Rock Clubs and Gentrification in New York City: The Case of the Bowery Presents

Fabian Holt

Abstract


This article offers a new analytical perspective on the relation between rock clubs and gentrification to illuminate broader changes in urbanism and cultural production in New York City. Although gentrification is central to understanding how the urban condition has changed since the 1960s, the long-term implications for popular music and its evolution within new urban populations and cultural industries have received relatively little scholarly attention. Gentrification has often been dismissed as an outside threat to music scenes. This article, in contrast, argues that gentrification needs to be understood as a broader social, economic, and cultural process in which popular music cultures have changed. The argument is developed through a case study of the Bowery Presents, a now dominant concert promoter and venue operator with offices on the Lower East Side. Based on fieldwork conducted over a three-year period and on urban sociological macro-level analysis, this article develops an analytical narrative to account for the evolution of the contemporary concert culture in the mid-size venues of the Bowery Presents on the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as a particular instance of more general dynamics of culture and commerce in contemporary cities. The narrative opens up new perspectives for theorizing live music and popular culture within processes of urban social change. The article begins by reviewing conventional approaches to rock music clubs in popular music studies and urban sociology. These approaches are further clarified through the mapping of a deep structure in how music scenes have framed the relationship between clubs and gentrification discursively. The article then examines the evolution of the Bowery Presents within the expansive process of gentrification. The focus is placed here on the cultural profile of the now dominant mid-size venue culture and on three stages in the development of the company and its field-structuring impact on rock clubs on the Lower East Side in particular. The conclusion sums up the key points and suggests that gentrification might involve changing conditions of artistic creativity and performance, with implications for fundamental aspects of urban life; a point illustrated by the trajectory of Occupy Wall Street.

Keywords


Rock clubs, concert venues, gentrification, urban sociology, live music and popular culture, indie rock, music scenes

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