Boston Rocks the Commons

While my comrades have been mashing up Boston music, I have been diagramming the networks of ties among Boston Nightclubs. For anyone who missed it (e.g., almost everyone), I have been participating in/studying this market for quite some time. While it’s increasingly common to see ethnographic approaches in organizational research, often this comes in the form of a few days of participant observation. A new crop of Chicago School urban ethnographers are demonstrating how more active involvement allows for deeper understanding.

This is particularly true if you want to get a deep understanding of the tacit rules, relationships and meanings that organize art worlds. For me and my colleagues, blurring the lines between insider/outsider, research/practitioner is critical for understanding cultural phenomena in a way that participants themselves will recognize. I think this is even MORE important when you are doing network analysis, because the “instant face validity” of the drawings can mislead you into thinking you really understand mechanisms. For that (at least in art worlds), you gotta get your hands dirty and stay up late. Since many of my music friends and colleagues asked for a less academic summary of some of my research, I thought I’d try to provide it.

Just recently I drew some network diagrams that demonstrate how the market for bands in Boston operates more like a creative commons than a traditional competitive market. What you see above is a diagram that shows all the nightclubs that booked the same bands in Boston over 18 months (+/- a few weeks). Clubs that booked one or more of the same bands are tied. (Ethics note: These diagrams were made from publicly available data so there are no confidentiality issues here). Using the “Clubs-by-night” Nightclub listings from the Boston Phoenix, I was able to generate a nice bird’s-eye view of this creative market over almost two years (2001-2002).

The most obvious thing about the diagram is that it seems to have a blue core surrounded by a cloud of red. Blue circles in the middle represent the original clubs (e.g., clubs that book bands that play their own songs) and red circles represent the cover clubs (clubs that book cover bands). Since I was focused on live bands, I basically excluded clubs that had no live music at all. The sizes correspond to the number of different bands that the club booked (so bigger circles booked more different bands than smaller ones) and relate to the different strategies employed by these sectors (consistency vs variety). Distance on the map relates to the similarity between the clubs in terms of their bookings. Clubs that are close together tended to book more of the same bands than clubs that were far apart. (For all you networkers I used MDS in Ucinet – but we are not going into that here. A slightly expanded academic view of all this is at my academic web site).

At a minimum, this diagram again demonstrates that some creative markets contain lots of cooperation among competitors. But as we zoom in, an even more interesting picture emerges. The diagram below shows all the clubs that booked 15 or more bands in common. Line thickness corresponds to the number of bands that played at both clubs. Because the cover clubs all drop out, it means that these clubs tend not to share bands. Now we see that the original market contains even more sharing among “competitors” than the market as a whole. (Although this may be slightly exaggerated because cover clubs may not list as often in the Phoenix as the original clubs).

From an armchair economic perspective, all the clubs in one market should be competitors (e.g., for customers). My data shows that in some settings, buyers actually operate more like partners than competitors.

Another thing that will jump out to people who know this setting is that several of the clubs in this diagram are now out of business (or have reopened under new ownership). Since I stopped collecting this data in 2001, the following original clubs have closed or stopped offering live music for long periods: Lilly’s/608, The Linwood, The Kendall Cafe, The House of Blues, The Hideway. Given the recent closing of the Cambridge rock incubator The Plough and Stars (which helped spawn bands like Morphine and G Love and Special Sauce), perhaps it is worth examining this apparent spate of club closings. On the other hand, a number of original rock clubs have also opened and/or started during this time (e.g., PA’s lounge, The Independent, The Overdruaght) so perhaps its just volatility rather than a downward trend.

Thanks to everyone out there who put up with my badgering over the years. You know who you are. If anyone still wants to participate in this study or has comments, I am still actively exploring all this and am interested in any refinements, clarifications or additions you may have.


I just got through checkin out the latest at Soul Imperialist. I love Joe’s ocassional quizes and challenges, not to mention his insight and research/freezes. (Speaking of which, will the NSF fund this? Or this?)

Anyway, all of Joe’s edutainment made me want to post my own quiz. The other night, I snapped this picture of “mista big pants” (who adorns my dashboard). But, there is something wrong with this picture. Can you guess what it is? Post your comments or not. I got a few ideas myself.


