This paper is dedicated to the ethnographic research into the alternative music scene in Bratislava, conducted during November and December 2014. For our observations, we selected two music clubs in Bratislava (Slovakia) that have continually promoted alternative bands: the Majestic Music Club and the British Rock Stars Club. The ethnographic research focused on three performances: the concert of Wayne Hussey in the British Rock Stars Club, and the performances of Lamb and Laibach in the Majestic Music Club. The general goal for the observations was to better understand the alternative or indie music culture. The principal method was an analysis of the relationship or communication between the audiences and the musicians as a process of both mutual subjective reactions and reflections.
The ethnographic research focused on three performances held in Bratislava in November and December 2014. The selected bands, Laibach and Lamb, and Wayne Hussey, a solo musician, belong to the alternative music scene. The physical and communicative aspects of the interaction between the audience and the musicians with the feeling of sensation and subjectivity in a particular indie music event were also a focus of this research.
Literature dedicated to subjective reception has developed the notion of spectatorship as an analytical category. Spectatorship has also derived from a combination of psychoanalysis, linguistics, and a film theory. The subjective reading position creates a relationship between the viewer and the viewed. Filmmakers often want to subjectivise us through a combination of emotional engagement and, at the same time, they emphasise upon us an awareness of that engagement. (McKibbin, 2014). Different performance positionings of spectatorship can be found in indie music scene. Fonarow analysed them through the situated use of the body bymembers of the audience. Since bodily involvement is a constitutive part of spectatorships, it is essential to attend to different behaviours and activities of audience members and to the relationships these different spectorial positionings have to one another. (Fonarow, 2006:10)
According to Sara Cohen, ethnographic research in popular music studies should involve a direct observation of people, their social networks, interactions and discourses, and participation in their day-to-day activities, rituals, rehearsals and performances. Furthermore, ethnographic research could encourage researchers to experience different relationships, views and values, or to view familiar contexts from an alternative perspective:
Hence ethnography would increase our knowledge of the details of popular music processes
and practices. Only with such knowledge can we be justified in making more general
statements about popular music(Cohen, 1993: 135).
The bands and musicians selected for the analysis (Wayne Hussey, Lamb and Laibach), belong to alternative or indie music. In a broad sense, alternative and indie music refers to music on independent record labels. Recording for independent record labels was essential in the development of alternative or indie bands. The term alternative music came into the public use around the mid-1980s. (Thompson, 2000: viii). Taylor analysed changes in the working practices of alternative music bands and stated that these bands avoided not only the mainstream, but also its official opposition. Alternative bands were also outside of all established, official musical, cultural, or political positions (Taylor, 2006: 3). This did not mean that they totally ignored the above-mentioned positions. For example, the music of Laibach is based on a mixture of different and contrasting historical, political, cultural or artistic periods with a purpose to raise questions and make us think more deeply about the censorship, the meaning of national identity, historical memory or artistic values. According to Yvetta Kajanová, both alternative and indie rock music is unclear and difficult to define. However, at the same time, both of them with their emphases on the contrast principle evoke the three contrasting musical reactions: contemplation through to ecstasy through to lassitude, regardless of the musical means by which the reactions are achieved. (Kajanová, 2014: 45). These three contrasting musical reactions cannot always be experienced at live performances. In our three selected performances, we found them only at Hussey’s concert. Very often, bands that are considered as alternative are also classified as indie bands. Some of the common elements are that both indie and alternative bands record their albums for small indie record labels, and they perform in small music clubs. In regard to their music styles we couldmake the followingdistinction: indie bands are often associated with more harmonic pop sound (typical of British bands), whilst alternative bands are associated with more heavy sounds such as grunge, post-punk or industrial music. Based on these theoretical definitions, the bands Laibach and Lamb and the solo musician Wayne Hussey could be included in the area of alternative music. We could also differentiate between them and say that, because of Lamb’s pop-electro music style and Hussey’smusic created with more harmonic pop sound, they lean towards the indie area. Laibach belongs more to the alternative area because of its heavy-industrial music style. However, with his performances of Mission’s old songs (gothic rock), Hussey also belongs to the area of alternative music. These three examples show us the complexity of defining a particular music genre.
