Underground Cultures In Today’s Punk Scenes

Paula Guerra

Paula Guerra

The underground music scenes were, for a long time, associated with strong handcrafted cultural practices. Consequently, in this article we intend to discuss the importance of underground artists and musical practices in contemporary society, both for its volatility and for its undeniable importance in urban youth cultures, keeping a record of sociological reflection, although open to all other social sciences.

Underground urban musical cultures were and still are considered by many as illegitimate objects of analysis within the framing of contemporary social theory. However, these cultures play a central role in the functioning of the music industry and in the outlook of emerging digital media. We also intend to clarify the musical scenes that run through contemporary cities, giving them rhythms but also specific forms of cultural identity, as well as a new historical, social and artistic heritage. In summary, this article aims to explore the contemporary landscapes of underground urban music scenes and handcrafted cultures in a context of globalised modernity.

Having this thematic in mind, we examine how young people involved in underground music scenes are actively forging handcrafted careers though applying skills, for example in production, promotion, composition and performance, acquired through long-term immersion in these scenes. This opinion article is an illustration of how youth culture can no longer be regarded purely as a leisure-based and age-demarcated phenomenon but must also be seen as a platform through which young people acquire practical skills and competencies in an era of risk, uncertainty and precarious living. One of the subjects at hand is the relationship between punk, youth cultures and handcrafted skills. Thus, the importance of punk in the youth culture structuration plays a major role in the analysis, serving as an ignition to the discussion of actual subcultural or countercultural filiations.

The handcrafts and creative authenticity are clearly associated with punk, so it is fundamental to understand how they materialize in daily strategies and practices, giving birth to particular identities and lifestyles. Another subject is the punk scenes related to the political activism, resistance practices and the rise of contemporary social movements — where punk is present and playing some kind of role, depending on the context. The presented opinion discuss political visions (left-right), ideological inclinations (anarcho-punk), press, graphic design, etcetera. The subcultural belonging has an inevitable connection with genre and ageing. The orientations and the aesthetic bindings of punk and their inscription in the body, as well as the affections towards certain bands, deserve special attention in this thematic section.

The relationship between art, culture, ideology and politics has raised great interest from the social sciences, and has done for some time now. Particularly, since the cultural studies advent, a great interest emerged in the study of countercultures and urban subcultures, especially in what concerns their dimension of protest and resistance, through different ways and languages, to cultural, political and ideological hegemonic manifestations. This thematic section of the KISMIF International Conference “Music scenes, politics and ideology: social-historical memories and contemporary practices” aims to contribute to review and update this discussion, examining different subcultural underground manifestations, speeches and practices, located both in the past and in the present, situating them historically, culturally and politically, and trying to debate them in their different dimensions and perspectives.

Musical consumption has been an important subject in sociology during the last three decades. Crossed by quantitative (Pierre Bourdieu, in 1984, 2004, and 2007) and qualitative (DiMaggio, in 1987; DeNora, in 2000) methods, the classical researches in this area highlighted the role of music as a way of social distinction and status. Recently, the usefulness of the links between musical taste and status has been shown to be more complex. It is worth mentioning the work produced by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies by the University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, and its contemporary re-updates, especially in their contributions to the construction of social identities and to all the processes by which meanings were attributed to musical works and public engagement (Dick Hebdige, in 2004; Feixa, in 1999; Hall, in 2003; and Bennett & Peterson, in 2004). Thus, in the thematic area of “Musical production, mediation, consumption and fruition in the contemporaneity” that we intend to present a range of discussions on this issue.

Sarah Cohen recognised an effective relationship between music and local identity (Sarah Cohen, 1991, 1993; Corral, 2008), supplanting the classical approach of cultural studies and engaging a demarche based on the spatialization of group dynamics of music consumption. This approach has been extremely useful to sociology because it is based on the concept of a scene (Bennett & Peterson, in 2004; Bennett, in 2004) as a social construction buoyed by the networks and patterns of interactions that occur in a given space-time. Thus, a scene refers to a cluster of social and cultural activities without rigid boundaries, but with an attachment to a space of interactions.

Scenes can be distinguished from each other by their geographical location, the type of cultural production which identifies them or by the social activities which animate them. The great virtue of the concept is based on the fact that it gives us an invitation to the mapping out of urban territory, to the new forms and new uses, to the new semiotics, to new relationships (Straw, in 2005). And the research presented in this article is rooted in it. Like Barry Shank (1994) said, a scene can be defined as a significant community of sounds, images, lifestyles, and aesthetics. The concept of the scene is a way of expressing the theatricality of the city or the city’s ability to generate images of the interactions. So, it captures the sense of the bustling city, the everyday sociability. Will Straw believes that the most frequent and repeatedly identified scenes are those related to music (Straw, in 2005). The production and consumption of music are, in effect, sociability multipliers. Music, more than any other artistic field, is part of the bodies, groups and interactions (Hennion, in 1993).

The object of analysis and inspiring motto of this opinion piece falls within the development of the scientific research project “Keep It Simple, make it fast! (KISMIF): Prolegomenon and punk scenes, a road to Portuguese contemporaneity” (1977-2012), whose goal is the analysis of the punk manifestations in Portugal since its origins up to present day (1977-2012). KISMIF is supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology and is being developed in the Sociology Institute of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Porto in a partnership with the Griffith Centre for Cultural Research, the University of Lleida, the Faculty of Economics of the University of Porto , the Faculty of Economics of the University of Coimbra and the Faculty of Psychology of the University of Porto and the Lisbon Municipal Libraries.

KISMIF’s approach is trans-disciplinary (Anthropology, History, Psychology, Communication, Journalism and Sociology) and deals with different time and space frames, in both synchronic and diachronic manners, in order to unveil the curtains that hide this barely visible and complex research object. It privileges a dialogue between punk’s production and reception, within the Portuguese urban culture framework, but it also intends to conceptualise the music phenomenon both as one the most ancient, universal and important ways of communicating and as an important tool to build identity and community identity definition.

So in here is an invitation to continue reading further publications about the various opinion articles and approaches on contemporary music scenes, on the lookout for an open and deep debate about the cultural and symbolic changes which have been operating at a fast pace in this late modernity.

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