MySpace bands and tagging wars: Conflicts of genre, work ethic and media platforms in an extreme music scene
First Monday

MySpace bands and tagging wars: Conflicts of genre, work ethic and media platforms in an extreme music scene 
by Tamas Tofalvy



Abstract
In this paper I interpret the transformations that took place in an extreme metal scene due to online fan interactions during the first wave of music–related online social media between 2004 and 2008. I show how the online success of a band on MySpace led to the devaluation of a whole genre, and also to the decreased reputation of MySpace as a medium among fans, coining the term ‘MySpace band.’ I describe how this judgment was strongly interrelated with the common conviction among fans that the activity of a band on a social platform should not be considered as ‘work’ as opposed to ‘working hard’, playing shows and touring ‘in real life’. In another case study I examine how the use of the tagging function on Last.fm lead to conflicts regarding the categorization of the genre and ignited vivid debates in the scene. The boundaries of the scene became uncontrollable in the open online social sphere, with newcomers transforming the representation of the scene in real time. Through those case studies, on the one hand, my aim is to show the interrelation of culture and technology: how value judgments on social boundaries, genres and work ethics are closely bound up with the uses and interpretations of media platforms. On the other hand, as subcultural and post–subcultural explanation schemes too could be applied to those scenic practices, I suggest that instead of concentrating on the presumed structural nature of scenes, focusing on the discursive constructions of genre may offer a fruitful avenue for understanding collectivities of musical taste.

Contents

Introduction
Deathcore: Transformations of a scene
The rise and fall of the ‘MySpace deathcore band’
Scenes, Internet and online social media
Conclusions

 


 

Introduction

“Does anyone even check personal websites anymore? I think more people pay attention to the Terror Myspace than they do this website. Perhaps it’s time to phase this thing out all together.”

— read an August 2007 post which was the most recent one even as of March 2008 on the homepage of U.S. hardcore band Terror [1]. And indeed: if anyone decided to return to the page a couple of months later, the click would have sent the visitor to MySpace. The homepage was shut down, and the domain redirected visitors immediately to Terror’s MySpace page [2]. This example illustrates the shift in emphasis during which online music consumption and distribution processes of extreme music genres gravitated increasingly towards online social media from around the middle of the first decade of the twenty–first century.

In this lesser–known segment of the popular music globe, digital and online music distribution has become as dominant as in the wider field of popular music, where change took place in the midst of loud media responses. As in 2014 almost all bands have Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp or Soundcloud accounts, or publish free music online via netlabels (Galuszka, 2012), around 2006 most of them had MySpace and Last.fm profiles and their new releases could have been listened to partially or in their entirety for free online and there were also examples of bands putting out albums in openly accessible formats. Interwoven with the change in music production and consumption economics, the infiltration of online social media in social practices (Shirky, 2008; Deuze, 2012) also brought about new patterns in discourses organized around music in extreme music scenes, even before the most recent era dominated by social networking sites, microblogs and music sharing applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or Spotify.

In the following I wish to concentrate on these issues and lessons offered by that era through analyzing an extreme metal scene’s online discourses related to the then leading music sharing online social platforms, MySpace and Last.fm. My main question is: How did certain genre definitions, ethical conceptions and communications technology shape one another, and what kinds of conflicts did all this interplay lead to?

 

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Deathcore: Transformations of a scene

At the end of the year 2003 the deathcore scene constituted only a thin slice of the global metal/hardcore scene. The bands working in a context that could be called relatively new, building on certain elements of the traditions of metalcore and death metal (e.g., Between The Buried and Me, Red Chord or Despised Icon) were followed with attention by only a very narrow audience [3]. However in almost less than two years’ time the situation had changed radically: deathcore, an earlier marginal subgenre grew to be a crowd attracting, extensive and, compared to earlier underground conditions, almost mainstream scene. Similarly to the extreme metal scene described by Kahn–Harris (2007), the deathcore scene — or the origin of the genre — has never been bound to a specific local scene, but was, from its outset followed with attention by a global, international fan base [4].

