Colleges must get groovy

November 8, 1996

Popular music has been overlooked in universities, despite its great significance to millions of people. That is the view of David Hesmondhalgh, lecturer in media and communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London, who helped organise a recent one-day conference on pop music at Oxford Brookes University.

He said there should be a greater emphasis on pop music in cultural studies, sociology and music courses, because of its great social relevance.

British youth based their identity on music and this was an era in which media interest in popular culture had broken the distinction between high and mainstream culture. "Twenty-five years ago The Times would not have been listening to what was going on, and now it has pages devoted to popular music," Mr Hesmondhalgh said.

Although the newspaper might now review performances by cutting-edge groups such as the Chemical Brothers, there are still people who question the worthiness of studying popular music.

However, two universities - Liverpool and Strathclyde - have formed centres to research and teach popular music. Seven now offer pop-oriented courses and there is no shortage of students wanting to get in - Salford University this year had 800 applications for the 40 places in its BA in popular music and recording.

Derek Scott, head of music, said the study of pop suffered because universities needed strong sociology and cultural studies departments, as well as expertise in music and technology, to offer good pop music courses.

Another problem was the lack of appropriately qualified academics. Mr Hesmondhalgh said many lecturers who wanted to teach modules on pop music also had considerable difficulty getting them into cultural studies or music courses.

The conference, jointly organised by International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) UK and the Critical Musicology Group, attracted 75 delegates and was structured as a dialogue between sociology and musicology.

One of the four sessions examined the influence of government policy on the pop music industry. Although countries such as Canada and Australia require radio stations to play a minimum amount of locally made music, Britain had no government regulation apart from subsidising high culture.

Mr Hesmondhalgh believed the tourism potential of pop music also had been overlooked. He said many had visited Manchester because of its connection with the revered 1980s indie group The Smiths, as well as bands such as the Happy Mondays and Oasis.

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