Friday, May 8, 2009

Providence's Art Folk Scene: A Modern Folk Renaissance?

To fall upon small, intimate, and underground music scenes is a difficult thing to do. I just moved to Providence in the fall of 2008 and while searching for some good local music to listen to, I stumbled upon Vio/Miré, the art-folk project of Brendan Glasson. On January 23, 2009, I excitedly and possibly naively took the bus down to West Providence to attend a show that had been announced on Vio/Miré’s MySpace page. The experience was nothing like what I had expected. The show happened at a small vintage store, where the crowd was composed of about 20 people. There was no physical separation between the audience and the musicians; this added to the feeling of intimacy and close relationship between these two entities. Of course, practically everyone who was at that show knew each other, yet the space itself helped to contribute to this feeling. I hadn’t had such an experience since I moved away from home and I was hooked, I had to find out more about these people, why they do what they do, and why do they use folk to do it.

The Pigeon Chest from the outside, the Performances always happen near this window and the audience sits on the ground extending to that orange couch. Original image here

My method of research was a combination of observation: through going to two small shows at the Pigeon Chest, the vintage store where my first experience with the scene happened, a show at Mathewson St. which was slightly bigger, and a much larger show at Lupo's; and of conversation with participants of the scene: Evan with whom I had this interview with, Brendan Glasson of Vio/Miré who I maintained a conversation through MySpace messages and later asked him more direct questions, Kyla Cech of Annikki Dawn who answered a few questions for me, and through a short conversation with Dylan, a participant of a similar scene in Worcester who is also a musician and whom I met at the Pigeon Chest when his band The Points North played there. I also drew some information from the web.

Categorizing this scene, basically the first step I had to take when deciding to study it, was a harder task than I thought. I first decided on calling it “indie-folk”, but as Evan mentioned, the term indie has gained a certain more “high school” related connotation. Also there is now a certain aesthetic associated with indie, which I’m trying to avoid linking to. When I mean “indie”, I mean it in the most basic meaning of the word: independent from mayor economic pressures. This, in my opinion, allows bands to feel freer to experiment with their sound. Nevertheless, the bands I’m looking into are not necessarily in the “avant-garde” of music aesthetics, so I came upon the conclusion of calling them “art folk.”

In a series of messages back and forth between Brendan and me, I learned that there’s actually a deep connection of this smaller art-folk scene with a more local-gone-national country rock scene. I learned that the bass player who played at the show on January 27 with both Vio/Mire and Annikki Dawn is actually the bass player from Deer Tick, a larger more known country/rock band that initiated in Providence, and whom Alyssa focused her research on. Yet these are not the only ties between these bands.

I will first start off by describing the two bands I focus my research on, Vio/Mire and Annikki Dawn. The music itself for both of these projects is soft, simple, sweet, drawing from ambient sounds and vocal harmonies.

Notice both the recognizable folk guitar mixed in with ambient vocals

The audience seemed to be composed of both college students and college graduates with some outliers, yet this was a noticeable difference from the crowd I observed at the Mathewson St show. The Pigeon Chest crowd was small, about 20 people maximum in both shows I attended, this might be a proof of what Brendan said at the Minor Progression’s interview, “The art venue or house show are always preferable to me over the bar or the club. Generally, if someone goes to a house to see a concert they are interested in the concert. That is not always the case in a bar.” The performance was acoustic and there was virtually no separation between audience and artist, and as Fonarow argues “Physical proximity… and visual concentration on performers are socially constructed markers of alignment” (368). The focus of the music is lyrical, where the songs many times tell tales and stories in a very poetic voice, very much reminiscent of earlier folk. In the blog Minor Progressions, Brendan addressed the theme of his lyrics, “Lyrically I’m interested in addressing the small things that make up our small existences.”

This video is from a performance in Brendan's apartment, the band lineup is the same that I encountered in that first show at the Pigeon Chest.

The question then arises on who is a part of the scene. My own observations led me to believe that the small crowd correlated with the size of the overall scene. I seem to be right, as my interviewees confirmed, and they all seemed more comfortable in referring to it as a community or circle of friends. Evan refers to the scene as a group of friends where “there is a certain amount of shared knowledge”; Kyla referred it as a circle of friends “made up of people interested in each other”; Brendan described it as “a community that works together and supports one another… a small sub community of artists and musicians and friends.”

Evan repeatedly mentioned those who “knew what’s up” vs. those who didn’t, yet never drew a clear line of what defined those who knew and those who didn’t. On the surface, those who were a part of that circle of friends and who knew others in the scene “knew what’s up,” but there were other underlying similarities between the members of the scene. Evan mentioned first being introduced in the community simply because he was already part of an alternative youth culture. As Dylan from Worcester told me, the scene is basically composed of punks or social activists, a definitely alternative youth. Evan mentioned how there’s an interaction with “a larger traveling culture, like the youth traveling culture, like kids that hitch or hop trains through places or that like, go to punk houses.” There appears to be a resistance to their realities, both of growing up in a gray and seemingly limited city like providence, and of the limitations of the class they were born into. Their reaching into folk music then is seen as a yearning for this country experience that they were never a part of.