The transformation of the deathcore scene was, in effect due to the success story of one single band, Job For a Cowboy. The band burst into extreme music consciousness through means and speed not experienced before and on the track of its success, not only the community of the deathcore scene, but its inner logic and attitude towards the scene and genre was radically altered. But what had actually happened?

2.1. Job For A Cowboy

Job For a Cowboy (from now on referred to as JFAC) was formed in Glendale, Arizona in 2003, their first EP, entitled Doom was put out in 2005 and shortly after signed a contract with one of the biggest independent metal labels, Metal Blade. However, it wasn’t a miracle or a sly band manager behind the band’s unusually fast take off, but the freshly started online music social networking site, MySpace. As Ravi Bhadriraju, guitarist and part–founder of the band, recalled in a later interview:

“We would not be here right now if it wasn’t for MySpace ... Three years ago, we could not tour, because we were all still in high school. This was the only way for us to promote ourselves, and luckily it just worked out. It was all a right–place–right–time thing.” [5]

The musicians, only 15–16 years of age at that point, registered their own MySpace profile on 30 August 2004 on the recently started social networking service, then proceeded to upload their first recorded tracks and in a heartbeat, found numerous listeners worldwide without giving even one concert outside of their narrower home territory (where, due to their age they weren’t able play at the usual concert venues, only at various galleries and community centers). Online success only intensified with positive responses to their first album, Genesis, released in 2007. At this point, it became clear that with the help of MySpace, the band playing extreme metal — a genre generally known only in narrower circles and not broadcasted by radio or television in prime time — reached an until then unimaginable, considerably sized audience even by the standards of mainstream popular music [6].

2.2. Successes, changes, conflicts

What was the result and the meaning of this success for the deathcore scene? The first and most visible effect was, above all, an awareness and popularity of the genre. ‘Deathcore is the new metalcore’, many fans formulated, rhyming to an earlier statement of ‘metalcore is the new nu metal’. This declaration indicated a jump in popularity. Deathcore became one of the most popular — and simultaneously one of what is deemed to be the most commercialized — extreme genres. Also, it implied that even with its different roots and sound, deathcore would in effect fill the same functions in fan discourse as its predecessors, once deemed to be the most popular.

Naturally, this change in reputation altered the canon and canon formation mechanisms of the genre. As more and more listeners contacted with the band and therefore the genre of deathcore [7], more and more bands were beginning to be called deathcore, even retroactively — creating a new tradition and continuously expanding the borders of the genre.

Of course, this canon formation dynamic was not new. It can be observed in almost all musical cultures with unexpected increased publicity leading to disagreements between ‘new’ and ‘old’ fan groups deemed ‘authentic’ and ‘inauthentic’. Becker (1997) described this conflict that forms between performers who ‘sold out’ and those who are ‘authentic’, as a differential between those claiming to be part of a given musical community and those outside of that community. These efforts at ‘border control’ have been described elsewhere (Hebdige, 1979; Hodkinson, 2003, 2002). These dynamics can be observed in the construction of notions of ‘underground’ and ‘mainstream’ (Thornton, 1995; Matsue, 2008) as well.

In the specific case of the deathcore scene, this classic conflict was complicated by the large number of new fans and listeners utilizing online social media to alter the scene and express their diverse opinions on music, genre and community.

Through an analysis of comments on the metal/hardcore site Lambgoat.com (http://lambgoat.com/), first I will attempt to demonstrate the consequences of this classic conflict in a particular online context. I will then turn to the examination of ‘tagging war’ with the help of an analysis of comments on Last.fm’s deathcore label [8].

 

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The rise and fall of the ‘MySpace deathcore band’

As more and more bands became known with the aid of MySpace, the notion of a ‘MySpace–band’ became increasingly common, following the success of JFAC and deathcore in general. This negative attitude led to a drop in the reputation of deathcore as a genre label. What was the problem with MySpace deathcore bands? Answers are not self–evident.

