Last week I travelled to the town of Lüneburg in northern Germany for the ‘Groove The City: Constructing and Deconstructing Urban Spaces Through Music’ conference, held at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg.
This was the second time the conference has been organised, with the first taking place in 2018. Broadly the conference aims to set out and develop the field of Urban Music Studies. This emerging field is interdisciplinary, drawing in scholars from numerous areas, including Sociology, Urban Studies, Musicology, Geography, and Popular Music Studies. The conference is an opportunity for scholars to tie up different disciplinary perspectives and to develop collaborations. It is where ideas of the intrinsic logic of a city – the rules, systems, and so on, under which the city functions – meet with considerations of the ‘spirit’ of the city. Music is central to this overlap; it helps shape the logic and the spirit of the city. But, crucially, this is also a process that works the other way around, where the spirit and logic of the city inform the music that emerges from it.
I was presenting some research I’ve been working on with my BCU colleague, Nick Gebhardt, about the use of mobile applications at music festivals, but as a delegate at the conference, I also enjoyed a number of papers from colleagues across the world that gave me useful, new perspectives that will feed into our work with BLMP.
Shane Homan from Monash University, Australia, gave an excellent paper on the ‘Agent of Change principle involved in disputes between music venues and property developers, illustrated by fascinating case studies from Melbourne. Arno van der Hoeven from the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication, Rotterdam, Netherlands provided a wider perspective on this issue with his paper about the representation of spatial value in live music. In my discussions with Shane and Arno afterwards, we saw considerable overlap in our work and recognised that – despite the different local contexts – the issues facing music scenes are largely similar. I’m hopeful we may be able to develop some further work in this area.
There was lots more to enjoy at the conference: Melanie Ptatschek’s paper on the social function of buskers on the New York subway; Ina Kahle’s work on how music festivals provide a space for critical reflection for young visitors, and an excellent and entertaining keynote from Jennifer Lena around approaches to genre. The organisers of the conference are currently planning a book series and several other publications and future events. The evidence of the last few days will certainly be something I will pay close attention to. You can find out more about their work by visiting www.urbanmusicstudies.org.
On my way home, travelling via the city of Hamburg, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours exploring the places and venues that hosted The Beatles in 1960. As a far as I could tell there is no ‘official’ tour, so I had to create a route for myself following a little bit of research. In what felt like a footnote to my paper, this involved me following a dot on my mobile phone through a succession of tiny side streets, hunting for addresses I’d found from Beatles-related blog posts. In particular, I enjoyed visiting the house the band first lived in, a run-down structure covered in ivy with a partially-hidden sign that simply says, “The Beatles lived here 1960”. This little detour provided the ideal endpoint to my trip, as it perfectly illustrated the idea that music and the city are inter-twinned in often subtle but nevertheless complex and fascinating ways.