Could this be then another folk revival? According to Lornell’s definition of a folk renaissance, it could definitely be one. He argues “a folk revival refers to the interest of singers and musicians from outside of a regional, racial, or ethnic group in perpetuating its traditional music” (240). Certainly, as Evan mentioned and as I confirmed through my observations, those in the scene are mostly white, city dwelling, middle class youth. Apparently, this yearning for the country experience is not only seen in the music but in style. Although this subculture may not be spectacular in Hebdige’s meaning of the word, it does hold some of the characteristics he draws out for punk. By appropriating elements of a different culture in a sort of “cut up aesthetic”, these elements are recreated and gain a new meaning: they become different signifiers. The adoption of mullets, flannel shirts, mustaches and beards, bad tattoos with American imagery then is both a combination of irony and legitimate interest; they are placed “in a symbolic ensemble which served to erase or subvert their original straight meanings” (Hebdige 136).

Yet although this visual unity in style was very visible in the Deer Tick shows I attended, it was far less overt at the smaller art folk shows I went to. Maybe this has to do with a different set of underlying values that revolve around a deep connection with art rather than with this yearning for the country. Kyla, who is also an artist, mentioned how her “music and art are inseparable.” Yet there’s something else; why would these seemingly different scenes both choose to play semi-traditional folk music? As Lornell argues about the folk revival in the 60’s, “Urban in-migration, modernization, and the development of suburban tract homes placed more Americans even further from their rural roots” (246), which led to, as Paton remarked, in “urban Americans [beginning] to satisfy their gnawing need for identity by seeking roots in the fertile soil of the American folk tradition” (41). This seems to be repeating itself today as I caught from Dylan’s comment, “I like the particular brand of folk music that we play because it feels like a link to our past generations... New England, Maritime Canada, England, Ireland. It feels as if we are a part of that ongoing cultural heritage when we write songs with these places and people and times and aesthetics in mind, of course, in slightly modernized way.” As Kyla simply stated “Everyone has to tend their roots.”

Is this then a recreation of the Folk Revival of the 60’s? I wouldn’t say so. There are repeated patterns, but this particular scene seems to have some sort of punk aesthetic to it. Not just because as Evan said it’s “country music played by guys with tattoos”, or not necessarily in the aesthetics of sounds, but at least in the idea of DIY. Everything from the organization of shows to the production of records and even packaging of CDs are made by the artist’s themselves or their friends. Even the simple act of writing your own songs seems to call upon an idea of DIY. As Pete Seeger argues. “Many more wanted to be more than passive spectators” (45). And why folk? Not only does it fill an identity void, but also the songs are “frank, straightforward, honest.” (Seeger 46). They lack pretentiousness and are simple for the beauty of simplicity. Their influences come from humble sources as Kyla mentioned, “Sometimes my fridge sounds like a whale. Heartbeats, walking rhythms, karaoke, birds practicing, birds nailing it, and of course, wind.” It is these originally humble sounds that are used to create humbling sounds. In a world where technology and erratic lifestyles seem to complicate our reality, maybe what we all really need is to go back to our simpler roots.

Word count: 1703

Works Cited:
Scholarly Writings:
Fonarow, Wendy. "The Spatial Organization of the Indie Music Gig." The Subculture Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. 360-369.
Hebdige, Dick. "Subculture: The Meaning of Style." The Subcultures Reader. New York: Routledge, 1997. 130-142.
Lornell, Kip. Introducing American Folk Music. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Paton, Sandy. "Folk and the Folk Arrival." The American Folk Scene. New York: Dell Publishing, 1967. 38-43.
Seeger, Pete. "Why Folk Music?" The American Folk Scene. New York: Dell Publishing, 1967. 44-49.
Web Pages:
Jonathan Ross' Interview with Brendan Glasson at Minor Progression
Original Video from Youtube
Original Photo from The Pigeon Chest MySpace page

Response from Brendan of Vio/Miré

This interview was conducted through MySpace messages

How did you first start getting involved in the scene?

I suppose my involvement came from the discovery of the satisfaction of creation when I was much younger and playing in bands and things. In this sense, the scene is really more of a community that works together and supports one another. I feel generally detached from the scene in Providence in the larger sense, but very close with a small, subcommunity of artists and musicians and friends.

Do you know how this scene started and why?

I'm not sure exactly what you are asking here, but if you mean the music scene in Providence I think it is multifaceted. I don't purport to be an expert in the history of the scene, but I think that the presence of an art school, the small population, and the availability of outlets for creative processes were all contributing factors.

How would you characterize this scene? The people in it?

Some might disagree with me, but I (like to) think of music and art is Providence less categorically in terms of output (that is, the products of the creative processes necessarily sharing certain characteristics) and more in terms of the relationships of the people involved with one another. Most of the shows I see in Providence have at least one friend involved. Likewise, I feel that I could superficially describe the way many of the people look or act who are a part of the scene, but I don't dare characterize them all.

