Page 1

“You’ve Probably Never Heard of It”: The Presentation of Authenticity within the Indie Music Scene of Williamsburg Brooklyn

An Honors Thesis presented by Rachel Marie Paquin

to The Honors Program in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts Honors Thesis Advisor: Marcus Aldredge, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Iona College New Rochelle, New York January 28, 2013

Acknowledgements I’d like to thank Dr. Aldredge for all of his patience and understanding throughout this process. While I may have not been up to speed with all the work at all time, he tirelessly helped me understand the material at hand and patiently waited for the completed thesis. I’d also like to thank Charlotte Wray for being the only constant in my Honors education during my time here at Iona College. As Honors Directors, Dr. Deborah Williams, Dr. Jeanne Zaino, and Dr. James Stillwaggon have all given me sound advice for not only my time here at Iona but also for my life after graduation. Without Dr. Williams, I would not have a grown interest in English as a discipline. Dr. Zaino singlehandedly made me declare my Political Science major, and Dr. Stillwaggon has encouraged me in my music interests and life goals post graduation. Special thanks goes out to Dr. Scott Cleary and Dr. Tricia Mulligan. Dr Cleary taught me the relationship between our humanities core and the modern era. It is through my classes with him that I was reminded why I love academia and trudge through papers such as this thesis. Dr. Mulligan reminded me daily of my interest in Political Science and showed me that despite the dire circumstances around the world, one can still be happy and leave and impact on dozens of people’s lives. A special acknowledgement needs to be given to the Honors class of 2013. Without this 20-some-odd number of students, I would not have survived humanities or this thesis. There is nothing quite like mutual suffering to really


bring people together. Dom, while you will probably never read this, you deserve an acknowledgement and thanks more than anyone else in my life. Helping me through the lowest lows of my life and listening to my insane life plans allowed me to become the person who would write a thesis on this topic. Lastly, I’d like to thank my family for all the support they have given me throughout the years. Without them, specifically my parents, I would not be here today. It is their complete understanding of my need for independence and the fact that I change my mind about ten times a day that has allowed me to become the person I am.


Table of Contents Acknowledgements


Table of Contents






Literature Review




The Identification of Authenticity


Musicians and Self-Classification


Style as Practiced Distinction


Music Consumption







Abstract This paper is based on a qualitative study focusing on the indie music scene of the neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in New York City. This study describes how a music scene is presented and displayed, in its component parts, by various Internet web pages online. The primary areas of presentation are musicians, music venues, record stores, and clothing stores. Through these different but interrelated groups, organizations and participants, one examines how authenticity is presented within this scene as practices of distinction. Looking at authenticity in a late-modern era, the term is redefined by the scene to identify what authenticity means across individuals. With scene participants as the curators of the scene, outsiders negatively interpret it due to their lifestyle and mindset. Through examining the scene participant, one is better able to identify how the scene defines authenticity, better understanding the way those four categories present themselves to the insiders of the scene. Finding the relative definition of authenticity applicable to the scene, one learns that there are new areas of interest for research, including the new “singer/songwriter� identifier used by performers and musicians. This research also leads one to question the rise in popularity of vintage and secondhand clothing as a form of authentic clothing and a sign of an authentic person.


Introduction It was 2009 and I was on top of the world. I recently turned 18 and would be graduating from high school in two months. One evening I was standing in a bar explaining to intoxicated people how they could win a free t-shirt. A few weeks prior I landed an internship with a local radio station, which led me to the bar. Ever since I started attending concerts three years before, I noticed this radio station often produced the best ones in the area when measured by my and my friends’ standards. I surprisingly received the internship despite my age. It was a turning point in my life. No longer was I just a typical concert attendee. I was now part of the industry, and this gave me a different inside look to the music world. During my time interning for this radio station, I began to understand both the music scene and college scene better. A college scene is made up of college students who attend a university or multiple universities in the same geographical location. While some college scenes can also be music scenes, not all music scenes are also college scenes. Music scenes bring people of all age groups and education together based on their taste in music. This was unique radio station, allowing me to participate in both scenes. Aside from the sales team, college students held the positions from intern to DJ to General Manager. It was a college radio station at the center of the college and music scenes in the small city. I got to experience the inner workings of a radio station and its concerts, observing the local music scene from another angle. I wanted to stay there forever and just live the life of being part of the concert staff and insider.


One day while working, I overheard my organizational superior talking to one of the other employees about ‘hipsters’. She asked if the other had heard of the “countermovement” occurring in the local hipster culture. Apparently, there was an internal movement against the hipster way of life and culture. These hipsters who were rebelling against the subculture, though, did not believe themselves to be hipsters. Not wanting to appear uninformed to others, I pretended like I understood what was being discussed. Deep down all I thought was “I hope I’m not a hipster.” Soon after starting college, my brother began calling me a hipster. I became frustrated and mad because I knew the negative connotation behind the accusation yet was still unsure what the term meant. As I progressed through college, I developed an understanding of what made a person a hipster. The next time my brother accused me of being a hipster, I admitted to it, which baffled him. One rule of hipsterdom is that a hipster never admits to being a hipster so I could not be one. After this conversation, it was decided I had hipster tendencies but was not a full-blown hipster. While they could come off as pretentious to some, hipsters resemble almost every other youth culture in the past. They seek to find their own place in society as individuals and a community. Despite this, their contemporaries who are not part of the hipster subculture view their lifestyle as unauthentic. Their contemporaries see hipsters as youth who do not want to grow up or enter the work force, thriving on the vices of sex, drugs, and alcohol. They are identified by their sexual promiscuity, clove cigarettes, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and “hobo-chic”


style. This style features clothing that looks worn or old with a tough of chic hipness to it. It is either usually expensive if purchased as a piece of new clothing, adding to the chic-ness, or secondhand, adding to the ‘hobo” feel. Their conversations are seen as condescending, with their contemporaries believing they constantly talk about how much better off they are for living a life free from the societal norms. Due to the labels of their peers outside of the subculture, the lifestyle became synonymous with unoriginal and borrowing from previous cultures. However, in the 21st century, it is almost impossible to find something that does not pull from other previous or current cultures, thus making these pejorative claims short sided in terms of understanding cultures. Looking to see how this lifestyle, culture and music scene presents authenticity, this research turns to the musical scene in Brooklyn – Williamsburg. Like parts of Manhattan, Williamsburg was a sordid place to live during the 1980’s. Afraid of getting mugged or knifed on the streets, friends urged visitors to walk directly from the Bedford Ave L stop straight to their apartment without talking to anyone (Anasi 20121). While Manhattan flourished much more quickly than Williamsburg, this Brooklyn neighborhood transitioned from a run-down industrial town to a cultural hub within 20 years. Before becoming home to the indie music scene and hipster lifestyle, Williamsburg was home to Polish, Hispanic, and Jewish enclaves. There was a balance between the enclaves, and even today there is still a population of Polish, 1

Citations from this text do not include page numbers because the researcher read the e-book version. In the e-book version, no page numbers were included, only location numbers that changed depending on the font size chosen by the researcher. With no reliable page number to provide the reader, the researcher found it was best to provide only the information that is unchanging. 8

