The idea that you can increase your social status by possessing 'hidden' knowledge could explain indie fans who pride themselves on knowing every chillwave release
On your lecture tour of the UK, what was the best question anyone asked you? Bob Hardy at Mono cafe in Glasgow
I've just finished a series of lectures in the UK and Milan on topics including Gender Inversions: The Role of the Female Fan in the Popular Imagination, Destination Music Festivals, and Audiences at Gigs: Significant Shifts in Activity and Meaning. Yes, I realise that giving different talks in each city is a bit like going on tour and playing a different set of songs each night, but if I wanted life to be easy I would have kept doing maths instead of anthropology.
My favourite question came from one of the participants at Peterhouse Theory Group at Cambridge University. His question was if I thought there was a connection between indie music and Gnosticism. I had just given a paper on the relationship between indie music, Puritanism and pathos (there is a reason why there is a shoegaze revival band called the Pains of Being Pure at Heart). I think finding a connection between religion and aesthetics is a valuable line of inquiry. Gnosticism, from the Greek for knowledge, is where adherents derive their spiritually elect status by virtue of special experiential knowledge. Gnostics teach that a spiritual elite possesses "hidden knowledge" of the divine that places their revelations above the revelations found in scripture. Gnosticism would work with arguments that elitist knowledge of arcane bands confer "cultural capital", the notion that cool is a commodity of sorts. In other words, you can increase your social status by possessing prestigious and abstruse forms of knowledge. Indie fans are often parodied as having wilfully obscure tastes. However, Gnosticism never really matured from a sect. And currently, there is criticism that indie music is just too popular to be considered non-mainstream. A single correspondence doesn't seem to be enough to suggest a generative theory. However, there could be something to the idea that the valorisation of esoteric knowledge could explain members of the indie community who pride themselves on knowing every chillwave release. So, perhaps Gnosticism is a sect of indie. Either way, a great question and creative application of the argument that religious values can generate aesthetic practices.
The best observation was from a student at the University of Southampton who has been researching audience behaviour at dance shows. Spiro Martyr noted the widespread use of earplugs among audience members at the venue. At indie gigs, earplugs are usually worn by older fans who stand at the back. He found by looking at message-boards that wearing earplugs is not looked down on in dance as it is in indie. Rather, he found there is respect for wearing earplugs. In rock, fans who wear earplugs are stigmatised with associations of ageing. Thus, earplugs are often hidden because they are seen as a source of shame that can make an audience member the target of ridicule. Dance fans wear earplugs with pride and see them as a sign of experience. For serious dance fans and professionals, the participation ritual would include putting earplugs in prior to entering the venue, almost like putting on body armour before entering battle. Hardcore participants see taking care of your ears as demonstrating long-term commitment rather than the casual participation of a dilettante just up for a good night out. This would make earplugs within dance something akin to tattoos in Punk ? a sign that you are dedicated to the genre for life. In dance, earplugs show you are in for the long haul. As someone who's ears rang for two years after seeing My Bloody Valentine, indie could pull a page from dance's book. But you can't make lovers of youth value longevity.