Goths, giros and Geordie rock bands

Popular Music and Youth Culture - Inside Subculture - Sounding Out the City
March 16, 2001

Youth culture and subcultures are now standard components of cultural and media studies courses, yet most of the teaching material is from the 1970s Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) works, routinely critiqued for their theoretical shortcomings, narrowly British focus and general out-of-dateness. More recent material is often scattered in obscure journal articles, leaving a need for up-to-date youth culture/subculture-related post-Birmingham texts; a need that these three titles begin to address in their own ways.

David Muggleton recalls the 1970s subcultural-studies legacy in his title, which echoes the seminal Dick Hebdige work Subculture: The Meaning of Style , while marking out his own position as a self-identified "post subculturalist". His aim is to uncover, through empirical analysis, subjective meanings, values and motives for those involved in what looks at first sight to be a strangely anachronistic collection of subcultures. Where the CCCS considered skinheads and mods versus rockers bust-ups on Brighton beaches, Muggleton has looked at punks, goths and, er, mods in Brighton. However, these retro-followers are not the same youth that preoccupied the CCCS. "The concept of authenticity must... be expunged from the postmodern vocabulary," Muggleton declares. As he points out: "My logic of inclusion and inquiry inevitably reflects my own values and interests."

Interview excerpts provide powerful illustrations of some of the points made on identification and dress style, and the book is also commendably thorough in its fieldwork details; the interview schedule in particular makes it a book that could be recommended as background reading to students on research methods courses as well.

Andy Bennett's work is the closest of the three to a textbook in style and scope. He too rejects CCCS readings of subculture, yet, whereas Muggleton describes himself as a neo-Weberian, Bennett adopts the thinking of French philosopher Michel Maffesoli to claim "the forms of association and social gatherings in which young people become involved are not rigidly bound into a 'subcultural' community but rather assume a more fluid neo-tribal character".

The socio-spatial interplay between the global and local in pop and youth cultural production and consumption processes is examined through case studies ranging from bhangra music to the Geordie pub rock tribute band scene. Bennett casts his net wider than Muggleton, with a comparative chapter on rap in Frankfurt and Newcastle. Other examples cited include Israeli rock, Swedish Viking rock and Aboriginal rock. The footnotes underline this book's target international audience by including, for example, the definition of "giro". The ethnographic episodes outlined are vivid and compelling, bringing the theory to life.

The third of these titles is the most specialist. Michael Bull unravels the multiple meanings and uses of the personal stereo in contemporary life. He presents qualitative research findings from interviews with 60 London-based personal-stereo users from 1994 to 1996. Again, urban soundscapes and the uses of technology are key themes.

The book's ethnographic material is separated into three chapters on their own, while the remaining ten deal with some dense cultural theory concentrating on the Frankfurt school and Georg Simmel. For Bull, the personal stereo can provide "utopian moments in repressive contexts" and he spells out a typology of different users ranging from those engaging a shared sense of purpose (termed "we-ness") to those responding to the crisis of identity in urban chaos.

Its central topic could be seen as being as outmoded as leg-warmers and other 1980s peculiarities, particularly in light of more recent communication technology debates such as the controversy over Napster or the spread of mobile-phone use. However, the research is firmly located in an historical moment. It reaffirms the Walkman's iconic status in cultural studies evidenced in Paul du Gay and Stuart Hall's Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman (1996). The book provides interesting insights, but it is more likely to end up as a supplementary text for students doing an essay relevant to its subject matter rather than as core reading.

Of these titles, it is Bennett who is most likely to reach the largest number of students. However, all three books represent bold directions for cultural-studies publishing at a time when the market seems to be increasingly dominated by the sort of "readers" that often give the impression that they could be assembled easily by anyone with access to the literature and a photocopier.

Rupa Huq is lecturer in leisure management, University of Manchester.

Popular Music and Youth Culture

Author - Andy Bennett
ISBN - 0 333 73229 4 and 73228 6
Publisher - Palgrave
Price - £47.50 and £15.99
Pages - 223

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