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Afro-Futurism. Arena Rap. The Self-Producer. A Popular Music Research Day

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Join us for an interactive Popular Music Studies Research Day with renowned speakers Laina Dawes, Steve Waksman and Paula Wolfe.

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Join us for an interactive Popular Music Studies Research Day with renowned speakers Laina Dawes, Steve Waksman and Paula Wolfe to discuss: what it means to be a black artist, the advent of arena rap, and the poetry of the recording studio.

Fugitive Ontology and Black Static: Afro-Pessimism vs. Afro-Futurism in Popular Music

Laina Dawes: Columbia University. Author of What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal (Bazillion Points)


		Afro-Futurism. Arena Rap. The Self-Producer.  A Popular Music Research Day image

Rock, Rap, and Race in the U.S. Concert Industry

Steve Waksman: Smith College. Author of Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (Harvard University Press) and This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (University of California Press)


		Afro-Futurism. Arena Rap. The Self-Producer.  A Popular Music Research Day image

Songwriting, Music Production, Self-Production: Locating the Emotion, Maintaining the Objective, Positioning Genre

Paula Wolfe: Author of Women in the studio: creativity, control and gender in popular music sound production (Routledge)


		Afro-Futurism. Arena Rap. The Self-Producer.  A Popular Music Research Day image

Time, place and registration

Tuesday 25 May 2021, 1-5 pm London time

Zoom (details on registration)

Accessibility

If you wish to speak to us about any additional needs for attending the event, we would be happy to hear from you. Please get in touch with Rosemary: r.l.hill@hud.ac.uk.

Hosts

University of Huddersfield’s Popular Music Studies Research Group and the Centre for Music Culture and Identity in collaboration with the International Association for the Study of Popular Music's (IASPM), UK & Ireland branch.

This event follows on from our earlier successful events: the ‘Practice Based and Led Popular Music Studies Research Symposium’ (2017) and the ‘Crosstown Traffic’ conference (2018).

Timetable

We would like you to join us for the whole event, sharing in the discussion across disciplinary boundaries and areas of interest.


		Afro-Futurism. Arena Rap. The Self-Producer.  A Popular Music Research Day image

Questions and further enquiries

Dr Rosemary Hill (R.L.Hill@hud.ac.uk): Director of the Popular Music Studies Research Group, University of Huddersfield.

Dr Jan Herbst (J.Herbst@hud.ac.uk): Director of the Centre for Music, Culture and Identity, University of Huddersfield.

Abstracts

Laina Dawes: Fugitive Ontology and Black Static: Afro-Pessimism vs. Afro-Futurism in Popular Music

In “Grammar & Ghosts: The Performative Limits of African Freedom” Frank B. Wilderson believes that it is impossible for Black artists to declare themselves as “artists,” outside of racial categorization, which he describes as an “outdated dependency on outdated notions of a unitary self.” How does this theory function within a colonized and Westernized popular music culture?

This presentation will center on the similarities between music created within an Afro-futuristic lens, which posits that people of the African diasporas has have a constant presence in the future, and Afro-pessimism, which, among other ideas, argues that white supremacy has hindered any opportunities for Black artists to fully individualize their artistic endeavours on their own terms. I will argue that for Black artists within alternative forms of popular music, they can benefit from both theories of thought based on their participation within music culture.

Laina Dawes is a Ph.D. Candidate in Ethnomusicology at Columbia University. She is also the author of What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal (Bazillion Points, 2013; 2020). She also has a Masters in Liberal Studies from the New School for Social Research (2015). Recent publications include contributions to Fade To Grey: Androgyny, Art and Style In 80s Dance Music (2021) and Metallica FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Greatest Metal Band of All Time (2021). Originally from Toronto, Canada she currently resides in New York City where she runs Women CLAP BACK in the Alternative Arts, producing speaking events and panels for women of color involved in New York's alternative art and music industries.