How would you characterize your music? Your friend's music? Evan described Annikki Dawns music as New Weird America, would you agree?

Oh, I don't know. I think that the distillation of music into genres is a confused enterprise. I don't find it very useful for discovering new music that I enjoy, because one "New Weird American" artist can be inspired while another vacant and frivolous. Describing my own music difficult for me lately because I can only describe what I have already written, not what I might write in the future. I like to leave myself as much freedom as possible for the future.

How and why do you think people start getting involved?

Their friends get involved.

Would you say DIY is an important aspect of the scene? What about Art in general?

DIY works well to fill in the gaps that are left. There are so few adequate performance venues in Providence, and DIY spaces have done very well to pick up a lot of that slack.

Are there any other music genres you feel people involved in the scene listen to? Genres that may have influenced you?

I don't know. I pretty much only listen to classical music.

I then followed up and asked him:
You say you mostly listen to classical music, yet your music has a "folk" sound to it... Do you think then you are influenced by your friend's music? Or do you also listen to stuff that influence what you create?

His response:
I think I'm definitely influenced by my friends' music. Many of my songs contain references to songs that my friends have written, and at shows friends of mine are constantly covering, reworking, or incorporating music and lyrics from other friends.

Response from Kyla of Annikki Dawn

This interview was conducted through a MySpace message

I've heard that you're an artist, so do you feel your music is in a way related to you art?

-I feel that my music and art are inseparable. For a long time I expected one would take priority over the other, but there's been an almost a rhythmic back and forth over the years between my emphasis on song writing and visual art making.

Would you say that there is a so called "scene"? I've heard others call it more a community or circle of friends because of its size, would you agree?

-I think people tend to gravitate toward (and attract) others with shared interests. It makes sense to me that song writers would come together for inspiration, and understanding. Even simple songs are a complicated form of communication and have a rich history of sticking in people's heads and providing something for people to sing together. Of course not everyone involved in any music scene is a song writer. Maybe the "scene/community/friend circle" is made up of people who are interested in each other.

What are your music influences? What other music genres do you listen to or draw from?

-I'd never knock a genre. Inspiration can come from anywhere. John Cage thought the sounds that cars made on the New York streets was beautiful music. I like Amy Winehouse this week. I'm interested when cars drive by blasting anything. Sometimes it's great when everyone in the room knows the lyrics to a Jimmy Buffet song. Sometimes my fridge sounds like a whale. Heartbeats, walking rhythms, karaoke, birds practicing, birds nailing it, and of course, wind.

How do you feel you first started getting involved in this whole providence "scene"?

-I moved to Providence from Chicago two years ago. Before that I lived in Portland Oregon for four years or so. I've been touring in various bands for a while and I'd been to Providence before to play music. I think I just went from being a satellite member of the community to a local.

Reading's I've been making on the older folk revival movement mention the idea of white urban youth looking towards folk roots to find an identity. Do you agree or disagree that this might be translated to today's revival?

-Everyone has to tend their roots.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Critical Review #8: Wald

In "Polka Contrabandista," Wald discusses the rise of Mexican corridos both in the north of Mexico and south of the United States, and explains how and why thy are important to both of these societies. Los Tigres del Norte, a band that rose up by singing about the lives of "narcotraficantes" or drug dealers, sing a type of Mexican folk song, the narcocorrido. According to Wald, these songs serve both as a voice and a newspaper for the proletariat, as it talks about issues that happen in their lives while also creating tales and myths about this culture. The rise of this type of music also calls upon a newer appreciation to Mexican culture, which combines both European and American influences

Why do you think corridos, although almost specific to mexican culture, have become popular in other Latin American cultures that don't share the same culture? Or do you think that there are other aspects of Latin American culture in these songs that allow for the adoption of this music everywhere?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Field Notes #2

I had been in an ongoing MySpace messages coversation with Brendan Glasson from Vio/Mire, but unfortunatly he hasn't been available lately. I sent him some questions over for him to answer that i formulated after my interview with Evan, but unfortunately he hasn't been able to respond yet. I figured then to use my interview with Evan and some internet resources to formulate my second field notes. I usually looked at older conversations with him that were in a freer form. Hopefully I'll be able to get an answer back from Vio/Mire to have at least one band's point of view about the scene before writing the final ethnography

It would be best to start out by defining what I mean by indie folk. I do not mean "indie" in the market sense, I think it is easy to recognize the indie rock sound as apparently it has become a sound aesthetic. When I say indie I do not mean the new "alternative." I mean indie as independent, either on a small label or self released, that values a DIY culture or an art culture. These bands are strictly local, and their more "national" audience comes from small tours usually organized by the band members themselves, not from advertisement or commercial back up. By folk I mean the traditional more acoustic music that finds its roots in both traditional music and the American folk revival exemplified by artists such as Bob Dylan.
As I found out from by interview with Evan, the Providence folk scene, more specifically the one related to musicians such as Annikki Dawn, find their music more related to the New Weird America genre, which is basically a more psychodelic/experimental folk movement. Others find influence in country, like Deer Tick (although I am having more problems defining them as strictly independent or experimental), and even the Providence Noise scene with its strictly experimental music. Indie or Experimental folk, as said by Evan in a way I found both funny and true from my observations, is "country music played by people with tattoos", and by extension, facial hair. By indie then I do not only mean independent in the commercial sense, but also in the creative sense, as it allows for more experimentation.