The main methods used in this ethnographic research were: an analysis, participant observations, conversational interviews, comparison, and deduction and induction. Readings of publications and current issues on alternative and indie music was a starting point for the research. In order to make an analysis, we used a classification of the space occupied by the audience, defined as zones. In the research on the British indie performances in the 1990s, Fonarow divided the audience into three zones. (Fonarow, 2006). Zone one is the area closest to the stage; it is the most active zone, where the audience dances and jumps. In zone two, the audience members are deeply focused on the performance. This area includes people who have attended shows for years but also a small number of those who come only on occasion, primarily as companions to those who visit habitually. Very often, there is no clear border between zone two and zone three, or between zones one and two. Some people in zone two display the same behaviour as people in zone three, such as talking and not paying attention to the band’s performance. Individuals in this area purchase drinks, smoke cigarettes, talk or simply sit and watch others. (Fonarow, 2006:79-128). The three-zone division of an audience at indie concerts or gigs was used as a general basis for our ethnographic research. This division contains some variations depending on who is performing at the concert; then the audience‘s ages and behaviours in the particular zones vary accordingly.
The selected venues – the Majestic Music Club and the British Rock Stars Club in Bratislava – have regularly organised concerts of alternative bands. The bands and the solo musician selected for this research promoted in 2014 their new albums: Spectre by Laibach; Backspace Unwind by Lamb; and Songs of Candlelight&Razorblades byWayne Hussey.
The concerts were examined as a process. During the face-to-face interactions at the performances, there were varying degrees of involment of the music community, variating modes of participation to particular bands and diverse statuses in the age and behaviour of audience members.
Alternative or indie music as one of the music genres is played all over the world. There are special festivals of alternative music, such as Lollapaloоza founded in 1991 by Perry Farrell from the band Jane’s Addiction. Farrell also promoted the term ‘alternative nation’. However, indie performances in various cultural environments have different participant structures. Some bands report that, for example, Japanese fans behave differently during performances than European or American fans do. On the other hand, the participant structures of British and American indie audiences have much in common. Movements or styles that originate in one country are also found in the other. (Fonarow, 2006: 12, 13).
The indie music audience in Bratislava has some local characteristics. For example, during the second part of Wayne Hussey’s concert, in the intervals between the songs, some people in zone three talked loudly and the audience in zone two, using the familiar “shh”‚ had to ask them to stop.
The concert of Wayne Hussey, the leader and singer of the gothic band The Mission (active since 1986 with a couple of breaks during the past years), started at 8.30 pm and finished at 11.30 pm. Hussey gave a solo performance without having a band on the stage. During a live performance, he directly communicated with his fans in the first two rows. Some of the fans in zone one were from the UK and could be differentiated from the local fans in the same zone. The British fans were more active, they sang the songs louder, danced and moved their bodies more intensively, while the local fans sang in more static body positions. The audience in the middle of the club or in zone two listened to the music with attention. Part of the audience came to the performance to accompany the fans or as those who had listened to the Mission’s music before, but were still interested to find out what was new in Hussey’s music creations. The division between zones two and three was almost impossible tofind because the space in the club was too small. However, it could be said that the people in the last two rows were more interested in drinking, talking or watching the others than in listening attentively to Hussey’s performance.
The Majestic Music Club is a concert venue that has threelevels. The first level is theground floor where the audience can stand during the concert; on the ground floor there is also a big bar for purchasing drinks. The second level (located above the first one) is designed for stair seating and is connected with the third one, where there are tables and chairs for sitting and drinking. The third level is sometimes considered as a VIP area.
The performance of Lamb at the Majestic Music Club started with a forerunner, the alternative rock band The Ramona Flowers whose debut album was produced by Andy Barlow of Lamb. Some od the audience were still arriving during the performance, and those who were already there did not pay much attention to it. During the intermission (whichwas for changing the equipment and for preparing Lamb’s performance), the audience started to react more intensely with applauses, loud comments and whistling because they waited for about 40 minutes in- between the end of The Ramona Flowers’ performance and the commencement of Lamb’s concert.
The three-zone audience division could be found at the Lamb’s concert. There was, however, a little difference in the mutual divisions. The audience on the ground floor was divided into the first zone audience and that of in within the bar area, which consisted of the third zone audience that were interested to listen but also to purchase drinks and talk. The second zone audience was on the club’s second level; they were sitting and listening with attention in calm body positions. The end of this zone was connected with the third level, where the audience was sitting on the tables and drinking. This audience was also mixed among the audiences in the second and the third zones. While Lamb was singing their second song, a technical computer problem occurred. The audience, especially those in the first zone, reacted positively with a very loud applause encouraging the band.