Hispanics, and Jews in Williamsburg and the surrounding neighborhoods (Anasi 2012). One of the main reasons for the transition was the rise of rent in Manhattan. As this borough in New York City gained popularity, rents began to rise, forcing people to move to the fringes of the city. Many of these people were college graduates and artists. Soon, they crossed over to Brooklyn and moved into the old factories along the waterfront in Williamsburg. These factories offered large spaces for artist communities (Anasi 2012). When people moved to Williamsburg at this time, rent was incredibly cheap when split between multiple people. With an influx of largely middle and upper-middle class people, the streets became safer and landlords began to prefer renting to the stable new families, couples, and singles seeking apartments in Williamsburg. As more people began to move into the neighborhood, stores fronts that were closed for years opened. Author Robert Anasi (2012) recalls the opening of the first café in the neighborhood in 1995. It was before the surge of Starbucks and the mainstream idea of sitting for hours in a coffee house. Due to the available property and up-and-coming neighborhood feeling, such businesses were able to open and survive. Through this atmosphere, an artist community placed its roots in the neighborhood. In his article “The New Bohemia,” Brad Gooch (1992) looks at the artist colony forming there at the beginning of the 1990’s. Since Gooch’s article, 20 years have passed and the landscape of Williamsburg has shifted. What used to be artist communities and galleries in closed factories are now residential condominiums (Anasi 2012). Instead of


providing close proximity to the city at a fraction of the cost, these condominiums can go for millions of dollars. The streets are filled with boutiques, used and vintage clothing stores, concert venues, and various shops. Yet, as one steps away from the hustle along Bedford Avenue, there is still the feel of the old Williamsburg down quiet streets lined with old and dilapidated buildings. According to numerous articles, condominiums, like the Edge, and boutiques, like Catbird, are the future of Williamsburg. Due to the artist community present in Williamsburg, the culture and creativity in the neighborhood is evident. Many boutiques feature the clothes and jewelry made by local artists. Through their presence as citizens and artists in the neighborhood, they make the location more desirable to others, leading to the gentrification of the neighborhood (Zukin 1997: 23). This social process is driven largely by the middle and upper middle classes migrating to the area. A latent outcome is that street crime has dropped, which continues the process of more people moving to the neighborhood (Anasi 2012)2. This process makes the area shape into almost a resort town in an urban environment (Hawgood 2012). Prices rise in shops and the rents and cost of apartments increase. Overall, it causes those who started the popularity of the community to have to move due to the increase of lifestyle costs. Rather than remaining a hub for struggling artists, it becomes a community where people benefit from the positive affects of the artists and live in a culturally diverse area 2

While Anasi never comes straight out and says that crime rates dropped over the course of Williamsburg’s growth, his book mentions the conditions of the area. He starts by saying that one was advised by friends to run to their apartment from the subway to that he no longer needed to worry about getting jumped on the street. Through his book, a progression is visible that crime rates in the area declined. 10

at a high cost while also providing a retreat for those from the nearby hustle of Manhattan (Hawgood 2012). Through this gentrification and artistic movement, the indie music scene arose here. In one New York Times article, the journalist divides hipsters into three distinct groups (Grief 2010). He refers to one as the most authentic hipster who gains the title purely through what Sarah Thornton called subcultural capital (1996: 11). Subcultural capital can be either objectified or embodied in the eyes of Thornton. This means that one can gain status through either physical objects, like clothing or style, or embodied materials, like humor and attitude, in the scene. These hipsters are the struggling artists who started the lifestyle. The other two emerged from more privileged backgrounds – liberal arts college grads and trustfund kids. Out all three descriptions, the author portrays the trust fund kids as the most inauthentic, utilizing their money to dress like hipsters and immerse themselves in the culture. He goes on to use Paris Hilton wearing a trucker hat as an example. She is clearly not from the culture or lifestyle where trucker hats gained popularity, but due to her money, she is able to purchase the clothes that mask her as one of its members. If this is a distinction within the indie music scene, and hipsterdom in general, is it truly inauthentic? Even if the trust-fund hipsters are a small enclave in the scene, they still have a large enough impact on the scene to be important to the overall make-up and portrayal to outsiders. This brings one to the questions for this research – what is authenticity and how is it presented within the indie music scene of Williamsburg? These kids may be boasting clothes that have not


been worn in half a century and listening to music that has not even been produced yet, but does this automatically make them inauthentic? These members of the scene may believe themselves to be authentic, making it a question of objectivity versus subjectivity. As the “post-modern� world, the idea of authenticity and the individual has become hyper-subjective, leaving it up to the individual to decide what is real and true. This viewpoint must be applied to the lifestyle of hipsters and those who participate in the indie music scene of Williamsburg. By looking at the way this music scene presents itself online and in printed materials, authenticity is examined based on their definition of the word and whether their authenticity measures up to the authenticity defined by the larger society.


Literature Review While there is little published research on the authenticity of the indie music scene in Williamsburg, there are several different scholars who examine areas that are important to this thesis. For this study, research on different music scenes and how the participants conducted themselves will be discussed. This lays the foundation and parameters for this analysis. Essential to this analysis are the concepts of cultures and subcultures, which among other things infer the importance of geography. Due to the nature of the music scene in Williamsburg, one also needs to look at the origins of the “hipster,” and what the term has meant historically compared to how it is used today. Lastly, this research looks at the changing social classes in society and the emergence of a new creative class and how this has impacted the shape of cultures. Providing one look into the origins of hipsters is Ned Polsky in his book Hustlers, Beats, and Others ([1967] 1998). Polsky explores the history of beats and how they are different from hipsters. He looks at the origin of the slang term hipster, coming from the time when those given the name smoked opium while lying on their hip (1998: 145-146). Through his comparison of the two groups, one sees that beats lived a more dedicated life when it comes to the scene compared to hipsters. At the same time, beats looked down on hipsters (147). The beats typically did not want to have any type of relationship with people they dub “square,” and hipsters fell into this category because they did not live as dedicated to the life as the beats (147). When reading Polsky’s description of beats and their disdain for “squares” and interaction with the outside world, the


mindset of today’s hipster is brought to mind. Dick Hebdige continues this exploration into the lives of hipsters and beats in his book Subculture: the Meaning of Style (1979). Subculture is a general survey of multiple youth subculture in post-War England, including the hipster movement. When it first started, hipsters drew from the black community, forming a relationship to black culture. Hipsters sought to imitate and draw from jazz and blues and the style of black culture. While this history is lost now, it still impacts how the scene is constructed. At the same time, Hebdige relates the hipster movement to the beat movement since both came about at the same time and was also influenced by black urban culture. Through this relation, one sees how two subcultures sprang forth from the same origin (1979: 46-49). While Polsky and Hebdige explore the beginnings of the hipster, Sharon Zukin looks at the origins of cities driven by art in culture in The Cultures of Cities (1997). In her book, she looks at the role that the actual geographical location plays in the culture of a scene. This research helps with learning about the artist community and the role of the artist in these communities. For example, she shows how these communities help and lead to the gentrification of particular neighborhoods in cities. This directly relates to the neighborhood of Williamsburg since it first began as an artist community. Now, one can see that it has gentrified with the influx of middle class and upper-middle class Americans and the construction of multiple high-rise condominium complexes. She also explains the role of a “symbolic economy,” which plays an important role in the music scene. Symbolic economy is the power given to the aesthetics of a city. It


decides what and who is visible to the public eye. At its core, the symbolic economy insures that what is beautiful is seen in a city (1997: 7-10). Like the aesthetic value placed on urban architecture, the indie music of Williamsburg places significant emphasis on the aesthetics of one’s style and clothing, much like other youth subcultures and scenes. Through this emphasis, the scene looks to the aesthetics of these items, placing value on what they deem is beautiful and attractive and what should be seen by the world. By possessing the clothes and fashion that have aesthetic power, one also possesses symbolic capital, becoming part of the symbolic economy (1997: 7-10). The neighborhood of Williamsburg began as an artist colony that was made of people straddling different economic classes but identifying themselves as creative. With this identification, which also is present around the world, the creative class became solidified. Richard Florida looks at this in his book The Rise of the Creative Class (2002). In his work, one is able to gain an understanding of the origin of the creative class and how the creative class is not unified as one. Florida gives a look at the geographic centers of the creative class. While Williamsburg is not on the list, it provides insight into where others might live a similar lifestyle to those in Williamsburg. At the same time, it shows the translocal scene of the creative class. While a local scene is bound to specific geographic location, a translocal scene spans multiple geographic locations that can either stretch across a country or the world (Bennett and Peterson, 2004). Through this geographically widespread class, one realizes that the majority of the people supplanted themselves into these locations. Due to this, one has to look at


the scene in Williamsburg and wonder how a person becomes part of the scene there – whether they must live there currently, have lived there at some point or just frequently participate in the scene. These questions aided in the research portion of the thesis when identifying who and what on which to focus the research. With these different scenes and subcultures across the world, Andy Bennett and Richard Peterson offer insight into the different locations and attributes of scenes in Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual (2004). As the title suggests, they divide the locations into three different categories. For this research, both the local and the virtual descriptions are helpful. According to Bennett, a local scene is a “clustered around a specific geographic focus” (2004: 6). Since Williamsburg is a small, neighborhood scene, it is a local music scene. This allows one to learn about how the local scene operates. Due to the focus of the research, though, the examination of virtual scenes is more beneficial. A virtual scene consists of “people scattered across great physical spaces” who are interested in the scene and “create the sense of scene via fanzines and, increasingly, through the Internet” (2004: 7). Since this current research looks at the presentation of the Williamsburg scene online, it is an examination of a virtual music scene that is also associated with a specific geographic area. With the help of this information on virtual scenes, one is able to better perform research and analyze the findings of the Williamsburg indie music scene. Even though there are these three different classifications of scenes, there are various subcultures to which they apply. In her book Club Cultures, Sarah


