Material Culture in Detroit Tomorrow (plus new Instagram Account)

Hi, everyone. Yesterday contained one of those “life comes at you fast” mornings for me (in a genuinely positive way). I found out that I won a grant to attend a meeting in France this December, and I just pried open my wallet to register for the AAG meeting in Denver next April. This week, though, I’m excited to head down to a conference taking place a short drive from me: the meeting of the International Society for Landscape, Place, and Material Culture (ISLPMC) in Detroit.

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(via CitiesofDesignNetwork)

This will (finally) be my first time in Detroit proper. I’m looking forward to doing some exploring, eating pierogies, and paying a long-overdue visit to Hello Records. I’m also looking forward to reuniting with some old friends and colleagues at the conference, especially RJ Rowley (an erstwhile collaborator from Illinois State), Ethan Bottone (an old nemesis from Tennessee), and Steven Donnelly (a punkademia collaborator all the way from Belfast).

If you’re at the conference or in the Detroit area, I’ll be presenting some brand new research on “Antique Postcards and Urban Privatization” on Friday at 2:40pm in the Fort Gratiot Room at the Double Tree Hotel downtown. Full Schedule.


NEW INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

To coincide with this presentation and ostensible research trip, I’m also going to start up a brand new Instagram account dedicated to the Ben Irving Postcard Project! If you’re interested, give it a follow at https://www.instagram.com/postcardsfromirving/. Let’s see where this goes.

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Thanks for reading.

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Vinyl Excursions: Scarce Sounds in Canberra

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Australia National University, June 2019

Happy Saturday! I’m sorry to never have completed my entries on my trip down under, especially considering how fantastic Hobart and IAG were in general. I still hope to post about some highlights. In the meantime, I’m finally enjoying an hour or so of downtime out of my box-filled house, so I thought I would finish this post on one of the highlights of my first week in Australia – a meeting with author and archivist Ross Laird, known to the internet community as Scarce Sounds.

I’d been in touch with Ross off and on since I first began the Ben Irving project in earnest roughly five years ago. He came up in internet searches as an expert on the Okeh records catalog, so I emailed him to ask if he had any record of the Ben Irving Orchestra (or any proof that Ben recorded and released any music). He got back to me quickly and thoroughly, running through expansive evidence that there was no record of anyone by that name in Okeh’s catalog.

I got back in touch with him earlier this summer in the weeks leading up to my trip down under. It turned out that as a longtime employee of the Australian National Film and Sound Archive, he was based in Canberra and would be in town when I was there for the IASPM meeting. We met up in his old haunt on the Australia National Uni campus to chat a bit more about where our respective projects had brought us.

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Ross Laird and a bottle of Mount Majura 2009. Canberra, 6/28/19.

In an unanticipated bit of hospitality, he and his wife invited me to their home in the suburbs, where I’d be able to see one of the most unique and expansive record collections in the world. At least, I saw part of it. He mentioned that he had a shed full of shellac records (not so nimble and as prone to weathering as vinyl) and an additional office/storage room other than the one I saw. Here are some photos.

Thousands of records from his archive (including very rare ones) are for sale on his Discogs page, Scarce Sounds. As he explained to me, Ross doesn’t view himself as a collector as much an a curator. Pursuant to the name, most of his records are rare and don’t really exist within the public archive. He aims to change that for many great overlooked artists from the Global South, then sending the recordings afield to other music lovers. It’s a worthwhile pursuit and a point I hope I can reach one day.

 

He sampled a bunch of 78s and 45s for me, most of which were still shrouded in mystery (most, if any information that exists about them on the internet, he put there), but my single favorite song I heard all night was a bubblegum pop song by Rita Chao and Sakura, entitled “Bala Bala.” The song has a driving baritone sax lead, fantastic female duo vocals, about 4 different words in the whole song, and I loved it to death. Some good Samaritan put a piece of “Bala Bala” on a supercut they uploaded to YouTube about ten years ago.

Transmissions from Down Under: Week Two (Wellington Talk Friday)

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Morning in Cairns, looking south on Grimshaw St. June 30, 2019.

