music & place

I lived in Atlanta, GA from 1985 to 1994, about an hour’s drive from Athens. It was sort of the tail end of the heyday of the Athens music scene, but there was a strong sense of place associated with acts such as REM, B-52s, Pylon, Bar-b-que Killers, Killkenny Cats. It’s been a long time, and I may be forgetting certain acts, or misremembering names, or I might never have known certain acts. They made a movie about the Athens scene. Atlanta had its own scene: Follow For Now, Hollyfaith, Michelle Malone, Mr. Crow’s Garden (later the Black Crowes), Mary My Hope (who made a big splash in England but imploded stateside), Train Black.

I was listening to some New Order MP3s last night when I realized, “Hey, this band is from Manchester!” Then I began to think of bands that are from here (or that I’ve been told are from here): Elvis Costello, Joy Division > New Order, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Badly Drawn Boy, Happy Mondays, Primal Scream. Hmm. There are a lot more, but my brain is blanking right now. Must go get caffeine of some kind. Yeah, I know, “Zen Wisdom” blah blah blah.

Anyone remember other bands from these places? Anyone have a sense of why certain cities seem to explode with musical (or other artistic) talent at certain times? Can you think of other examples?

I’ve heard that Omaha, Nebraska is currently the hot music city.

No, really. I’m serious.

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9 thoughts on “music & place

  1. For Atlanta, you could add the Indigo Girls, Magnapop, and drivin’ n’ cryin’. There’s also the hip hop and R&B scenes (Outkast, Keith Sweat, many others). Are the Smiths/Morrissey also from Manchester (I don’t know).
    To answer yout other question, I’m tempted to make some kind of connection to Steven Johnson’s comments about “emergence,” where knowledge/ideas are developed from the bottom up, and maybe it’s not a bad description of what happens. Not only are bands helping each other out (i.e. looking out for their friends by helping them get recording contracts), but they also learn from each other, draw from each others’ performances. Of course, then the question becomes why these cities can’t sustain that success (why Atlanta/Athens faded in the 1990s and Seattle “emerged” as the new scene), and I don’t have an answer there. I’m not sure this explanation makes sense (still seeking coffee clarity), but it’s obviously not coincidental that “scenes” form rather than isoalted individual bands/musicians.

  2. A couple of other possible examples:
    Beale Street/Memphis in the 1950s (Elvis, Carl Perkins, etc); Motown; New York punk scene in the 1970s (Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, etc).

  3. More Atlanta bands: Ellen James Society, the Jody Grind, Dirt, the Go Devils.
    Manchester: Charlatans UK, Pulp.

  4. Chuck, to complicate your “bottom up” theory, I wonder if there’s a “top down” cause, too: the music press promotes a region as “hot,” record labels look for the next big thing, and lots of acts get signed to deals because of the hype.

  5. The “top-down” theory probably makes more sense, especialy when “scenes” are so easily commodifiable. That being said, there was a lot of really great music in Atlanta/Athens in the 1980s and early 1990s (we could also add Guadalcanal Diary) and in these other locations as well. I think that bottom-up process is certainly there (musicians, zines, local music shows), with people learning from each other and developing their musical sensibilities, but this form of self-organization is easily swallowed by the marketing machines of the music industry. It’s also interesting that once this top-down apparatus is in place, it seems to disrupt the vibrancy of that community (Is this a more complicated way of accusing bands of selling out?).

  6. I saw Guadalcanal Diary about 5 times one summer. Then I met the drummer when he was playing for Love Tractor (*another* Athens band). Then my parents bought a house next to the drummer’s dad! My life is one big coincidence.

  7. In case you care, Pulp are from Sheffield and Blur are filthy southerners. But you can add The Buzzcocks, 808 State, M-People, Take That, The Bee-Gees and Simply Red (they can’t all be good ;))

  8. Hmmm. Thanks. I’m not sure what made me think Blur and Pulp are from Manchester.
    The *Bee-Gee’s* are from Manchester!?!
    I don’t know how I missed the Buzzcocks.

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