Thornton (1996) examines the participants of the club subculture and their view of those who are not part of the scene. Most importantly, Thornton identifies the importance of subcultural capital (11-14). As noted earlier with symbolic economy, subcultural capital lies in the particular style, clothes, practices, and various tastes of those who are part of the scene. At the same time, it also includes the knowledge one possesses about the scene – whether one knows the more obscure bands and venues or is only aware of what is close to mainstream. Club Cultures highlights the disdain that subcultures have for the mainstream but also mentions that mainstream seems to be more feminine (104). This means that certain subcultures tend to have a higher population of males that participate and as the culture softens, it takes on a feminine aspect (104). In her book, Thornton mentions the work of Pierre Bourdieu and his work Distinction (10-14). Throughout the research for this thesis, different scholars mention and reference Bourdieu’s work frequently. One phrase of particular importance for this thesis is found in Thornton’s work when she quotes Bourdieu saying “nothing classifies somebody more than the way he or she classifies” (101). Even though she uses it to talk about club culture, it pertains to the indie music culture, also. As is discussed in What is a Hipster? by Mark Grief, Kathleen Ross and Dayna Tortorici, there arise three classifications of current-day hipsters (2010). These identifications arise from how hipsters classify other hipsters and non-hipsters. Through these classifications in Grief’s sociological investigation, one is able to learn what a hipster is based on the hipster’s own standards.


These classifications as identified by Grief were first found in his New York Times article “Hipster in the Mirror� (2010). In this article, Grief discusses the work of Bourdieu in regards to cultural capital. Through his identification of cultural capital, he highlights that this capital is worth more than money in the scene itself. With this weight put on the capital, as a formal symbolic currency, and the lifestyle and background of the different groups of hipsters, there is a tension between the different groups. It is through these tensions and the origins of the different types of hipsters that the idea of authenticity comes into question, making one ask if all three types are authentic or only a selection of them. At the same time, the question of authenticity arises again because they all present themselves in the same style and fashion, meaning their physical presentation is identical. It is with this physical presentation and further presentation online that the roots of this thesis are found. Despite all the insight gained from these texts, none addressed the question of authenticity’s presentation in Williamsburg itself. While Williamsburg provides a microcosm of the scene itself, Florida points out that the class making up the scene is spread out across the country. Due to this, any possible findings may only be applicable to the geographic location of Williamsburg and not the indie music scene as a whole. In addition to this, no definition for authenticity is found, so one has to determine how exactly authenticity is found in a scene that mainstream contemporaries consistently label as inauthentic. With the aforementioned research and the current research conducted online, a definition for authenticity needs to be formed to hold up as a


measuring point for analysis. Once this is accomplished, these texts and the other research will help guide one towards answering the questions about the presentation of authenticity in the Williamsburg indie music scene and those who participate in it.


Methods In order to examine the music scene in Williamsburg and its authenticity through online presentation, two different sociological research methods are utilized – grounded theory and content analysis. Grounded theory is a form of inductive analysis first iterated in Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss’s The Discovery of Grounded Theory in 1967 (Lofland et al 2006:195-6). As defined in Earl Babbie’s 12th Edition of The Practice of Social Research, grounded theory uses a constant comparison of observations and data as they occur throughout the research process in order to form a theory (2010:307). Instead of using the traditional method of research where one formulates a hypothesis first then tests it through observation, grounded theory seeks to conduct the research then form the hypotheses. Analysis occurs throughout the process. In this case, the primary research question pertains to how authenticity is presented specifically in the indie music scene of the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn through the Internet and online resources. Due to this method of analysis, one enters the research consciously minimizing any predisposed ideas about Williamsburg’s presentation of authenticity. While having some background knowledge of the indie music scene and the neighborhood of Williamsburg, this past knowledge has minimal sway on the research. When entering the scene, one searches for how authenticity within the scene is presented, specifically seeking how the scene’s different actors present authenticity in their objects and visual presentation. Before beginning the research, several terms are conceptualized and operationalized in terms of the


study. Such terms include authenticity, “indie music scene” and “Williamsburg.” In order to clarify, an operational definition is a concrete definition that is applied to the research conducted, allowing for observations to be uniform and reliable (Babbie 2010:47). At the beginning of this process, vague operational definitions and research questions drove the study. Williamsburg is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York that has its epicenter at Bedford Avenue. This marks the epicenter because one of the few subway stops in the area is located at Bedford Avenue, and this subway stop led to the development of the street. The street is now filled with storefronts, coffee chops, bookstores and various other small businesses. This houses the center for socializing and consumer culture in Williamsburg. Throughout the research process, Williamsburg became more than this vague definition. Williamsburg has different sub spatial divisions and specific streets are social and symbolic boundaries between Williamsburg and nearby neighborhoods Greenpoint and Bushwick. Starting at the most basic level of comparison, one looks at different definitions of these foundational operationalized terms. Delving deeper into the research, the typologies of different businesses and locations formed are compared. These typologies are formed as part of the content analysis. At its simplest definition, content analysis is the “study of recorded human communications” (Babbie 2010:333). It is a form of unobtrusive research where one does not interfere or infiltrate the area he or she is researching. Due to this nature, the research was purely from an observational point of view. Despite


collecting artifacts, the researcher does not become a participant in the scene nor converse with other participants on websites or blogs. For the research, the content that is the focus comes from websites, blogs, pamphlets, newspapers, emails, and flyers. While gathering physical newspapers and flyers, the main focus is on the virtual scene of Williamsburg. The research began with visiting the actual scene in Williamsburg, allowing the researcher to become familiar with the actual neighborhood and physical scene. While in the field, boutiques, thrift stores, consignment shops, and record stores are entered, looking at what is sold and searching for any type of flyers, newspapers, or pamphlets they offer. After collecting artifacts from different stores, a list of these places is created, categorizing the type of business they represent through their own terms. After this first visit, more businesses are added by looking at maps of the neighborhood online. This search allows the research to narrow the different types of clothing stores that were explored and find more concert venues and music stores. This begins the utilization of the Internet for the research, turning to online blogs found through the materials collected while in Williamsburg and personal experience with one website. Through this search, more concert venues and musicians are discovered. All of the collected data is added to the initial list. With this list, one goes to their websites, looking at how the organization or person portrays the self in the virtual scene. These sites lead to their recommended sites, allowing for one to find other participants in the virtual scene. With this list growing, categories and typologies are created and fine-


tuned. The primary identification lists what type of entity they are – clothing store, band, record store, concert venue, art gallery, and bar. After this, one goes deeper with a secondary identification – vintage clothing store, used clothing store, locally made clothing store, and children’s clothing store. Later in data, the list is narrowed down to the type of sources that are directly part of the research. For example, children play a very minimal part in the indie music scene so one does not look into the children’s clothing stores. Since children play a minimal role in the scene, there is not a large number of their clothing stores found. If there were a larger number, though, one would have to question why there are so many. With a list of these entities, the research continues by visiting websites frequently and subscribing to their mailing lists. With all of this information, the qualitative data is analyzed. Qualitative research deals primarily with non-numerical data in the attempt to better understand people’s patterned meanings and practices. This means the data collected focuses on words and phrases and descriptions. For example, when looking at the musicians and performers that are part of the scene, the qualitative data includes the way they categorize themselves as artists, such as jazz; punk, or electronic. When it comes to clothing stores, whether they identify themselves as a boutique, a thrift store, or another variation provides the basic qualitative data. When dealing with this written content, both the manifest and latent meaning is considered in the analyses. Babbie identifies manifest content as the “concrete terms contained in a communication,” while latent content is identified as “the underlying meaning of a communication” (2010:338). This means when


reading the emails and other written material, the researcher searches for any underlying meaning to the words and ideas being put forward. For example, one pattern in communication is a tone of sarcasm or irony. When looking for such terms, I first had to operationalize them to allow for some identification throughout the materials. Once the different meanings are found, then they are coded. So, certain tones are given codes and what are identified as frequently used words and phrases are coded. Throughout this process of coding and analyzing, the researcher constantly uses grounded theory and the comparative method. This helps to narrow down for what is being searched. A redefinition process of the terms and concepts continues. With all the data collected and coded, one is able to begin to identify what exactly is found, discovering a theory about the way authenticity is presented in the scene.