It is interesting to note from the interview that the scene is not strictly musical. Although music plays a big part in the scene, it seems to be more about a place for social gathering and self-expression. Yet as Evan noted many times, different people in the scene with different backgrounds experience it differently. I am interested in hearing from Vio/Mire on how he contributes to the scene and how he sees his music as a part of it. Hopefully I'll find out if he does it for love of music, love of art, or simply self expression, or who knows, all of the above. As he once in our conversations mentioned his and his friend's music as "art", I'm assuming that it extends towards an overall appreciation of art.

As I had expected, the scene is pretty small. To be a part of the scene you need to know people, or have connections with people. The scene then is more of a small circle of friends, and as said by Evan, that share similar thoughts, ideas, and maybe even backgrounds. These backgrounds though can also be varied. In general terms though, the people in the scene are mostly white, middle class, from Providence East Side. The educational backgrounds vary, and those who come from a less academic background seem to have a blatant resentment towards it. I will go on in much more detail later, as I feel this is the most complex part of the scene.

Aparently what me and Allyssa saw at the Deer Tick concert we went to was misleading on the size of those who are actually in the scene, as first Deer Tick is a more national band and attracts younger people, and also the concert had many High School bands play before which also attracted many college students. According to Evan, the ones really in the scene were those up front with their shirts off.

The best internet resource I found that had infomation on Vio/Mire was a little section in Leisure Class Records. It describes the music as spanning from pop/folk to ambient sound art. It mentions the fact that Chris Ryan the bassist in Deer Tick, as I said on my last field notes, plays the upright bass often. I didn't find much information I didn't already know from the internet sources, as Brendan had previously told me Leisure Class Records is no longer functioning (at least not as his label). He is now back to producing his own music, making very limited copies and selling them mostly at shows.

As I heard from Evan, Kayla from Annikki Dawn, is actually not only a musician but an artist. I'll try to get in touch with her and ask her about her work, and if not possible, I have found some archives at BSR's live block where she performed, and I'm sure I can get some useful information about her from there.

I have kind of decided that Deer Tick, although related to the scene as everyone knows them and have some musical and social connections with other bands, could not really considered a part of this branch that I am looking at, since they have a more national following, have played with bigger bands, and at bigger venues, like Lupo's next week. Also, according to Evan, their initial goal was not to experiment with sound as other bands I am looking into have, but to bring back a kind of nostalgic country sound. Taking this into consideration, Deer Tick hasn't compromised their music for popularity as their reason for making music is still the same. Yet, they cannot be pulled into this branch of experimental/indie folk I am looking into.

Evan mentioned a little about the "style" of participants in the scene which I found interesting. Although there isn't a strict code of what to wear or not to wear, there still seems to appear a fairly homogeneous ideology behind what they wear. Bringing back this whole nostalgia for the country and a different reality than the city they have grown up in, they wear an ironic "white trash" look, from their ironic mullets to their mustaches, ironic bad tattoos with american flags and eagles, flannel shirts, old fashioned glasses, cut off jeans, among other things. Yet at the same time there is a legitimate yearning for these "ideals" to go back into american society. I feel like this epitomizes the scene, a sort of contrast and tension between things they ironically wear and display yet at the same time genuinely want.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Critical Review #7: Marshall

In this blog description and analysis of reggaeton, Marshall spends a lot of time discussing and analyzing what makes the reggaeton sound distinct. According to him, reggaeton is digital music, and it can be distinguished by the sound of the snare and the "pluck" instrument, recognizable from Fruity Loops. He questions if the fact that this music is produced in a "toylike" program like FL makes the music more or less legitimate. He also explains about the history of reggeaton, and how although it kind of originated from spanish reggae and rap, it is not just a spanish version of those two genres. This is proven by the new english versions of reggaeton, that even though they are in english, it is still recognizable as reggaeton. This means that this genre has developed it own sound.

Do you think that the fact that there is a very distinct reggaeton rythm that is repeated in basically every song in the genre makes the genre less acceptable or good? Can you think of any other genres that use the exact same rhythm (or some sort of musical element) patter in their music?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Critical Review #6: Duany

In this historical account and then analysis of Puerto Rican Salsa, Duany argues that Puerto Rico's history was highly inluential int eh creation of the musical style. He argues that the interactions between Whites (originally from Spain), Amerindians and Africans and then the interactions between the mixes of these three original ethnic groups, plus then the interaction between Puerto Ricans living in the island with those living in the United States, led to the creation of Salsa. This can be seen by its influences from African folk Bomba, the Cuban Son, the Spanish Seis, the Mulatto Plena and the American Jazz. Duany argues that Salsa, although made to dance to, is also a tale of Puerto Rican everyday life and reality, a type of folk poetry. The Cocolos, the Puerto Rican youth who is most associated with Salsa, juxtaposed with the Rockeros, show the conflict between Puerto Ricans trying to keep in touch with their roots and yearning to assimilate a new culture.

