Live Music Exchange Blog

Pop music festivals and (cultural) policies – New IASPM Journal special issue


In this post, we’re introducing a special issue of the Journal of The International Association for the Study of Popular Music. The issue is co-edited by two Live Music Exchange directors, Martin Cloonan and Adam Behr – along with LMX contributor Beate Flath of the University of Paderborn – and concerns the topic of festivals and cultural policy.

Festivals, along with live music in general, are increasingly a part of the broader political process and, relatedly, the cultural policy process. That’s if they could ever have been said to be truly separate. In Britain, for instance, Glastonbury has long featured a political dimension, and the travails of Womad this year in the face of the Brexit process is a clear indication that policymaking and live music provision are often difficult to disentangle. Live music, like cultural policy – and cultural activity at large – operates transnationally, and involves a complex mix of local concerns, commercial considerations and the identities and practices of a range of audiences and musical practitioners.

It’s appropriate, then, that this timely issue approaches the politics of popular music festivals from a range of theoretical and geographical perspectives.

Daniel Fredriksson’s piece – ‘From Dalarana to the Orient’: Falun Folk Music Festival – discusses the Swedish festival Falun Folk Music Festival and shows through the use of ethnographic material how the festival’s cosmopolitanism worked towards the professionalisation, and artistic recognition, of Swedish folk traditions.

Heikki Uimonen considers ‘Practical Idealism: Live Music Associations and the Revitalisation of the Music Festival Scene in Finland’. He highlights the symbiotic relationship between live music associations and various political and cultural institutions. This article depicts the shifts in the cultural and commercial landscape which helped the live music associations become an influential cultural presence in Finland.

Stian Vestby’s contribution – ‘Keeping it Country while dancing with the Elite’ – looks at the concept of ‘musical gentrification’ through a study of the Norwegian Country Meeting festival and its evolution since becoming a Norwegian hub festival in 2012. The article discusses how cultural policy and cultural practices intersect with broader systems of power and their relationships to social and aesthetic concerns.

Peter Lell uses ethnographic fieldwork data from the WOMAD festival in the UK and the Africa Festival in Germany to examine the intersection of musicians, festival attendees and the broader festival environment. His article – ‘Understanding World Music Festivals as Sites of Musical Education: An Ethnographic Approach’ – describes typologies for listening to and encountering the music and their capacity for encouraging musical learning. He suggests that world music festivals can be seen as sites of musical education.

Finally, Bianca Ludewig considers ‘eventification’. Her article – ‘Transmedia festivals and the accelerated cultural sector’ – looks at the social and cultural processes related to the growing importance of cultural events as well as the gentrification and precarity that accompany them. The article discusses the dilemmas and challenges that local and EU funding policies bring for urban festivals and situates festivals within the process of urban cultural change.

The issue feeds into a wider and ongoing discussion of how festivals – and live music more generally – can influence, and are affected by, political concerns and cultural policy. We hope it’s of interest.

The journal is Open Access and the issue is available at:

Please note that this is a forum for discussion, dialogue, and debate, and posts and comments on this blog represent only the author, not Live Music Exchange as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.


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