The Identification of Authenticity To help this analysis, one can begin with a standard definition of authenticity. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are several different definitions for the word ‘authentic,� but there are three that combine to form the best definition for this research. Authentic, at its core, means something that is real and genuine. This is opposed to imaginary. While this provides a good base for a definition, it would mean that all parts of the culture are authentic for being real rather than imaginary. This can be proven as true right away since there are physical buildings and people that are part of Williamsburg and the subculture. Delving deeper into the definition, in order for something to be authentic, it must be original and unique (Oxford University Press 2012). As stated in the introduction of this thesis, it is impossible for anything to be completely original today. This definition, in turn, would negate everything in the 21st century as authentic since it draws from something in the past. However, if it draws from prior generations and cultures, combining different aspects and features from various times, it is possible to create an original and unique collaboration. Lastly, authentic means that something or someone is authoritative, deserving respect and obedience (Oxford University Press 2012). With these combined definitions, one examines the subculture in Williamsburg to see how authenticity is presented – looking to see the people and businesses emulate authority in the knowledge of the scene. The scene and people that participate in it are judged as authentic by seeing if they are an original and unique collaboration of past cultures and style. This definition is


applied again, examining whether the subculture sees these people, musicians, and businesses as authentic. After this subjective view is resolved, it must then be brought to a more micro level of subjective, seeing if the individual sees him or herself, musicians and businesses as authentic according to this definition.


Musicians and Self-Classification After collecting and analyzing the data, four major conceptual areas of concentration emerge as defined by Bennett and Peterson (2004:4) – artists, clothing stores, concert venues, and record stores. One concert venue in particular provides the basis for all of the artist research. Instead of looking inclusively at the different types of musicians part of the scene, from large bands to first time performers, the research focuses on musicians who are based in the neighborhood and those who perform at the small, local venues of the neighborhood. While they may not live in Williamsburg, they are both musicians and members of the scene. This takes out larger bands that are more well-known. Even though these larger bands may place acoustic or solo shows occasionally in the scene, they do not appear at the small, local venues. These venues consist of coffee shops and bars that provide a more intimate setting for a concert. A defining feature of these venues is the structure and appearance of the stage. These smaller venues may have no stage for the performers. They may also have a low, small stage that only raises them a couple feet above the ground. It is this staging that brings the performers closer to the audience and provides the intimate setting. There is a lack of a barrier between the performer and audience, leaving little security and protection for the performer. Due to the popularity of larger, well-known bands, they do not perform at such venues. These bands are found in larger venues with higher stages and security both outside the venue and inside near the stage. When looking at these bands and musicians, three major patterns arose in


their presentation. In their bios, they identify where they are from but more specifically they mention any ties they have to New York City or Williamsburg. Artist Bethie O’Toole states in her bio that she is now a Brooklyn resident, allowing potential fans to see that she is now part of the music scene. While Bethie emphasizes her new roots, the band Pond and the Cousin Pastime announces they are “proud Brooklyn native(s).” With many stating similar circumstances as Bethie or Pond and the Cousin Pastime, two go further to say exactly how long they have been in the city. New York City and Williamsburg are not the only geographic locations cited by these musicians. Other places that are mentioned are towns and cities known for their music scene, especially if it is related to the scene in Brooklyn. These scenes are related to Brooklyn by the two being members of the same translocal scene. While The Den is now located in New York, the band states that they are originally from the Bay Area. This makes one think of San Francisco, which also has a lively scene for twenty-somethings and music, specifically with the Outside Lands festival that takes place during the summer. Other musicians mention Texas, Philadelphia and Washington, DC as their hometowns or current residences. Even though the artist does not mention where in Texas she is from, someone who follows music and music scenes will automatically think of Austin. This city, which is self-labeled as the world’s live music capital, hosts 21 annual festivals, including Austin City Limits and South by Southwest(“The Official Website of the City of Austin”). While it is impossible to say whether she is from Austin or not, she may have left out her exact location so that those in


Williamsburg associate her with the Austin music scene. Such a decision can be seen as a tactic on the part of performer. By leaving out her exact location in Texas, she controls the information that the audience receives. While not only controlling this information, her performance identity is also mystified (Goffman 1959: 67). This mystification is another tactic, creating a shroud around her as a musician. This shroud and mystery surrounding her can make her more appealing, and thus authentic, to potential fans. Aside from distinguishing their geographical identities, these musicians identify themselves by the type of music they play. While this thesis is looking at the indie music scene of Williamsburg, the term “indie” can be fluid, having different definitions for different people. At its basic core, the term “indie” refers to anything independently created, meaning it does not go through a major conglomerate (Perren 2012: 8). In the case of movies, it means a large production company. When it comes to music, this means a record company. As independent films gained popularity in the mainstream, major conglomerates began to purchase the production companies that put out the movies. Despite these acquisitions, the films and small production companies retained their distinction as “indie” (2012: 8). This same transition occurred in the music industry. Looking at the local musicians that come through Williamsburg, though, the term “indie” is not frequently used. Out of the 70 bands and musicians analyzed, only 10 categorized their music as “indie.” Interestingly, the folk genre was used more frequently in describing the artist’s music. 25 bands and musicians categorized their music as folk or


Americana. These performers used the two terms in various ways. Some used both terms to describe their music while other only chose one. In addition to this, one band called their music “Appalachian-inspired,” and another band said they were “blunt antifolk.” One of the acts calling his music “indie” further identified it as “banjo-inspired” and “bluegrass-trained.” Even though these are true independent artists in terms of not being signed, they do not identify themselves as “indie” online to their audience and potential fans. Perhaps by classifying themselves as “folk” and “Americana,” these bands are looking more to their roots, not just as musicians but as people, also. It is also possible that these classifications further differentiate themselves, placing themselves within the larger indie scene. Most important out of these self-identifying factors is the musicians seeing themselves as “singer/songwriters.” 12 of the musicians studied categorized themselves as singer/songwriters. While all individual musical performers are singers, they never really described themselves as “singer” in their personal bios. It is something that a musician is assumed to do. Identifying as a songwriter, though, shows that the artist is not only a performer but writer also. Through this distinction, the musicians are proving to fans that they not only have the talent to sing but the skill to write their own songs. The “singer/songwriter” classification adds a level of credibility and authenticity to the performer, making him or her out to be a true musician as compared to those who do not write their own songs. By writing their own songs, “singer/songwriters” gain this level of authenticity by placing themselves in the “creative class,” which is a defining component of the


