Memories Are Made of This; Music as ritual and the paradox of the triple present

Memories Are Made of This; Music as ritual and the paradox of the triple present

Matt Grimes


Drawing on some of Negus’(2012) interpretations of Ricouer’s (1984-88) ideas on time, narrative and the “paradox of the triple present”, I wish to explore, through the concept of what Negus refers to as “music as ritual” (2012, 492), the notions of memory and nostalgia; two things that are closely related to time and narrative but not attended to by Negus in his article. I will use examples from my ongoing research into British Anarcho-punk (1979-1985) to demonstrate how these two important and two closely linked concepts can be applied to the notion of music (listening) as ritual.

Memory and nostalgia

Garde-Hansen (2011) suggests that, as human beings, we like to think of our memory as a biological storehouse or bio-technical hard drive from which we can retrieve coherent data on demand, whereas she argues it is far more undisciplined and creative. Our memories are often triggered randomly in a fleeting and disordered way and the degrees of depth and accuracy are depending on what is triggering those memories. Ricoeur suggests that our memory is constructed around a set of narratives, where experienced events are turned into narratives through emplotment (Simms 2003, 105-106 cited in Negus 2012). This plot, Ricouer suggests, is central to the way we understand our personal and collective identity. We continually update, adapt and manipulate these narratives, based on both past and present events that we choose to remember or suppress. This state of ‘flux’, where those narratives are constantly shifting, is further impacted on by the very nature of Who? What? Why? When? Where? those narratives are recounted. In a sense, our memory operates to justify and legitimise through strategies of selective addition and/or omission, or framing of the narrative through the omission or emphasis of a casual chain of events.

Similarly Ricoeur argues that narrative provides a cognitive “grid” through which as humans we interpret, understand and give order to the chaos and uncertainty of temporality (1991, 338 cited in Negus 2012). I would suggest that narrative also provides us with a grid which helps us locate, structure, interpret, and make sense of those memories of the past. Ricoeur refers to our experiencing of the past as something that no longer exists but is perceptible as a residue or a cache of remnants of the past manifested in the present, through memory or the process of remembering. So it could be argued that our experience of the past, and our ability to connect with it through memory, is located in our association with the present.

Where time and narrative feature prominently in Negus’ article I want to turn attention to the notion of personal and collective nostalgia (Wildschut, T., Constantine, S. et al, 2006, 45) and its relationship with time, narrative and memory. It could be argued that nostalgia relates to sentimentality for the past, which paradoxically contains positive and negative emotions and, like memory, helps us connect the present to the past and vice versa. By drawing on our memories our present emotional state is to some degree determined by the memory of past events. Bower (1981) suggests that emotional feelings serve as retrieval clues for memories associated with that emotion; therefore it could be argued that music that evokes a more emotional response is remembered better. Nostalgia also typically revolves around memories with or involving others in a communal or group experience of which we were part which, I argue, reaffirms our attachment to community and collective/personal identity, both past and present.

Music as Ritual

Negus suggests that our engagement with music exhibits behaviors that are a feature of rituals, and in doing so help us to locate ourselves, understand our identities and deal with our temporality (2012, 492).

Small (1998 cited in Negus 2012) stresses the communal qualities of ritual and how those rituals allow people to collectively explore, affirm and celebrate their relationship to each other and themselves. Using the live performance experience as an example of a communal music ‘ritual’ and listening to recordings, or what Eisenberg conversely refers to as “private phonographic rituals” (1988, 42), I suggest there is a link between music as ritual and memory and nostalgia. My own research into British anarcho-punk (BAP) was partly stimulated by a renewed interest in BAP from the media and music consumers. The research involves methodologies such as in-depth interviews, with previous participants of that scene, where issues of time, memory, narrative and the discourse of nostalgia feature prominently in discussions around ageing within music scenes. I suggest that these issues are central/key to understanding the participant’s relationship with the past, the present and the future. This interviewing process has required the research participants to reflect back on the historical moment of the past through the recollection of memory that is grounded in the present.

