Sounds of the Underground

A Cultural, Political and Aesthetic Mapping of Underground and Fringe Music

Subjects: Music, Cultural Studies, Ethnomusicology
Series: Tracking Pop
Hardcover : 9780472119752, 304 pages, 7 Halftones, 3 Figures, 4 Tables, 6 x 9, April 2016
Open Access : 9780472902378, 304 pages, 7 Halftones, 3 Figures, 4 Tables, 6 x 9, March 2020

This open access version made available with the support of libraries participating in Knowledge Unlatched.
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The first scholarly examination of underground music in the digital age

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In basements, dingy backrooms, warehouses, and other neglected places around the world music is being made that doesn't fit neatly into popular or classical categories and genres, whose often extreme sounds and tiny concerts hover on the fringes of these commercial and cultural mainstreams.
The term “underground music” as it’s being used here connects various forms of music-making that exist outside or on the fringes of mainstream institutions and culture, such as noise, free improvisation, and extreme metal. This is music that makes little money, that’s noisy and exploratory in sound and that’s largely independent from both the market and from traditional high art institutions. It sometimes exists at the fringes of these commercial and cultural institutions, as for example with experimental metal or improv, but for the most part it’s removed from the mainstream, “underground,” as we see with noise artists such as Werewolf Jerusalem or Ramleh, obscure black metal artists such as Lord Foul, and improvisers such as Maggie Nicols. In response to a lack of previous scholarly discussion, Graham provides a cultural, political, and aesthetic mapping of this broad territory. By outlining the historical background but focusing on the digital age, the underground and its fringes can be seen as based in radical anti-capitalist politics or radical aesthetics while also being tied to the political contexts and structures of late capitalism. The book explores these various ideas of separation and captures, through interviews and analysis, a critical account of both the music and the political and cultural economy of the scene.

Stephen Graham is Lecturer of Music at Goldsmiths, University of London.

“There are no sustained considerations of the underground currently in academic literature. There are many discussions of noise, of exchanges between pop and art spheres, and of course of popular music, but Stephen Graham provides a sorely needed contribution in the form of a study that unites all of these different strands intelligibly. I can think of few other scholars who would be able to speak with the confidence and authority that he commands.”
— Joanna Demers, University of Southern California

“If the era of digital music distribution is often considered to have brought about a hyper-horizontality that has rendered all music accessible and audible, Graham’s Sounds of the Underground, true to its title, shows what happens if you start to dig down through this layer. What he finds is a rhizome that uncovers commonality amongst a dizzying array of diverse musical examples, practices and approaches.”
—Greg Hainge, author of Noise Matters: Towards an Ontology of Noise, series co-editor ex:centrics

“Stephen Graham's survey of noise, improv and extreme metal undergrounds (and much more besides) is as multi-faceted as it is meticulous, exploring the institutions, groupings and ideologies behind a constellation of unusual scenes and their rituals with a passion that fellow travelers will certainly recognize.”
—Adam Harper, University of Oxford