singer/songwriter (Florida 2002: 68). Following this, the distinction puts the singer/songwriter a class above the other performers. Through this hierarchal self-categorization, they are providing themselves with more subcultural capital in the scene (Thornton 1996: 11). Not only does it make these artists seem more authentic, but it also makes them seem more skilled and talented, leading the audience to believe they are better musicians overall. It is with this self-classification of “singer/songwriter” that a particular examination of authenticity’s presentation begins. By identifying themselves as singer/songwriters, these musicians are allowed to pull from many different genres. They are not strictly rock musicians or jazz musicians. By pulling from multiple genres, they seem more versatile, creative, and cosmopolitan to their listeners. These characteristics and self-classification of singer/songwriter falls in line with Richard Peterson’s “omnivore” (1996:900). Peterson’s omnivore consumes culture from multiple different status levels. This means that these people enjoy high-brow art like Michelangelo but also low-brow art like Banksy. In the music world, this would mean listening to classical music as well as rap and indie rock and jazz and blues. A singer/songwriter can draw inspiration from all of these places based on their personal classification, showcasing their talent and knowledge of music as that of an omnivore. Following this form of presentation, the artists that are studied show authenticity in two different ways: through institutional means of education and credentials and through embodied means of humor and sarcasm. These two typologies have a direct correlation to the social classes that make up the different


specifications of the hipster. First seen in Mark Grief’s New York Times article “Hipster in the Mirror” and expanded upon in What was the Hipster? edited by Grief, Kathleen Ross, and Dayna Tortorici, Grief divides the modern hipster into three categories. The first is described as “liberal arts college grads with too much time on their hands,”3 specifying twenty-somethings who are from the upper-middle class that aspire to work in a creative field (Grief 2010). Next are the “trust fund hipsters,” as categorized by the previous group. These hipsters come from the wealthy class and purchase their material subcultural capital, such as clothes and records, to become part of the scene. Due to this, they may not truly understand the symbols and style of the scene but desire to seem to be part of it. Last is perhaps to truest form a hipster, those that come from the working class and are active in the creative fields of the scene. While they do not possess the academic knowledge or the money of the two previous categories, they dress in the style and understand the scene. These categories are in no way inclusive nor do they account for the potential overlap between the different categories. Nor are these categories necessarily made by the hipsters. For the purpose of this thesis, they allow for one to address different groups in the scene. When returning to the typologies discovered in the research, there is a possible parallel between the liberal arts college hipsters and those that mention 3

For both direct quotations used from Grief’s article, they are identified as how the other category looks at them, meaning the “trust fund hipsters” view the others as “liberal arts college grads with too much time on their hands.” He also notes that these two groups look down upon the working class hipsters. This disdain for the other hipster groups was heard during my interactions with the culture before my research. The discussion I heard between my work superior and her friend was about the countermovement in the scene. While this topic itself provides much for discussion, it is something that is only touched at the most superficial level in this research. 32

their education as a form of projecting a higher status and greater authenticity. As by-products of the upper middle class, these hipsters have usually received a favorable college education and give weight to their diploma. It is through this education that they are told their knowledge makes them who they are, that makes them authentic. While their education allows the knowledge to understand and become part of the culture, they are “declassed” because of their education and desire to work in a creative field (Grief 2010). It is likely that they received their education in a creative field, which they feel gives them more credibility. On the other hand, the working class hipsters rely more on humor, dismissal, and haughtiness. While the liberal arts educated hipsters may also use sarcasm, they cite their education and credentials more frequently than they use humor. The working class hipsters did not have the opportunity to receive a liberal arts education so they will use their street education, so to speak. This use of sarcasm shows that they do not take an academic education seriously nor do they take credentials seriously. If anything, they will note other musicians they have performed with or other venues at which they have played. To them, this provides more authenticity than a piece of paper validating an academic education after four years. This leaves the trust fund hipsters. In Grief’s article, he does not address how such hipsters present their education or knowledge. Instead, he states that they use their wealth to purchase the capital needed to showcase their entry into the scene (2010). In fact, he says these hipsters lack the “nose for culture” (2010), making the reader come to the conclusion that they are neither as well educated in


the academic world as the liberal arts hipsters nor as well educated in the subculture street smarts as the working class hipsters. Pierre Bourdieu identifies that these people use their economic capital (Bourdieu 1986), their money, to purchase subcultural capital, allowing them to be part of the scene. Musician Caleb Michaelson follows the first route to prove his authenticity. In addition to classifying his music as folk and saying he is a singer/songwriter, Caleb lists his credentials to prove he is an authentic musician. Beginning with his education, Caleb states his is classically trained in the cello and went to The New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music. Following this, he lists a couple music festivals in which he has performed. With these festivals focusing on blues and jazz, Caleb also lists other venues in the New York City and Williamsburg areas where he has performed. By mentioning these venues, Caleb shows that he is not only an authentic musician in the sense of training and education but that he is also authentic by having prior experience in the scene. While also showing her authenticity through credentials, Sookie Marie Dryfus focuses on her performance history rather than her education. In her personal bio, Dryfus states that she performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and has her music on display in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Just like Caleb, she is citing these to show her authenticity in the music scene. Caleb cites his education to prove that he has the training and skill needed to be a musician. Sookie, on the other hand, may not have such an education because she does not mention it. By mentioning the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian, she makes up for her lack of education by implying that her music is


highly regarded amongst critics. These citations bring the same level of distinction to her work that the self-categorization of “singer-songwriter” could potentially. She is proving her skill and talent by citing the social institution of the “music world” (Becker 1982) that is above the culture of the Williamsburg music scene. Both the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian American Art Museum are in a social and cultural class above that which is associated with the scene of Williamsburg. Another form of displaying distinctive credentials and higher status comes from experience and praise from the scene. This praise and experience does not need to come from the Williamsburg scene in particular but from a scene of similar values. Such scenes were mentioned above when discussing a musician’s geographical distinction. Musician Zooey Rose utilizes praise and experience from two different areas of the indie scene: journalism and film. In her bio, Rose provides a quotation about her music from Pitchfork. Pitchfork is an online magazine blog that deals with independent music. The company is centered in Chicago, but it is popular in the indie music scene. They cover concerts, albums and festivals across the country. By citing praise from such a source, Rose shows that she is truly part of the scene and accepted by one of the top media filters for indie music. She then mentions that her music was featured in an independent film that was part of the Sundance Film Festival. Sundance is a renowned festival for independently made films and has gained popularity in recent years. Through mentioning both of these, Rose showcases subcultural capital without mentioning any proper training in music or humor to show she is authentic in her music. By


gaining praise and play in some of the highly regarded outlets of the independent scene, her authenticity as a product of higher status and member and creator of the scene is solidified. As noted above, citing one’s education and high performance credentials is not the only way to build distinctive authenticity in the music scene. Through humor and other performances within the scene, a musician is also able to build authenticity. Self-proclaimed “folk noir troubadour” Lana Li uses both. Stating that she is originally from Ontario, Li mentions being reared on a horse from the land where “Neil Young is God.” Both statements bring humor, showing that she enjoys creating music but does not take it seriously at the same. In addition to this, by name-dropping Neil Young, she hints at what could only be assumed to have talent through cultural osmosis. Since Neil Young is from Ontario, Li wants to be associated with him, hoping that people assume she must be talented if she is from the same place as Young. In addition to this, Li mentions several other small venues in which she has performed in New York City. By citing these small venues, she shows that she has experience with the scene, implying that she lives the gritty life that authenticates a cutting-edge musician. When looking back at the distinctions within the hipsters of the music scene, there are common threads that make them hipsters. From the way they dress, to their manner of speaking, to the music they listen to, the hipster lifestyle is very much the same despite their origins. Another common factor is the way they live. While Williamsburg is currently going through a period of gentrification, the neighborhood started out as an artist community (Gooch 1992).


