From Publishers Weekly
Fans may find it sad, but the fact is that Indie rock is fair game to academic cultural anthropologists like Fonarow, a former record company employee and now a lecturer at UCLA. Her study began at an L.A. show in 1991 by the Glasgow band Teenage Fanclub, when she wondered why members of the local rock scene, even though they weren't performing, felt perfectly comfortable crossing the stage. The result is this "ethnography of audience members' behavior" at shows by British bands, specifically, "a study of multiple subjectivities and the spectacle of music performance in the independent music community." Specifically, Fonarow seeks to codify the unwritten rules that normally govern audience responses-"I treat musical performance as a ritual." After uneasily defining the term "indie" from multiple angles, Fonarow identifies three main audience "zones of participation" at a concert, and (with b&w photos and illustrations) carefully delineates what normally happens within them. She then zeroes in on "Zone Three and the Music Industry," picking apart the ways commerce and status are established at the back of the hall. By the time one reaches chapter six, "Sex and the Ritual Practitioners" (i.e., how band and crew get laid), one cannot help but start thinking back on past shows as elaborate ceremonies. Fonarow's book may not have the excitement of a My Bloody Valentine show, but it convincingly describes many of its cultural components.
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“What's best about Empire of Dirt is that Fonarow's equally a thinker's thinker and a fan's fan. … And Fonarow's analysis of a typical indie concert is one of the most brilliant things anyone has written about the live music experience.”—Seattle Weekly
"(T)he book turns out to be great fun, with excellent and recognizable analyses of the three different audience zones, the semiotics of where you put your backstage pass, the different rhetorical strategies used by people trying to get past the guestlist doorman, and the gender-stereotype-inverting role of groupies, or 'ritual practitioners.'"—The Guardian