Monday, February 9, 2009

Ethnography Project Initial Topic Post

I've been thinking about a lot of different ideas for this project and I've explored those different ideas, but still, I'm having difficulty picking one.  So, my ideas are these: 1) Hyphy in the Bay Area, it's rise towards the mainstream, and subsequent loss of artists identifying with the movement; 2) The indie scene in Brooklyn and it's recent rise towards the mainstream (at least for some of the bands that I would be covering);  3) The electro-indie-pop scene in Montreal and the bands that have managed to crossover to the states; and 4) The 60's garage/punk rock revival movement of recent, led by such bands as the Black Lips and King Khan.

I can foresee some problems that I might encounter with each of these ideas, which is making it all the more difficult to decide on which one to do.  Since Hyphy originated in the 90's, it might be a bit more historically focused and it might be hard to talk to people.  I guess also the fact that the scene took place/is still taking place across the country, it will probably be harder to find people that really identify with the music.  I see this being a problem for the electro-indie-pop scene in Montreal too.  I know that I could talk to the Black Lips, which would serve as a good resource for the 60's rock revival movement, but I'm not too sure how big of a scene that that's going to be to explore.

I'm thinking the indie scene in Brooklyn might be the best choice for this project.  Brooklyn is not that far away if I wanted to go try to interview people in person, I have friends who live there, there are some specific venues that the bands I would focus on play at, and I think I may be able to find some literature on the scene.  If I did do this, I would focus on bands such as Yeasayer, MGMT (who has hit it pretty big), Grizzly Bear, and Battles, but there are a lot more that could be covered too.  I would ask such things as why stay on an indie label?  Is it because the bands can't get signed to majors (except MGMT who did sign to a major)?  Or is it because they don't want to?  What do the venues add to the scene?  Do they influence the music in anyway?  Do they influence the audiences that are attracted to the shows, or is it purely the music?  Why Brooklyn?  Where did everyone in these bands first come from?  Did that add to how the music has developed?  Also, in setting up this research, I would probably cover a little bit of the historical music scene in NY and its shift from Manhattan to Brooklyn recently.  I'm definitely going to have to slim the topic's scope down a bit, but these are my initial thoughts on it.


  1. I believe you're right about the Brooklyn topic being the most fruitful. As novel as Hyphy is, it might not reveal that much ethnomusicologically; the 60s revival might have more historical referents, however I don't think the contemporary scene would be as good to study. I think Brooklyn works well because a geographical focus also contextualizes tangential issues such as ethnicity, gender, socioeconomics, style, urban space, etc. Not only that, but the "indie" scene in Brooklyn spans dozens of subgenres that could each prompt further study. (Or just Battles themselves.)

    I would be very interested to read your fieldnotes on this. Let me know if you're interested in having a partner on this project.

  2. John, I know we'll be meeting about this tomorrow so I won't write too much here. It looks like you are already asking yourself the appropriate practical questions (who do I know, how do I narrow the scope, etc.). The Brooklyn scene does sound the most doable at this point, but I think hyphy is also a great topic, and you could probably mine a lot of older web content for material (blogs etc. that tracked the genre's development). If you do decide to go in more of a west coast direction, here's an interesting source of youth-produced media (they often cover local music and youth culture):

  3. This is a pretty interesting topic, but I agree with everyone in that it is broad... I'm also focusing on some part of the indie scene here in providence (the folk-indie scene). Kind of had to reduce my topic as just the genre itself is broad and hard to define...
    There are so many subgenres and bands, especially in Brooklyn. Its kind of a shame that Grizzly Bear isn't touring much this year (they have a show in Brooklyn but its already sold out)... but I'm sure you can find many other shows to go to. I'd be interested to see what you decide to focus on; the questions you are hitting (especially those about the mainstream) are very interesting and important questions to what may remain of the indie scene.

  4. I lived in Brooklyn for two years and I must say from my experience, yes, the indie scene there is HUGE. Brooklyn itself is a very interesting place right now, and is changing...rapidly. I think it would be interesting for you to go to a few shows in the Williamsburg area of north Brooklyn (off the Bedford Ave stop on the L), where most of that scene centers around, and really think about the context of the Brooklyn indie culture, its place in NYC, the influence of being so close to Manhattan, the relation to other media, and maybe choose a band or venue to focus on. You'll probably have some overlap with the World Inferno project at some point, that's a very influential Brooklyn band.

    There's a to look at here, good luck narrowing it down a bit and I'm interested to see how it goes. I think it's going to be a great project.

  5. To look at some of your questions about the historic NY "indie" music scene, I would probably look at the No Wave movement of the early 1980's, and then the flirtation with major labels that occurred after Sonic Youth went on a major. Also, I would definitely try to tease apart where everyone in the band came from, whether they are originally from the New York area, whether this is their first band, etc. - would probably help a lot in determining motivation for remaining indie