I’ve been meaning to write these articles for years at this point. I’m going to make an outline to at least have that step on paper. The basic arguments are that we can witness revolutionary struggles within broader cultural phenomena (even if they themselves don’t take on a revolutionary praxis). With music this addresses two other arguments from both sides, and with raves explores a phenomenon I think most revolutionaries have overlooked.
Two arguments (or vulgarizations):
1. Popular music has revolutionary potential/is revolutionary based on its content that reflects working class/oppressed perspectives.
2. Adorno- popular music is produced within capitalist relations of production, and the structure itself is a tool of capital’s control (whether or not the content bills itself as revolutionary). The structure is such that it requires almost no processing (easily digestive), and sedative. It should be abandoned.
Both of these should be rejected. Adorno’s argument parallels the Frankfurt School’s approach to class struggle, which crudely is that capital has a massive locus of power and have seized control of the subjective apparatus of society thereby crushing revolutionary potential since working class people can’t take control of their education. This is fairly unidirectional approach to society. Capital does unto us, not the other way around. Likewise capital owns and shapes music through its relations of production within the music industry. The music takes on this relationship of control despite whatever attempts are made. Yet class struggle don’t work that way. There is a dynamic between capital’s structuring and autonomous resistance which ruptures these solutions nearly every 30 years. At the very least one must accept that people evolve their own desires and strategies and capital must figure out ways to contain them. This is true of music as well. Every generation people reinvent music. It is based upon the structures and content of previous popular music, but generally resists the formula-like basis that mass music has. That is until capital can grab onto it, and reform it for mass production. This dynamic is the defining feature of music under capitalism. Music is constantly transformed by people (proletarian or lumpenprole) for their own purposes, until capital can gain control of it (and sometimes it can’t). Indeed working class music tends to reflect the struggles against capital and the state latently.
There are at least two mistakes i see in adorno’s critique. He takes a purely formal view of music, and thus fails to see how it’s social function (music events and environment) and content have a distinct character. He is right though about the form being shaped by capital and related to control. Struggle often takes the form of reappropriating tools of capital to use against capital. Secondly he thinks of things frozen in time, where the key is how music evolves over time.
We can see that the first argument misses the insights of adorno though. The role it plays in capital clearly has a role in understanding its revolutionary place. Whether or not someone who is oppressed or a self-proclaimed revolutionary doesn’t make it have a revolutionary social role. The counterexamples are countless.
Conclusions: An interpretation of music must address the historical and power-relations in the birth and evolution of popular forms of music. Adorno’s critique has some weight though, and we need to critique the role that capital plays in shaping culture through both the content and form that music takes. Revolutionary music should be reunderstood as music which reclaims space within society for collective activity (see next part) and expression that pushes for the transformation of social relations.
Broad outline: Relations of power within society create pressure and atomization throughout society. People have tended to focus on the distinct lack of a working class movement and open class struggle. Some like Selma James have pointed to struggle tending to arise out of the community, and spreading to the working class. The examples most have looked at are things like healthcare, women’s struggles, struggles of people of color, etc., explicitly political forms of organization. Yet the movements in contemporary american society that have assumed a mass character have almost exclusively been social and characterized by a struggle for community structures that are missing from modern life. Additionally the relation between capital, the state, and these mass social formations mirror that of working class struggle. What we have missed, the state sees clearly. These formations represent a potential for mass action and self-transformation of society, and thereby represent a threat. Likewise participation in these struggles tend to produce consciousness of the role of the state in a latent form, much like the consciousness that comes from unorganized class struggle. Moreover these formations evolve generation-to-generation, and tend to rupture the means of social control developed early to contain people’s relationships. Understanding this shifts our perception in a few ways. Firstly, we see that indeed struggle exists on a mass level constantly throughout American society, as well as the development of political consciousness in its embryonic form. Secondly, we see the fundamental nature that the urge to community and the ability of mass coordination has within society, and how if the context shifts these forces (the forces driving the cultural phenomena not subcultural formations themselves, which i think are by their nature contained and sometimes even destructive) could manifest themselves in a revolutionary manner and move from their contained position to a clash with the state and capital.
A case study is raves (this is messy cause I’m in a rush). Raves came from many sources, some bourgeious, but most significantly working class origins (Detroit, LA, NY, Chicago). Raves spread throughout the world very quickly. They always had an antagonist relation with the state due to the illegal reclamation of public space and subversive use of sex and drugs. With the rise of a social formation which sought to build community not based around profit and that sought expression of human need and desire freely within a collective effort formations of capital and control arose which sought to gain profit and make controllable these formations. Likewise a current evolved which fought theseapproaches, and some went further underground. The state responded through mass militarized crackdowns both legislative and extralegally. In LA for ex. there was a rave squad that roamed the desert every weekend simply looking for and breaking up parties. Some police raids were blood baths, others spurred mass riots. Open agitation against the state was not infrequent. From the start to the finish raves reflect the problems and perspectives of working class existence throughout. The problem of having to work was a common discourse throughout. Some fought work altogether through dropping out, others through petit bourgeious small business approaches, others through class struggle. The party itself was seen as an antidote to the control of work throughout the rest of the week. Eventually capital and the state brought it under control and made it acceptable. The movement died and collapsed turning into ‘going to the club’. The music additionally ruptured the structures common to pop music in the capitalist music industry. Much of the music remained unmarketable by its very nature. Only when the music was stripped of the context of raves (traditional song structure) was it marketable. Ok this is a mess, but i gots to stop.