Tuesday, April 15, 2008

EMP Pop Conference Highlights - Part One

I spent the weekend in Seattle, where I was excited to finally attend the annual EMP Pop Conference at Experience Music Project. This year's theme was "Shake, Rattle: Music, Conflict and Change" and is described this way on the conference website: "How does music resist, negate, struggle? Can pop intensify vital confrontations, as well as transform and conceal them? What happens when people are angry and silly love songs aren't enough?"

The place was jammed with a who's who of music journalists and academics, including Greil Marcus (shared an elevator with him!), Robert and Georgia Christgau, Ann Powers (LA Times chief pop critic), Oliver Wang, J.D. Considine (anyone else remember him from that geeky cool VH1 music critics' round table discussion show Four on the Floor?), Charles Aaron (music editor of Spin), and Gina (now going by Regina) Arnold to name a few.

When the conference began in 2002, it set out to be a different sort of music conference, one where academics, journalists and musicians could all present their perspectives about pop music, since typically conferences are very segmented as either academic or non-academic in focus. Certainly folks from all of these categories were in attendance, but for the most part the presentations that I saw had a decidedly academic bent, which to me isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's just worth noting. During much of the conference there were 4 simultaneous sessions, so it was impossible to see everything that I wanted to. Additionally, some presenters canceled or were thwarted by the big American Airlines flight cancellations last week...so in some cases I saw papers being read by someone other than the author.

In terms of the focus of Spinning Indie, I didn't see any presentations specifically about college radio (or radio in general) and only saw a few that dealt with indie or underground music, including great papers on the anarchist publisher/label AK Press, underground world music label Sublime Frequencies, a presentation on female indie blues artists, and an excellent panel on festivals (including Lollapalooza's failure at multi-culturalism and subcultural clashes at Glastonbury in the UK). I learned about some artists who I'd never heard of before and also got an interesting glimpse into the role of music in elections, the military, and war.

Since there was so much to absorb, I'm going to break my posts down into several smaller posts highlighting my favorite panels and presentations. Stay tuned!

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