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Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music (Music/Culture) Paperback – July 10, 2006

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“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
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Product Details

  • Series: Music/Culture
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wesleyan; annotated edition edition (July 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0819568112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0819568113
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,394,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Highly recommended. Her description of the different zones of an indie rock show (the true believers in the front whipped into an altered state of consciousness; the aging fans with weary feet in the middle; and the industry veterans in the back) rings true.
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Format: Paperback
A brilliant read. It puts the development of modern individuals, from adolescence to adulthood, into a new meaningful perspective, as well as indie music within the greater context of human activity. I especially enjoyed the examples and anecdotes. The chapter on groupies depicts modern gender roles and attitudes that are too often overlooked in mainstream stereotypes. Her examination of musicians is hilarious as well as therapeutic and identifiable for anyone dissatisfied with the status quo. Her writing articulates the subconsciously absorbed culture and rituals with eloquence, humor, and insight. Her observations and discernment enhance the understanding and experience of music and culture. Thank you, Professor Wendy.
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Format: Paperback
College-level students of British music won't want to miss EMPIRE OF DIRT: THE AESTHETICS AND RITUALS OF BRITISH INDIE MUSIC. Its analysis blends ethnographic and socio-historic literature on local music communities and genres, comes from a doctor who has worked in the music industry for several major record labels, and offers results from her thirteen-year study of indie rock. From gigs and performances to behavior, norms, and music perceptions from both audience and performer perspective, EMPIRE OF DIRT helps define both the genre and experience of British indie music.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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Format: Paperback
Wendy is the Jane Goodall of the indie rock show. I really enjoyed this anthropological treatment of independent music culture. She definitively describes the impossibly malleable subject of what is Indie. She identifies the zones of audience participation: from the sweaty body on body of the front, to the contemplative middle, to the indifferent bar area, and out to the home parlor of the retired fan.

A guilty pleasure for anyone who knows the scene.
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Format: Paperback
This book is necessary. This is for everyone from the musician to the music lover. It's for the anthropologist and the student. It's for the one who knows music is just in its accessibility to the masses and the one who insists it is popular culture and not fair game for academia. Professor Fonarow's brilliantly conceived piece of work will change your experience of any gig. You will be looking for "the zones" in every venue, redefine your conception of the "groupie," and see a sacred drama on the stage and in the audience. Fonarow allows us to understand the place indie music occupies in one's life and how aesthetics and metaphysics coexist to invite the idea of your music as your community and your culture as art. After reading this book, music will be participatory for you, whether or not you empathize with the indie ethos. The beautiful afterward (one I've read numerous times) is one of the most poetic endings of any ethnography I've ever read.
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