Happy Thursday, everyone! I’ve got (abridged) stories to tell.

First, I began this entry in Cairns, a very cool little city in Tropical North Queensland. I swam with the most stunning variety of fishes I’ve ever seen on the Great Barrier Reef, and I took zero pictures. I did get my Certificate of Recognition from the Divers’ Den (which they clarify, in my favorite part of the certificate, is NOT a Scuba Certification). Considering how uncomfortable I am (1) underwater and (2) cycle-breathing, Scuba seemed like a terrible undertaking. That is mostly because it was. As I write this, my ears are still ringing from when my head nearly caved in on itself, and I’m still wincing at how I looked when I first saw myself in the mirror after returning to the boat. I managed to pop a blood vessel in my nose in attempts to expel water from my mask and equalize the pressure. I think “not looking like Tom Savini designed your face” after removing one’s goggles is a skill that some of the finer divers develop. Also, considering how far self-contained underwater breathing apparatuses have come technologically, I couldn’t stop thinking about how terrifying those early dives must have been for Jacques Cousteau and his antecedents.

All that being said, it was 100% worth it. Granted, the snorkeling session in the afternoon was almost as majestic from up on the surface, but we were parked by an atoll with relatively high towers of coral. I’m clearly no ichthyologist, but every single fish I saw felt like a revelation, considering how massive and rainbow-toned many of them were. The guides emphasized to apply sunscreen at least a half-hour before diving and to avoid contact with coral or fish at all costs. I didn’t see any sharks or lethal jellyfish, so you’ll all be happy to know I’m alive and well unless one of the species applied some kind of slow-burn poison on my skin thaa;fwoij;oi4j……………Just kidding. I’ll post if anything changes. Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a run-in with a particularly vicious Koala. [Update: I did not].

 

Second, back to the tape. Before I get to my IASPM experience in Canberra, I’ll extend my gratitude to Maartje Roelofsen and Macquarie University’s GeoPlan Seminar for hosting me last Tuesday. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer setting and better group for my first international colloquium talk. Their seminar room featured a 19th century court room gate rescued from somewhere indeterminate in rural New South Wales, which most seminar rooms should have. Also, I saw my first Lorakeets. I probably confused Maartje with my overreaction, never having seen birds that beautiful outside of captivity before.

I’m looking forward to seeing several members of that faculty and student body again in Hobart next week. I would have enjoyed hanging out for a bit and seeing more of the campus, but I had to get back to Sydney to catch my coach to Canberra. IASPM was already well underway, and I’d missed a good handful of fascinating sounding papers.

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Aboriginal musicians’ panel kicks off the IASPM Wednesday proceedings at the Llewellyn Recital Hall at Australia National University’s School of Music (June 26, 2019).

IASPM was every bit as fun and insightful as a global conference of the world’s top popular music scholars (and me) would be, and Canberra was wonderful. I got to see a few old friends and meet some new ones, learn a nearly overwhelming amount about great new research in pop music studies, and watch Franco Fabbri bring down the house with “Space Oddity” at closing-night karaoke at the coolest bar in Canberra. Scotty Regan (Queensland Uni of Technology) DJ’d the set and closed with “New York, New York,” but replacing “New York” with “Canberra.” Feel free to dig into his Twitter for more details, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Fakhran al Ramadhan presents his paper on the the Jakarta skinhead movement at IASPM at ANU (Canberra) on June 27, 2019.

I was honored to be on the Punk session with Paula Guerra, the co-founder of KISMIF, a Porto conference I’ve been dying to go to since I discovered it a couple years ago, and Fakhran al Ramadhan, who splits his time between the Cultural Studies program at the University of Indonesia and his band No Slide (whose t-shirt I’m wearing as I type this). It was one of the best-attended paper sessions I’ve been on, and as on many conferences outside of my field, the way my ideas resonated with the attendees was highly encouraging. It’s a shame I might never be able to experience IASPM in Canberra again, but I count on returning to both the meeting and the city at different times in the future.

