Suburban breakout: Nomadic reverie in British pop

Book chapter


Branch, A. 2022. Suburban breakout: Nomadic reverie in British pop. in: Stahl, G. and Percival, J. M. (ed.) The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music, Space and Place UK Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 257-270
AuthorsBranch, A.
EditorsStahl, G. and Percival, J. M.
Abstract

The protagonist in Michael Bracewell’s (2001) novel Perfect Tense is deeply embedded in the placeness of London through the relentless daily grind of his life. He is, unsurprisingly, not an optimist: ‘If the city is a machine for living,’ he observes, ‘then some people would think of our suburbs as a machine for dying’ (Bracewell 2001: 34). In Bracewell’s fictional account of a disaffected suburbanite, invested in popular music as an antidote to the anomie office work effects, the city’s energy offers the possibility of temporary transformation. We learn that the narrator’s proximity to place shapes his world view, spatially regularizing the inherited dispositional practices framing the psychic investments he makes.

In order to think through this relationship between popular music and the suburbs, I complete four objectives: (i) establish the hegemonic representation of suburbia since the commercial coming of age of British popular music in the 1960s; (ii) consider the status of this suburban imaginary in response to global demographic shifts and socio- economic trends reshaping twenty-first century Britain; (iii) examine new forms of digital technology impacting where, when and how music is consumed in the context of emergent and connected ‘smart cities’; (iv) make the case that ‘suburban music’, because of its terms of reference, is in thrall to logocentrism and sketch the implications of this for judging its transformative power. I thematically connect these objectives by questioning how suburbia has been legitimated as a source of academic interest, particularly for scholars concerned with the vexed issue of how social relations are shaped by powerful inequities. In positing class as being central to our understanding of the place of suburbia in the social imagination, I endorse Carey’s (1992) definition of the suburbs as a signifier deployed by intellectuals to denigrate the people who live there, whom they read as devoid of radical thought, in thrall to conventional pursuits and tastes.1 Taking this position allows me to identify the key tropes deployed by musicians vis-à-vis suburbia and to examine the extent to which their creative output either reproduces, or conversely resists, this reading.

KeywordsBourdieu; Place; Popular Music; Social Class; Space; Suburbia
Book titleThe Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music, Space and Place
Page range257-270
Year2022
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
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Anyone
Publication dates
Print10 Feb 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited04 Apr 2024
Place of publicationUK
Edition1st
SeriesBloomsbury Handbooks
ISBN9781501336287
9781501336300
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.5040/9781501336317.ch-020
Web address (URL)https://www.bloomsbury.com/9781501336287
Copyright holder© 2022, Bloomsbury Publishing
Additional information

Citation: Branch, A. (2022). Suburban breakout: Nomadic reverie in British pop. In G. Stahl (Ed.).J.M. Percival (Ed.). The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music, Space and Place (pp. 257–270). New York: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781501336317.ch-020

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