At this event, there was no division of the club space reflected in the ticket price, so the audience could choose whether to sit or stand. However, at the concert of Laibach, there were three different ticket prices and, accordingly, three divisions of the club’s auditorium. The cheapest tickets were for the ground floor. The next price range was for the second level, the stair seating, and the most expensive tickets were for the third level with chairs and tables provided for the audience. At Laibach’s performance, the audience was divided only into two zones, not into three. The first-zone audience was on the ground floor; half of them included Laibach’s longtime fans and listeners, and the other half was closer to the bar but, despite of this, they listened to and enjoyed the performance. The second-zone audience comprised the attendees on club’s second and third levels. They were sitting and listening very attentively. Most of them had been listening to Laibach for more than 20 years (this information is based on a conversation with a couple of audience members). Besides the local Slovak audience, there was also an audience from other neighbouring countries, like, for example, the Czech Republic.
The age of the audience at Laibach’s performance ranged from the mid-30s to mid-40s, and it was similar to that of at Hussey’s concert. At the Lamb’s performance, however, the dominant age of the audience was between the mid-20s and mid-30s. This difference between the audience’s ages is logical because Laibach and Hussey have been active for more than 30 years, while Lamb have been on the scene for less than 20 years.
The relationship between the musicians and audiences was at a mutually positive communicative level. For example, during the Laibach’s concert, when the singers Milan Fras or Mina Špiler asked the audience to clap, there were immediate positive reactions. The same happened at the Lamb’s performance where during more lively electro-pop songs Barlow came to the front of the stage and called forthe audience to dance or clap. At Hussey’s performance, the communicationbetween him and the audience became more intensive and direct. Firstly, this was because of the small venue space and, secondly, there were more provocative and conflicting reactions between Hussey and a part of the audience in the first two rows. Also, at some point during the performance, he was not satisfied with the sound engineer and spoke to him directly with a nervous tone of his voice; Hussey stopped in the middle of the performance with an explanation that he was not feeling well and could not concentrate. The audience in the first row encouraged him with an applause and loud comments, thus showing an appreciation for his beautiful performance. The second part of the performance (after the intermission) was longer than the audience expected; Hussey probably felt that he should give back more to the audience, which waited for him with patience.
The observations of these three events present the local characteristics of audiences in Bratislava that attend concerts of alternative music scene bands. They present the similarities and differences of theaudiences through:
audience zones – three or two zones
types of audience – combined and/or compatible
audience behaviours – three types.
The two- or three-zone distinctions can provide information about whether there are different social statutes in the audience which also means different types of listeners. The results of this ethnographic research presented in the table below could be used in further research topics into the alternative or indie music scene in Slovakia. By using a comparison method we could understand better the similarities and differences between audiences at indie performances in Central and Western Europe. For example, the three-zone division is the most typical of audience at indie concerts all over Europe. There were, however, some exceptions observed at some performances, in our case at the concert of Laibach, at which there were two audience zones. The age of the audience was mixed with most of them ranging from their 20s until 40s. We found out that there were two types of audiences: combinedfrom those who listened to the particular band or solo musician with dedication and those who did not but came as companions or to have a relaxing night; the second type of audience was compatible: they listened to the particular band continuously and with dedication. The audiences’ behaviors at all three performances could be divided into three types: intensive movements of the bodies, dance and loud singing; careful listening with calm positions of the bodies; and the behavior of the audience that was near the bar and interested more in drinking, talking or were mingling around the bar and through the audience zone areas.
Venue and Date
Age of audiences
Type of audiences
|Wayne Hussey||British Rock Stars Club,
3rd November, 2014
|mid 30s-mid 40s||three||combined – those who listened to Hussey dedicatedly and those who came as companions||zone one with more intensive, active movements, loud singing, positive emotions;
zone two careful listening;
audience at the bar or moving between the bar and zones
|Lamb||Majestic Music Club,
4th December, 2014
|mid-20s to mid-30s||three||combined – those who listened to Lamb and those who came as companions or to have a relaxed and entertaining evening||dance and jump in zone one;
calm positions in zones two and three;
audience at the bar or moving between the bar and zones
|Laibach||Majestic Music Club,
6th December, 2014
|mid-30s to mid- 40s||two||compatible audience – listened to and watched the performance||singing, dancing and more active movements of bodies in zone one;
siting, calm positions of bodies in zones two and three.
Cohen, Sara: Ethnography and Popular Music Studies. In: Popular Music, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1993, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 123-138.
Fonarow, Wendy: Empire of Dirt. The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2006.
Kajanová, Yvetta: On the History of Rock Music. Frankfurt Am Main: Peter Lang Academic Research, 2014.
McKibbin, Tony: Spectatorship Theory. In: http://tonymckibbin.com/course-notes/spectatorship-theory (accesed 25 November, 2014)
Taylor, Steve: The A to X of Alternative Music. London, New York: Continuum, 2006.
Thompson, Dave: Alternative Rock. San Francisco: MillerFreemanBooks, 2000.