3.1. MySpace–bands and work ethic: Scene and criticism

Many of the posted comments take the negative implication of ‘MySpace band’ as obvious. A 2007 news article on Lambgoat, announcing the signing of band Dance Club Massacre invoked the following comment:

“another shitty myspace band gets signed” (advocate)

Rhyming ingeniously to the name of the band Sky Eats Airplane signing just then with Equal Vision Records, a commenter left the following message:

“Eat shit myspace band” (Therraunch)

The widespread negative and pejorative use of ‘MySpace band’ does not mean necessarily that it was universally understood this way. A comment, calling the band Suicide Silence “lame myspace band” (AnotherOneBitesTheDust), earned the following skeptical response:

“^^^Every band has a myspace page to further promote themselves. Not quite sure where the idea of ‘myspace’ band comes from’ (phdevice)

A user responded in turn:

“there’s a difference between having a myspace to further your band, and having your entire reputation revolve around it. with no releases/touring everyone knows who they are ... no respect from me. deathcore is the new screamo” (tom_will_rise) [9]

As these objections suggest, the essence of most accusations was that some bands succeeded with the help of MySpace without the actual work of playing concerts ‘in real life’ (Rheingold, 1993). They uploaded a few tracks on the Internet, and preferred only to ‘get acquainted’ or ‘friending’ — instead of playing music.

“Just another myspace band tryin to take a stab at bein a real band Joke” (festering_fiesta)

A ‘real’ band plays a great deal of music, gives many concerts and fights for recognition whereas MySpace bands choose the easier road, offending the scene’s work ethic. Continuous touring, live shows and ‘hard work’ are inseparable attributes in the career of an authentic band [10]. Evading this work causes considerable damage to reputation within the scene. As Kahn–Harris noted on everyday practices in the extreme metal scene:

“The accounts of the more experienced members of the scene, who had established bands and other scenic institutions with good reputations, constantly emphasize the need to be focused, goal–oriented and hardworking (...) The interviewee uses a discourse of work to describe the development of his band. The demands of work dominate scenic careers.” [11]

From this perspective, the meaning of the comment summarizing differences between a band present on MySpace and a ‘MySpace band’ becomes even clearer: the creation date and function of the profile decides whether the given band uses the medium ‘decently’ or ‘indecently’. If the career begins with uploading songs instead of the usual concerts and ‘hard work’, it is a violation of the scene’s work ethic. If the profile is a supplement to the band’s already existing, steady work, there is nothing wrong with the use of social media.

Thus, the band Terror, formed in 2000 and have spent many years of playing shows, could have become an explicit symbol of the ‘hardworking’, honest and credible, value–preserving band in the scene, as their active presence on MySpace was perceived only as a supplement to their earlier, off–line achievements [12].

3.2. Deathcore and musical inauthenticity: Canons and genres

Use of the deathcore genre label as a self–evidently negative adjective was frequent but much debated in online discourses. In some comments, the pejoratively applied deathcore label appears to be opposed to (melodic) death metal and hardcore. For example, a comment on a news release that the band Oceano was signing with the respected record label Earache:

“death metal titans???? this is NOT real death metal 2d rate deathcore at best this band has no place on Earache” (killyourself)

In a debate over a review of the album Nocturnal by The Black Dahlia Murder (BDM) — a band that, depending on context, is sometimes called (melodic) death metal and sometimes deathcore — the following arguments were given:

“Just waiting for retarded lambgoat reviewers to stop calling bdm melodic death metal. This is garbage, pure commercialistic shit. ‘Deathcore’ is the only viable title for something like this” (anonymous, 9/18/2007 12:11:32 PM)

“Deathcore? Are you retarded? This doesn’t have even remotely the same aesthetic and tacked–on bullshit of that genre. Like them or not, BDM are not a group of tight–pantsed emo kids who traded in their At The Gates records for Cannibal Corpse in hopes of riding the next short–lived wave of success [13]. Just because Job For A Cowboy practically mimicked the vocals doesn’t mean the bands are related. This really is just melodic death metal, and I’d love to hear an argument against it that actually has something to do with music.” (Kevin)

Furthermore, the band All Shall Perish — also disputed to be either deathcore or death metal — in an interview attempted to distance itself from the deathcore trend relative to their album in the making:

“Fans of ASP will not be let down by the insanity that we have been producing in the studio. We are trying a lot of new ideas, and they are coming out far more exciting than we ever envisioned. We are set to prove once again we are not some fly–by–night ‘deathcore’ band.” [14]

