News: MSCA Individual Fellowship

It’s a strange time to have good news to share: I certainly don’t want to vaingloriously distract from the difficult global circumstances, but perhaps it’s nice to hear about exciting new opportunities. With that in mind…

I’m delighted to announce that in September I’ll be starting as a Research Fellow at University College Cork (Republic of Ireland), funded by an Individual Fellowship with the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. It forms part of the Horizon 2020 scheme to nurture excellence by means of cross-border and cross-sector mobility. I’ll be working with Prof. Griff Rollefson‘s groundbreaking CIPHER team at UCC to study global hip-hop knowledge flows. You can read more about CIPHER here and here. Ok, that’s probably enough links!

My research project, titled ‘Digital Flows’, investigates dynamic cultural politics of hip-hop music and community on the internet. Mapping expressions of hip-hop throughout the world, what more global domain to explore than the web? (And yet, it is clearly not an even playing field, with stark inequities in internet access and engagement.) The work will develop a new web-oriented methodology of data-driven and case study research into online cultural networks. My focus will be on hip-hop’s listener base, which includes many young and/or marginalised people employing digital technologies to exciting new ends. The findings of this investigation of internet-based music culture will shed light on European priorities concerning online cultural expression, engagement and education.

You can read more about the project here, on the European Commission’s portal CORDIS. (The extract there is taken from the larger application, packing lots of information into as few words as possible, so I’d be glad to elaborate if there are questions about the project.)

UCC has been extremely welcoming so far, despite restrictions on travel, and I’m looking forward to getting started on the research. More from me when I’m set up in Cork – it’ll be nice to live in Europe again! I’ll try to provide more regular updates, in the hopes they will be helpful for others on research fellowships for international mobility / postdocs / ECRs interested in the intersections between music and the Internet.

Admittedly, it’s with some sadness that I leave the fantastic BIMM Institute, Brighton, where I’ve had a rewarding experience developing an academic support provision to support the college. However, I’m confident that someone with academic expertise can take leadership of the Head of Academic Studies role, maintaining the high-quality standards now in place. I’ve really enjoyed the leadership and teaching aspects of the position, and I’m excited to further my popular music studies specialism by embarking on this exceptional research opportunity.

New chapter: Empowerment in Rap Music Listening ft. Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle”

Today I received the first printing of On Popular Music and Its Unruly Entanglements, published by Palgrave Macmillan at the very tail end of 2019. (Happy New Year!)

Edited by Nick Braae and Kai Arne Hansen, the book includes eleven essays that explore the myriad ways popular music is entwined within social, cultural, musical, historical, and media networks.

My chapter provides a ‘fresh take’ on the idea of empowerment, focusing on listening to rap music and investigating what goes on psychologically when we listen. I dig into the theory around this topic and apply it to music analysis of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Backseat Freestyle’. You can read a preview of the chapter here (you’ll need to hit ‘Show next 8, then scroll to Chapter 9 and hit Preview). You’ll enjoy my transcription of the ‘Backseat Freestyle’ beat using emojis! ?

The book is available now from Palgrave Macmillan and the usual book suppliers. There are amazing chapters in this, discussing genres as varied as pop, rock, synthwave, video game music (Sonic The Hedgehog 3 to be precise, HT Megan Lavengood), amateur ukelele music, and audiovisual remixes. I’m grateful to the editors for their hard work on this groundbreaking collection. Grab a copy now!

Pixel for scale.

New Article: Breaking down the breakdown…

Metal Music Studies issue 5.3 has just been published, featuring my article ‘Breaking down the breakdown in twenty-first-century metal‘. In the article:

I introduce the breakdown as a formal structure identified in certain styles of modern metal, especially metalcore. Breakdowns are widely considered to be distinct sections of a song, much like a verse or chorus: this observation provides the basis for defining breakdowns structurally using music analysis. Responding to the nascent field of research on popular music fandom, I next discuss curatorial practices focusing upon breakdowns, where online fan communities collect their favourites, rate them and compare how they are employed in metal music. Moving beyond their use as extracts of recorded tracks, I investigate some possible uses and accompaniments for breakdowns in live settings. In particular, metal performance scenarios can emphasize breakdowns as opportunities for moshing and other forms of collective motion. Finally, I consider potential listening experiences of breakdowns (and their accessibility), from catharsis and emotional release to communal belonging.

It’s a Metal Music Studies special issue on the topic of Metal and Musicology, following on from a conference at the University of Hull hosted by Dr. Lewis Kennedy (who coedited the guest issue with Dr M Selim Yavuz). It’s an important topic and a great editorial team. You can read their open-access introduction to the issue in full here.

If you’re at all interested in metal music listening, analysing metalcore, YouTube breakdown compilations (e.g. here), or why people might partake in moshing, do check out my article here.

News: Metal Music Studies Editorial Advisory Board

I’m excited to announce that I’m joining the editorial advisory board of the Intellect journal Metal Music Studies. MMS is the official journal of the International Society of Metal Music Studies, and a wonderful hub of research activity spanning broad areas of metal music and culture.

More information can be found on the journal’s official site and the ISMMS site, which boasts the killer URL

The official aims and scope of the journal are:

  • To provide an intellectual hub for the International Society of Metal Music Studies and a vehicle to promote the development of metal music studies;
  • To be the focus for research and theory in metal music studies – a multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) subject field that engages with a range of parent disciplines, including (but not limited to) sociology, musicology, humanities, cultural studies, geography, philosophy, psychology, history, natural sciences;
  • To subject all journals to a double-blind peer-review and publish high-quality, world-class research, theory and shorter articles that cross over from the industry and the scene;
  • To be a world leader in interdisciplinary studies and be a unique resource for metal music studies.

News: Book Contract

Some good news to share: I’ve been offered a contract by Routledge to write a research monograph. The book is provisionally titled How Music Empowers: Listening to Modern Rap and Metal, and it will be part of the Music and Change series. I aim to submit the manuscript around the end of 2019, so given typical publication time you can expect to read the book in 2021 or so.

This book will draw from my doctoral research to provide a new way of understanding how individuals are empowered by listening to music. I’m really excited to be working on it with Routledge! Full ‘elevator pitch’ below:

How Music Empowers suggests that power is the key to unlocking the long-standing mystery of how music moves us. Drawing upon cutting-edge studies in cognitive science, psychology, and cultural studies, the book provides a new way of understanding how music can offer listeners empowerment. The argument develops from our latest conceptions of what it is to be human and addresses why music listening is such a widespread cultural activity: the experiences of empowerment that music provides can increase individuals’ self-esteem, give them resilience, and encourage community formation.

Applying this theory to postmillennial rap and metal, the book uncovers why everyday listeners engage with music often dismissed as social ‘problems’. Taking a sympathetic, insider approach to these music cultures, numerous rap and metal tracks are analysed to suggest their empowering potential in the listening process. This culminates in an account of how individuals pursue their musical interests to creatively interact with communities dedicated to rap and metal, leading to a self-perpetuating process which keeps both music listeners and these thriving musical cultures alive and well.

New website!

I’ve migrated from my rather antiquated site to a new one hosted by WordPress, which I’m hoping will enable me to post more actively. I’m unsure about the precise nature of the content that will emerge: perhaps the occasional album review, media commentary, or informal conference report alongside career updates. This is a kind of test post while I play around with themes and layouts.

Thanks for visiting, and feel free to add me on Twitter, which I’m trying to use more consistently.

Here’s an image of two hard copies of my PhD thesis, which I submitted on Tuesday!