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| E-ISSN 1808-2599 |

Interview – Will Straw and the
importance of music scenes in music
and communication studies
Jeder Janotti Junior

The academic systematization of the music In a generous interview granted in March to 1/9

scene idea has been proposed by Will Straw as professor Jeder Janotti Jr. from the Graduate
a differential mode of music circulation in the Studies Program on Communication at UFPE,
urban tissue. At first Straw tried to perceive Will Straw updates and reconsiders a number

Revista da Associação Nacional dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação | E-compós, Brasília, v.15, n.2, maio/ago. 2012.
the sociability networks which shaped the of controversial issues which still configure the
consumption of alternative rock and dance discussions around the idea of music scenes.
music in cities like Montreal, Toronto, Detroit,
Los Angeles and London. This perspective As it is possible to observe in his answers,
attempted to make a distinction between music Straw shows how his proposal attempts to give
communities and scenes, the active aspects an account of the relationships established
of the latter going against the geographic in the global circulation of massive popular
stagnation of the former. Since then, the idea of music, without ruling out possible agreements
scene has gradually become an important tool for with restricted circulations and regionalized
communicational studies on music consumption references. Before stating the validity of a
and production, at the same time that it has strict notion of scene, the Canadian researcher
generated a series of discussions concerning acknowledges that, similarly to the music
its scope and, especially, its limitation when, consumption and production, the notion of
according to a portion of its critics, it would favor music scenes has also undergone significant
the sociological aspects of music appropriations transformations in recent times.
at the expense of its aesthetic aspects.
As can be seen in Straw´s statements, as time
goes by and with the development of music-
oriented social networks, the notion of scene has
Jeder Janotti Junior |
Researcher with CNPq, professor at the Graduate Studies gone through changes, acquiring new possibilities
Program on Communication at Pernambuco Federal University -
Universidade Federal de Pernambuco and importance within music and communication

is that their most interesting questions will acknowledged richness of popular music studies. is a much livelier field at present than proliferation of journals. at present. have.15. “scene” is . v. maio/ago. is a sense of polemic. that the field has lost some of its Jonathan Sterne.” for manifest in its institutional health. Similarly. be taken up in other fields.2.e-compos. On the popular music studies in North America.In my view. thanks other hand. York disco. British mod culture. of lively debate Will Straw . In one of these. the question 21st century. n. music studies is characterized. whose principal identification is not historical works on such phenomena 1970s New with popular music studies. “Sound studies. Japanese noise music and so on. etc. How do you assess the current the new media field to produce any conceptual 2/9 academic scenario of these studies? vocabularies of lasting value. there is the me. with the idea of scene had to be broadened so as to virtually everyone agreeing that authenticity embrace the transformations that affected the is “socially constructed” (a convincing but music world throughout the first decade of the not very helpful idea). have seen the notion of scene developed in The older debates concerning authenticity two directions. been concluded. music are studied within a broader analysis of technological innovation. A great happening in the writings of anthropologists like deal of this is historical. as every productive notion. 2012. what has diminished. expressed in part to the work of my friend and colleague by some. www. in the example. by And much of the best work on popular music is a great deal of high-quality your first publication about music scenes. as in the scholarship My personal opinion is that the field of popular of the British anthropologist Georgina Born. We now have very good Ana Ochoa. tendencies. to a large extent. Other aspects of popular excitement and its innovative character. it seems to me. Debates and communication studies have been a big over the relationship of music to new media are contribution to popular music studies for too busy running after current developments in many | E-ISSN 1808-2599 | studies. how do you see the current status of this idea? However. programs. the last twenty years over key concepts in popular music studies. Brazilian samba and other genres. of music’s relationship to place has resulted in the widespread acknowledgement that this Jeder Janotti Júnior: Dear Will Straw. French popular music of the Jeder Janotti Júnior:     Twenty years after 19th century.I think we can point to two The risk for popular music studies. there is the perception. Brasília. it seems to me. it seems to Revista da Associação Nacional dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação | E-compós. On the one hand. cultural relationship is varied and complex. After all. Will Straw .