Another conversation involving — supposedly — one of the members of the band Animosity illustrated the band’s attitude towards the scenic retroactive canon construction, affecting even those not part of the deathcore genre. Answering a fan comment about ‘staying true’:

“huge boost for animosity. way to go guys, get the fuck away from the deathcore bullshit” (tom_will_Rise)

The band member responded:

“we are trying to move away from that ... haha. We were never apart of it or at least never intended to be”

later adding:

“Seriously, as soon as all these other bands started taking off on myspace, somehow all the hardwork we have been putting in for years got lumped into the ‘new deathcore’ craze.” (LEoX)

The problem with bands presumed to belong to this genre was, according to most, that that they played valueless, superficial and commercialized music, they were posers who at the most were imitating authentic musical traditions, such as death metal and hardcore. For that very reason, genre classification itself made a commenter’s opinion about a certain band or album obvious.

In the discussion on the music of The Black Dahlia Murder, those making negative statements about the band consistently referred to them as deathcore, while those recognizing them identified them as (melodic) death metal.

Those mechanisms of canon formation tend to rewrite previous classifications and relational systems over time. Some bands that, for the most part, represented the hardcore/metalcore scene, but were regarded as playing death metal, ‘transformed into’ deathcore bands by the dozens with the success of JFAC. Parallel with the developing, increasingly pejorative meaning of the genre label, many bands deemed authentic attained the label of (melodic) death metal, while even more of those bands presumed to be inauthentic obtained the label of deathcore.

Hence the answer to the question over why the label deathcore equalled musical inauthenticity lies with a system of preference relations linked to musical traditions and in interpretations of changes in the scene created by the success and online effects of deathcore.

3.3. Scenic judgments: Linking work ethic to media platforms

Commentary distinguished both musical differences between deathcore and death metal as well as the perceived negative role of MySpace:

“... Oh, and real death metal is also about caring more about your songs than how many virtual friends you have on MySpace that comb their hair over the face.” (MetalBob)

In spite of efforts of the band All Shall Perish to rid negative impressions:

“All Shall Perish live sounds like your typical metalcore/deathcore bullshit. Fuck myspace for helping bands like this get on tours, and fuck labels for signing them.” (xfullofhatex)

These comments led in turn to generalizations about ‘MySpace deathcore’ bands:

“Bands with zero integrity steal all the marketing money and attention away from the few good hardworking bands. Fuck Myspace deathcore and graphic design.” (kenwregget)

Changes in evaluation of the deathcore genre and MySpace were intertwined with media use and online social space to an extent previously not experienced in the scene. With the increasing popularity of the deathcore genre inextricably bound to the spread of MySpace, ethical and musical objections had also interconnected to express an aversion towards a devalued musical genre and a social media platform, uniquely identified as ‘MySpace deathcore’.

This process was only one aspect of an online social pattern linked with the scene. Another side on online practices of the deathcore scene revealed additional aspects of classification and reactivity, based illustrated by an analysis of Last.fm.

 

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Scenes, Internet and online social media

Issues of authenticity and inauthenticity in music scenes before the Internet were mainly defined by personal relationships. Encounters and direct impressions of those deemed as the authentic representatives or ‘gatekeepers’ of a given scene decided if someone have met the requirements or not.

This boundary work (Gieryn, 1999; Lamont and Molnár, 2002) was an everyday practice as gatekeepers had the means to prevent the infiltration of outsiders or lurkers into a given scene. The situation has not changed dramatically with the advent of the early Web. The same processes grew on the Internet before social networking sites: those demonstrating an interest anonymously online were met with resistance from those responsible for the defense of a scene’s boundaries. Hodkinson (2002) [15] wrote about notions of self–defense and border control of online forums associated with goth scenes:

“In the unlikely event that a non–goth did subscribe to a goth discussion forum, however, the chances of their persevering for long were also relatively faint, due to the specialist and exclusive nature of discussion, and the tendency for mistrust and hostility towards outsiders.” [16]

With social networking sites, this kind of well–coordinated border protection was practically impossible, affecting not only online communication but the life of the whole genre scene. While the number of users of underground forums (Baym, 1998) are relatively closed, genre–bound and controllable, a social media site opens avenues of discussion for numerous of styles and musical cultures with a single, uncontrolled registration — or with a single ‘like’ on Facebook. Thus, borders of community, communication and content become transparent in all directions: a social media platform provides a flow of opinions and genre negotiations of many scenes at once and allows free passage between them.

