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?