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Nostalgia, symbolic
knowledge and generational
conflict:
Contentious issues in
contemporary Northern and
Rare Soul scenes
...
Nostalgia and Familiarity
• Nostalgia as a reason for the longevity of Northern Soul?
• Tension between perceiving involve...
“…I was talking to former Wigan Casino & Torch DJ Dave Evison and
asked him what his thoughts are, Dave said, “I always fe...
‘Oldies’ or new rare records?
“85 percent of people in the scene are there for nostalgia, recapturing youth,
familiar musi...
Symbolic knowledge, credibility and rarity
• Northern and rare soul (NRS) as a culture revolving around taste
which diverg...
“Some [events] are more commercial than others…
Commercially I mean the sounds played will be
more popular records that ma...
• Domination of white males in NRS culture – high number of
male DJs, promoters and record traders/collectors
• Increasing...
“...there are very few females that I can sit down
with and have a conversation about records.
Don’t get me wrong, there a...
• Long-term involvement in NRS scenes cements one’s
position as a genuine ‘soulie’
• Acquiring symbolic knowledge and soci...
“I once went to a northern soul dance in Warrington and as I wasn’t
a regular there the people on the door… asked me if I ...
Generational conflict
• Majority of fans are aged between 40 and 60
but some younger fans are evident
• An article publish...
Contrasting views:
“[I] can remember getting into a "discussion" several years
ago at Warrington Parr Hall with some old t...
• Intergenerational involvement
“Older people can show resentment towards
younger people for not knowing certain things
an...
Young DJs
“This kid was great! He's not only a serious DJ with several well-
stacked boxes of his own originals and his ow...
“We took [DJ’s name] on as a resident... when he was 14 years old -
playing his own OVO ... I noticed when he was DJ'ing o...
• Older fans situate themselves as ‘critical
overseers’ (Bennett 2006) of the scene
• Older NRS fans ‘...articulate a disc...
Conclusions
• Nostalgia, memory and familiarity play a role in NRS scenes as many fans
want to hear the songs they recogni...
Thank you for listening
Questions?
Lucy.gibson@manchester.ac.uk
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Nostalgia, Symbolic Knowledge and Generational Conflict: Contentious Issues in Contemporary Northern and Rare Soul Scenes

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Dr Lucy Gibson, University of Manchester

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Rare Records and Raucous Nights: Investigating Northern Soul, University of Salford, 4 November, 2010
A spirited examination of dance culture, record collecting, and the perpetual British love for American Rhythm & Blues

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Nostalgia, Symbolic Knowledge and Generational Conflict: Contentious Issues in Contemporary Northern and Rare Soul Scenes