Another important difference is the sharp increase in the number of users. Previously, such large numbers were not possible on older music–related sites. Some forums could handle a few hundred people, but same content may have be viewed and discussed on Last.fm, MySpace or Facebook in an instant by millions.

As a consequence of these conditions, it has become increasingly significant to answer fundamental questions about defining a given genre.

4.1. Genres, tags, scenes: Deathcore on Last.fm

Last.fm, launched in 2002, is an online social music listening site which lacks a single central broadcast program produced by editors. Instead an algorithm compiles a user’s program based on similarities of individual bands or genres, according to their properly (or inaccurately inferred) taste in music and genre preferences. This principle of similarity is not centrally managed. It is a community product based on the weight of individual, subjective genre judgments that determine which bands and styles stand close to one another. The main means of pooling and organizing individual judgments is tagging, used in a number of other online social sites. As the tags attached to music items, or bands, on Last.fm are not positioned by a central editorial board, but by users, this collective, open, user–generated taxonomy of content functions as a folksonomy (Wichowski, 2009).

On Last.fm, one can freely create or match a band with a generic pointer (such as deathcore), which other users either follow and confirm (more and more people associate the tag with bands of the same circle) or not. The more people that prefer a tag, the more dominant it will be in the similarity–based social folksonomic system.

Unlike the discursive space dominated by critics of traditional, edited media, this dynamic genre construction space gives the same voting rights to all scene members, newcomers or elders. In the already conflictuous field of genre categorization, those changes lead to even more intense clashes I would call ‘tagging wars’.

4.2. ‘Tagging wars’

New conflicts emerge, transforming discussion forums belonging to certain genre’s tags into battlefields. In traditional forums, regulated by a relatively coherent tradition, discussion is mostly about fine–tuning genre classifications or other related genre topics, due to the similar commitment of contributors (Hodkinson, 2002). The posts on forums related to individual tags on Last.fm are, on the contrary — due to a diverse audience — much more radical, continuously reassessing and often fundamentally challenging the canon, the tradition and the role of individual bands in certain genres. Similarly, in the forum linked to the deathcore tag the most frequent comments are often indignant denials of genre positions as a result of genre classifications deemed to be misjudged:

“underOath aren’t deathcore ...” (Yanguything)

These comments may be supplemented by a short justification:

“The black dahlia murder is NOT DEATHCORE!!! — is death metal/melodeath fucking idiots!!” (diegoxedge)

Some comments demanded the removal of a tag:

“Despised Icon! ... lets get BMTH removed from this tag” (Tecfan)

The actual ‘removal’ of a tag already created and attached is not possible on Last.fm. Thus a ‘tagging war’ is not about deleting the tags of others, but typically represents a struggle to provide and promote a given style of music with tags thought to be most appropriate. This ‘war’ leaves room for meticulous canon disputes as well. Thus, besides some comments will focus on the ranking [17] of different bands:

“wtf? white chapel should be i 1st place, not fucking Bring Me the Horizon ...” (Blinded_soul)

“I can’t believe Bring Me The Horizon is a top artist” (RisenFromDeath)

Why do all these genre discussions provoke such violent reactions? Genre classification is at the heart of music discourse, and is prerequisite for the canonization of music (Frith, 1996; Gunn, 1999). On Last.fm, a variety of users, thanks to tagging, declare their opinions on issues of genre and in turn shape the representation of a given genre to an unprecedented extent. In the more controlled environment of a forum, discussion could be resolved within the framework of an online community (Baym 1998; Hodkinson, 2003, 2002). With Last.fm, the results of tagging are instantly displayed before the public in the absence of a debate and consensus. This led to the evolution of Last.fm’s ‘screamo’ tag:

“The term ‘real screamo’ is used in the place of ‘screamo’ as that tag has become unsuitable for people who are searching for music which is in the vein of the original screamo music. Screamo is a genre of music which predominantly evolved from hardcore punk, among other genres, in the early 1990s.” [18]

This dynamic genre and scene formation has its own limits, which are defined by the community’s specific features. As with most construction processes, not everything can be similar and can function as a genre argument in community scene formation. How can we define the borders of genre formation? There are at least two likely explanations.

