Blogging at the intersection of urban studies and popular music

the story of DinDisc Records

the story of DinDisc Records

OMD were a perfect fit for what I had in mind for DinDisc — they had a serious, artistic side with real depth, as well as a commercial, pop side. That duality was reflected in all the early DinDisc signings, like Martha and the Muffins, and then the Monochrome Set....
how the Queen Street West scene began, pt. 1: the Thornhill sound

how the Queen Street West scene began, pt. 1: the Thornhill sound

THE EVERGLADES are ambassadors of the Thornhill Sound, a sound long fermenting in the rec rooms and condo apartments just north of STEELES AVE. Among its proponents include: Martha and the Muffins, Johnny and the G-Rays, the B-Girls, and the now defunct Dishes, Cads, E-Static and the legendary Oh Those...
in exile: the rootless cosmopolitanism of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club

in exile: the rootless cosmopolitanism of Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club

I’ve never quite understood why the Gun Club, one of the all-time great Los Angeles bands, had an estranged relationship with their city of origin. It seems to me no local critic or serious music fan can deny their impact on L.A.’s music legacy. One of the great cult bands...
putting the Hudson Valley on the musical map: Basilica Soundscape and O+ Festival

putting the Hudson Valley on the musical map: Basilica Soundscape and O+ Festival

Over the last month I’ve been writing for Sound It Out, a new music blog that covers adventurous new music from a snark-free, consumer-friendly point of view. “The music may be evil, but we’ll try not to be” is the motto. Most of my writings there are basic reviews and...
the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #50-41

the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #50-41

Today I take up a question of pop-culture history: which performers made the most unexpected left turns with their careers?  I farmed this question out awhile back to readers of this blog, and today I start filing the results based on my own subjective assessment.  Debate and criticisms are welcome...
Martha and the Muffins: a book project in musical urbanism

Martha and the Muffins: a book project in musical urbanism

This summer I begin in earnest a new research project on the Canadian new wave group Martha and the Muffins.  I’ve blogged about them extensively already, focusing on the mixed-gender approach and geographical sensibilities that inform their work.  The book I intend to write will incorporate these into a new...
sound in 70 cities: the European urbanism of Simple Minds

sound in 70 cities: the European urbanism of Simple Minds

Dream, dream, dream It’s the eighties’ youthful theme Loving the city A theme for great cities And loved ones And love – “Wonderful In Young Life” (1981)   Americans know them mostly as “that Breakfast Club band” from the 80s, but Scotland’s Simple Minds have carried on in one form...
musical suburbanism, pt. 1: Kidz Bop and the commodification of kids' listening

musical suburbanism, pt. 1: Kidz Bop and the commodification of kids’ listening

Last summer I took a family roadtrip and was driven slightly insane by the heavy rotation of Kidz Bop CDs on the car stereo.  In a rare moment of solitude carved out of a frenzied week, I sent out these missives via Twitter:   1. if one promise of musical...
studying the college music scene and beyond

studying the college music scene and beyond

Remember the bands that formed in college?  You heard them at dorm parties, frat parties, apartment parties, the campus bar, battle-of-the-bands competitions, and impromptu outdoor settings.  They practiced in dorm rooms, dorm basements, conservatory and theater rooms, backyard sheds, and laundry rooms, amusing/irritating neighbors and passers-by.  Many college rockers and...
Tito Larriva: the hombre secreto of L.A.'s culture industry

Tito Larriva: the hombre secreto of L.A.’s culture industry

As a central destination for musicians, actors, filmmakers and artists, Los Angeles has more than its share of unsung, forgotten or behind-the-scenes figures who have made a significant mark on the city in the course of their careers. In this category, one of my favorites is Tito Larriva, who readers...
living the urban crisis at the new wave rent party

living the urban crisis at the new wave rent party

I recently downloaded the reissued Human Switchboard album, Who’s Landing in my Hangar? Anthology 1977-1984, which set me off again obsessing about a subgenre of new wave that I’ve never really seen recognized.  I don’t even know how best to name this subgenre, although I’m convinced it has a musical coherence. ...
looking for the Hudson Valley hipster

looking for the Hudson Valley hipster

In the town where I live, there’s been a lot of chatter over a recent NY Times article which reports how Brooklynites (an apparent synonym for NYC’s mobile, creative types) are descending upon the Hudson Valley area some 75 miles north of the city to live, visit, consume, and generally do...
musical urbanism: statement of a scholarly project

musical urbanism: statement of a scholarly project

It’s promotion review time for me, and in writing a research statement for the three anonymous sociologists evaluating my work, I’ve had the occasion to compile and synthesize my thinking on musical urbanism into a single essay.  Think of this post as a users manual for understanding what I’ve been...
how Joy Division came to sound like Manchester

how Joy Division came to sound like Manchester

[Update: this blog post has been expanded and revised into an article for the Journal of Popular Music Studies.] I’m always puzzled when I hear how Elvis Presley or Mick Jagger “sounded black” when they first appeared on the radio.  Back in the 70s, when I was a kid listening...
just stay put: an alternative vision for arts-based urban revitalization