  1. 1. Nostalgia, symbolic knowledge and generational conflict: Contentious issues in contemporary Northern and Rare Soul scenes Dr. Lucy Gibson University of Manchester
  2. 2. Nostalgia and Familiarity • Nostalgia as a reason for the longevity of Northern Soul? • Tension between perceiving involvement in the scenes as nostalgia or as a ‘living culture’ (Bennett 2006) to be enjoyed in adulthood: “I saw so many faces I knew, the records hadn’t changed, the dancing was the same, it was just as though I had walked into a recurring dream, except the faces were a bit older, stomachs not so firm…. I thought that I shouldn’t be there, I thought it was ‘wrong’, I thought they were very sad people hanging on to a past youthfulness which had danced into their dreams and aspirations fuelled by the music I love. Then in 1999 [I went to] a weekender in Skegness, the same feelings, it was out of joint, but as I attended the next two events I had stopped thinking they (and I) were trying to live in the past and realised that the passion for Northern Soul which I had as a teenager and early twenties was still real, the music was still true to my soul and when I danced it was not recapturing my youth but more like putting on a comfy pair of slippers, sort of coming home, although it felt like I had never been away.” (Male, 48)
  3. 3. “…I was talking to former Wigan Casino & Torch DJ Dave Evison and asked him what his thoughts are, Dave said, “I always feel that the Northern Soul scene was a part of my youth and a part of my growing up in life”. Dave went on “So the beauty of reunion nights like these is a chance to relive your youth and remember a more carefree time. You know what I find good about these nights is that really apart from everyone looking that bit older, nothing else has changed in 30 years…. …I have to say that I agree with Dave, nothing brings the people out more than a night of nostalgia and that is what is being catered for at these events.” (Blues and Soul Magazine 2004) • Mind/body dichotomy where the true – perpetually youthful – self is disguised behind old skin, ‘...cohorts tend to retain the values of their youth throughout life…’ (Blaikie 1999:214). • An attempt to redefine and resist traditional notions of middle age?
  4. 4. ‘Oldies’ or new rare records? “85 percent of people in the scene are there for nostalgia, recapturing youth, familiar music and friends. For the other ten or fifteen percent, music is everything and they want new rare stuff played all the time.” (Male, 42) “There are still so many records that we’ve not heard and discovered, not as many now but I can still go to a club and hear seventy percent of music that I’ve never heard before.” (Male, 42) • The majority of fans in my research perceived northern and rare soul scenes as a ‘living culture’ (Bennett 2006), that is, they actively participate in the scenes today and view their involvement as a current social activity • But, nostalgia, memory and familiarity clearly play a significant role • I am not suggesting that fans are refusing to ‘let go’ of their youth, or ‘cling on’ to it; rather the research highlights the tendency for fans to fondly acknowledge the past, their past identity, tastes, and admiration for certain songs, DJs, and artists developed over the years.
  5. 5. Symbolic knowledge, credibility and rarity • Northern and rare soul (NRS) as a culture revolving around taste which diverges from the mainstream (c.f. Thornton 1995) • ‘Soulies’ and ‘handbaggers’ “There is never any trouble from people who are genuinely on the soul scene. I have found out over the many years of being on the soul scene that true northern soul people dancing if they bump into you will automatically put up their hand and apologise instantly for catching you on the dancefloor even if it’s not their fault. There is also a level of etiquette on the dancefloor which personally I believe only true northern soul people appreciate – example if someone is already dancing on the dancefloor you don’t encroach their space… a bad venue is having people on the dancefloor with cigarettes, drink and the dreaded handbags – it’s a no go area for Soulies!” (Female, 45)
  6. 6. “Some [events] are more commercial than others… Commercially I mean the sounds played will be more popular records that may have crossed over into the mainstream, so you get more non soul fans attending because it’s a good local night out, where they can dance to records they know and quite often they are the only events on that cater for the over 40s. If this crowd attend a RARE soul night they often vote with their feet and remove themselves elsewhere, as they don’t really appreciate the music being played.” (Male, 50, Respondent’s own emphasis)
  7. 7. • Domination of white males in NRS culture – high number of male DJs, promoters and record traders/collectors • Increasing number of female DJs, promoters and collectors in recent years, but, women find it harder to establish credibility in the scenes: “It takes years to be accepted and taken seriously on the soul scene. If you happen to be a woman it is that much harder. The soul scene is definitely a male orientated scene… without doubt and to be taken seriously on your own merit is hard, very hard. On your own merit, I mean for your knowledge, for your record collection, for your passion and for your commitment, regardless of whether you have a boyfriend/husband who is someone on the scene.” (Female, 40)
  8. 8. “...there are very few females that I can sit down with and have a conversation about records. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of girls I know who know names/titles of songs they like...However if I wanted to talk about a certain record label or about a particular producer or discuss what musicians played on what tracks it would have to be a bloke.” (Female, 40) • Masculinisation of knowledge? • Women as dancer/enthusiast rather than DJ, promoter, collector? • DJing, collecting and promoting tend to be viewed as a male preserve?
