Crossing borders, moving on

The study of cultural production in its urban contexts – and particularly music production – is very revealing about the politics of contemporary multiculture, and is an important theme that runs throughout the conference, and not least on the Music and Urban Identities panel.

The Grime music scene in particular, which has a strong presence in east and south London, provides a ripe site to explore the dynamics of urban multiculture. Grime is commonly seen as an expression of disavowed and marginalised urban and racialised youth, known for the intensity of its lyrics and sound, coming together to form what  Dan Hancox describes as an ‘incendiary energy’. It’s also a highly demonised genre, whether it is vilification in the press, crackdowns on pirate radio or the shutting down of grime club nights (and even the banning of specific songs being played in a venue).

In her paper ‘Crossing borders, moving on: the urban music economy as a transformative realm’ Joy White considers the radical potential of the ‘urban’ music scene in the context of everyday practices. This was a truly immersive project that spanned over five years and encompassed interviews with over 40 people involved the urban music economy. Joy’s research also entailed participant observation of where this creative practice was carried out, for example, backstage at music video shoots and on location at pirate radio station broadcasts.

As Joy, explains the urban music economy acts as a transformative realm for young people – which, drawing from Les Back’s work, she describes as a ‘cultural intermezzo where young people of Caribbean, African and English heritage work together; crossing borders and drawing on global and local influences to create music that has an international reach’.

To give a flavour of her paper, below are two clips from her research. The first video clip is from a visit to a pirate radio station in 2009 (the rules are clearly displayed on the wall). The DJ is an ‘old hand’ that came up through the sound systems, playing UK Funky on his morning show. The second is from a 2010, a ‘behind the scenes’ look from a video shoot for a Grime MC.

As Joy continues in the abstract to her paper, ‘an exploration of the cultural dynamics of the Grime music scene provides a partial view of the cultural dynamics of everyday life in a contemporary urban environment’.

Joy White presents ‘Crossing borders, moving on: the urban music economy as a transformative realm’ in Panel 1 ‘Music and Urban Identities’, PSH302, 10:30-11:45.


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