More often than not for my research participants the process of recollection or remembering has mostly followed a linear pattern, where they have tended to recollect past events in a chronological order. Negus suggests that linear time is the process of unfolding in a straight line with people and things occupying points on that line and unable to return to a previous point on that line. (2012, 489). Whilst I agree with Negus, in so much that we are unable to ‘physically’ return to a previous point on that line in present time, our memory can help, and in some cases allow, us to re-imagine ourselves at a particular previous point and thus consider time as circular as well as linear. This can manifest itself in hearing a particular piece of music and it transporting us back to a particular remembered or re-imagined point in time, with music being the stimulus or the carrier of that memory(s). So although we are not physically returning to that previous point on the line our memory allows us to ‘re-imagine’ that moment and help us construct a narrative of that past moment in the present.

All of the respondents in my research talked about particular pieces of music being stimuli for not only remembering specific events from their past experiences of the BAP scene, but also as a way of connecting to those times past. So for many people music seems to be an influential memory cue, (Schulkind, Hennis, and Rubin (1999). Adam (2004 cited in Negus 2012) suggests that music is used to evoke memories it also serve as a resource in the pursuit of memory by connecting the present with the past and I would suggest vice versa (493). Janata, Tomic, and Rakowski (2007) reported that music and songs frequently evoked memories and that one of the most common emotional responses named was nostalgia. Taking these two closely linked concepts I will apply them to the notion of music (listening) as ritual.

Alongside this renewed interest in BAP a large number of ‘original wave’ anarcho-punk bands have reformed to perform after being inactive for many years. For a number of these bands, there seems little desire to record new material but only to go out and perform. I asked my research participants their opinions on bands reforming and performing again. One respondent, who was returning to performing with their original band after a 30 year hiatus stated that this process of reforming was, for them, very much based around nostalgia and revisiting the past. This included the thrill, excitement and buzz of performing in front of an audience again and recapturing some of that earlier spirit and energy, whilst it could be argued celebrating that moment of the “present in the present” (2012, 487). Even though that involved them performing songs penned over 30 years ago they felt that the political intent of the lyrical content, albeit slightly naïve, was still relevant today as it was then, however they had no interest in writing new material. For this respondent listening to old anarcho-punk recordings also held the same values

“I do listen to anarcho-punk nowadays, though when I am on my own as my partner doesn’t like it so much….. Having kids it seemed that I lost myself in family life. It has helped re-focus me. I listen to the lyrics and they seem as relevant now, in fact the political messages just reinforce my beliefs and I see them from a different perspective- I understand them better now through the mind of an adult”

One of the other respondents when also discussing songs from that earlier period stated

“For me the musical and lyrical content still resonate, it speaks to me in a very base emotional level and is the most powerful influence on my life of anything, books. film, art. It’s a sort of touchstone for living without having to think about it-it’s a personal politic informed by anarcho-punk”


I suggest that this reference to the lyrics, or indeed narrative, of the songs is conveying experience of the past in the present but more importantly perhaps, as Negus suggests, “songs seeking political persuasion or engaging in social commentary may convey a comprehension of the present of the future as a desire for a better world” (487). The desire for a more ‘utopian anarchistic’ society without power, greed, poverty, control etc featured heavily in a large number of anarcho-punk songs of that period. This suggests that for a number of my respondents some of the associations with the past have remained and continued or, as Ricoeur would argue, are the traces or remnants of the past in the present; therefore perhaps making it easier for those respondents to make sense of them in the present.

Two other respondents were more critical of the notion of bands reforming and the nostalgia associated with it. One respondent stated that

“I am not big on nostalgia, and for quite a while I resisted seeing bands who had reformed just because if they are shit it will ruin my memories and opinions of them. It is nostalgia; though when people say that, it always seems a bit sad and desperate trying to recapture or recreate something from the past.

