business and logistical side of the music industry taps into that identifier, whether it be noun or verb, and subsequently works to grow it -either in appeal or in profit potential (or probably both).
Presuming for a moment, that lines across genres originally shaped by music theory and instrumental structure keep becoming more homogeneous with one another due to an ongoing blending of overall public tastes, buying habits and concert attendance, will aligning with fans via anything past the bottom line of, “if it’s good it’s good” be of any use? Will it become increasingly diluted and unwise to focus on a pre-existent aspect of any one genre’s culture because there may come a time when an artist “won’t know what their fans look/act like?”
Subcultures still exist and their separate, identifiable characteristics embodied in materialistic, emotional, social and financial branches are still alive. However, the walls between each seem to be coming down. It’s not so much about a rising lack of distinction between cultural identities in music more so than it is about a rising amount of access and inclusion of those distinctions, akin to the idea of style surfing, but minus a singular intent of “surfing to surf,” that appears to be gaining traction today.
A melting pot of characteristics might have some social impact on the music listening public but the marketing and merchandising landscape of the music industry (basically everything materialistic outside the actual music, that artists are increasingly having to push to try and make livable profit,) would really be the thing in need of evaluation and restructure if extreme subcultural homogenization were to take long-term root. Perhaps that reality would push consumers back to focusing fundamentally on the sound and bring a renewed appeal to purchasing and discussing the music in order to establish renewed, and non-image based, social bonds.
References: Polhemus, T (1996). Style Surfing: What To Wear in the 3rd Millennium. London: Thames & Hudson. http://www.tedpolhemus.com/main_concept5%20467.html Muggleton, D &, Weinzierl, R (2003). Post-Subcultures Reader. Oxford: Berg. Winter, S (2014). ‘The Importance of Subcultural Identity’. Available: www.sunnystuartwinter.com. Last accessed: 4 June 2014