Ramstedt, Kim / ÅA (väitös 9.12.2017): DJs as Cultural Brokers. The Performance and Localization of Recorded Music Across Time and Space
In this doctoral dissertation in musicology, I study DJ practices in contemporary Finland. I am particularly interested in how DJs function as cultural brokers when music in recorded format travels across time and space. The main question my study seeks to answer is how are musical cultures localized, or made meaningful in a new socio-cultural environment through DJ performances and therein related activities. This question is investigated over four research articles in three distinct case studies, each focusing on a specific musical category, conceptualized as a "disc culture" (Thornton 1995), emphasizing the centrality of recorded sound as a medium of the music. The three categories of music investigated in my thesis are dancehall reggae, Finnish iskelmä music and Latin American music. These categories, which from the local audience perspective represent remote musical cultures, are not to be understood as fixed, but rather as narratives that are constructed in the performance setting. The concept of performance, following Auslander (2004), is applied as an analytical concept to all empirical material. As such, although the study also includes analysis of DJs' stage performances in a nightclub setting, I am also concerned with how the DJs work as brokers off stage. This work, which could be characterized as taking place in the space between production and consumption, influences values and meanings that listeners ascribe to the music. Methodologically this study combines ethnographic accounts with theoretical investigations. Empirical material analyzed in the study includes interviews with DJs, observational field research in nightclubs, media discourses, promotional material, individual recordings and set lists from DJ performances.
My research shows how the function of records as a medium is under constant negotiation, as records are in various ways altered and embedded into a DJ's work. The authority of a discrete musical work is questioned in my case studies in several ways, as ideas behind records find new forms of expression and as industry driven distinctions between the live performance of bands as collective audience experiences and recorded albums as objects intended for domestic private listening are discarded. I argue that genres moving to another cultural sphere will not maintain all their inherent values and meanings, as the terms for the adaptation of the music is negotiated between the DJ and the local audience. The audience intimately involved in the localization process is, however, not a homogeneous group and members of the audience who are less engaged in the performance setting can become outside observers to the unfolding drama of the events. The DJs' strategies to facilitate the process of localization include various practices of framing through the choice of musical repertoire, and through verbal and visual communication. I maintain that DJs play a significant role mediating between the remote production and local consumption of a musical genre. Through their work, DJs can challenge dominating cultural narratives and explore alternatives to established discourses.
The dissertation is available online at https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/132486971.pdf.