The other similarly critical stated

“I did go to Rebellion last year (an annual 4 day punk festival in Blackpool which has a number of ‘old’ punk bands that ‘reform’ each year only to perform there) and I was slightly challenged by some what I saw. There is a lot of nostalgia there, if I’m honest. Simply to reform a band and play the set you did 30 years previously for me is not good enough, there needs to be something else, there needs to be a freshness”

Similarly, through my own observations at a number of recent live performances of ‘reformed’ anarcho-punk bands, it seems that the live performance aspect gives the audience a sense of experiencing the past in the present. Interestingly at these live performances, the majority of the audience was male and in their 40’s and 50’s, so many of them would have experienced watching the bands in the 1980’s. A large number of them were wearing old T-shirts with the logo of the band performing or other bands of that past era. One could argue that although this is a display of fandom it also conveys an experience of the past in the present. Similarly a large proportion of the audience were singing along to the songs and reciting the lyrics, punctuating particular words or lines synchronously, conveying that experience of the past in the present, and which seemingly played a large part in the ‘nostalgic’ experience and the communal experience discussed earlier by Small (1998). Frenetic dancing and pogoing, as was/is associated with punk music, was not so prevalent within the audience, so perhaps where age has limited their more physical engagement, the personal connection between the past and present is maintained and displayed in other ways.


In this paper I have briefly explored the notions of memory and nostalgia in relation to Ricoeur’s theoretical approaches to time, narrative and the paradox of the triple present by applying them to some examples from my ongoing research. In this I have demonstrated how those notions connect our experiences of music between the past and the present, and suggest that memory and the evocation of nostalgia, through music as ritual, play important roles in how ageing fans of music make sense of the past in the present.


Bower, G.H. (1981)Mood and Memory. American Psychologist, 2, p129-148

Garde-Hansen, J. (2011) Media and Memory. Edinburgh. Edinburgh University Press

Negus, K. (2012) Narrative Time and the Popular Song.Popular Music and Society. 35(4) 483-500

Ricoeur, P (1984-1988) Time and Narrative (Vol 1-3). Translated by McLaughlin, K. and Pellauer, D. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Schulkind, M.D, Hennis, L.K, Rubin, D.C. (1999) Music, emotion, and autobiographical memory: they’re playing your song. Mem Cognit.  27(6):948-55.

Small, C. (1998) Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover; Wesleyan University Press.

Wildschut, T., Constantine, S., Arndt, J., & Routledge, C. (2006). Nostalgia: Contents, triggers, functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 91(5), 975-993.

Anarcho-punk ‘zines -Symbols of Defiance

A book chapter on anarcho-punk ‘zines that I co authored with Prof Tim Wall and published in Fight Back:Punk, Politics and Resistance edited by Matt Worley also available here


This link will take you to the full  book chapter   punk_zines_symbols_of_defiance_from_the

Forthcoming presentation at the Punk Scholars Network 1st Annual Post Graduate Symposium

PSN Postgraduate Symposium Poster Final-page-001PSN Postgraduate Symposium Poster Final-page-002

As well as being a member of BCMCR/Interactive Cultures I am also a member of the Punk Scholars Network, which is, as it’s name suggests, an international network of scholars academic and non academic that research and write about punk rock in all its different manifestations. The PSN has organised its first  Annual Punk Scholars Network Post Graduate Symposium for the end of this month and is being hosted at The University of Leicester and I am going to be presenting some of my Phd research into anarcho-punk. Specifically it will be reflecting on my methodological approaches. Here is my abstract for my presentation;

“Where There’s a Will There’s a Way”: Methodology, investigating memory and the life-courses of 1980’s British anarcho-punks.

Matt Grimes

Birmingham City University


Taking its title from 1980’s British anarcho-punk band Discharge, this paper investigates some of the issues faced by researchers conducting qualitative research interviews focussed on memory and the politics of everyday life. I will draw on my on-going doctoral research into a group of participants of the 1980’s British anarcho-punk scene and what significance that their engagement with British anarcho-punk has had on their lives. My doctoral research aims to build upon work about fan identities and practices within life-course transitions and the negotiation of fandom and identity amongst older fans produced by Hodkinson 2013, Harrington et al 2011, Bennett and Taylor 2012, and especially Bennett 2006, Davis 2006 and 2012, which examined the wider punk rock scenes.


