Both in music studies and in the anthropology of ritual, a commonplace narrative about music-driven events is that they ‘bring people together’. And yet, few things elicit conflict as quickly as non-consensual exposure to the noisy revelry of others. The ‘pro-social’ assumption about collective music-making overlooks the myriad ways in which such articulations of group belonging and shared taste may antagonize those who are excluded—but not absent—from the scene of sonic conviviality. This paper examines the patterns of conflict that arise around urban nightlife events, attending to how liminal, nocturnal leisure practices can disrupt ‘normal’ urban life in ways that are often framed as ‘anti-social’ by detractors. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork in several urban dance music scenes (Berlin, Paris, Chicago, London, Birmingham) as well as analyses of local media coverage, I highlight how urban nightlife scenes are surrounded by a halo of confrontational encounters that give rise to antagonistic social relations between groups competing over urban space and soundscapes. Revisiting and revising Gregory Bateson’s notion of schismogenesis, which highlights the social and cultural productivity of conflict and contention, I argue that nocturnal music scenes do indeed generate social relations—but these relations often bind through antagonism rather than mutual affection or shared interests. How are we to understand, for example, the way in which nightclubs tend to cluster in poor, migrant neighbourhoods, where residents are less empowered to complain about disruption? Turning to the ‘agonistic’ politics of Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, I offer a new reading of the ‘politics of fun’ by tracing the ambivalent political potential of leisure practices where pleasure and enjoyment entail the displeasure and discontentment of others.
The article is to be part of a special issue on 'Dark Leisure', edited by the organisers of the 'Dark Leisure and Music Symposium' (see below)
- United Kingdom
- urban studies
- electronic dance music