Popular Music History, Vol 2, No 1 (2007)

Constructing an avant-garde: Australian popular music and the experience of pleasure

Jon Stratton
Issued Date: 26 Jun 2007


The purpose of this article is to discuss the possibility of a culturally based aesthetics of reception that helps to make sense of the ways that the three different strands of popular music that developed in Australia in the late 1970s were experienced. The particular focus of the article is on that strand known as Alternative Rock. Alternative Rock, the musical form that came out of Australia's cosmopolitan inner cities, was seen by its practitioners, and many critics, as being the avant-garde of Australian popular music. Indeed, as a musical form it represented the attempt by its practitioners to develop music that could be taken seriously as art. Roland Barthes had earlier elaborated an aesthetics of pleasure that, for him, legitimated a certain form of literature as avant-garde. In this article I show how similar understandings of pleasure permeate the ways that Australian Alternative Rock was, and indeed is, thought about. One crucial aspect of this, which applies to similar music considered to be avant-garde elsewhere, has been the debate over the distinction between what is considered music and what noise. I argue that this distinction relates to ideas of pleasure and that both are a function of cultural determinations.

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DOI: 10.1558/pomh.v2i1.49


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