Drawing on the work of Harrington & Bielby (2010) and Vitale (2013) I aim to contextualise my study and discuss the application of the life-course framework to my research. Additionally the presentation will raise some of the issues involved in memory studies as highlighted by Wang & Brockmeier (2002), Van Dijck (2006) and Labelle (2006). Drawing on the work of Rubin & Rubin (1995), Wengraf (2001) and Kvale & Brinkman (2009) I discuss the processes of and issues involved in conducting qualitative in-depth research interviews, the ethical considerations involved in this approach and managing interview data.

What is equally exciting about presenting at this conference is that Sophie Sparham, a recent graduate from the Birmingham School of Media, where I teach, will also be presenting for the first time at an academic conference. Here is her abstract;

How Close Is Too Close?  The role of the punk rock ethnographer and their relationship with their research subjects.

Sophie Sparham
Birmingham City University

Drawing on my personal experiences of touring with anarcho-punk band Addictive Philosophy in 2013, this presentation firstly discusses the significance of gaining and presenting subcultural capital as a way of gaining a more in-depth insight of a specific music scene, and therefore seeks to uncover the sometimes blurred distinction between researcher and research participant. In doing so it raises issues around the ethical dilemma of involvement and participation for the ethnographer and their relationship with the research subjects in the documenting of reality.

Secondly I discuss the role of the radio documentary producer; from the interviewing and recording process to the editorial decisions that were subsequently made to enable the creation of the documentary.  This also raises issues of the documentary producer’s desire to present reality whilst contending with regulatory broadcasting restrictions.  I demonstrate how my initial intention of making a radio documentary of the tour soon expanded into a much larger documentation and critique of the current anarcho-punk scene in the UK and Ireland.  The finished documentary was shortlisted for ‘The Charles Parker Radio Awards 2014’.

I have really enjoyed teaching Sophie and similarly I am enjoying working alongside her in developing her presentation. I am hoping it will be a really valuable experience for her and may encourage her to return to academia and engage in some post-graduate research and study .

Research project update.

One of the issues around maintaining a blog is time spent writing for it when perhaps I should be spending that time writing for my PhD. Anyway I am going to post a brief update here as a break from some philosophical reading I am conducting on Paul Ricoeur (Time and Narrative) and Michel Foucault (The Archaeology of Knowledge) both recommended by my new, yes new, supervisor Nick Gebhardt. Nick Has recently joined the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research from previously being at Lancaster University. He has a wealth of knowledge and some really erudite advice and I am really pleased to have him as a supervisor./ My other primary supervisor Prof Tim Wall has other commitments as the new Faculty Dean of Research however he has kindly committed to continue to support me as a third supervisor. So new supervisor and new progress-I recently presented my work so far to a panel for the transfer from MPhil stage to PhD stage. It was a 35K word lit review and a couple of case studies-fortunately it was approved so I have now achieved the status of being a master in my field of research. The next step was to present my new research proposal to another panel to see if my new line of investigation was worthy of conducting and worthy of approval. I am continuing with my investigation of anarcho-punk but my particular interest now is in the memories of the scene participants/ audience/ fans that were not necessarily band members though they are not ruled out of this project.

The projects aims are multi layered:
• Firstly the research focuses on the memories of the projects participants involvement with/in British anarcho-punk, musically, aesthetically, politically and ideologically
• Secondly how that involvement has influenced and/or impacted on their subsequent life courses, life choices and decisions, past and present, and shaped their lives (or similarly perhaps not).

I have decided to conduct a set of interviews this coming year with 5-6 participants that I am currently in the process of identifying and contacting. So far I have placed a couple of requests on punk forums and the response has been very encouraging with quite a few people expressing a strong interest in participating. Interestingly enough only one female response-which I am grateful for as I think the lifecourse trajectory of female participants may vary from those of male participants-I will no doubt find out. I am working my way through the methodological and ethical approaches to this form of data gathering and how my line of questioning will develop. One of the particular issues I will face is around people’s memories which includes memory recall, accuracy, memory narratives (hence Ricoeur and Foucault). Memory (and forgetting) is often problematic when trying to piece together historical analysis. I will be discussing this in more detail over the coming months hopefully in a set of blog posts here.

