Call for Participation

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Low End Theories: Understanding Bass Music & Culture

A Joint BFE-RMA Study Day

Victoria Rooms, University of Bristol, Saturday 16 May 2020

Over the last four decades, hip-hop, EDM, and sound system-influenced genres with bass-heavy beats have become staples of global club culture. Digital audio production tools are increasingly mobile and affordable, while low-frequency vibrations diffuse through diverse parts of society, from the UK Deaf Rave movement to 2017’s #grime4corbyn campaign.

The academic literature on bass music and culture, meanwhile, has steadily grown since the turn of the millennium. Authors such as Bradley (2000), Veal (2007), and Henriques (2011) have collectively focused on reggae and dub music, laying an invaluable intellectual foundation for more recent efforts to expand the sounds, issues, theories, and methods that might fall within the frame of bass music studies.

Ongoing work led by Riley (2014–), described as ‘instigating the academic appropriation of the term ‘bass culture’’, reminds us that at least in the United Kingdom, bass culture is profoundly shaped by the Jamaican community and structural racism. In their 2017 special issue of Dancecult, Farrugia and Olszanowski problematize the insistence in public and academic discourse on the ‘lack’ of women in EDM, giving visibility to both significant women in bass culture and the musicological biases that obscure them.

Following the lead of Goodman (2009), political questions of affect, materialism, and sonic ecology have also been put deeper in the spotlight by Henriques (2017) and Jasen in Low End Theories (2016), the title of which we borrow for our study day. To quote a timely essay by Robert Fink (2018), bass culture is increasingly seen as a ‘singular’ phenomenon resonating across the borders and (sub)cultural boundaries of a ‘Black Atlantic’ (Gilroy 1993). 

‘This is the timbral world the subwoofer has made,’ continues Fink, ‘a virtual archipelago of thumping musics situated along the old trade routes of the African diaspora—from Jamaican reggae, dub, and dancehall through US “Dirty South” hip-hop, Miami bass, and other Latin American derivatives (cumbia, reggaeton), and then back across the Atlantic in a dizzying explosion of hardcore UK dance styles.’ 

The ‘Low End Theories’ study day responds to these developments. It will encourage discussion and debate around questions such as: What defines bass music? Who and what counts as part of its ‘culture’? What does it mean to ‘feel’ bass through our bodies, whether through listening or dancing or otherwise? Furthermore, how can researchers be more cross-disciplinary, integrating a stronger technical understanding of the sub-bass signal chain in their work? And how do we address intersectional problems of access and identity to make bass culture—and the way it is studied—more inclusive? 

We invite proposals to present academic or creative work for 20 minutes to be followed by 10 minutes of discussion. Submissions for organised roundtable/panel discussions of 45-60 mins will also be considered—contact the committee about any preliminary plans. We particularly welcome presentations by graduate students, early career researchers, and practitioners (e.g. producers, engineers, teachers, DJs).

Prospective topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • Case studies of contemporary bass culture: of particular beats, songs, albums, projects, styles, genres, artists, collectives, labels, scenes, events, festivals, networks, or practices
  • Bristol-specific studies and presentations, for example on its current dance music scenes, or the historic impact of its trip-hop bands, or the early development of reggae sound systems in the city and county
  • Theoretical or historical accounts of bass music and culture
  • Musical analysis of bass music
  • Technologies and techniques of mixing, mastering, producing and listening
  • Bass music as subculture; as a nocturnal, underground cultural practice
  • Bass music in the city: Nightlife, civic culture, and local governance; the politics of noise pollution
  • Bass music and/as popular music; its relationship with mainstream production and media e.g. music, film, television, video games
  • Bass culture and the web: links with streaming services, social media (memes and virality), and digital tools
  • Power, politics, and bass; bass culture and activism
  • Identity and access: intersections of race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and disability in our experiences and sounds of bass culture
  • Postcoloniality and bass culture
  • Performance and the body: bass music and materiality, feeling, movement, dance, pleasure, pain, violence, or wellbeing
Presentation titles and abstracts of 250 words should be sent as a PDF, Word Doc, or Google Doc to lowendtheories2020@gmail.com by Friday 31 January 2020. Include your name and institutional affiliation, if applicable. Submissions will be anonymised when reviewed. Successful presenters will be notified in February 2020.

Registration

To support wide participation, we expect the cost for attending the full day (including tea/coffee/refreshments) to be less than £20. Keep an eye on the conference website for links and information, to be announced by March 2020.

Organising committee: Ivan Mouraviev, Zach Diaz, Marko Higgins (University of Bristol); Dr Steven Gamble (BIMM Institute Brighton). Special thanks also go to Dr Justin Williams.