Why do you think that some Puerto Rican youth decided to create a very obvious identity, that of the Cocolos, in order to keep in touch with their roots? Do you think this same goal could be achieved without adopting a way of looking? Where do you think this aesthetic (outmoded flowered shirts, polyester pants, tennis shoes, afro picks, huge radios) is inspired from? How do you think this shows their Puerto Rican or Salsa identities?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Critical Review #5: Back (Part 1)

In "'Inglan, nice up!': black music, autonomy and the cultural intermezzo", Back talks about how and why a black english music scene developed in Britain. He mentions how it was developed as "black bans" let working class blacks to look for other types of leisure. Because of this, black run venues emerged. This allowed caribbean blacks to create their music through a mix of reggae, eventually adding rap and creating their own mixes. He mentions how this music although it first talked about th realities in Jamaica, it then talked about the realities of blacks in England, who felt englishness and blackness was separate. These two identities he argues, are brought together by dance.

Why do you think rap music, which started in America, was so easily adopted by blacks in London? Do you think it has to do with similarities in their realities or backgrounds? Or simply because they could relate to it as "black" music?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Positive Aura of Renewing, Refreshing and Blooming again: Anathallo in Boston, MA

Although a two hour delay on the commuter train from Providence to Boston made me get to the Middle East Nightclub about 45 minutes after doors opened, I still had to wait in line in order to get in. Waiting, I suddenly became highly aware of my age. Most people who stood ahead and behind me had already purchased their tickets, and with that, their “over 21” bracelets that openly distinguished them from the younger crowd who had large Xs drawn on their hands with permanent marker. After getting my hands “X”ed by a 20 something year old guy with large thick black-rimmed glasses, I walked up a few steps that led “Upstairs.” The place was small and packed and the opening band was already on the stage. I squeezed through towards the “merch table” and waited. It was about 9:45 pm and the show was just about to get started.

The Middle East in Cambridge is a popular and well-known club/restaurant that is divided in 4 parts: The Corner, where they host belly dancing shows and music over food; Zu Zu, a restaurant/bar that also offers music; Downstairs, a larger venue with a larger bar that hosts better known bands; and Upstairs, a smaller venue for smaller bands. I had been Downstairs before, once for a Drum and Bass concert and another time for a pop-rock indie concert (which shows the variety of bands that play there). This, though, was my first time Upstairs and I was surprised by its small size. It was dark and stuffy; the stage was raised but low. Anathallo, a band that for lack of better terminology I will label as indie-pop-experimental, and Sam Amidon, a folk singer-song writer who plays the banjo, were performing that night.

The band that started playing (I unfortunately couldn’t catch their name) was a sort of generic indie-rock band who was not touring with the rest of the lineup. They were probably local and booked by the venue itself. They only played for about 30 minutes and the crowd seemed to enjoy it even though most were not completely focused on the stage at this time.
The crowd was more varied than other shows I’ve attended. Since it was a Tuesday night and it was an 18+ show, it was composed of college students, or a recently graduated mid 20-year-olds. As I looked around at people’s wrists to see if they carried bracelets or Xs, I noticed most of the people were over 21, but the underage crowd wasn’t small either. The Middle East is well known on making sure IDs are real, so I’m sure that those who had bracelets were actually old enough to have them. There was not a noticeable pattern in fashion between the concertgoers, although there was a scattered group of hipsters, many of whom appeared to either have some contact with the bands or with the venue, or that were photographing the show. I do remember seeing a tall guy with a large patch on his black hoodie that had a bible passage on it; I wondered if this had to do with the fact that Anathallo started as an openly Christian band with spiritual lyrics. The male and female ratio seemed about the same, but the crowd was mostly white. Nevertheless, on average the scene looked as diverse as one that you might randomly see at a college lecture.

Sam Amidon took the stage next, sat on a stool with his banjo, tuned it, and almost immediately started to play. Before many of his songs, he told the story of what his song were supposedly about. Amidon made the crowd laugh with these nonsensical anecdotes. For example, he said that one of his songs was about a toy dinosaur in the future that came to life when you clapped and was so real that the way to stop it from killing you was by physically chocking it first. He said the song was about the feeling of guilt of having killed something that wasn’t really alive in the first place, that then is reborn when someone slammed a door. In one of his songs, he suddenly stopped in the middle of a sentence and told us about a dream he just remembered having about chasing his mother who was really small and made funny sounds as she ran. After finishing his story he went back to playing his song as if nothing had happened. In his last song he invited the crowd to sing with him “a crazy song with lies” that talked about the war being over. He finished his set in about 45 minutes and left a cheerful crowd.

