The Changing Politics of
UK Music-Writing: 1968-85

9-5pm, Friday-Saturday 15-16 May 2015 at:
Room B33, Main Building, Malet Street, Birkbeck University of London, London WC1E 7HX

This was a two-day symposium at London’s Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, consisting of panel discussions and Q&As. Run by Mark Sinker, former editor of The Wire, it brought together writers, editors and readers of the underground and trade music presses of the 1970s and 80s with academics and other media commentators, to discuss the emergence and evolution of the countercultural voice in the UK, as inflected through the rock papers between these dates. The proceedings are being recorded and transcribed, to form the core of a subsequent published collection, alongside additional memoirs and essays from participants (especially those unable to attend).

Thanks are due:
To Birkbeck Institute of the Humanities who helped fund and host it (especially Julia Eisner and Esther Leslie)
To Music & Letters journal, who awarded us £500 towards recording and transcription
To Resonance FM, who miked up and recorded proceedings and will broadcast extensive excerpts on Mon 25 May (UK Bank holiday)
To Rock's Back Pages, who gave me countless useful steers and contacts in the planning stages
And to Cis and Tom and Hazel and Pete for help above and beyond…

Facebook page here (for you to like and share!)
Related tumblr page here.
For schedule of panels and panelists, and fuller rubric, scroll down page.
For queries and further info: contact marksink3r at googlemail dot com

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Melody Maker 17 March 1962 (Chubby Checker, Eartha Kitt); Oz March 1969 (Germaine Greer hugging Viv Stanshall of the Bonzos); NME 14 November 1981 (Mark E. Smith)

The two days of the conference will focus on the period when UK rockwriting emerged out of the conflict between a rising generation’s counterculture and the embattled establishment in the late 60s and early 70s, and how well (or badly) it reflected the turbulent times, and on the period when this distinctive milieu began significantly to be reintegrated back into the mainstream, the 1980s, and the form this reintegration took; it will also discuss the wider legacy, good and ill, from the 80s to the present day.

Scheduling of panels here, including times. Attending speakers, panelists and contributors currently include:

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Melody Maker, 25 August 1967 (Zappa); IT no.87, 9 September 1970 (the heavy and evil Jagger film not to see on acid is Performance); NME mid-May 1974 (Ron Mael of Sparks)

This is a remarkable, nearly forgotten period in the development of UK rock-writing, when key writers for the underground press — some still teenagers — were deliberately being hired by the trade papers, to cover a music that professional music journalists felt they had little purchase on. The 60s manifested as an unprecedented worldwide collision of pop culture and radical activity, and readers turned to a new generation of critic-enthusiasts to sort the good from the bad in poetry and vanguard art, rock, jazz, fashion, street theatre, science fiction and avant-garde film, the sexual and pharmaceutical undergrounds, as well as fielding every kind of fad and pose and predatory put-on. Like rock and roll itself, the voice they sought was ribald, cheeky, self-confidently well informed and contrarian, in revolt against the pre-existing values and habits of high and middlebrow art, respectable journalism and establishment politics. Entertainingly self-aware about its relationship to consumerism and the wider pop market, often conflicted, this was a prose that strove to rise to the full contradictory potential of the times, in its coverage of film, comics, politics, sex and drugs, as well as music.

Here was the crucible of a language of encounter and negotiation, self-celebration and openness, paranoia and hilarity: and it would seed and shape much of the consumer-guide media of the 70s, with enormous implications for all media. By the mid-80s, some of its better known voices were crossing into broadsheets and tabloids. A younger generation of writers and editors, growing up as readers of all the above, were now arriving out of media studies and other centres of professional training, into a burgeoning context of niche-marketing. What had so unprecedentedly come together was once again being broken apart, devolving into sections and departments, specialisms and routines. Symposium participants will explore the gains and losses of these transitions.