Crass/Thatchergate/ Secret Cabinet papers released under 30 year rule

With the recent release of the 1984 secret cabinet papers, under the 30 year rule,   Crass have again had a flurry of interest and publicity in the media regarding the infamous Thatchergate tape that they made and released in 1984. Without going into  detail I have included some links that cover most of the publicity surrounding the tape and the recent media coverage. These include the cabinet papers, interviews with Penny Rimbaud, the tape recording and other ephemera

You can download the cabinet papers here from the National Archives:


Revisiting my PhD Research

Next week the Birmingham School of Media (BSM) is having its biannual round of IPR’s or sometimes known as job appraisal reviews. As our research center is so closely tied in with the collegiate environment at BSM as part of the IPR we, as both staff and researchers, also get to discuss our Personal Research Plans for the coming twelve months. Without going into too much detail, what could be seen as an arduous task of form filling has infact been a useful activity for me. After spending the late part of the summer preparing for conferences and writing a book chapter (for a forthcoming publication) my research has to some degree has taken a side (not back) seat and progress has been slow.

By having to fill out the paperwork it has made me re-focus on what I have achieved so far, which I am really pleased with, and what I want and need to achieve in the coming 12 months. By this time next year I want to have expanded on the book chapter I am currently writing, and combined with my developing literature review, produce a substantial piece of work that will allow me to submit as part of my MPhil to allow for transfer to the PhD stage.

Along with this I want to be able to produce and submit a journal article and present at 2 conferences. I have also been approached by the organisers of the subcultures conference I presented at in September to contribute a chapter to a proposed  book about punk.

So as always business as usual-no sleep til bedtime!



Subcultures, Popular Music and Social Change-A cross disciplinary symposium

Thursday 15th/Friday 16th September I attended a conference about subcultures and subcultural studies at London Metropolitan University. I was presenting on a panel chaired by Pete Webb from Goldsmiths college, I am a big fan of his academic work especially around Bristol music making/Massive Attack/Smith and Mighty et al and Nick Cave. I still use his work on Bristol music milieu as one of my core texts in my Popular Music Culture module when discussing ideas about how global music influences local music making practices and then is uniquely developed and re-positioned back into the global music milieu. Great to have finally met him and looking forward to some future meetings and discussions with him. Anyway I digress. On the panel were 2 of my colleagues from the BCMCR Andrew Dubber who did a presentation on his ‘Monkey On The Roof’ project and Jez Collins who talked about Hip Hop as a force for social change in Colombia’s favellas, particularly in Medellin.

Keynote speakers were Dick Hebdige-writer of seminal book ‘Subculture:The Meaning of Style’ who did an interesting talk on punk rock, his time running a clubnight called Shoop in Birmingham in the late 70’s early 80’s, Japanese a popular art/manga and living out in the Mojave Desert.

Day 2 saw an excellent and at times moving keynote speech from David Hesmondhalgh about how music makes our lives better, improves our well being and that there is not enough love in the world. Clearly demonstrated by his use of Candi Staton’s ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ always a winner in my book.

It was an excellent conference and very diverse covering many areas of subcultural studies with presenters from research  areas such as criminology, philosophy, theology and more. Highlights for me included:

  • ·         The keynote speeches
  • ·         Paul Hodkinson presentation on ageing goth’s and goth  subculture
  • ·         Michelle Liptrot  from Bolton Uni on DIY punk as Resistance
  • ·         Dr Herbert Pimlott with a really interesting talk on music ephemera , cultural memeory and work around Raymond Williams and ‘structure of feeling’. Very useful for my work around histories/the canon and popular memory.
  • ·         Alex Ogg-DIY and Independence. Development of Independent record labels in the post-punk era. Wanted to have a chat with him but unfortunately had to run for the train.
  • ·         Jonathan Llan from the University of Kent-the criminality and commercialization of UK Grime music.
  • Melanie Schroeter. University of Reading. Discourse analysis of the lyrics of punk band Golden Lemon
  • ·         Andrew Bengry-Howell from University of Bath. Interesting presentation on Criminal Justice Act and the free festival/free party scene


I presented a paper on anarcho-punk fanzines which was a further development of the research I had done with Rob Horrocks that we presented at Oxford Brookes earlier in the year.  I have included the paper here on the blog without the powerpoint as the powerpoint kept freezing the blog page. It is available on request however.