Outsiders may not join closed forums, although anyone may contribute to open genre forums of social networking applications. However, not everyone will actually seize the opportunity. Thus one of the self-regulatory factors is exactly the one that keeps a given genre scene alive: a shared preference. A shared taste in music typically develops its own niches even in open online space. In practice, only those sharing the musical taste use it frequently and actively.

This organizing principle works in the case of music blogs that may be visited freely, but are read frequently by only a few hundred or thousand users; in file–sharing networks (Ebare, 2004); in genre forums or on Last.fm. This is a highly substantial factor, since it sheds completely different light on the meaning of, for instance, a music video rated five stars on a video–sharing site. Voting does not aggregate the opinion of all users, but typically the opinions of those specifically interested in the video due to their preferences.

4.3. None of the above, or all of them: Towards genre

There has been a widespread debate on the changing nature of communities previously known as subcultures. A number of scholars have suggested alternative approaches — tribes, neo tribes, scenes (Bennett, 2004, 1999; Bennett and Peterson, 2004; Bennett and Kahn–Harris, 2004; Greener and Hollands, 2006; Hodkinson, 2002; Muggleton, 2000; Straw, 1991), club cultures (Redhead, 1997; Thornton, 1995) and milieu cultures (Webb, 2007). Some would better describe activities conducted in communities organized around a shared musical taste or preference.

According to post–subcultural criticism [19], the concept of a subcultural community is tied to a certain set of assumptions and interpretation frames regarding those communities, such as the notions of class, homogenous communities, clear social boundaries, spectacularity and homology.

As noted by Bennett [20], this notion of subculture imposes a “hermeneutic seal around the relationship between musical and stylistic preference.” Thus the majority of post–subcultural approaches (e.g., Redhead, 1997; Bennett, 1999; Muggleton, 2000) emphasized the need for a conceptual switch as contemporary communities organized around a certain activity have features that are difficult to understand through the lenses of subcultural theory. The once clearly perceived ‘boundaries’ of a given community are practically dissolving by the spread of online media platforms that allow fans to communicate independently of geography and gatekeepers.

In examining “MySpace deathcore band”, social activities defined by online media use do not necessarily require a reconceptualization of classic subcultural patterns. Some features of subcultural community discourse on authenticity and inauthenticity are still present in contemporary musical collectivities. But, as illustrated by ‘tagging wars’ on Last.fm, the radically fluid community boundaries between scene members, taggers and commenters imply that those activities reject the subcultural explanatory frame and rather fit into a post–subcultural context.

4.3.1. Genre–based scenes

According to Hesmondhalgh (2005), “none of the above’ post–subcultural concepts reflect exclusively the nature of musical collectivities; it might be more useful to build on the notion of genre. In the fluid scenic life mediated by a contemporary media ecosystem not “none of the above’ subcultural and post–subcultural patterns, but all of them could be present in an interrelated set of social activities and discourses. And over and beyond all the different social patterns, discourses and conflicts in the life of musical collectivities is in some ways centered around the concept of genre. Debates over authenticity, values, ethics and scenic borders — and in some cases even media technologies — are debates over taxonomies, interpretations and evaluations related to genre.

