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Anyone can do it: Noise, Punk, and the Ethics/Politics of Transgression

Posted: May 13th, 2019 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »

The Punk Scholars Network’s 6th International Conference and Postgraduate Symposium

16th and 17th December 2019, Newcastle University

For the PSN’s 6thannual conference, the main theme is ‘noise’ and the question whether ‘anyone can do it’. Noise has a distinct place in punk (and in many post-punk musics), where it is often understood as a positive value. Indeed, today many (in the UK at least) will speak of ‘the noise scene’ as something like a genre in itself.

What is noise? For the purpose of this conference, we are essentially following Paul Hegarty’s suggestion that ‘any account of noise is a history of disruptions and disturbances’ but simultaneously that ‘what is judged noise at one point is music or meaning at another’. Is D-Beat noise, for instance, or ‘tuneless’ post-punk (the Fall even)? Or is it the crossover with ‘industrial’ (Neubauten, Test Dept, TG, PTV, Whitehouse)? For the purpose of this conference, a very wide understanding of what noise is (or could be) will be taken to be the case. Certainly any music will have an element of noise if and when it focusses less on traditional melody and harmony and more on aural experience involving harsh timbres and other ‘affect’-rich sonic effects. We are interested in any punk-related sense of noise, as well as the more narrow subcultural field of ‘the noise scene’.

Is the noise scene where the real spirit of punk has survived? Is the punk ideal more stringent in such contexts compared with, say, the annual Rebellion festival in Blackpool? Or does a preference for noise perhaps cause punk-related musics to lose sight of the engagement which early punk was so successful at kindling? In so many ways, punk has been retranslated into things that some will say aren’t really ‘punk’ at all: records on major labels, a fashion uniform, a strict leftist ideology with limited room for transgression and so forth. Much of what punk stood for in the first place has disappeared, many will say. So-called ‘noise music’, however, has managed to keep much of the punk ideal in place, arguably. For example, noise music is easy to make (anyone can do it, it seems), welcoming to novice musicians and seems to exist in a subculture where the normal music industry has very limited purchase. ‘Industrial music’ and noise have a shared history with punk, with a parallel narrative involving groups such as Throbbing Gristle. Noise is rarely talked about as punk – yet, aren’t there similar goals?

Meanwhile, the question whether ‘anyone can do it’ will be central to the conference. Noise seems to involve rejection of musical ability, and this is one of the key punk-like elements. It is also notable, however, that noise and industrial music are markedly lacking in gender and ethnic diversity. How welcoming is the noise scene, really? And how important to punk is the idea that anyone can do it? It is hoped that papers and delegates at the conference might engage with the question of inclusivity and pro-amateurism not only in noise-type musics but also across the range of punk-related musics.

Newcastle is a great host city for this conference: the Northeast of England (Newcastle, Gateshead and, especially, Blyth) has long been regarded as one of the key centres for noise, home to the likes of Jazzfinger, New Blockaders, Culver and Wrest, with artists such as Richard Dawson emerging from a scene that continues to be championed by the annual TUSK Festival and The Old Police House, Gateshead. Historically, Newcastle’s Morden Tower hosted a much-debated performance by Whitehouse in 1983 during which the group’s William Bennett is said to have slapped a female audience member across the face. In terms of broader punk history, meanwhile, the region produced groups such as Penetration, Angelic Upstarts and Punishment of Luxury, as well as key anarcho-punk venues of the 1980s such as the Bunker in Sunderland and the Station in Gateshead. And according to some interpretations of history, Newcastle is also the spiritual home of Black Metal – a tradition that draws influence from punk and which had a huge influence on the noise scene. The conference will take place within the Newcastle University campus, including an evening gig on the first day of the conference.

The organisers welcome general papers on noise, punk and the idea that anyone can do it. Researchers working on punk in a tangential way to the key conference themes are welcome to submit paper proposals: any punk-related paper will be considered for inclusion but priority will be given to the more relevant proposals if (as usually happens with the PSN annual conference) a large number of proposals is received.

Conference themes might include but are not restricted to:

  • Punk/noise and transgression
  • Anti-professionalism (conventional musical ability or lack/disregard thereof)
  • Punk/noise and aggression
  • Punk and Inclusion
  • Hierarchies in punk and noise
  • Noise and commercialism

The deadline for paper proposals is Mon 30th Sept. Please send your proposal to [email protected] . Presenters will be informed whether their proposal has been accepted by 21st Oct. For the proposal, please limit yourself to 250 words and give an institutional affiliation (or, if non-affiliated, please put ‘independent scholar’ but perhaps let us know where you are based). Please include a title, contact email address and 5 key words.

We encourage experimental presentations and experimental styles but expect individual presentations to be 20 minutes duration.

Keynote plenary talks will be provided by Paul Hegarty and Marie Thompson.

There will be no conference fee. Suggestions for accommodation will be advertised nearer the time.

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