Anathallo was up next. I struggled to get upfront as I wanted to get a closer look on the performance itself. A friendly guy (over 21, American Apparel hoodie, beard, lip ring) noticed I was having trouble getting a good view and told me to get in front of him, as he was taller than me. We had a conversation on how he went to school with 2 of the band members in Chicago and felt like home when he listened to them play and asked me about my experience with their music. Anathallo (meaning “to renew, refresh or bloom again”) currently has seven band members, one of them female, whom almost all change and trade instruments throughout their performance while five of them sing. I’ve overheard that some members used to be part of a ska band, which would explain their consistent use of brass instruments. Other instruments and objects used throughout the performance included bells, pieces of wood, xylophones, big drums, drum set, guitars, bass, piano, synthesizer, recorded loops, and their hands as they occasionally clapped.

Most of the songs they played came from their latest record “Canopy Glow” which was released late 2008, some were off their previous record “Floating World” (2006), and only one was older than that. In all of their records, their music changes significantly, staying true to their name, yet at the same time keeping the same experimental art attitude. Their sound, although not necessarily what one would easily describe as danceable, made many listeners move and dance, clap and stomp their feet. It is hard to describe the music itself as it is very experimental, but it is mostly cheerful sounding, full of instruments and alternative beat patterns, many vocals and harmonies and vocal parts that did not include lyrics, just sounds. The mood was still as casual as with Amidon; in one of the songs the main singer stopped the song and claimed he had forgotten he actually needed to play the guitar as he “was just jamming and having a good time”, and then started again without any negative response from the crowd. When he started saying, “This song is about…” a concertgoer interrupted with “partying all night long” to which the singer agreed and laughed.

I believe most of the crowd felt free to dance and move around because Anathallo’s attitude on stage was to do the same: they closed their eyes, smiled as they sang, danced and laughed, clearly having a great time. It was impossible for this sort of positive energy to not be transmitted to the concertgoers, who, even if they were standing still, still had a smile on their face as they listened. The show ended at 12:30 am, which means I missed my train back home. Although I had arrived at the show in a bad mood because of my extensive delay, this new train problem did not bring me down; I had gained some great positive energy that would not go away for a while. I’m sure many fellow crowd members felt the same way.

I did not take this video, but this is of the show I attended. The song isn't complete, but it will give you an idea of how the show was.

(Word Count: 1292)
Photo: from Anathallo's myspace page

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Critical Review #4: Hayes

In Hayes' study of relocated rap by white non-urban youth, he focuses on a town right outside of Toronto called Scottsville. The town is prominently white, and the high school that the youth that were interview attended, had no black people in it. Most of Hayes' study focused on non-urban whites that liked rap and its associated subculture. Apparently, even though these youths admired the genre and culture that surrounded it, because of their lack of contact with black youth and their reality, these youths created a pretty homogeneous definition of what it meant to be black. These definitions were drawn from clues seen on MTV and other music sites that presented only a small percentage of African Americans that are a part of this subculture. On the other side of the spectrum, Hayes also interviewed whites who did not like rap music. They, like their rap-liking peers, also created the same stereotypes when describing why they didn't like rap music. Both rap fans and non rap fans seemed to have a fear of the "black world". Rap fans especially, although completely fascinated by the perceived danger of this black world, were both jealous of those who could participate in it, and glad that they lived in a "safer place". Hayes concludes by saying that if these non-black rap fans were able to put their interest in this culture to above the superficial liking of the music and the misguided description of what they believed as black taken from mass-media, real political changes on how blacks are seen and treated could happen.

We recently discussed a case that could be seen as the opposite of this: afropunk. Afropunk developed into a movement. Do you think the same would be possible in this case? Why or why not? And if not, what are the major differences between African Americans joining the white dominant punk sub-culture and non-urban whites joining the black dominant rap subculture?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Field Notes: Feb 23

Finally our topic has been (mostly) set on stone: Alyssa and I will be working together investigating Providence's folk scene. While she will focus more on the folk-rock, more national and less underground scene that revolves around bands that started in Providence like Deer Tick, I will investigate the other side of the spectrum, the more underground, independent and less known indie-folk scene that includes bands like Vio/Mire and Annikki Dawn. Together, we will make a comparative ethnography.

Unfortunately, there have not been many shows to go to other than one I attended in late January. I will describe what my experience was here. Soon I will do some Internet field notes on whatever resources I may find (there aren't many) on both Vio/Mire and Annikki Dawn. I hope to attend another show (apparently Annikki Dawn has a show in the same venue on March 2nd), and will have an interview with either some band members or the venue owner. After doing some research on the record labels, apparently they appear to be very friendly and open to talk, so hopefully I will get in contact with them too.

January 23, 2009

I heard of this band Vio/Mire as the songwriter Brendan Glasson played with Parachutes, a band that had been touring with Sigur Ros. I got excited to find out that since he was from Providence, there would be many opportunities to go to live shows. Upon going to his Myspace page I noted that his tour ended in Providence. Without knowing that I would end up looking into this scene more closely, I decided on going.