Genre is a fundamental mental and social tool of orientation in the world of contemporary popular music (Toynbee, 2000). Holt (2007) explained the roots of this notion:

“At a basic level, genre is a type of category that refers to a particular kind of music within a distinctive cultural web of production, circulation, and signification. That is to say, genre is not only ‘in the music’, but also in the minds and bodies of particular groups of people who share certain conventions. These conventions are created in relation to particular musical texts and artists and the contexts in which they are performed and experienced.” [21]

Later, reflecting on the social nature of the concept, he added:

“... the process of genre formation is in turn often accompanied by the formation of new social collectivities. A typical example is how music scenes are organized around particular musics.” [22]

Building partly on Hesmondaghl, I would take Holt’s observation a step further. As in the lives of various scenes, collectivities, subcultures and communities of shared musical taste, regardless of their actual social organization, location or media platform, the discussions around genres are always in the forefront: in a sense all music scenes are genre–based scenes.

From the angle of genre, the barriers between subcultural and post–subcultural social formations and the distinctions made between online and off–line scenes dissolve. The meaningful continuum provided by discourses of genre formation and negotiation offers a common perspective for making sense of all types of musical collectivities.

A focus on genre would not offer a “master theory” [23] nor a replacement for subcultural and post–subcultural theories. Rather genre represents an angle, a frame or a tool that may help to discover the continuity of discourse in the age of social fragmentation of musical collectivities.

 

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Conclusions

There are three main points from this study on the interrelations of music genre formation, work ethics and media platform use which I wish to emphasize.

The first is that in in scenic discourses on music and genre ethical considerations might be prior to aesthetical ones. This has been shown in the conflict between the scene’s work ethic and the platform of MySpace enabling a sudden elevation to popularity. The fact that the intertwining names of the social networking site and genre were, in a short period of time, united as a negative descriptor (‘MySpace deathcore band’), may show that within the internal logic of a scene popularity or musical quality does not necessarily equate to higher status and prestige, whereas a consistent adherence to a work ethic may.

The second is the two–faced nature of communities organized on the basis of shared musical preferences or taste. In the deathcore scene, some patterns may be traced back to classic subcultural conflicts; also, new post–subcultural practices are present in the fluid and ever changing nature of the scene. However, the shared preference for a genre of music may provide continuity in the interpretation of scenic debates.

Finally, the third is the interaction of culture and media technologies. MySpace brought about radical changes in band communication and music distribution in the scene — but the changes themselves, the actual meanings and uses of the media platform were shaped by the scene’s own cultural tradition and by the conflicting value judgments. As critical studies in the history of ‘new’ technologies have shown (Gitelman, 2006; Marvin, 1988; Sterne, 2012), technological artefacts or media platforms alone do not change social formations, but rather offer new fields, spaces for the already existing ‘old’ cultural debates, tensions or conflicts. In the case of the transforming deathcore scene, MySpace and Last.fm offered the new space for those old discourses that eventually contributed to shape the construction of interpretations, meanings and uses of those platforms. End of article

 

About the author

Tamás Tófalvy, Ph.D., is assistant professor at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Department of Sociology and Communications, research fellow at University of Szeged and vice–chair of the Hungarian branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). His research interests lie at the intersection of cultural construction of technology, popular culture and digital media policy.
Twitter: @tamastofalvy
Web: https://sites.google.com/site/tamastofalvy/
E–mail: tamastofalvy [at] gmail [dot] com

 

Acknowledgements

The main arguments of this paper were presented at the “Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change Cross–Disciplinary Symposium” held at London Metropolitan University in London U.K., on 15 September 2011.

 

Notes

1. The site at http://www.terrorhc.com, accessed the latest in March 2008 later was suspended as even a redirecting domain, and some years later the band launched a new Web site under the domain http://www.terrorlahc.com, tied to their new Facebook and Twitter accounts, marking a new era of new social media platforms.

2. The account http://www.myspace.com/terror is still active, accessed on 12 December 2012.

3. It is important to note that the term ‘deathcore’ had already appeared on the extreme metal scene previously, but with different musical references at that time: the origin of the genre currently held to be — and named — deathcore can be traced back approximately to the years following the millennium.

4. Yet most bands originate from North America, Canada and the United States, similarly to the metalcore and extreme metal scenes which provide the direct and broader context for the subgenre, with the difference that on these aforementioned scenes Swedish (and to a lesser extent British) bands have a much greater influence.

5. Dan Epstein, “Job For a Cowboy,” Revolver Magazine, at http://www.revolvermag.com/content/job-cowboy, archived at http://www.webcitation.org/5cKN8CfWt, accessed on 12 December 2012.

