The Production, Aesthetics and Reception of Independent Folk Music in the Netherlands
Ever since the start of the new millennium new genres of folk music have been added to the so-called ‘folk music stream’ (Ennis, 1992), including free-folk, New Weird America (2003), freak-folk (2004), indie-folk (2005) and, more recently, folk-pop and folktronica (see Keenan, 2003; Petrusisch, 2008; Encarnacao, 2013). Similar to the ‘1960s folk revival’ (Rosenberg, 1993), the genre gained widespread public attention through the popularization of acts such as Fleet Foxes, the Lumineers, Bon Iver, alt-J, and Mumford & Sons (International Federation for the Phonographic Industry, 2013). In this research project I investigate the social processes that allowed such folk acts to emerge and attract the attention of the global music industry and its audiences in last decade of the 1990s and the first two decades of the twenty-first century.
The study is particularly focused on investigating the production, distribution, reception and aesthetics of contemporary independent folk music (indie-folk) in the Netherlands, a relatively small European country of 17,1 million people (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 2016). The Netherlands is located at the semi-periphery of the global music market, with the scope of music industry activities generally oriented toward global trends in pop music (Hitters and Van de Kamp, 2010). The transition of global music into a national context also holds for contemporary folk music: ‘indie folk’ became an industry-based genre (Lena, 2012) around the year 2005 with Dutch acts (e.g. Lucky Fonz III, awkward i, Mister and Mississippi) producing indie folk music for a national market. This has resulted in a second wave of folk music since the Dutch version of the 1960s folk revival from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s (see Van Poecke, forthcoming).
The central research questions of the project is the following:
How and why did new genres of folk music emerge, how and to what extent have they been established within the Dutch music industry, and how and why are they aesthetically evaluated by the Dutch popular music audience, more specifically by indie-folk fans?
In researching new developments within the ‘folk music stream’ focus will be on investigating the production, distribution and reception of independent folk music in the Netherlands, both on a meso and a micro level. Subsequently, attention will be paid to studying the aesthetics of indie-folk music, as well as on investigating possible explanations on a higher (macro) level for the recent revival and popularization of the folk genre. A central concept running through the research project will be the concept of ‘authenticity’. It has often been argued that the revival and popularization of folk music is a reflection of a ‘search for authenticity’ (e.g. Bendix, 1997), although empirical evidence for this claim has rarely been addressed in the literature. Moreover, the current re-popularization of the folk genre seems remarkable in the light of a postmodern or late-modern discourse in which the concept of ‘authenticity’ is more or less “consigned to the intellectual dust-heap” (Born & Hesmondhalgh, 2000, p. 30). Dominant within this discourse is the argument that an increased demand for reflexivity, due to the emergence of deconstructive punk culture in the early to mid-1970s, has eroded naïve and romanticist constructions of authenticity (see Fornäs, 1995). This stands in contrast to romanticist constructions of authenticity in contemporary folk music – hence, the subject of this project: how to understand the romantic longing for authenticity in contemporary late-modern society characterized by a critique of metanarratives (such as the narrative of authenticity) produced under modernity? This leads to the following sub research questions:
- What is folk music and how to define new genres of folk music?
- What are conventions belonging to the folk genre and to what extent do contemporary genre conventions deviate from more ‘traditional’ ones?
- How do popular music genres emerge, and how do they become institutionalized within the international music industry?
- What is authenticity and what is the (historical) relationship between authenticity on the one hand and folk music on the other?
- What is the post-ontological status of authenticity in contemporary postmodern society?
- How to explain the current fascination with authenticity in contemporary folk music in relation to a postmodern discourse in which the notion of authenticity is problematized?
The question of the ‘return of authenticity’ (beyond the end of authenticity) will be studied from a holistic perspective. This means that the so-called ‘cultural diamond model’ (Griswold, 1987; Alexander, 2003) will be used in studying the production, distribution, reception and aesthetics of independent folk music in the Netherlands. By taking a holistic approach in studying indie-folk music, this research project at the same time uses an ‘inside-out’ approach (Peterson, 1990) to studying the central role of authenticity in the current folk music revival. Contrary to an ‘outside-in’ perspective, in which the social production of a popular music genre is either seen as the special accomplishments by a few creative individuals (the ‘supply side’ explanation) or as the outcome of changes within an audience or consumer patterns (the ‘demand side’ explanation), the inside-out approach studies innovation in popular music as a result of changes in the factors that constitute the social production of music (see Peterson, 1990). By using this approach; thus, by studying the social production of indie-folk music on a meso and micro level, this research project aims to deduce results on a higher (macro) level in order to explain the current longing for authenticity among members of the Dutch indie-folk (genre) community.
In order to investigate the production, distribution and reception of independent folk music in the Netherlands, semi-structured interviews were conducted with musicians, gatekeepers and audience members. In total, 48 interviews were conducted resulting in a sample of 50 interviewees (including two double interviews) in the age bracket 18-55: 26 audience members; 10 gatekeepers; 14 musicians. In order to investigate the aesthetic qualities of and aesthetic judgments in reference to indie-folk music a qualitative content analysis of respondents’ narratives was conducted, as well as a qualitative content analysis of lyrics that were discussed throughout the interviews. This implies that analysis focuses on linguistic narratives, rather than on more ‘formal’ musical properties belonging to the genre of independent folk music.
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- Griswold, W. (1987). A methodological framework for the sociology of culture. Sociological methodology, 17(1), 35.
- J. Encarnacao. (2013). Punk aesthetics and new folk: Way down the old plank road. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate.
- P.H. Ennis. (1992). The seventh stream: The emergence of rocknroll in American popular music. Mid3dletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
- E. Hitters and M. van de Kamp. (2010). Tune in, fade out: Music companies and the classification of domestic music products in the Netherlands. Poetics, 38(5), 461-480.
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- D. Keenan. (2003). The fire down below: Welcome to the new weird America. Wire, 234, 32-41.
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- A. Petrusich. (2008). It still moves: Lost songs, lost highways, and the search for the next American music. New York : Faber and Faber.
- N. van Poecke. (forthcoming). “Reviving roots, negotiating cultural identity,” In: Lutgard Mutsaers and Ger Tillekens (editors). Made in the low countries: Studies in popular music . London: Routledge.
- N.V. Rosenberg (Ed.). (1993). Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.
- N. van Poecke & J. Michael. (2016). Bringing The Banjo Back To Life: The Field of Dutch Independent Folk Music as Participatory Culture. First Monday, 21(3).
- N. van Poecke. (forthcoming). Reviving Roots, Negotiating Cultural Identity. In: Lutgard Mutsaers and Ger Tillekens (eds). Made in the low countries: Studies in popular music . London: Routledge.
- N. van Poecke. (under review). What Might Have Been Lost: The Formation of Narrative Identity among the Dutch Indie-Folk Audience. Popular Music & Society.
Popular publications related to the PhD-project
- N. van Poecke. (2014). De ballast van vernieuwing: over het metamodernisme in de popmuziek. Gonzo Circus, 119, 16-19.
- N. van Poecke. (2014). Beyond Postmodern Narcolepsy: On Metamoderism in Popular Music. Notes on metamodernism.
- N. van Poecke. (2014). De banjo gereanimeerd: de folk-revival en de opkomst van de doe-het-zelf-maatschappij. MMNieuws (thema: Doe het zelf!), 3, 19-21.
- N. van Poecke. (2015). From Mo to PoMo to MetaMo. Adbusters, 117, 33-38.