org. the analyses of scenes respect. that Brazilian work is strong in both of these Jeder Janotti Júnior: Has the notion of directions – in analyzing social categories and scene emerged in a moment of tension in conceiving of the ways in which musical between popular music studies of practices articulate a sense of space. I think we need study of music. I would through which musical practices and people point to the founding work of Barry Shank circulate. v. but.” in which he ties the cultural geography and anthropology. 2012. One is that the old debate? Is it still on? idea of scene may be usefully revitalized with a Detour through other work on urban culture Will Straw . David At the same time. “scene described by Guillaume Pinson and other studies” are now more likely to co-exist alongside French historians in terms of the category of the more conventional musicological kinds of analysis. In particular. the “wordly”. I think two | E-ISSN 1808-2599 | one element in a lexical series that includes “mondaine”. the sense of “scene” as “that which studies lent themselves to both musicological is scene” needs to be developed further. as popular music by historians as having emerged in Western studies has come to occupy a stronger place within cities in the 19th century: a public culture Faculties of music around the world. I think scene has much to gain Hesmondhalgh and others has been concerned by a tighter dialogue with theories of networks and with which of these unities is most useful in the infrastructures. Brasília. unities in which music is presumed to exist. to space. I’m also interested in the way in which generally had little to say about musical form scene fits within the sort of public culture seen and style. with cities or other regions. as well. On the other hand. shops. “scene” is greater attention to the role of low-level institutions deployed in attempts to theorize the relationship like bars.2.Well. maio/ago. I think quite clearly that the more generally. The well-known work of Andrew Bennett. nodes and pathways. Here. it may also be about Chris Gibson. venues in creating networks of music to geography. I am thinking of Alan Blum’s notion of scene pulled important parts of popular article on scenes in his book “The Imaginative music studies away from musicology – towards Structure of the City. A notion of “scene” need not have active 3/9 and Holly Kruse. I would note Revista da Associação Nacional dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação | E-compós. In another direction. . www.15. Geoff Stahl and others concerned circulatory networks. musicological and communicational nature? To what extent has this idea permeated this Personally. In this and sociological analysis.” “tribe” and other social/cultural of artists and bohemians. n. the research of human agents at its centre. the public sociability “subculture. Whereas notion of a scene to a broader sense of the public the concerns with authenticity and identity theatricality and visibility of urban culture. In that marked the earlier wave of popular music other words.

the huge boom of the term. links it posits between various practices. and we know very little about than me. one say attempts to overlay studies other non-urban sites. of internet-based musical communities upon the idea of scene. in the early days of the consumption of cultural artefacts in rural or the internet. the is that this encounter between scene studies and lack of methodological rigour is intrinsic to the studies of music on the internet has not produced notion of “scene” insofar as the nature of the much that we would consider innovative. might lack applicability to other examples) or by retaining the looseness Will Straw . In particular. Jeder Janotti Júnior: Are cities still the One can settle this by describing these links in big reference point for the analysis of the very specific terms in individual case studies appropriation of cultural goods? (which. the term can serve as a kind of floating given us a much richer set of tools for analyzing signifier within other frameworks of analysis .This is a big question for which At the same time. styles and values can never be fixed in a formula.In many respects. maio/ago. what do you is v. My personal preference is for the in studies of urban culture since the 1990s has latter.e-compos. My personal opinion Will Straw . www. it has 1980s. Will Straw . the urban bias in cultural Revista da Associação Nacional dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação | E-compós. others are perhaps more qualified to respond studies persists. we are materials with which to work in the absence of obliged to consider the circulation of cultural formal training in musical analysis. producing 4/9 of music on the web? some very fine work. economic and affective – at which Jeder Janotti Júnior: To what extent is the these goods encounter users and consumers. idea of music scene still alive as we look at the This has drawn the best cultural studies closer current live music circuit and at the circulation to an urban cultural anthropology. I do know | E-ISSN 1808-2599 | Like subcultural studies in the 1970s and cultural consumption. institutional. Given that many definitions Jeder Janotti Júnior: Most of the criticism of scene include a notion of internationally about the idea of scene points to the lack of dispersed networks in which face-to-face contact methodological systematization.As I have argued elsewhere. it is not surprising that one would think about that? attempt to use scenes in describing internet- based forms of interaction. Brasília.15. 2012. the geographical “turn” in popular forced us to extend the scope of our analyses music studies in the 1990s and 2000s gave beyond the simple encounter of citizen-consumer those studying popular music rich conceptual and object-text.2. In the urban context. n. goods and the variety of points – geographical. nevertheless.