Download this file


Also my colleague Andrew Dubber has blogged his thoughts on the conference, with accompanying photos/ videos etc- you can get it here:



On Friday 25th June I attended a one day symposium on Popular Music Fandom. The symposium was at the University of Chester and organised by Mark Duffett from the School of Media at Chester. As I will be conducting some research around  fans as part of my PhD research I thought it would be useful to attend along with some of my colleagues from The Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Studies Prof Tim Wall, Rob Horrocks and  Nacho Gallego Pérez a visiting researcher from Madrid who has recently joined the centre for research.


The keynote presentation was from Matt Hills from Cardiff University who is one of the UK’s key thinkers in Fan Culture and Fan studies. I had worked with Matt in the past as part of a research team that conducted some research about audience/fan online interaction with the BBC Radio websites as part of a Knowledge Transfer Project.  Matt’s presentation was around considering new ways of looking at and researching fan culture based on three ideas of post-popular music, mnemic communities and intermediary fandoms. What I particularly liked was the area of mnemic communities drawing on the work of Bollas (1993) and how music has personal and/or community memory stored within it. He also touched on the idea of whether those memories are imagined and /or a community narrative. I thought this would be very useful to my research as my object of study centres around cultural/popular memory.


Mark  Duffett delivered an interesting paper on moving towards a new vocabulary of fan theory in researching and investigating fandom. He laid out a 9 step vocabulary model which due to my deep interest in what he was saying I failed to make any notes-doh!! I am hoping he will e-mail me his PowerPoint slideshow and if so I will comeback to discussing his ideas on a future blog. What was great about these two presentations was the fact that I am new to fan studies and it seems that I am at a point of entry where the ways of thinking about fandom are taking a new turn and I am getting current and future ideas from two of the leading UK researchers and commentators in the field.


Alexei Michailowsky from the University of Rio De Janeiro delivered an interesting paper about when the researcher is a fan and methodological points in carrying out research into your favourite artist. This was based on his experiences into researching Brazilian musician Marcos Valle. This brought up some useful strategies for me regarding my own research as a fan of British anarcho-punk.


I also met two very interesting people John Harries and Lisa Busby from a band called Sleeps in Oysters who have released music on Seed Records. John had attended to present a paper on David Bowie: A Case Study of the Established Artist as Fan and ‘Musical Conscience’ for the Mainstream which I unfortunately missed because it clashed with another presentation about Northern Soul from Dr Nicola Smith from UWI Cardiff which was really interesting and informative.  Lisa is not only a musician but also an academic who teaches music at Oxford Brookes University. We had some interesting conversations about their band and performing their music live and also the revival of the audio cassette (which was a topic in my previous blog posting) and interesting ways to package and market music in the digital age which is something that they and Seed Records really like to explore and develop.


We also talked about her course and she has said that there may be an opportunity to talk to her students about marketing, PR and promotion of music and musicians. She discussed a future conference she is organising and said that there would be an opportunity for me to present at it which will be a great opportunity.


A real coup of the day was meeting a fellow punk Michelle Liptrot from the University of Bolton. She is in the final stages of her PhD research into the longevity of anarcho-punk and hardcore. She hopes to submit in November but from our discussions we determined that some of her research and research findings would be really useful in informing my research. She has generously offered to send me a list of useful texts from her bibliography which I am really grateful for. I wish her the best of luck with the completing stages of her thesis and look forward to reading it once it’s published-if not before. We will definitely keep in touch.


All in all a really informative day that has given me some great ideas and very useful contacts. Thanks to Mark Duffett and his team for organising the symposium.