People in wizard outfits and children too young to be awake clog the midnight sidewalks of Harvard Sq as muggles line up to get copies of the new Harry Potter book (which is already breaking all kinds of sales records). Its great to see people caring so much about books in this age of digital media!

I also love the how these folks are simultaneously inventing and studying a mythical world. As you explore this online world, layers of irony unfold. Here is a group of consumers who are simultaneously breaking sales records for books while celebrating their love of the books using the digital techology that threatens the whole publishing industry according to future histories of the media. Such is the mixed and mashed nature of reality here at the dawn of the digital age. Nothing is as it seems and everything can be what you want it to be.

A final irony in all this is that I am told the hardcore Potter fans call themselves muggles. First off, the multiple meanings of the term suggest some other potential explanations for the obsessions of these Potterheads. Reports from the ground suggest it was a real party. Then again, maybe Rowling just likes Louis Armstrong. Which brings us full circle as Louis made no secret of his love for the muggles himself.

But the strangest thing of all is that the map of Mugglechusetts looks really familiar. Is that what this Red vs. Blue mix up has been all about?!??!

Windowlickin’ good!

Boston seems to be exploding with Mass -hit fever. Being that I am just recovering from a discectomy (caveat emptor: icky/funny image here) and will have to sit out all these windowlickin’ good performances by Jake and Wayne, I could not resist weighing in from the sidelines. Also, some dudes came to wash the windows at my house today, which made me think of that Aphex Twin video. (No kidding.)

Wayne makes some great points on his recent post on mashup culture. I wanted to add weight to his observtion that mashups are just the most recent example of a long tradition of reuse and recycling in recorded music . Second, academics aside, it’s just plain fun to juxtapose things that didn’t originally go together. Third, as a long standing fan of cut ups, plunderphonics and creative recycling in general, I could not resist throwing out a few musical ruinations of my own. Finally, all of t his will provide a nice segue into some dissertation related postings coming up. But first, the music.

OneTingDat is a mashup of the Amerie One Thing (2-3) Instrumental (which itself flipped the Meters Oh Calcutta break) with the future Boston classic A It Dat (acapella).

The inspiration for the track came about in the winter of ’05 when Wayne was asked to start a new night at a large college oriented dance club in town. I did the first two nights with him, the second of which, I did with Tony and Jake while Wayne was off galavanting in Jamaica. There were some interesting e-mails that went around back then about how to get college kids essentially dancing to mashups. The idea was to play the instrumental of a familiar “club banger” and layer on some ragamuffin vocals, or an old classic break, or some other madness we might think up. An alternate strategy was to play the instrumental of some lesser known track and layer over a contemporary top 40 vocal. The goal in this was to blend the familiar with the unfamiliar in just the right proportions.

What was even more surprising was that my preliminary dissertation results seemed to be shedding light on some related issues (e.g., rules about competition and reuse can vary from market to market as can norms about interactions among performers and nightclubs). I’ll be sharing more of that soon, as I am finalizing some presentations I am doing at the Academy of Management in August.

The second (first chronologically) of my A It Dat mashups, Dolbywaxdat (2) is a mostly live mashup of Thomas Dolby’s Dissidents the Search for Truth — Pt. 1 and Wayne & Wax’s DJ C It Dat and acapella, Mashit 005. This track came out just after the release of A It Dat. It was my reaction to the ’04 election and an homage to one of my favorite Thomas Dolby tracks of all time. It also affirms my sense that beat research can have political implications (as well as legal and ethical ones).

Note that both tracks have numbers after them signifying how many breaks in the timeline there are in them — e.g., how edited the original live performance is. While there are lots of ways to make this kind of music, one way is to do it live with two records. This demands lots of attention to microscopic variations in tempos as the two records drift out of time. Given advances in digital sound editing and the frequent intermingling of edited and live performances (e.g., in mixtapes), it seems reasonable to start labeling our tracks so others can know how to read them.

In both of the cases above, the mixes were basicallly created live in several chunks (e.g., part1/cuts/part 2). I think the little errors in my mostly live mashups are nice little artifacts of the technology they were created on. I sometimes leave the super aliased sound of an overly pitched sample in Live tracks for the same reason – so its not some vinyl snobbery. More likely, I am just lazy.