org. I remain a Bourdieusian. as I have suggested. Will Straw . Does this created collectively in a moment of shared. Remember that everyone social logic of cultural goods (Miége) and enters a scene at a particular point in its quotidian practices (De Certeau) to analyze constitution and development. Stand begin with some substance (a genre of back from the individuals in the scene and music. Rather. objects. www.I would suggest two procedures: “storage. v. but the scene as a whole is a system That is. Jeder Janotti Júnior:   In the beginning you places and assemblages which sustain articulated the notions of field (Bourdieu). Or – and this is even better – social advancement. and produce it. Will Straw .15. When I wrote my original compare a musical scene to the social activities scene article.2. fashion and so on. but I would begin by seeing how of an ethnography of personal taste? scenes engage in what Friedrich Kittler has defined as some of the key functions of media: Revista da Associação Nacional dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação | E-compós. how else can we study musical scenes? Jeder Janotti Júnior:    What tips would you give to somebody who is beginning to do work Will Straw . so as to defamiliarize of differentiation which are bound to a logic of both of them. transmission and processing. “Scene”. frameworks to produce overly-rigid models of religious activity. do not begin with music fans and for remembering. maio/ago. requires that one move from the localized Jeder Janotti Júnior : Besides the practice to a broader conceptualization of ethnographic and the consumption practice cultural sociability and theatricality. Compare one culture develops principally through principles musical scene to another. cultural expression and social | E-ISSN 1808-2599 | (like circulation theory or actor-network and infrastructures that form around certain theory) in order to balance the tendency of these non-musical activities (like academic work. articulation remain up-to-date? participatory activity which would directly express the values of that collectivity. in the sense that I believe (2) Always be comparative.At a fundamental level. (the playing of music) and follow it through the various networks of people. n. Scenes are not the existence of music scenes. 2012.) cultural practice.I have touched on some of this 5/9 on scenes and wants to avoid the shortcomings already. approaches. moving and transforming practitioners and what they do.” Individuals may not participate in any of these (1) Begin by de-subjectifying the analysis. Miège was important as someone . Brasília. consciously. for example) or a category of event analyze its mediality in the terms I’ve described.e-compos.

put forward by Gaonkar and Povinelli. who In my original article on scenes I spoke of the provide perhaps the most important influence replication of a range of tastes in one place on my recent thinking on the subject. and musical styles and musical affinities. while I think there is an interested in the trans-urban circulation of intensification of musical globalization. not sure that an older model of globalization is The pertinence of the notion of “scene” in any less pertinent. Musical festivals are more valorization. 6/9 invocation of Certeau which was not present as well in Bourdieu. I might this is clearly related closely to the internet. Jeder Janotti Júnior:   Another piece of criticism involves the comprehensive character Revista da Associação Nacional dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação | E-compós.I think we must separate a certain globalization of scenes from their Will Straw . and that their events in Montreal draw on regular collaborators from My own interest is in scenes as urban far away. around the world. Certeau after another.15. Jeder Janotti Júnior:  In the early 21st century of the term. this is little phenomena. for example. 2012. or classical music for much textures of urban culture. I’m retain the notion of “scene” or might not. such analyses will depend on the convincing . So. When I think. and has become less and less of an direct influence. while musical styles may be cosmopolitan and despite my fondness for his writing. Many of these concerns have been important that at any time in history. and the absorbed within the anthropology of circulation life of | E-ISSN 1808-2599 | who was concerned with cultural commodities At the same time.The notion of scene will not in itself virtualization. insofar as they interact with different from what was common in jazz music other urban scenes to produce the complex in the 1960s/1970s. n. venues and concerts is still strong. of resolve the problem of levels – of the relationship the electronic scene in Montreal associated with of the local to the national and the international. In certain respects. musical events are still even suggest that there was little in my original very tied to place. I think this is still going on. maio/ what do scenes. national scenes or globalized an assumed decadence of urban scenes.2. I would circulatory in character. Brasília. v. The pertinence of any definition of scene will be we can see that they have taken their “brand” constructed within individual works of analysis. music is embedded in place and with the manner of their circulation and more than ever.e-compos. the Mutek Festival and its various activities. www. Does this distinction exist to you? Is you think about this debate? Is it still on? there a common idea that is present in the different utilizations of the term scene? Will Straw . If I were more of the 20th century. many times there is reference to a lot was said about virtual scenes and about local scenes.