  9. 9. • Long-term involvement in NRS scenes cements one’s position as a genuine ‘soulie’ • Acquiring symbolic knowledge and social capital is crucial: “Getting into the scene is like serving an apprenticeship, you have to work your way in and up.... With DJing, it’s very hard for someone to just come into the scene and DJ straight away, even if they owned all the records. It’s about association and who a person knows... (Male, 42)
  10. 10. “I once went to a northern soul dance in Warrington and as I wasn’t a regular there the people on the door… asked me if I knew what sort of dance it was, I said ‘I think so’ and produced my original Twisted Wheel membership card. I can only describe the change in their attitude as dramatic. They at once became in awe of the card and immediately called all sorts of other people to see it and insisted that without question I went in without paying.” (Male, 59) • Quest for originality epitomized by the emphasis on rare vinyl: OVO no CRAP (original vinyl only no CDs, re-issues and pressings) policy at some venues • But, some fans expressed a sense of frustration as they felt rarity is deemed more important than quality, a male 53-year- old believes that: ‘if nobody is dancing then the monetary value and how rare the record is doesn’t matter.’
  11. 11. Generational conflict • Majority of fans are aged between 40 and 60 but some younger fans are evident • An article published in an edition of Blues and Soul Magazine (Grady 2004) includes a quotation from a fan who exclaims ‘…I would rather see MY scene die than see new younger people getting into it’, in contrast, the author states ‘I don’t want our generation to be known for starting the biggest underground scene in the country but who then eventually watched its death. I want to see it thrive and prosper for another 30 years.’
  12. 12. Contrasting views: “[I] can remember getting into a "discussion" several years ago at Warrington Parr Hall with some old timer, told him it was great to see a younger element there and he looked at me and said "Nope, don't like youngsters at venues - they make me feel old.” “Youngsters should be encouraged whether they DJ or are just part of the crowd. At the last 100 Club there were some (teenage?) girls dancing their little hearts out and they hadn't just stumbled into the venue by accident. Also two mods who looked about 16 but stood there soaking up the atmosphere! ”
  13. 13. • Intergenerational involvement “Older people can show resentment towards younger people for not knowing certain things and the established practices in the scene. I get annoyed because we need younger people to get involved or else the scene will die out.” (Male, 42) Will records lose their value due to a lack of interest from younger generations?
  14. 14. Young DJs “This kid was great! He's not only a serious DJ with several well- stacked boxes of his own originals and his own sound system but he clearly loves the music and dances with all the passion and energy a 16 year old can muster. Yep. 16 years old! Credit where credit's due. He clearly has the same passion about what he does as many of us did when we started out at the same age and it was refreshing to see someone less than 40 yrs old behind the decks who could play with a level of professionalism which would put many to shame. Check him out if you get the chance. This is exactly what the scene needs IMO.”
  15. 15. “We took [DJ’s name] on as a resident... when he was 14 years old - playing his own OVO ... I noticed when he was DJ'ing out and about, If he played 'current biggies or floor fillers' he got slated by those who thought he was playing 'same old same old' and told him that he was shite and should be doing something new and when he mixed it up a bit and had less of a dancefloor reaction, he'd still get slated for it by those who want something they know. What used to really piss me off was if [DJ’s name] would play something and get a mild reaction, but should older DJ's play the same record, then the reaction was different and they were a dj god! ...There are some guys out there who feel the younger dj's shouldn't be dj'ing and don’t deserve their spots because they haven't put the 30+years in.... Something else young DJ's have to put up with is that many many people feel the need to give them advice or express their opinion of the young 'uns in a patronising and condescending way, I know sometimes the advice and support can be invaluable but in other ways its just negative. Many folks have an opinion on what they're doing and choose to put it across in a way that they wouldn't dream of doing to older DJ's.”
  16. 16. • Older fans situate themselves as ‘critical overseers’ (Bennett 2006) of the scene • Older NRS fans ‘...articulate a discursive practice...designed both to celebrate the survival and development’ of NRS scenes and to self-impose the older fans’ ‘collective authority, won through age and longevity of commitment’ to NRS, ‘...to supply critical judgement on the scene and those involved in it’ (Bennett 2006: 228)
  17. 17. Conclusions • Nostalgia, memory and familiarity play a role in NRS scenes as many fans want to hear the songs they recognise from earlier involvement. This leads to a sense of belonging and cements one’s identity as a genuine ‘soulie’. • This is not to suggest that older fans are ‘clinging onto’ their youth, rather, they look back on their past involvement often with fondness and, in turn, this can inform their involvement in the present. • Cultural distinctions lead to a sense of solidarity and belonging for fans, which is amplified and extended through long-term involvement. • Ongoing dedication and strong degree of commitment shown by many fans • This study has shown the salience of northern and rare soul for a number of people who formed an attachment to the music and its surrounding
  18. 18. Thank you for listening Questions? Lucy.gibson@manchester.ac.uk

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