Live Music Exchange Blog

‘Live’ / ‘Archive’ – Dr. Abigail Gardner


Today’s guest post is by Dr. Abigail Gardner, Subject Group Leader for Media courses at the University of Gloucestershire. Her research includes work on research gender and sexuality in media and in particular popular music, older women in music, popular music and memory, and subcultural theory. She is the co-editor of the recent collection Rock On: Women, Ageing and Popular Music, published by Ashgate in 2012. Here she discusses festivals, and heritage acts, in the context of how audiences experience them and their roles as living ‘archives’ of personal and musical history.

London, summertime, 1989 and the sound on the hot dusty London streets is Soul II Soul’s ‘Keep on Moving’.

Cheltenham 2013, Soul II Soul are headlining the Friday line up at Wychwood, a  ‘family friendly summer festival’. Hearing them takes me back to the heat and open car windows of that London summer. I wonder if they have become their own tribute band. I wonder what they’re doing in the Cotswolds and I wonder if Paul Morley is right.

It is Festival Season. UK broadcast and lifestyle media are replete with articles on ‘step[ping] out in luxurious British boho style with… festival-inspired looks’. The current Harpers Bazaar’s webpage has tips on Goodwood, Glyndebourne and Glastonbury. Paul Morley has this to say about The Stones appearing on the Pyramid Stage:

“Festivals are the rock generation’s equivalent of cruises, the convenient place to go to sample various preserved delights, obscure sites and classic monuments and celebrate ancient rituals from a safe distance”   (Paul Morley, 31.3.13)

Morley’s picture of the rock festival as a cruise counterpart – a Saga holiday for those unable to get out and about in the evening – sits within a broader piece on Glastonbury’s booking of The Rolling Stones. In it he argues that bands of their ilk will continue to take pole position in such events as long as there is a lack of a viable counterculture to provide acts to take their place. Leaving aside Morley’s pessimism about the potential for any contemporary music to be countercultural his comments about preservation are a useful lens through which to think about this and other festivals as archives. Indeed his comments on The Stones in particular “being the bloody archive” resonate with recent academic concerns related to popular music, heritage and memory (Wu 2010, Roberts 2012, Cohen 2013) and force into relief ways in which the live and the archive are connected. Archives in this sense are not dusty vaults packed with collected artefacts deemed to be what a culture holds dear to itself, access to which is controlled by the ‘archivist’ (as Derrida’s 1996 work establishes) but fluid, accessible spaces where the past mingles with the present – “very much a living breathing organism that is deeply embedded in everyday social and cultural life” (Roberts 2012:14). What both this academic work and Morley’s observations have in common is the understanding that attendance at a festival, real or virtual, can be both a memory-jogger of the past or an artefact from the past (Van Dijck, 2007). Jagger at Glastonbury will be both the jogger and the artefact – a signpost back to the 60s and 70s and a living example of that era.

What Morley’s reading of the festival also alludes to is the idea that going to Glastonbury is a memorializing practice that is somehow disconnected to a continuing engagement with a particular music scene or subculture. It is about reliving what you used to be/like. Writing on the San Francisco Bay rave scene Wu also notes that memory can act as an individual or a collective “re-enactment of the past” (2010:74). This might work for some other festivals pitched to those over their teen years; the now defunct Big Chill, for example, that set out to cater for ‘ravers and families’. This experience, the going to the site, the getting hold of the programme, the ticking-off of things to do and see are all part of an activity that is similar to going on holiday and filled with the same expectations and nostalgias. Writing on 90s dance music in Holland, Van de Hoeven stresses the idea that, “Since music fosters a sense of belonging, people form communities with shared heritages or a common past which they nostalgically cherish” (2012:5).

Whether this past is lived or vicarious, attendance at a festival such as Glastonbury offers participants a collective environment in which memory work can take place. So although it is operating as a memory prop, it’s not just like going on the cruise, a convenient place to go to sample from the safe distance that Morley argues. It’s like going on the cruise with the same people (or people similar to) the ones you went with the last time. You go because you become part of a community, all adding to your own memory banks. You go because being there is a checking into a safe place that may be a subcultural one, a marginal one, a hedonistic one – removed from your present working life. It may be the only way that you can go and experience live music if you work, have kids, don’t live near a decent venue – and so it becomes a site and space for living and memorising. In this way the festival is a “collective praxis” (Kahn-Harris 2007:122), where the ‘collective’ might be identifiably subcultural  (like Rebellion, the punk festival in Morecombe Bay in August) or ‘collective’ in a more loosely identified liberal/hippy way (Green Man) and the praxis is one of both participation and recollection. Indeed with contemporary digital tools like streaming and uploads, the archiving of the festival can be immediate and part of its experience. So although Morley laments Jagger, the arch archive, taking over Pilton’s Pyramid Stage, his use of the term brings into relief the interplay between past and present that are part of the experience of the festival. As Keep On Moving drifted across the Gloucestershire hills, the sounds of a London summer were accompanying them, layering up and enriching, reflecting; a living archive indeed.

Indicative Bibliography

Cohen, S., Leonard, M., Knifton, R., and Roberts, L. (2013) Sites of popular music heritage, New York, NY: Routledge

Kahn-Harris, K. (2007), Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge, New York: Berg

Nora, P. (1989) “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire.” Representations 26 (1989):7-25 in Haskins, E. (2007) Between Archive and Participation: Public Memory in a Digital Age, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 37: 401-422

Van der Hoeven, A. (2012) ‘Remembering the popular music of the 1990s:dance music and the cultural meanings of decade-based nostalgia’ in International Journal of Heritage Studies. DOI:10.1080/13527258.2012.738334

Van Dijck, J. (2007) Mediated Memories in the Digital Age, Stanford: Stanford University Press

Wu, E, M. (2010) ‘Memory and Nostalgia in Youth Music Cultures: Finding the Vibe in the San Francisco Bay Area Rave Scene, 2002-2004’ in Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, Vol 1, No 2. pp. 63-78



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