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Britpop: Towards a Musicological Assessment
Leeds, April 1997



Towards a Musicological Assessment

a one-day symposium

definitions, traditions, regions
style, genre, intertextuality
gender, sexuality, class

Department of Music
University of Leeds
in association with
Critical Musicology Journal

9th April 1997


Full Programme

Session 1: 10:30-12:30
Clothworker's Concert Hall
Chair: Steve Sweeney-Turner

(1) Andy Bennett (Lecturer in Sociology, Durham)
"Representations of `Britishness' in Britpop"

 It has often been said that embedded in Britpop style, music and
 lyrics are distinct images of the `British' identity.  To put this a
 slightly different way, one might say that Britpop endorses and thus
 reinforces `popular' ideas about what it means to be British. In this
 paper I want to critically evaluate the representations of
 Britishness promoted through Britpop.  There is a clear sense in
 which the Britpop genre, even as it moves away from the
 Beatles/Kinks/Small Faces-centred British music of the `sixties which
 inspired it, and adopts a sound and a style more resonant with
 `nineties Britain, retains a fixation on a peculiarly one dimensional
 vision of the British identity.  It will be a central contention of
 my paper that `Britishness' in Britpop connects more readily with the
 taste culture of those who follow the genre than with the nation as a

(2) Rupert Till (Lecturer in Composition, Bretton Hall)
"Look Back in Anger: the Historical Development of Britpop"

 Many people see Britpop as a denial or rejection of 20 years of
 musical development, and much has been written and said about the
 influence of the Beatles, Small Faces, Stones and Kinks. However
 Britpop is in fact the terminus of a circular development that has
 progressed through Pop Music since the 60s. This paper seeks to trace
 that process, looking at more recent influences on Britpop, from Glam
 rock through Punk, Goth, Indie, Baggy and Shoegazing to
 post-Oasis/Blur Britpop.

(3) Rachel Swindells (Ph.D. in Music, Leeds)
"`Something Changed': Britpop and the Transformation of Cultural Roles
in Popular Music"

 Recent months have seen various commentators suggest that Britpop is
 a spent force.  This paper examines the evidence and motives behind
 such claims, and considers Britpop in the context of other recent
 developments in the British popular music scene.

 Possible definitions of Britpop will be examined, and the argument
 put forward that one of its key features concerns its part in a far
 broader trend: that of considerable changes in the cultural roles of
 various musical styles.  A primary characteristic of these tendencies
 is a perceived appropriation of `alternative' music by the
 mainstream, in both a commercial and a cultural sense, and a
 consequent shift as other styles embrace the `underground' position
 previously presented by `indie'.  The potential for this change has
 been present for a number of years.

 It is debatable whether Britpop, whatever that might entail, has
 maintained a consistent manner of operation it was perhaps too broad
 a concept to resist fragmentation into the more specific pigeonholes
 demanded by the music scene.  Nevertheless, it appears that the
 transitions it helped instigate are very much incomplete, and thus,
 whatever Britpop's state of health, its legacy continues.

(4) Stan Hawkins (Associate Professor of Music, Oslo)
"Anti-Rebel, Lonesome Boy - Morrisey in Crisis?"

 This paper sets out to provide several readings of Morrisey's songs
 off his first solo album, "Viva Hate" from 1988.  The intention here
 is to consider these songs as cultural texts within a postmodern
 musicological framework.  My interest lies predominantly in
 interpreting the music against a range of discourses that make the
 music and the artist socially significant.  How Morrisey's texts
 problematise specific articulations of masculinity and sexuality
 within a post 1980s British setting forms a central focal point. 
 This paper reflects my position as a musicologist and my engagement
 with the larger issues of politics of culture and citizenship. 
 Ultimately, I attempt to offer a variety of `musical' explanations of
 how Morrisey's songs function and why they have had such an effect on
 his fans.

Lunch: 12:30-13:30
Senior Common Room

Session 2: 13:30-15:30
Clothworker's Concert Hall

(1) Steve Sweeney-Turner (Research Fellow in Music, Leeds)
"`Our Cellophane Sounds': Suede and the Concept of Trash"

`through the laughable say what is serious'
- Friedrich Nietzsche.

 Throughout Britpop, certain concepts of triviality can be discerned
 which trace an ironic form of self-critique within the genre, and
 which raise a number of aesthetic and ideological problematics
 concerning its meaning, its relationship to the history of popular
 music, and its relationship to other genres. With particular
 reference to Suede, this paper attempts to map some of the semiotic
 modes of such self-critique, utilising a number of concepts from the
 modernity-postmodernity debate (especially Nietzsche's later work)
 which question the philosophical value of the high-low culture
 distinction.  Specifically, it is a question of the possibility that
 the trivial itself has a higher philosophical power than the idea of
 the profound, and that this power (always potentially Dionysian,
 erotic, corporeal) is overtly invoked in the more ostensibly trashy
 moments of the Britpop phenomenon. In this, it will be suggested that
 Britpop traces a Nietzschean transvaluation of the aesthetics of, for
 example, Adornian modernity, reversing its prioritisation of the
 progressive over the regressive, and valorising the concept of trash
 as a defining moment of its camp aesthetic.

(2) Keith Jeffrey (Director, Kirklees Media Centre)
"Britpop - Proof Positive that Rock is Dead"

"We don't need to make anything up.  We just point things out.  We
select things and recognise them, and use them.  Selection is probably
the only artistic process - originality is a corny idea..." - Devo,

 Britpop is a misnomer.  True Pop music would never base itself on a
 form so sterile and bereft of originality as Rock music.  It is
 significant that the two great phenomena of `nineties Pop - the Spice
 Girls and Take That - have based their musical styles on urban black
 American R `n' B, not Rock `n' Roll. Britpop is Britrock, and it is
 my contention that it is a tacit admission of the death of Rock
 music.  As Devo pointed out, the only real creativity in Rock now
 comes in the choices made by these bands in the style that they are
 going to copy.  The only real creativity is in the expression of the
 individuality of the lyric writer. I will look at four bands
 (Menswear, Elastica, Oasis and Blur) and try to understand some of
 the motivations behind the stylistic choices they have made.

(4) Simon Warner (Senior Lecturer in Popular Music, Bretton Hall)
"Britprint: Liking and Loathing on the News-stand"

 The changing face of rock magazines in the UK is at the centre of
 this paper - how the decline of the maverick radicals like NME and MM
 and the emergence of the more conservative glossies like Q and Mojo
 has played a role in the rise of Britpop. Among the questions I will
 be endeavouring to address are: were the inkies ever as
 ground-breaking as they have been drawn? Were they as much an
 appendage of the rock industry as the current spate of glamorous,
 colour publications? Is the innate conservatism of Britpop, tapping 
 so heavily on the postures of the past, a reflection of the more 
 conservative rock press?  I will be reflecting also on how little 
 notice has been taken of the influence of rock journalism on the 
 music itself by the academic sector so far and making some early
 observations as my research progresses. 

(4) Derek Scott (Head of Music, Salford)
"Oasis - What's the Copy (Pop Gone Sloppy)?"

 This paper explores the links, musical and otherwise, between Oasis
 and the Beatles. In so doing, it reveals the shifting meanings that
 result when apparently similar messages are articulated at differing
 historic conjunctures, and raises questions about the character of
 pastiche in popular music.

Tea and Scones: 15:30-16:00
Clothworker's Hall Foyer

Open Forum: 16:00-17:00
Clothworker's Concert Hall
Panel: All Speakers
Chair: Steve Sweeney-Turner

Evening: A Dionysian Excursion into Club-land
"`cause there's nothing else to do..."