In this artist community, dozens of people lived in run-down warehouses and art studios, often having several roommates in a small apartment. As the community grew, this style of living was associated with the scene, adding credibility to those who participate in the scene. It shows they are original members of the scene and have not given in to the commercialization of it. While Li is selling her music to crowds, she distinguished herself as independent of the scene’s origins by performing at smaller, local venues rather than larger halls like the Kennedy Center that Dryfus mentions. Li wants the audience to see her on their level rather than in a hierarchy where the artists are above the consumers. Following the trend of using humor to build authenticity is the band Trash Clan. When describing their style of music, they say they are “like discovering your little sister's pile of half-naked, mangled Barbies behind her bedroom closet door, except the Barbies are all famous musical and literary figures.� To further this image, they mention prestigious cultural figures such as Bob Dylan, James Joyce, and Frank Sinatra. Even though they use humor to get to their audience, there is still a presumed level of education behind their description. One must be knowledgeable enough to know who Dylan, Joyce and Sinatra are in order to understand their reference. This also leads one to believe that the members of Trash Clan received a higher education. As noted in the classification of hipsters, they are dismissing this education, though, trying to make it appear unimportant. At the same time, though, this dismissal brings a level of pretension to their band. Since they do not provide insight into who these literary and musical figures, the audiences is required to know, singling out those who are unaware. Just like Li


name-dropping Neil Young, the Trash Clan are name-dropping these figures. They do so not only to be associated with the figures but also to demonstrate valued knowledge in the scene while appearing flippant about their education, which is a valued practice of the scene. One musician received a unique form of authentication. His bio was written by the venue itself. This is clear to the reader when it states that he had the first residency at the venue and is considered one of the pioneers of Brooklyn’s music scene. While the performer could have written this, the tone is that of a third party reviewing the individual rather than the individual writing about himself in the third person. This is perhaps the best form of authentication that one can receive since his music and career are being verified by the venue. Even though it is similar to Rose who was authenticated by Pitchfork and Sundance, this artist did not even need to cite the verification. Through this review from the venue, the audience knows that he is a culturally distinguished member of the scene. It also causes him to be revered by the scene since he was a “pioneer� of it, helping to shape it into what it is today.


Style as Practiced Distinction Clothing styles or fashion also plays a large role in the scene. Due to this, clothing is important means of distinction for members of the scene and lends for a large market of consumers. In Williamsburg, there are over 100 stores of great variety available to the members of the music scene. These stores offer everything from baby and children’s clothes to athletic clothes to gourmet food, but those of interest provide women’s and men’s clothing, which make up about a third of the stores present. When looking at these stores and how they classify themselves, they choose a combination of phrases and labels: vintage, consignment, secondhand, used, discount, and thrift. Overall, 24 stores used these phrases, or a variation of them, to describe their business. While vintage and secondhand both mean used clothing, there are different connotations and implications that go along with these words. The easiest to identify is that which accompanies the word “vintage.” Vintage is not only used for clothing but for furniture, household goods, accessories, and wine. While its use for wine is slightly different, there are some similarities. Just like with wine, it is believed that vintage clothing gets better with age. Vintage clothing comes from a different decade than the current one, and it is usually clothing that was popular at the time. It brings to mind a higher class than something that it just used and also connotes a level of subcultural distinction in the use of the phrase. By saying it is vintage one implies that it is not only better than other forms of used clothing but it is also better than contemporary clothing.


The desire for vintage clothing goes so far that boutiques and designers make clothing that looks like it comes from a different time but is actually modern. These clothes are “vintage-inspired.” One shop in Williamsburg described its products as such, noting that the clothes are not old, but look old. By making clothing that is inspired by vintage clothes, the price can be cheaper. As noted earlier with the wine comparison, vintage clothes tend to be more expensive than modern clothes. This is because vintage clothing is rare and oneof-a-kind. Not as many pieces exist anymore, adding value to them. By creating something that replicates or mimics a piece of vintage clothing, it can be sold at a reduced price but many more people can access it. This distinction is important in Williamsburg when considering the different classifications of hipsters. Clothes are a key form of cultural exchange within the cultural hierarchy of hipsters. Someone who is a “true” hipster, coming from a low economic class, may see vintage clothing and realize its value as subcultural capital. He or she could probably buy one piece of vintage clothing and treasure it, but it would be impossible to purchase an entire wardrobe of this clothing. With vintage-inspired clothing on the market, though, he or she can purchase the style while also being thrifty and saving money. For those who are trust fund hipsters, though, they can purchase much more of the real vintage clothing, giving them higher status in their clothing. Since they have more economic capital, they are able to buy the subcultural capital that is valued in the scene, but they may not understand why that particular item of clothing or style is valued. The authenticity of their vintage item, though, does not mean the vintage-


inspired item purchased by the true hipster lacks authenticity. It has its own sense of authenticity. This comes from the fact that hipsters were originally from an artistic class with little money, striving to buy cheaper clothing. By purchasing a piece of clothing that replicates a style from a different era, the low class hipster is also purchasing an authentic piece of hipster style by remaining true to the original roots of hipsters. Aside from the classification of vintage, the other identifiers for retail stores follow in the trend of low-cost clothes. These terms include: discount, outlet, used, consignment, thrift, secondhand, and flea market. While all these terms are not synonymous, even when used outside of the Williamsburg scene, these terms connote a bargain or low cost for the purchaser. By identifying themselves as such in a neighborhood that had its origins in working class jobs and creative communities, they show roots in the authentic beginning of Williamsburg. When looking at the stores more closely, though, some of them are not what most would classify with these terms. This is due to the gentrification of the neighborhood. With more wealthy people moving into Williamsburg, they are looking for the cheaper lifestyle, but have more money to spend. This causes the discount stores and outlets to be home to high-end designer clothes. Even with extreme discounts, the costs are comparable to vintage clothing. One such designer outlet store is described as having “marked-down (though still considerable) prices� by a reviewer on New York magazine’s website. The store Raspberry Salamander4 boasts having deep discounts on its website, saying they always have designers 4

This store closed shortly after research was finished. 41

clothes and luxury goods 70-90% off. Taking another approach to this designer trend is Living Artistically. Even though they sell clothes made by high-end designers, they are lines specifically created for a low-end budget. Even though these discount stores boast designer names, there are other stores that highlight used products at low costs. They describe their clothes as “secondhand” and their stores as “thrift” and “consignment.” This clothing and these stores traditionally target those in the working class so that they can get necessities at a lower price because they are already used, but still in good condition. With the rise of popularity in the creative communities that started in Williamsburg, these types of stores gained more customers in the area, leading to the establishment of more. People bring their clothes to these thrift stores rather than throwing them out and search for what they consider to be gems that were discarded by other people. This also created a comeback in older fashion, though not called vintage. As stated earlier, vintage clothing is higher end and designer status. Secondhand clothing has more wear to them and were originally worn because it was cheaper and more thrifty, for lack of a better word, for those struggling to save money. The appeal to hipsters is twofold. The clothing is less expensive and it is often believed the clothing has more of a story and history than vintage clothing. In addition to these stores are flea markets. Flea markets allow individuals to sell their own secondhand clothing, lending a more personal level to the purchase. On top of this, it also connotes the gesture of finding a needle in a haystack to those who attend. Flea markets, like some consignment shops, have


large quantities of items. One must dig through these items to find the treasure or gem for which she or he is looking. It causes one to “work” for the item, making it seem like a prize to the person who finds it. The store Stefanie Magdalene is described as “more flea market than boutique” on New York magazine’s website. This description makes one think of bins full of clothing rather than the neat and sparse rows of new item found in a boutique. These types of clothing are authentic in their own ways. The ways in which the items are found make them authentic to the individual if he or she has to work to find the perfect piece. This search itself may be seen as producing authenticity. Or if the item has a long history or back-story, there is authenticity to its existence. No matter if it is vintage or secondhand, found at a thrift store or flea market, the clothing is authentic for the individual because of its history and the mystery of its past. This mystery can be related to the mystification of artists as described earlier. In the case of clothes and artists, the level of mystery makes one think that the person or item has more knowledge, history and experience than the individual, leaving them to be seen as authentic to the consumer. Another popular classification for retail stores is the term “boutique.” In today’s vocabulary, boutique implies a small store that sells trendy clothes and accessories. They are specialized because they are small so they do not have the variety that can be found in a department or thrift store. On top of this, “boutique” connotes a store that sells designer-made clothes. Rather than the designer-made clothes that can be found at department store such as Calvin Klein and Michael Kors, these clothes are handmade by the designer so they are few in