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Paula Guerra, Fakhran al Ramadhan, and I express our thoughts after our punk paper session closes (ANU Canberra, June 27 2019).

While in Canberra, I also had the opportunity to meet and talk archivism and records with Ross Laird, one of the top collectors/curators in Australia, if not the world. In the interest of time (and making another quick announcement about a talk I have in Wellington, where I’m actually finishing up this entry), I’ll move my meeting with Ross to its own future entry.

For now, I’m pleased to announce here that I’ve added a talk to my excursion to Aotearoa/New Zealand! The kind and enthusiastic people at Victoria University of Wellington (Social Theory & Spatial Praxis Research Group) have invited me in tomorrow at noon to talk about Capitals of Punk and some more recent research directions that have emerged from it. I’ve pasted their flyer below in case you know anybody in Wellington and would like to pass word along. From what I understand, it’s free and open to the public.

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Thanks again for reading, and sorry I didn’t have enough time to go into further detail about IASPM. I can’t remember the last time I’ve taken that many notes at a conference. Not that I’m going to hold the IAG or AAG to this, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt if all academic conferences concluded with the organizer(s) singing karaoke with all of the participants.

I’ll do my best to get a Week 3 entry up from Hobart at this time next week! I hope you’re all doing well, wherever you are.

 

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It’s never too late to make new friends in your travels.

Transmissions from Down Under (Week One)

Sydney

Sydney at night is something to behold.

Greetings from Australia! I survived my first 15-hour flight with minimal sleep deprivation. A colleague warned me that I’m not in the clear yet, though, so I’ll be cautious. I’m taking advantage of a cold, miserable Sunday night in Ultimo to work on my presentations for this week, which will be taking place on Tuesday at Macquarie University in Sydney’s northern suburbs and on Thursday at Australia National University in Canberra.

Let’s go to the tape:

Announcement Seminar Tyler Sonnichsen


The Official IASPM Program is available now! My session is Thursday at 2pm (see p.56).

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More updates as I have time and reasonable access to WiFi. I’m the meantime, I’ll be trawling some of Sydney’s finest record shops and enjoying its nearly overwhelming amount of delicious Asian street food (in fully licensed restaurants, as they foreground in their ads). Here is a photo I took yesterday afternoon in the moment it hit me that I was, indeed, in Australia:

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The Birds (1963; dir. Alfred Hitchcock) remake nobody wanted. To be fair, that describes most remakes.

 

 

Down Under Summer 2019: Macquarie University (Sydney), IASPM (Canberra), IAG (Hobart), and More

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Rand McNally is really off the mark in the Simpsons Universe (see Borneo). I guess we shouldn’t expect much from a place where hamburgers eat people.

For the first time since 2016, I’ll be heading out of the country on academic business. This time, as I mentioned previously, I’m heading to the opposite side of the globe (ostensibly). I can’t wait to see the wonderful cities, meet the wonderful people, swim the wonderful waters, browse the wonderful record shops, and pet a wonderful koala. If you’re in any of these places when I am (see below), please get in touch.

As of now, I have three presentations scheduled.  I’m also planning stops in Cairns, Brisbane, and Melbourne, though I haven’t confirmed any talks or meetings yet. I will do my best to update this post, or post something new, should any details change.


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TUESDAY, JUNE 25 – SYDNEY, NSW
Macquarie University
“Music Video, Sense of Place, and the Symbolic Gentrification of Memory”
GeoPlan Seminar Series, W3A 501 Macquarie University
12pm – 1pm

Thank you to Drs. Claudio Minca and Maartje Roelofsen for inviting me to present some of my new research directions at their fine institution, and thank you to Dr. Chris Gibson for connecting me with them. This will be my first colloquium talk outside of the United States. PROGRAM HERE: Announcement Seminar Tyler Sonnichsen


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THURSDAY, JUNE 27 – CANBERRA, ACT
International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) Annual Meeting
4:30pm: “Violence, Memory, and Qualitative Research in Punk History”
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This will be my first time attending an IASPM meeting, and I look forward to discussing some of my findings from the research that culminated in Capitals of Punk. I’m also grateful to be presenting at the same conference with my friend and UTK colleague Nathan Fleshner. Naturally, we’re scheduled at the same time. This was the first conference I was accepted to in Oz, and it got the wheels moving for this entire trip.