The Venue:
I've been to a few shows in Providence already but most of them have been in either Lupo's or Club Hell. This time it was at The Pigeons Chest. When I googled it, the only page that really linked to anything in Providence was a Myspace page. After reading its "about me", I found out that it was a recently opened "antique store" that sometimes hosted shows and displayed art. Finding the address and bus to get there wasn't difficult, and Friday night I went off in an adventure.
The Myspace page said it would start at 8, so I tried to get there around 7:45 pm.
When I got there, I walked around the small store looking at its items. The front of the store had a relatively small open space with some couches and empty floor space; I guessed this was where the performance would take place. The rest of the store was packed with antiquities and vintage items. Hanged on the walls were some pieces of artwork, I guess this was what the Myspace description meant when they said they would display art.

The Crowd:
There weren't many people around when I first arrived. There were basically the storeowner, another guy that appeared to work there and about 4 more people who appeared to be their friends. Two of these were a young couple with a baby.
8 pm came along and there weren’t any indications that a show was going to start. The store has a vintage espresso machine. The guy who was making coffee asked me if I was here for the show, I said yes and asked when he though it would start. He said he didn't know, the musicians hadn't arrived yet and they didn't know when they were arriving. Not very good news considering I had to take the bus back home eventually...
Around 9 pm more people started arriving. Everyone appeared to know each other, or at least have one member of the group they arrived with that knew someone who was already there. No one really went alone, most people showed up in groups of 3 or 4. Mostly everyone appeared in their late teens or early 20s, probably mostly college students. Many looked like they could be art students, some followed what we may call "hipster" fashion, and had an edgier or more artsy look. This was to be expected as the show was hosted in a trendy vintage store run by people that appeared to be dressed in a similar fashion as the crowd.
A group of 4 elderly people walked in the store and engaged in conversation with the younger kids. They appeared to be very familiar with the place and the people who ran it.

The Performance:
The band appeared at the venue around 9:30. I didn’t notice that they were the band as I was not familiar with their appearances. At first they just appeared to be another group of concertgoers as they walked in, said hello to those they knew in a very familiar fashion and then mingled for a while. The only reason I then noticed they were the band was because by 9:45 they started setting up their instruments in the front of the store.
No microphones or cables were set up. The only things that were not their instruments on what could be called the stage space were a couple of stools. After tuning, the lights were dimmed and Brendan said “everyone come up to the front and get cozy with us”. We all did, the crowd sat on the floor relatively close to the performers.
The group consisted of 3 people, all of them sang although Brendan was the obvious lead. The music was completely acoustic, a combination of a stand up bass and two guitars, sometimes alternating with a banjo, a xylophone, and bells. They had a drum for one of their songs too. Before the show I did not own any of his albums, so basically all the songs I knew came from his Myspace page. They played most of those, and then more from the album. The crowd seemed to know the songs as they sometimes jokingly requested more saying “You have more songs than that, how about you play …” Vio/Mire’s set was short, about 30 minutes.
There was a short break when Brendan said that soon they would come back as Annikki Dawn. Everyone basically stood up and mingled, some went outside to talk to the musicians. Brendan stayed inside and talked to those who approached the “merch table” to buy CDs and shirts.
As I was one of those people who went over to buy the album, I talked to him briely saying how much I loved his music. In a very honestly humble style he thanked me and said that that was awesome. He also very graciously thanked me for buying his CD (which was only 5 dollars). He didn’t appear to have that stereotypical “rockstar” attitude; his way of talking to those who approached him was very familiar and friendly.

After the short break, the same three band members came back to the front of the store, this time the lead being Kyla Chech who previously played the banjo and guitar in the Vio/Mire set up. She played some songs off her Myspace page and her album. The ambient was the same, intimate and close as everyone once again sat on the floor close to the performers to hear them play. Annikki Dawn played for about a half hour, ending in a similar fashion. I approached the table once again to buy Annikki Dawn’s album and was thanked by Brendan once again.

Vio/Mire's album had this DIY feel to it, as the album art was printed in different colored paper, and when it was opened, confetti dropped down from the interior. The paper "case" is basically a piece of square paper with the corners folded in, held together by a circular sticker. Annikki Dawn's album also had the same feel as it was not an actual CD case that held the album. Apparently there are only currently a few copies of each cd. From the markings on the CD I bought, apparently there are 50 Vio/Mire cds (mine being #39), and from Annikki Dawn's Myspace I read she has about 100 copies available.