Boston Hip Hop History: Magnus Carta

Not long ago, I posted a link to some info at WZBC about early hip hop shows (see the bottom of the page) with legendary Boston DJ/Artist Magnus. This generated a conversation with Brian Coleman (another WZBC DJ) about when Magnus started playing hip hop in Boston. We decided to e-mail Magnus for some clarification. Here’s a great bit of Boston Hip Hop History from a true pioneer (pictured here with his paintings from a photo at Art Net.)
pace- although i’ve been to a number of blog sites – grime fr’ instance- to cull info & ting – i’ve never blogged myself or ever been to a chat room – not much of a chit chat type – so i’m sending you this in email – you can post it if you like –

in the summer of 85 i had been filling in once a week almost every week on wmbr’s nightly black music show “the ghetto”. All the other dj’s – like ray antoine – who i think is still at wmbr – were playing stuff like the gap band, prince & morris day’s the time – i didn’t like that shit but i was mad for the emerging hip hop – it got so that by the end of the summer i would get on, not even say anything, play 3 raps in a row & the phones would start ringing – “keep it going magnus! i remember in august i played a new song twice by popular request – the only time before or since- it was “la di da di” by doug e fresh & slick rick- i was having a very good time.

at the same time my regular reggae show- “reggae mukasa” had hit a doldrum- the new music coming out was getting increasingly lame & my enthusiasm was flagging so i decided to give it up. my buddy at wmbr & mit- thomas uebel- alias “thomas alien” a german by way of england student who i had originally produced to start the first african show in the country- “aliens’ corner”-(note the placement of the apostrophe) didn’t wanna see me give up radio & suggested that since i was so keen on the new digital rythym music- not just rap but other stuff i was into- that i propose a new show to the wmbr program board- he even invented the name- “lecco’s lemma”. i did & it was accepted & given the 4-6 saturday afternoon spot in september.

as soon as i started though the kids found me & the requests started jamming the phones- all for rap. it got so that as soon as every show started all 3 phone lines would light up- & stay that way- as soon as you’d answer it & put it back down- it would light back up- the energy was incredible & there were no other rap shows anywhere- dj red alert had a late night 1 hour show in nyc- but that was about it.

in fact there was a real antipathy for rap music in the older black audience- mattapan music fr’ instance- who were sponsoring my show- took out an ad at the time on WILD- boston’s “black” radio that they self produced that included a snippet of rap on it. the owner of the station- joe johnson- a trinidadian- heard it & was furious- called the station & had them yank it. i remember particularly a letter from a black parent & teacher to wmbr accusing the show of promoting regressive language that featured later as a bit of evidence in the show’s cancellation at wmbr – many of my fellow (white) dj’s couldn’t believe that i listened to that music at home- said that i was just doing it to be different & that it wouldn’t last –

meanwhile i was soliciting homemade tapes that i was then playing- & then some rappers came down to rap live on the show – this was not such an innovation for me- i had had many jamaican rappers “toast” live over rythyms on my reggae show – but the floodgates soon opened-

before i knew it the studios were inundated with gaggles of aspiring rappers eager to get on live- one saturday i showed up it was standing room only inside-in fact the overflow was packed outside the studios at walker memorial building- some kids had mimeographed flyers announcing a “battle” & invited everybody down.

the powers that be at wmbr however, were becoming concerned that things were getting out of control – & they were not entirely wrong as regards the unintended obscenities getting aout over the air-no matter how much some rappers were asked to obliterate the expletives inevitably the enthusiasms would overwhelm & bad words would happen –

by may of 86 mbr had had enough & canned the show- i was going to leave it at that but the kids wouldn’t have it- so i called andrew herman- the pd at wzbc- & he gave me a spot- sunday night at first- then saturday- with the stipulation of no guests- which held to some extent- & also zbc was harder to get to-

by the way pace- i noticed in yr top ten- (ed note: actually a link to someone else’s top 10) no grime? no mia no dizzie rascal et al? no reggaeton? no tego calderon no mickey perfecto et al? what’ up with that? ok i’m done m
Ed note: Despite his claim to be “done”, his show The Matrix can be heard on WERU in Blue Hill, ME. For the sake of music, thank god