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THURSDAY, JULY 11 – HOBART, TAS
Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) Annual Meeting 
12:40pm: “Music Videos, Emotional Geography, and Pedagogy”
New & Emerging Research in Cultural Geography II (Tasman A)

Once again, I need to thank Joshua Pitt from Palgrave for calling my attention to this meeting, as well as the helpful and supportive IAG staff who encouraged me to apply (insisting that, yes, they do welcome geographers from all over the globe, especially North America). It’s a special treat to be able to present my newer research on Tasmania! Everyone who knows both me and Australia has told me I’ll really appreciate Hobart, which makes me even more excited.


I will have periodic access to WiFi, but I will do my best to keep in touch with those who reach out. See you all on the other side.

Australia

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– “Bleedin’ Yanks won’t stop sending geographers down!” “Ahhh, yer always’ complainin!” (Science Magazine)

Surprise! I’m heading down under this summer (/their winter). This will be my first time in the Southern Hemisphere, which I’m almost ashamed to admit. I believe the closest I’ve come was Trinidad in 2016, which was truly one of the best vacations I mean conferences I’ve ever attended. Certain elements of my time in Australia are still in the final planning phases, but I’m incredibly excited.

I’ll post some details soon about where and when I’ll be presenting research, exploring, buying records, playing Knifey Spoony, and more. But in the meantime, let’s all join in singing the Australian National Anthem.

Take it away, Grant.

AAG DC Punk Walking Tour [Photos]

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Stop One on the Ellington Bridge, 04.06.19 (DC Punk Walking Tour Photo by Macià Blázquez Salom)

Better late than never, as promised, here are some additional photos from AAG DC, taken and shared with me by several generous walking tour participants.


IAN MACKAYE Q&A (FRIDAY 04/05/19)

As I posted about a couple weeks ago, I hosted a Q&A with Ian MacKaye at the Wardman Park Hotel on Friday afternoon. The full audio of that conversation, along with some photos taken by Josh Pitt of Palgrave and Emily Fekete of the AAG, are available on that previous entry.


D.C. Punk Walking Tour (Saturday 04/06/19)

As I mentioned last month in a post leading up to the meeting, the first (and probably only) AAG DC Punk walking tour got a shocking amount of interest. I wound up taking a good handful of folks who registered at the last minute on-site after the inevitable few registrants dropped out. I didn’t get a proper headcount when we set off from the hotel, but the photos below should be a good indication.

STOP ONE: THE DUKE ELLINGTON BRIDGE

I look like I’m proselytizing, and in a way, I am. I took a chance to talk about the role DC’s physical geography played in events that punctuated punk history like the late-80’s percussion protests at the South African Embassy. Standing on the bridge named after the man gave us a chance to give Duke some love, too, being as how he’s easily in the conversation about the most vital American musicians of the 20th century. The way he wrote short, punchy songs so prolifically and so well invariably laid the early groundwork for rock n’ roll, and what was punk rock except a return to rock n’ roll’s roots?

STOP TWO: 1929 CALVERT ST, NW

While I was trying to recall the bands Ian MacKaye told me were on the bill for Minor Threat’s first show in this house, an older gentleman stepped out onto the porch of the house next door. He apologized for interrupting, and I said no worries and asked him how long he’d been living there. “1980,” he said. He verified the story I was relating, citing the great parties his neighbors at 1929 would throw back in the day. He also said the house had sold for $2,000,000, which was more than I recalled reading. Given the turnover in that neighborhood over the past few decades, it was an amazing stroke of luck.