Satisfied with the experience, I left behind the chatter of about 40 people and went back home around 11:20 pm.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Critical Review #3: Schilt

Although Schilt's article about Riot Grrrl does give an insightful idea on why the scene emerged, how it was sustained and why it seemed to diminish and disappear (and inspire other scenes), we cannot call this an ethnography as she does not really get involved with the scene. She does interview a few girls from the scene and investigate media releases, but that does not qualify as an ethnography.
According to Schilt, the Riot Grrrl movement started when girls in the punk movement started getting disappointed by the increasingly male-only attitude in the punk movement as it moved more towards a more aggressive type of punk: hardcore. Schilt argues that through the use of fanzines and conventions a translocal scene was developed. In contrast to other scenes, such as the goth scene, Riot Grrrl made the effort of not having clear definitions of who they were as they wanted the scene to be as inclusive as possible. Unfortunately this was not always possible as it appeared that most members where middle class white girls which brought trouble within the scene when girls of color demanded more attention towards race issues next to feminist issues.
It appears that the reason why the scene started to disappear was mostly because of media coverage, that on an attempt of defining the subculture, defined it incorrectly, emphasizing fashion over their political agenda. This pushed girls away from the scene, and without any members willing to participate, the scene died.
Yet, Schilt argues that the legacy of Riot Grrrl continues as other scenes and feminist oriented subcultures have used their example to create zines and organizations that touch on the same issues that Riot Grrrl once did.

Do you think there are other scenes where the increased media coverage endangered the survival of the subculture?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Critical Review #2: Maira

In "The Paradoxes of an Indian American Youth Subculture", Maira focuses on the Indian American subculture that attends bhangra club nights, a part of the "desi scene". She describes the attire: hip-hop, urban youth inspired for men, and provocative, designer-inspired New York fashion for women. The reasons for this fashion appears to be because of the "macho" and "cool" look that hip-hop fashion brings, in order to contrast the "nerdy", effeminate stereotype that is commonly assigned to Asian-Americans. Women's fashion is contradicting because although they provide a way for women to express and liberate themselves sexually, yet at the same time, clothes that are too "skimpy" are shunned by both women and men. The music is a mix between American hip-hop and Indian pop and bhangra. Maira argues that second-generation Indian Americans look towards this sub-culture to express their mixed identities - both associating to their new American lifestyles but still bringing back their old cultural and traditional Indian roots in their music, dancing styles, and adornments such as nose rings and bindis. Although youths associate themselves with this new identity, their parent's rhetoric of American as seductive and polluting and Indian as pure and innocent is also a part of their rhetoric.

Do you think there are other subcultures that have similar paradoxes as the desi scene - an urge to put themselves into the mainstream American culture while at the same time criticizing its seductiveness and "dirtiness" in comparison to the traditional culture? Do you think this phenomenon is only present in Diaspora youth cultures?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Initial Topic Post: Providence's Rising Indie-Folk Scene

How would you define folk music? What about indie music? Yes, it is difficult since both genres are as broad as their influences. So are their scenes. Now imagine the trouble I'll go into when I try to define what Indie-Folk is. Yet, we all know that it is something. That something is what I will try to come across in this ethnographic research (which might be done with Alyssa, we don't know yet).
I came across the discovery that there actually exists a folk-indie scene when I, a few weeks ago, went to a show to listen to two local folk-indie bands: vio/miré and annikki dawn (it should be mentioned that both composed of the same band members). The show was small, warm, and intimate. The music was acoustic and sweet. Not your typical folk band, not your typical folk sound. Yet still.. folk. For a lack of a better term I will call it indie-folk. From this show, a curiosity was born to know if other bands such as these played in similar places; an urge to experience more of what I had experienced.
The crowd? You might call it a "hipster" crowd (something as hard to pin down as indie and folk, yet that I will attempt to define). But I've seen this crowd in other places, in other shows. Does this mean that this audience does not only belong to this scene? Or that the indie-folk scene is actually a sub-genre of something bigger and different? Or does this mean anything at all?
I don't know. But I will try to find out.

Some questions that will hopefully be answered:

What groups of people are attracted to this scene and why?
Is the audience for indie-folk shows exclusive for this genre or is it open to other kinds of music, and which kind?
What other bands belong to this scene? Are only local bands "allowed" to participate in this?
Why is this scene rising? Which are their influences?
What are common venues for these kinds of performances?
How are the interactions between the bands and their audience?
Is this type of interaction vital for the scene to survive?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Critical Review #1: Hodkinson

In Hodkinson's short study of the goth scene, he focuses on what he calls translocal connections within the scene. Although other theorists have used this term to imply connection that go past even national borders, Hodkinson focuses on connections, both abstract and concrete, in different British manifestations. One of these connections is a strong sense of identity both in-group and perceived by outsiders in both local and translocal solidarity. This is also shows by its translocal consistency in taste. Hodkinson argues that these connections are formed through travel, especially when goths from different towns get together for a major concert or festival; through commerce as through local retailers and mail-order shops; and through media, such as print and virtual.

Discussion Question: Hodkinson's study is one of three scenes labeled as "translocal" in Music Scenes. Why do you think this is? Is it because it is rare to find such scenes that trespass local borders? Also, Hodkinson notes how the goth scene has been disappearing in the last few years, yet the it appears to stay connected. Why do you this has happened?