number, making them unique and rare. This means that the items in a boutique are expensive and limited. Out of all the stores in Williamsburg, 21 identify themselves as boutiques. Boutiques have two variations: the boutique that sells clothes made by one or various local designers and the boutique that seeks out designers from around the world to sell their goods. The majority of those located in Williamsburg follow the former structure of a boutique. Many of the designers featured in these boutiques are Williamsburg or greater Brooklyn residents, giving a level of personalization and geographical grounding to these items. These stores appeal to the style of the indie music scene of Williamsburg because the clothes are unique. Since the clothing is hand-made by the designer, the limited number of pieces appeals to the members of the scene. It makes the piece more desirous and valued, because it is a limited resource. Most importantly, the pieces are authentic in the eyes of the consumer and the producer. They are not machinemanufactured items. Rather, they receive individual care from the designer. This means they are not the product of a large company and corporation. All the clothing that is lauded by the scene in Williamsburg is seen as unique and special. Whether they are from a boutique, secondhand, or vintage, they are seen as prized possessions by both the consumers and the sellers. Like the intimacy between a designer and his or her pieces found in a boutique, there is a greater intimacy assumed between secondhand and vintage clothing. It could be a level of intimacy between the prior owner and the clothing or the designer and the clothing. Since they are usually coming from prior decades, there was more


care put into the creation of clothing. Many members of the scene view each piece as rare and unlikely to be spotted outside of Williamsburg. This bestows greater rarity, status, and authenticity on the owner also. Due to the uniqueness of the clothing, both the clothing and the owner and wearer of the clothing are authentic.


Music Consumption Lastly, the way music is distributed and consumed by participants within the scene is important. When looking at musical consumption, there are two different areas to investigate: music stores and concert venues. Both of these categories distribute music to participants in complimentary settings. Concert venues allow people to experience the music first hand in a live environment, making them active participants in the music making and consumption process. It provides interaction with the musician and with fellow participants of the scene. Music stores, on the other hand, distribute the product of music to participants. They are able to purchase records and CDs so that they can listen to their favorite musicians on their own time. While the former is a community experience, the latter is an individual one. Both sets of practices are important to the life and authenticity of a scene. When examining the music stores in Williamsburg, there are both record/CD stores, which sell music to participants, and there are instrument stores. One allows the consumers to purchase and enjoy the music in their own home, with friends, or by themselves. The other allows musicians to purchase their instruments to make the music. It is also a place for consumers who are aspiring producers to be introduced to the production of music. In the neighborhood of Williamsburg, there are seven stores that are studied for this research. Of the seven, two identify themselves as sellers of musical instruments. This balance between stores that sell instruments and stores that sell CDs and records reflects the balance in mainstream society where there are more people who consume the


music with fewer who make it (Green 2002: 2). This is particularly enforced since neither of the store selling instruments appears to be a large retailer, operating as independently run businesses. On top of this, one store specifies itself as a “vintage instrument� shop, specializing in selling older instruments. Such instruments are not typically intended for use but for music lovers to collect. The distinction between vintage and used clothing that was discussed in the last section is similarly applicable to the distinction between vintage and used instruments. A musician seeking to own his or her first instrument may seek out a used instrument rather than a vintage one. A used instrument is cheaper than a new one and is considerably less than a vintage one. Just like a vintage dress or jacket, a vintage instrument is one that is rare to find and in good condition. Like vintage clothing that is purchased to be worn out and admired by others, a vintage instrument is shown off to others for admiration. Such an item brings subcultural capital to a person because of its prestige as both an individual item and as part of a scene where music is highly valued. One with a vintage instrument would be viewed as someone who greatly admires and understands music, giving them more clout amongst the scene. Even though the possession of such an instrument may be seen as pretentious, one would not purchase a vintage instrument with the same ease as a piece of vintage clothing. An owner and purchaser of a vintage instrument is viewed as a true music lover and admirer who values the importance and prestige and beauty of the instrument. The purchase would be done out of respect for the piece, making it authentic in a sense of admiration and veneration. With the majority of music retailers selling CDs and records, it follows the


idea that music is consumed more than produced in Williamsburg. As with the examination of musicians, these stores do not necessarily identify themselves as “indie� music purveyors. Out of the five stores only two specify the type of music they sell. One’s specialty is classical and jazz music, while the other says it sells punk music. While the type of music they sell is important, the form in which the music is sold is more important to this research (i.e. whether it is a record, a CD, or a cassette). All five stores state that they sell records or vinyl in addition to CDs. Moreover, one states the majority of their stock is vinyl with a small selection of CDs. They purchase and sell used vinyl records, especially of the obscure and unknown musicians who are popular in the indie music scene. It is unlikely to see a participant of this scene purchase a vinyl, or even a CD, of an artist or album that is on the top 40 Billboard charts, unless this artist was originally obscure. Vinyls are seen as an authentic form of music, making those who listen to them more authentic music aficionados, which is the desired image for many participants within this scene. Whether they want to project this image or truly prefer vinyl over CDs, they are authentic because it is what they truly want. Due to this, these stores selling records are help produce authenticity, providing what is truly desired by the participants of the scene. Even though music lovers of many scenes appreciate a record or recorded music, most prefer to view live performances. Due to the nature of the scene in Williamsburg, a concert venue can be anything from a general admission venue that serves as a concert hall at all times to a makeshift stage built in a local coffee


shop every weekend. For a scene so saturated with music, this is not uncommon. It allows for not only well-known names to perform and draw in revenue, but also musical acts that are trying to form a following and make a name for themselves. With the examination of musicians in the scene, one venue’s performer list was studied. There are many other venues in the area that have similar lists in regards to the types of performers. Out of the places in Williamsburg that have shows, less than ten are purely concert venues. Most of the businesses that have concerts also double as art galleries, bars, or coffee shops. Out of all these places, some have seats, and others are standing room only. There are venues that hold only a couple dozen people while others hold around 300. None of the venues in Williamsburg are large arenas or theaters that allow for thousands of people. In the summer, though, the neighborhood does host concerts in the local park, allowing for such large numbers. No matter who performs on the stage, each venue creates its own presence in the scene, letting the participants of the scene rely on them for certain types of performances. As the purveyors of live music, the venues in Williamsburg rely on the bands and musicians that perform to create a persona for the venue. Through the booking process, this aura is created and maintained. This allows the focus to remain on the performances rather than on the business. In the fifteen emails reviewed from the venue Billburg Burrito, the same format is followed. Each opens with a series of images that when the sounds of these images are combined they are the name of a band that is popular in the scene. Such image games were


popular in large movie theaters during the 1990’s prior to the beginning of the film. It was usually done with actors’ names or film titles. This image contest allowed the first person to respond with the correct answer to win a pair of tickets to a concert of their choice at the venue. Following the contest, the venue’s email lists newly announced shows coming to the location then upcoming shows. At the bottom is a calendar to show what day of the week the shows are on. Other venues list the bands and musicians that will be performing in the coming week with a short bio about each performer. Through these emails, the venues present themselves as providers of live music in addition to businesses looking to survive in the community. Their main goal is to provide a service that is desired by the participants of the scene, allowing them to receive the music experience unhindered by advertising and venue image. With their main concern being the patrons, these venues are the most authentic part of the scene in Williamsburg. Their authenticity comes from reflecting the wants of the patron. Through the booking process where the venue creates its aura, bands that fit these wants are chosen. When advertising these musical acts to patrons in their emails, each band or musician has a short bio. The venues provide the facts about what is happening at the venue and supply links to more information and ticket websites so that consumers can purchase tickets to the concerts. These venues are not trying to hide their main purpose nor are they trying to create hype around certain concerts. They let the bands and musicians they book speak for the venue, knowing that the names are enough to draw in viewers because of loyal fan bases. On top of this, they do not look to deceive the


consumers about their main goal as a venue nor try to convince them to buy merchandise featuring the venue’s image. By focusing solely on the music in the scene, they are fulfilling their role in the scene in the most honest way possible.