Steve Waksman: Rock, Rap, and Race in the U.S. Concert Industry

From the late 1960s into the 1970s, arena concerts emerged as the cornerstone of a move to industrialize the production of U.S. live music that was unprecedented in its scope. During this era, although arenas were used to host concerts by a range of performers representing diverse popular music genres, the trend became most identified with rock, such that “arena rock” became the default term. More than a simple descriptive category, “arena rock” also encapsulated the biases built into the growing concert industry, especially concerning the push of black music artists to the margins. This tendency continued into the next decade and informed the concert industry’s reception and treatment of rap music as it began to gain an increasing commercial foothold by the mid- to late 1980s. While rap record sales grew, rap concerts remained difficult to produce due to industry resistance and public outcry about the purported lack of safety that became associated with music events that drew majority black (and specifically, black youth) audiences. Rap artists, in turn, struggled to develop strategies to navigate this contested terrain so that they could reach their audiences on stage as well as on record.

In this presentation, I will briefly survey the rise of “arena rock” before turning to the subsequent rise of “arena rap,” a less often studied phenomenon. Using the performance career of premier rap group Public Enemy, I will examine how rap artists made strategic alliance with their white rock artist counterparts to gain access to performance venues and opportunities that would otherwise have remained closed to them. The presentation will conclude by addressing the question of how much the U.S. concert industry has become more inclusive in recent decades with regard to the promotion of black performers.

Steve Waksman is Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Professor of American Studies and Professor of Music at Smith College. His publications include the books Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience (1999), and This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (2009). With Reebee Garofalo, he is the co-author of the sixth edition of the rock history textbook, Rockin’ Out: Popular Music in the U.S.A. (2014), and with Andy Bennett, he co-edited the SAGE Handbook of Popular Music (2015). Currently, he is completing a book on the cultural history of live music and performance in the U.S. titled Live Music in America: A History from Jenny Lind to Jay-Z, which is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Paula Wolfe: Songwriting, Music Production, Self-Production: Locating the Emotion, Maintaining the Objective, Positioning Genre

I have often found that the field of poetry offers many useful analogies when thinking about songwriting and music production in popular music, most especially when thinking about self-production. In recent months I have been reminded of William Wordsworth’s famous proclamation that “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility”, published in his Preface to the 2nd Edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800).

The reason for this is that, throughout the lock-down, I have been obliged to re-work my early work, as part of the forthcoming re-issue of my back catalogue, due to some technical issues highlighted by the remastering process. What at first appeared an onerous task, necessitating delaying work on my fourth album and other creative projects, has proved to be in fact, a highly valuable process. The requisite second round of ‘recollecting’, of reworking ideas whilst maintaining faithfulness to the emotional source of ‘origin’, has served to shine a spotlight on some key aspects about the self-production process and what it offers our understanding of creative processes more generally.

Progressing the research in Women In The Studio (2020) that examined the situation of music production and gender and the impact of the historical and contemporaneous gendering of the field, this presentation draws on current work and its accompanying observations in order to position song when considering some of the key distinctions between the music production process and the self-production process.

Dr Paula Wolfe is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and producer and researcher in the fields of music production, the independent music industry and gender. Nominated for The Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research Award 2020, from the Association for Recorded Sound (ARSC), and the IASPM Book Prize 2021, her book, Women in The Studio: Creativity, Control and Gender in Popular Music Sound Production (Routledge 2020), sets to explore the cultural and historical frameworks that underpin the sustained inequalities of gender, class and race in the music industry and pays particular attention to their consequences for female music producers and for female self-producing artists.

As an artist, self-producing and self-releasing on her own label since the early noughties, Wolfe has consistently received strong support. Her third album White Dots (Sib Records 2019) has been hailed ‘exquisite’, ‘glorious’ and ‘addictive’ (* * * * MOJO) and a ‘joyful soul pop follow-up’ (LOB) to her critically acclaimed 2009 Lemon (* * * * Mojo, * * * Uncut, * * * Maverick). It has seen her positioned as ‘The multi-hyphenate in excellent form’ (Mike Davies, FOLKING.COM) and compared to many of our greats. She has been described as ‘a latter-day Carole King’ (LOB) and ‘part Kirsty MacColl’ (Nick Hutchings, VELVET SHEEP), whilst for others her songs recall ‘the eloquence of Ray Davies and Paul Weller in their pomp’ married with ‘the spirit of Lily Allen and Laura Marling’ (Mike Adams, TRAVELLERS TUNES).

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