STOP THREE: THE ORIGINAL MADAM’S ORGAN (2318 18TH ST NW)

Once a Yippie watering hole for Corcoran Art students and more recently the home of Crooked Beat Records (when I moved to DC in 2005), the building that built harDCore currently houses an Insomnia Cookie shop upstairs and a grow shop downstairs (keeping in the spirit of DIY, I suppose). Neither business could withstand a crush of almost 30 people and the grow shop, per DC law, needed to check every entrant’s ID, so I stood on the staircase to Insomnia to deliver my spiel.

STOP FOUR: SMASH! RECORDS (2314 18TH ST NW)

Immediately after our stop at the original Madam’s Organ house, we crammed into Smash! Records next door. I introduced the group to my old friend Matt Moffatt, who gave the group a brief history of the shop, which started in Georgetown in a different era and moved to Adams-Morgan in the mid-2000’s.

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Matt Moffatt talks with the AAG DC Punk Walking Tour at Smash! Records, Washington, DC 04.06.19 (Tyler Sonnichsen Photo)

STOP FIVE: DAHLAK (RIP; 1771 U St. NW)

After Smash!, we took a break to get empanadas and shop, reconvening to head down to the star-intersection at 18th and Florida and U to discuss the role of immigrants in the growth of underground music in DC. Two sites of interest there were the (now closed) Eritrean restaurant Dahlak, where I saw friends perform a number of times in the late 2000’s, as well as the neighboring building, now a young-professionals’ gym, which regularly hosted Go Go shows in the 80’s as an African-owned club. Two very pleasant English women on the tour, who admitted to me in the end they went in knowing very little about punk, told me how much they liked how I incorporated migration into the tour. It was one of the best compliments I received all day. DC Punk, just like so many pieces of any city’s “real” culture, owes so much to immigrants who opened up their restaurants for live entertainment. The city’s punk scene has included so many sons and daughters of immigrants, as well.

The next stretch was the longest walk of the tour, a haul up Ontario Street back to Columbia Road. The sun was so powerful and the heat was so strong, I worried that half of the tour would drop off, but everyone who was with us at the bottom of the hill was in great spirits when we reached the top for:

STOP SIX: ONTARIO THEATER (1700 COLUMBIA RD NW)

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The AAG DC Punk Walking Tour stops by the site of the Ontario Theater, now the Banfield Pet Hospital. (Photo by Marton Berki)

Unlike anywhere else we stopped, the building that once housed the Ontario Theater (the predecessor, at least in the Seth Hurwitz sense, to the 9:30 Club) actually had a historical marker of sorts. As this photo by Martón Berki details, U2 once played there in 1981, right on the cusp of breaking. Prior to it’s period as a music club, the Ontario had been a movie theater kept open through the 1970’s by the local Central American population. Further history of the building is available on Cinema Treasures and Streets of Washington

 

THE FINAL STOP: MT. DESERT ISLAND ICE CREAM (3110 MT. PLEASANT ST NW

The end of the tour was a real treat, literally and figuratively. Josh Pitt, my good friend and editor at Palgrave, treated the whole tour to ice cream. Given the heat, this generosity could not have come at a better time. It just so happened that Mt. Desert Island was not only a couple blocks away from the site of the legendary Wilson Center, but it’s also owned and operated by Melissa Quinley and Brian Lowit, a pair of great Dischord Records vets. Brian’s own label, Lovitt, released some solid gold by the likes of Frodus, Engine Down, Sleepytime Trio, and many more. Melissa and Brian came outside to talk about the finer points of underground music, ice cream, and how community ties those two together.

As my delicious ice cream was melting and running down my hand, I spoke for a couple more minutes to the group outside, thanked them, and we headed back to the hotel. It seemed like everybody enjoyed themselves and learned a lot. I’m grateful it all went off catastrophe-free.


Thanks again to everyone who took part in the DC Punk Walking Tour, and special thanks to everyone who shared the above pictures. You may notice that a bulk of them were taken by the multi-talented and immensely supportive Steven Donnelly, from Belfast. Keep tabs on him and his work via Instagram at mralligator7.

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Steven Donnelly Self-Portrait in Smash! Records, Washington, DC 04.06.19