Conclusion When looking at the presentation of live music venues in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one can come to the conclusion that these businesses present themselves in an authentic manner. Despite the fact that they build an aura for their venue and aim to bring in patrons to every show, they are honest about their job and position in the scene. If the tastes within in the scene were to change, these venues would reflect that change to meet the wants of the members. They play an authoritative role in the consumption of music in the indie scene. Through the concerts they host, they let newer members to the scene know what is popular and wanted. They also recognize unknown artists and let the scene participants know what musicians and bands fit into the indie scene of which they are all a part. Continuing in the presentation of music to the scene are the record/CD and instrument shops. Similar to the concert venues, these businesses perform an authoritative role in the scene. They present the music to the participants that they believe is important to the scene. While clothing stores in Williamsburg also play an authoritative role in the scene, they possess another importance and dimension of authenticity. Through their clothes, the stores either provide vintage, secondhand, or one-of-a-kind items. These items define the style that is essential to the subcultural capital of the indie music scene in Williamsburg. All of these items are authentic because they are genuine pieces of style. They are not mimicking another piece of clothing because they are originals. When the item purchased is a copy, it is through the meaningful process of searching for the piece that the authenticity is


found. The person searching for the item is genuine in their want for the piece and its status and is truly a member of the scene because of their diligence in searching. Through this process, the clothing receives authenticity and subcultural capital. As the creators of the music for the scene, the performers are authentic members of Williamsburg. They possess authority over the creation of music since they are the ones who provide the scene with it. They also dress in the style that is valued by their fans, giving them authority over the fashion. On top of this, they use their personal bios to present themselves to the scene. By either citing their education and prior music credentials or by using humor and sarcasm, the performers create their authenticity. The former gives them institutional authority in the scene while the latter provides them with embodied authority. This authority presents them as authentic members of the scene to the fans and consumers. Even though outsiders may interpret members of the indie music scene in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as inauthentic, through their use and knowledge of subcultural capital, the scene’s members are able to authentically present themselves to each other. As a collective, the members came together based on what each individual placed an importance on. Through the individual’s interest, they created a structure and meanings for the indie music scene of Williamsburg. This led to the subcultural system in Williamsburg that is the focus of this study. This research is in no way conclusive of the entire indie music scene around the world or of life in Williamsburg. There are many areas that one is not


able to focus on due to time constraints and geographical location. If one were to continue with this research, the topic of interest would be the rise of the “singer/songwriter� genre. Research in this area would also help to better understand the search for authenticity. It would also be necessary, and interesting, for one to research authenticity in modern society and whether people view it as authentic. While this research stayed with the scene in Williamsburg, it is possible that there is a larger movement across the country or world searching for authenticity in a world driven by a fast advance of technology. With the definition of hipster as used by Polsky and Hebdige, one wonders how the term was transferred to the members of the indie music scene. This thesis only sought for the origins of the word, but the transformation of the word and why it is applied to the subculture today would prove to be another interesting study on the indie music scene. It may also provide more insight into the authenticity of the scene to see how the term found its way to the subculture. Following this mindset, one could also examine the application of the term bohemia as it is applied to Williamsburg. Three of the texts examined for research referred to Williamsburg as a bohemia. Researching this term and its application to the scene may also help define the authenticity in the scene even further. With the research at hand and the sources and sociologists that provided guidance through this project, one is better able to understand the way a subculture functions. Through the use of a symbolic economy, the indie music scene in Williamsburg places value on the clothes one wears and the music one


listens to rather than the money one possesses. Just like with other subculture, it is trying to break away from the popular culture, allowing the participants of it to find out who they are. Due to this nature of a subculture, giving one the opportunity to rebel against the larger culture’s practices and ideals, it is at its core an authentic movement.


Bibliography Aldredge, Marcus. "Heebsters: Community and Identity (Re)construction of Urban Jewish Hipsters." In Co-opting Culture: Culture and Power in Sociology and Cultural Studies, edited by B. Garrick Harden and Robert Carley, 225-49. Plymouth, United Kingdom: Lexington Books, 2009. ———. "Negotiating and Practicing Performance: An Ethnographic Study of a Musical Open Mic in Brooklyn, New York." Symbolic Interaction 29, no. 1 (2006): 109-17. Altheide, David. "Ethnographic Content Analysis." Qualitative Sociology 10, no. 1 (Spring 1987): 65-77. Anasi, Robert. The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012. Kindle edition. Applebome, Peter. "Williamsburg on the Hudson." The New York Times (New York, NY), August 5, 2011. Accessed September 12, 2012. Austin, TX. Accessed January 26, 2013. Babbie, Earl. The Practice of Social Research. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2010. Becker, Howard Saul. Art Worlds. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1982. Bennett, Andy, and Ricahrd A. Peterson, eds. Music Scenes: Local, Translocal, and Virtual. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2004. Berger, Joseph. "Hoping to Lure Riders with Scenic Commutes." The New York Times (New York, NY), September 11, 2012. Accessed September 12, 2012. Bourdieu, Pierre. "Forms of Capital." In Handbook for Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by J.G. Richardson, 241-58. New York, NY: Greenwood Press, 1986. Finn, Robin. "Who You Calling Gritty?" The New York Times (New York, NY), July 20, 2012. Accessed September 12, 2012. Florida, Richard. The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Tranforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2002.


Gans, Herbert J. Popular Culture & High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste. Revised and Updated ed. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999. Green, Lucy. How Popular Musicians Learn: A Way Ahead for Music Education. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2002. Grief, Mark. "The Hipster in the Mirror." The New York Times (New York, NY), November 14, 2010, Final edition, Book Review, 27. Accessed April 2012. Grief, Mark, Kathleen Ross, and Dayna Tortorici, eds. What Was the Hipster?: A Sociological Investigation. EPub ed. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010. Kindle edition. Haenfler, Ross. "Riot Grrrls and Fic Writers - Girls Take on the Media." In Goths, Gamers, and Grrrls: Deviance and Youth Subcultures, 111-24. N.p.: Oxford University Press, 2009. Hawgood, Alex. "All Roads Lead to Wythe Avenue." The New York Times (New York, NY), July 18, 2012. Accessed September 12, 2012. Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London, England: Routledge, 1994. Hu, Winnie. "Hour after Hour, One Station Is Devoted to Pulse of New York." The New York Times (New York, NY), May 22, 2006. Accessed September 12, 2012. Krenske, Leigh, and Jim McKay. "'Hard and Heavy': Gender and Power in a Heavy Metal Music Subculture." Gender, Place, and Culture 7, no. 3 (2000): 287-304. Leland, John. Hip: The History. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2004. Lloyd, Richard. Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. Lofland, John, David Snow, Leon Anderson, and Lyn H. Lofland. Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis. Fourth ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. McKinley, James C., Jr. "Underground Musicians Lose a Haven." The New York Times (New York, NY), September 11, 2011. Accessed September 12, 2012.


Mooney, Jake. "Polishing the Grunge." The New York Times (New York, NY), November 5, 2006. Accessed September 12, 2012. Oxford University Press. "authenticity, n." OED Online. Last modified 2012. Accessed January 21, 2013. redirectedFrom=authenticity#eid. Perren, Alisa. Indie, Inc: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990's. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2012. Peterson, Richard A., and Roger M. Kern. "Changing Highbrow Taste: From Snob to Omnivore." American Sociological Review 61, no. 5 (October 1996): 900-07. Polsky, Ned. Hustlers, Beats, and Others. Expanded ed. 1967. Reprint, New York, NY: Lyons Press, 1998. Robbins, Liz. "An Australian Import Speaks to Brooklyn." The New York Times (New York, NY), April 13, 2012. Accessed September 12, 2012. Sifton, Sam. "36 Hours in Brooklyn." The New York Times (New York, NY), February 10, 2011. Accessed September 12, 2012. Thornton, Sarah. Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1996. Vadukul, Alex. "Playing at Shea, Not the Mets." The New York Times (New York, NY), August 16, 2012. Accessed September 12, 2012. Zukin, Sharon. The Cultures of Cities. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.


Senior Honors Thesis on Williamsburg's Music Scene  

"You've Probably Never Heard of It": The Presentation of Authenticity within the Indie Music Scene of Williamsburg, Brooklyn - Senior Honors...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you