music magazines and other past seemed to be the role of critique? 7/9 “institutions” of music has obviously changed what it means to be devoted to music and to engage in Will Straw . Does this affect Will Straw . or people with similar tastes – cluster within taste groupings that tend towards scenes became important refuges and resources for exclusivity.2. the decline the function of nominating scenes which in the of music stores. kinds of trend-spotting and identification. 2012. Jeder Janotti Júnior:  To what extent have the Jeder Janotti Júnior:  Ever since it came out. are now just as devoted to television series aspects of new media. dubstep. different levels of “operation” or communication and music scenes will survive as subsets of these share certain characteristics. I believe the rise of an musical activites. An spend a great deal of their time. like trend with important consequences for the notion Chicago Footwork. about it. n. (My graduate students in music and this is made all the more easy by who. recent transformations in the circulation of the idea of scene. and that this may be a long-term media coverage. Brasília. Now that this is no longer the case. but I’m still scarcity – on the difficulty in finding music of enough of a Bourdieusian to think that people the sort one liked. a decade | E-ISSN 1808-2599 | character of the analysis. or newly hyped scenes. at important parts of their lives. on its ability to show how of inhabiting cities has grown in importance. maio/ago.e-compos.In a very banal sense. like of music scene. At the same time.15. lifestyles. people. Newly emergent styles. a bohemian/culturally-oriented way made between musical communities and music . are still the object of old-fashioned in which people. If a music scene is the life-world U. blog and social case previously. giving everyone When scenes were based on a notion of musical access to any kind of music available. The audio-visual.S. Facebook affinity groups and other music. and the notion of music critique seems to be changing. At the Jeder Janotti Júnior:   At first a distinction was same time. has been linked to journalism music affected the idea of music scene? and to cultural critique. www. internet-based culture has made Montreal “scene” of the past 15 years continues music less important in peoples’ lives than was the to be the focus of intense press. The New York Times and the culture of restaurants!) declared recently that the internet had killed the idea of musical snobbery.I still think scenes are supported the quotidian acquisition of music or information by the identification and documentation of Revista da Associação Nacional dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação | E-compós. then we may see apprenticeship in the history and values of scenes receding in terms of their cultural and musical form is still a key part of involvement sociological importance. I think the specificity of musical scenes will be lost. and this continues. were intensely involved in Youtube.

of scene apply to each and every appropriation of popular music in the cities or is it still restricted I would define scene today as the circumscribed to specific consumer groups as in the cases you spheres of sociability. there are a number of scene is enriched when the examples serve to of strong. As suggested earlier. I would add). I think the notion interest would become the focus of scene studies. Indeed. 2012. as it tends to be focused on the relations between people exclusively (and not on the relations of Will Straw . As some have as a great deal of interesting social theory comes pointed out. things and processes). faith in my original definition. Jeder Janotti Júnior:   Does the notion of it by Brazilian scholars. Will Straw . if anything. made the notion of 8/9 musical communities even more prominent these Jeder Janotti Júnior:  Is there a current days. Brasília. I’m less interested definition by Will Straw of the music scenes in personally in the notion of community insofar current times? If so. creativity and connection mentioned in your early writings (alternative rock which take shape around certain kinds of and the dance scene)? cultural objects in the course of these objects’ social lives.There is a certain amount of bad people to places.2. The discourses of hipsterdom and the subcultural or “scene-like”) which have presided realities of cultural gentrification in cities around over popular music studies. The latter racial/cultural diversity). Do you think this separation is still interesting work on scenes might be that which valid? Is it still worthwhile to speak of musical deals with forms and practices not usually communities? Why? considered within the “scene” framework: classical music. or the revivals of Will Straw .Of course it should apply to a larger set of musical styles. of musical communities may assume new giving us a great deal of interesting work (much importance. maio/ago. www. the Montreal 1940s swing music. | E-ISSN 1808-2599 | scenes. what is this definition? Revista da Associação Nacional dos Programas de Pós-Graduação em Comunicação | E-compós. The notion neighbourhood in which I live.15. that doesn’t solve anything! Received on: Approved on: 06 May 2012 11 July 2012 .e-compos. for example. overlapping communities based around overturn the prejudices (about what is cool or music.In Mile I was concerned as much with the to be concerned with the ways in which people movement and development of assemblages of co-inhabit the urban spaces of the contemporary style as with the sorts of worlds in which people world (and do so in contexts of increasing ethnic/ lived out their relationships to music. or church music. v. n. the world have. I think the most However.

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