6. The size of this audience becomes particularly accentuated when compared to the MySpace data of one of that period’s most popular mainstream bands, Coldplay. Both of the bands registered on MySpace in August 2004. Playing mostly in stadiums during global tours, Coldplay’s most listened to track (‘Trouble’, 3,779,373 listens) — as of 18 September 2008 — was listened to only somewhat more than JFAC’s chart–breaking song (‘Entombment of a Machine’, 3,507,181 listens), and it is also striking that JFAC had almost half as many friends (210,267) as Coldplay (505,052) on the site. And to what extent is online popularity non–proportionate to business success and volume is especially apparent when the record sales of the two bands are compared. In the first week of their album’s release, Coldplay sold roughly 55 times more records in the United States than JFAC, opening on the first spot (‘X&Y’, with 720,000 sold records) of the Billboard chart, opposed to JFAC’s 54th rank (‘Genesis’, 13,000 sold). Which is, as a matter of fact the best result achieved by an extreme metal album up to 2009, since the debut of Slipknot’s first album in 1999.

7. For the role of genre negotiations in relation to scenes, see Straw (1991); concerning genre formation, see Gunn (1999); and, in regard to file–sharing, see Ebare (2004).

8. During my research, I examined deathcore on Lambgoat.com (http://lambgoat.com/) and of the online radio and social networking site Last.fm (http://www.last.fm/).

9. Screamo, in this context, represents the more melodic wave of metalcore despised by fans preferring more orthodox trends, instead of referring to the highly politicized hardcore movement. The conflict between these two meanings will be discussed shortly.

10. Or for a record collector, see Vályi, 2010.

11. Kahn–Harris, 2004, pp. 114–115.

12. Spilker (2012, p. 790) in his work on the Norwegian home–recording “network studio” scene makes a similar observation regarding the musician’s attitude, “an inherent conservatism that probably exists among many artists and would–be artists.” Although his interviewees were using all the means offered by the new media and independent, digital home–recording tools, still, “for the bulk” of his interviewees, “the norm for a ‘real’ career is to still use professional recording studios, be contracted by a record company, release traditional albums, distribute them through established channels, and leave the marketing and promotion to the trade.”

13. This comment is rooted in the reality that these two bands mark two large, partly conflicting, partly successive, traditions in the history of metal and hardcore. The Swedish melodic death metal band At the Gates, with the spread of the ‘Gothenburg’ style, became a major point of reference and influence of metalcore trends from the mid–1990s until the early years of the new millennium. The band perhaps best known in the more technical death metal scene in the U.S., Cannibal Corpse, influenced hardcore bands in a lesser detectable way. The technical death metal sound became popular once again with the newer deathcore wave.

14. “All Shall Perish working on new album” (24 January 2008), at http://lambgoat.com/news/comments.aspx?id=10121, accessed on 12 December 2012.

15. Hodkinson (2002) appeared to rely on Hill and Hughes’ (1998, p. 69) statement that online communities ‘vigorously and successfully defend their electronic boundaries”.

16. Hodkinson, 2002, p. 180.

17. Which also originates from a particular interpretation of lists associated with individual genres: many fans probably understand that a given list not as a representation of genre features, but rather as a ‘competition’ of individual bands and thus tag and rank according to this.

18. “Real screamo,” at http://www.last.fm/tag/real%20screamo, accessed on 12 December 2012.

19. Established by Cohen (1972), Willis (1978) and Hebdige (1979) among others and based initially on a study of British working class youth cultures and the Punk movement.

20. Bennett, 1999, p. 614.

21. Holt, 2007, p. 2.

22. Holt, 2007, p. 3.

23. Holt, 2007, p. 7.

 

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Editorial history

Received 31 January 2013; revised 16 April 2013; accepted 29 August 2013.


Creative Commons License
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

‘MySpace bands’ and ‘tagging wars’ Conflicts of genre, work ethic and media platforms in an extreme music scene
by Tamás Tófalvy.
First Monday, Volume 19, Number 9 - 1 September 2014
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4354/4115
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v19i9.4354





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