just stay put: an alternative vision for arts-based urban revitalization

Here are some thoughts about a different way to think about arts-based urban revitalization, written in the form of a suspiciously confident manifesto.  These ideas are completely pie-in-the-sky and fly in the face of the prevailing wisdom in this field, but I’m fine with that if it reveals some fallacies...
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a video playlist of Pulp and other Sheffield music

a video playlist of Pulp and other Sheffield music

In preparation for the Musical Urbanism course readings on Sheffield, England, we’ve put together this playlist of music documentaries and promo videos to get you further acquainted with the city, its music scene, and our point of departure, the band Pulp.   PULP VIDEOS When reading Owen Hatherley’s book Uncommon: An Essay on Pulp, it...
I survived the grunge era: introduction to a screening of "Hype!"

I survived the grunge era: introduction to a screening of “Hype!”

Welcome to the first of a series of “lab sessions” this semester in conjunction with the Musical Urbanism seminar. Tonight we’re screening Hype!, a 1996 documentary that’s currently out of print. This means the version you’re watching was torrented by your professors. Although as we heard it’s also available on YouTube, I promised our students...
art worlds and music scenes

art worlds and music scenes

An interesting thing happens when you intersect two texts, Howard Becker’s essay on “Art Worlds and Collective Activity” (1982) and David Byrne’s essay on “How to Make a Scene” (2012), with each other. Somewhat anachronistically, the former enlists the latter into its thesis. To begin, Becker’s text is not especially directed toward the contemporary interest...
syllabus for 2015 Musical Urbanism seminar

syllabus for 2015 Musical Urbanism seminar

I’m excited to announce that I’m teaching an undergraduate seminar in Musical Urbanism at Vassar College again this semester, with my colleague Hua Hsu. This is a multidisciplinary course housed in the Urban Studies Program, taught by an urban sociologist (myself) and literature professor/critic (Hsu). We revised the syllabus significantly from the last time we...
favorite music of 2014

favorite music of 2014

Jane Weaver – The Silver Globe I’m rapidly reaching obsessive levels of play with this adventurous album. Space rock meets 60s British melancholia: if you puzzle over which element is retro and which is futuristic, then this is the record for you. Weaver’s voice is mysterious and spellbinding — just one more reason why she...
a Toronto/Martha & the Muffins annotated bibliography

a Toronto/Martha & the Muffins annotated bibliography

For the Martha and the Muffins book project, the first task I’ve set for myself is to dive into the literature. Toronto is fairly terra incognito for me; to contextualize the geographic sensibilities embodied in the band’s music and career, an appreciation of its urban history and geography is in order. Also, Canadianness and ‘Canada’...
Paul Robeson and the Peekskill riots: with essay by Dick Flacks

Paul Robeson and the Peekskill riots: with essay by Dick Flacks

August 27 marks a chilling anniversary in the Hudson Valley’s musical geography: 65 years ago, Paul Robeson was to perform a concert in Peekskill that culminated in violence and effectively ended his career.  I asked sociologist Dick Flacks, author of Playing for Change: Music and Musicians in the Service of Social Movements, to elaborate. Paul...
appearances at the 2014 American Sociological Association meetings

appearances at the 2014 American Sociological Association meetings

I’ll be in San Francisco this weekend at the annual ASA meetings, participating in two events. The first is a presentation of my research from the Poughkeepsie Plenty community food assessment, in a paper I’ve co-written with SUNY New Paltz colleagues Kathleen Tobin and Eve Waltermaurer: Regular Session. Consumers and Consumption 1 Sat, August 16,...
the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #10-1

the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #10-1

The top ten!  These are the greatest second chapters, left turns and career reinventions in pop music history.  Don’t forget to review how we came to this point… PREVIOUS: 50-41 40-31 30-21 20-11 10 T. Rex Glitter rock, the visual appearance of a gay aesthetic in pop music, and the first real ‘sound of the...
the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #20-11

the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #20-11

PREVIOUS: 50-41 40-31 30-21 20. Black Eyed Peas Hate to say it, but “I gotta feeling” (oof, sorry) that the Black Eyed Peas have shaped the sound and BPM of American pop music more than anyone else in the last five years. Such influence would have been unfathomable back in 1998, when their debut album...
update on the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory project

update on the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory project

Answering an invitation sent to me by postcard, I attended the first public “brief-ing” [get it?] on the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory project by its developer, the nonprofit Hudson River Housing. This historic building is located on N. Cherry Street just north of Main Street in the City of Poughkeepsie. Ed Murphy, executive director of Hudson...
the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #30-21

the greatest reinventions in pop-music careers, #30-21

Part three of my response to the question, which performers made the most unexpected left turns with their careers? For the ground rules of eligibility, see the first post; for the big picture of why this is relevant to musical urbanism, click here.  PREVIOUS: 50-41 40-31 30. U2 Regardless how you feel about the band’s...