I just finished a book I should have read a long time ago: Sara Cohen’s “Rock Culture in Liverpool – Popular Music in the Making”, Oxford 1991. This book is one of the first ethnographies of local popular music production / a local popular music scene – and a very detailed one as well.
Cohen describes the (alternative/independent) rock scene in Liverpool where she conducted fieldwork in 1985/86. With two bands as case studies (“The Jactars” and “Crikey It’s the Cromptons!”) Cohen gives a very thick and detailed description of the scene – charting everything from the bands themselves (members, how they relate to each other/other groups, instruments, social dynamics), infrastructure (venues, rehearsal rooms, shops, instruments), musical activities (composing, rehearsing, recording, performing), promotion (record companies, demos, legal implications, discourses non-commercial – commercial) and misogyny. These discussions are founded on her observations and exemplified with quotes from different actors within the scene. The discussions are towards the end embedded within a global discussion of rock aesthetics. However, written before the discussion on globalization became stylish, this book really focuses on the local. The discussions of the national and global (actually transnational – England / USA) is just a detour embedding the local discussions within a wider rock discourse.
The main thing missing for me were musical examples – not just talking about the music, but using concrete examples from the group’s songs.
That said, as an ethnographic study the book is a model definitively worth reading – and it is also easy to read.