Why folk music is making a comeback

Mumford & Sons

Mumford and Sons, Bon Iver, alt-J: in recent years folk music has grown from a marginal genre to a commercial phenomenon. What explains the comeback and popularity? That’s the question Niels van Poecke tried to answer in his dissertation.

Van Poecke interviewed a total of 48 Dutch indie-folk musicians, consumers and gatekeepers (like programmers, journalists and owners/employers of record labels). And found, first of all, that digitization played an important role. This in a way is remarkable, since folk music is often seen as the opposite of technological progress. But internet has lowered the threshold for musicians to produce their work and for consumers to distribute it. 

Search for authenticity
The rise of indie-folk is partly carried by the emergence of an (online) participation culture. ‘DIY’ producing and consuming fit perfectly with the ethics and aesthetics of folk, in which democratic ideals like egalitarianism and communality have always played a part. Besides that, the renewed popularity of folk music reflects changes within society. Van Poecke points to a broader search for authenticity that’s also visible in film, television, literature and fashion. Compare it to the rise of the hipster, and renewed attention for craftsmanship and biological, organic products.

Not for snobs
According to Van Poecke, the rise of indie-folk is part of a broader shift from ‘snobbery’ to cultural omnivorism as a way to distinguish oneself. Producers, distributers and consumers of Dutch indie-folk are ‘broad’ consumers: they listen to classical music and hip hop as well as to folk. But from these genres they select the most pure or authentic items. Then finally there is one more reason for folk becoming popular. Van Poecke’s research shows that indie-folk gives people grip in times of setback, melancholy and depression.

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