IASPM session 2a – Australia and New Zealand

Dialect and DespairSession 2a – Australia and New Zealand. Chair: Eric Hung

The Architects of Culture: Developing the Concept of a ‘Shared Listening History’. James Cox (Macquarie University, Australia)


As Schloss (2006) has suggested, Hip Hop practitioners are mindful of the culture’s history and traditions. This is true of Hip Hop artists in Australia and New Zealand, who are keen to promote their knowledge and respect of the culture’s history and traditions.

This paper will examine the ideas behind such a conservative selection of cultural works that form the basis for Hip Hop music. As Dimitriadis (2009) has suggested, a Hip Hop identity is often “worked through” by a complex positioning and re-positioning of texts between peoples. The selection of such texts forms a ‘Shared Listening History’ among Hip Hop artists in Australia and New Zealand. This allows for the construction of a Hip Hop identity worked out through interaction with these texts. A point reiterated by Australian Hip Hop artist Dialect, “[my music is] straight up Hip Hop music, concerned with preserving and respecting the culture’s traditions and origins [as] laid out by the architects” (Tang 2011, p.22).

Drawing on ethnographic research with Hip Hop artists in Australia and New Zealand, the paper exemplifies how a ‘Shared Listening History’ provides an important structure within the genre. Australian and New Zealand Hip Hop artists engagement with the “architects” of the culture has important implications on the ways in which these artists then construct their music and remain “authentic”.

James has interviewed several contemporary Australian artists, particularly rapper ‘Dialect’. They describe – in interview, lyrics and in the form of sampling/allusion – how they pay tribute to the ‘architects’ of hip-hop. The paper points out that the definition (and era) of these ‘architects’ depends very much on one’s own perspective – and probably one’s age. He talks extensively about the allusory nature of the hip-hop he studies, but points out that many contemporary hip-hop fans are around 16, giving the example of a 16-year-old fan who states that the ‘original’ lyric ‘Don’t Push Me ‘Cos I’m Close To The… Edge’ is meaningful to him [the fan], even though he does know that it was in fact deliberately used as a quotation from the original.

Other examples include David Dallas (previously ‘Con Psy’), who appropriates previous ‘classic’ work to demonstrate to his own fans how he ‘knows good hip-hop’ (such as ‘Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’. Interestingly, James discusses the cultural conservatism of the hip-hop community and the implicit canonicity (and perceived cultural value from its explicit recognition among Australian artists). Deliberate allusion to the past is valuable and desirable for these artists – and implicitly, their fans and contemporaries.

A question from the floor uncovers an interesting distinction between the deliberately self-referential nature of (some Australian) hip-hop and the arguable ‘embarrassment’ involved in the potential inauthenticity of cover versions in rock/pop.


A Tale of Two Creative Cities: Making Music and Policy in Wellington, New Zealand. Geoff Stahl (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)


This paper explores the relationship between urban cultural policies and the experience of young, amateur musicmakers in Wellington, Aotearoa-New Zealand. In a city referred to as a “New Zealand’s cultural capital,” Wellington-based policy documents are often at odds with musicmakers’ experiences and understanding of the city. Through interviews with young musicmakers as well as policy makers, this paper details the competing visions of the city as framed through sociomusical practices and municipal strategies and imperatives. It locates these urban policy initiatives, as well as the recent emphasis on cultural economies that stress entrepreneurialism, within national neoliberal frameworks that have been in effect in New Zealand.

Geoff looks at music-making in the context of the ‘real life’ of the city of Wellington. He discusses the tension between the naturally-occurring culture of young amateur musicians (typically early/mid 20s), and by his account it appears to be a vibrant scene, both socially and musically. Policy-makers, he says, are very keen to make cultural (and implicitly economic) capital out of the ‘creative urban buzz’ of the city (NZ’s ‘Capital of Culture’), but are sometimes reluctant to engage with amateur musicians in any meaningful way, being risk-averse and therefore putting more energy/money into semi-developed artists/musicians rather than early-career bands. The DIY culture of amateur music-making has a long history in Wellington (perhaps everywhere) but is difficult to nurture and requires a highly consultative approach to policy-making – which, he says, policy-makers don’t always get right.

He tells the story of two Rogers – MP Roger Douglas and music industry entrepreneur Roger Shepherd, and contextualises/contrasts Douglas’ 1980s work with that of millennial PM (Labour leader) Helen Clark. He suggests that Clark’s government wanted to concentrate on a ‘management class’, and that this suited the cultural development of ‘Creative Wellington’ at the time. Wellington City Council was ostensibly adopting a neoliberal ‘Talent, Technology and Tolerance’ policy. The dread words ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’ stalked the world in the early 2000s (and still do?) and were oft used.

In this political context, Geoff describes the word political buzzword ‘Creativity’ (and I agree) as ‘so ubiquitous it can only be an empty cipher’. He also suggests that the celebration of this word contributes to the intoxicating definition of ‘oneself as special and interesting’. Thus, political links could be made between the entrepreneurial self and the entrepreneurial city (this was, as Geoff points out a couple of times, in the context of Peter Jackson’s LOTR filming in NZ).

He concludes by reminding us that nascent artists must head ‘upwards and outwards’ and adds that entrepreneurialism is part of this journey. ‘Geography matters when discussing creativity’; Wellington’s geography drives everyone to the centre, providing ‘cues and resources’ that beget a significant and specific cultural/creative environment for music-makers.

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