A sketch of my current research on contemporary avant-garde festivals. I call them transmedia festivals.
Further texts on my research can be found under “Publications”.

And the topic of hardcore techno also remains current. There are radio programmes that provide thematic support for both fields of research. Under “Radio” or via Mixcloud.

PhD Abstract (as of 2020): Transmedia Festivals – Audiosocial Communities between Experiment and Economisation

In my dissertation, I am investigating a new type of festival. Their speciality lies in bringing music together with other arts, technologies and discourses. Here, an idea is communicated across multiple media and arts, which is why I refer to the festivals as transmedial. The urban festivals are places where cultural techniques, lifestyles, scenes, sound worlds, media, technologies, discourse hierarchies, eventisation, cosmopolitanism, precarious working conditions, economisation and digitalisation processes intersect and become visible. The festivals are characterised by project and network structures. The festivals find themselves in a field of tension between playful experimentation and the commodification of experience and adventure, precarious labour and marketing strategies. I examine the transmedia festivals as snapshots of realities within late modernity and focus on their practices, materialities and organisational structures. From an ethnographic perspective, the aim is to show which contemporary culture the festivals represent, which communities they enable and which role music plays in this transmedial correlations and conjuctions. My research follows the concept of a multi-sited ethnography that rethinks critical analyses, artistic practices, and spatial dimensions in accordance with global capitalism and incorporates it into the research design.

Research exposé (as of 2020) Transmedia Festivals:

Since the 1990s, a new form of festival has emerged in various countries and cities, which I analyse in my phd research. Transmedia festivals merge music with other art forms, media, technologies and discourses[1]. I examine the festivals from an actor-centred, ethnographic perspective. Festivals are places where things become visible – ephemeral communities emerge – scenes, lifeworlds, cultural techniques, artistic practices, genres, organisational structures and networks; but also processes such as eventisation, festivalisation, precarisation, gentrification, cosmopolitanisation, digitalisation or glocalisation. A wide range of questions arise from this interface, some of which I explore in my research.

Festivals are not spontaneous gatherings, but are meticulously planned by a group, an organisational team and curators, and are carried out with the help of other helpers and specialists. The future event and the upcoming interactions are specifically managed. The transmedia music festivals do not take place on a festival site (like most music festivals), but at various art, culture and nightlife venues in the respective major European cities, which they also help to fashion and co-create. The roots of transmedia festivals not only relate to early cutting edge music festivals (for example Woodstock), but rather follow an agenda of art shows (for example biennials or documenta). In concrete terms, the transmedia approach for the festivals means representing the zeitgeist of the time across different artistic practices and disciplines; this is done through a programme of performances, concerts, DJ sets, but also through films, visuals, installations, exhibitions, discussions, laboratories and workshops. They award prizes, residencies, or commission works. I have adopted the term transmedial[2] from my field of research, where it is used for the transmediale or the CTM Festival in Berlin (formerly Club Transmediale). I also use the term avant-garde festivals, as it is used frequently by journalists within the field.

Between 2013 and 2019, I repeatedly visited and worked at festivals in Austria and Germany. At the centre of my fieldwork is the CTM Festival Berlin, where I conducted the most frequent and longest research (2013-2018). Further research stays were organised at the Ars Electronica Festival Linz (AT), Atonal Festival Berlin (DE), Heart of Noise Festival Innsbruck (AT), Elevate Festival Graz (AT), Rokolective (Bucharest, RO), UH Fest (Budapest, HU), Next Festival (Bratislava, SK), Hyperreality/Wiener Festwochen (AT), Unsafe and Sounds (Vienna, AT), 3hd Festival (Berlin, DE), Cynetart (Dresden, DE) and the Chaos Communication Congress (Leipzig, DE)[3].

The CTM Festival co-founded the festival network ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound) in 2007 as well as the international network ICAS (International Cities of Advanced Sound), which were also subject of my field research, and I followed the network to Bucharest, to the Rokolectiv Festival (2015) or to the ECAS Festival Dresden (2015). ECAS was also an EU project and after ECAS came to an end, the EU projects and networks SHAPE/ SHAPE+  (European Platform for Innovative Music and Audiovisual Art) or “We Are Europe” were founded. Some of the festivals analysed are involved in all of these networks.

Interim results of my research include the relevance of festivals for audiosocial communities in which the immersiveness and affectivity of music plays a key role. The festivals bring the locally and internationally dispersed scenes together for a short time, they provide multisensory spaces that enable intense experiences of music, where spaces of possibility are created. The spaces of possibility open up in the communal experience of hybrid music and art, but also through encounters that create or expand networks. Precarisation[4] and network structures are key features of transmedia festivals, which is why theories on the network society and work in the 21st century serve as interpretative foils for the lifeworlds of the festival workers. The actors are looking for knowledge, trends, artistic and technical innovations – for creative, sophisticated lifestyles, but also for economic opportunities, cultural capital or simply for entertainment, pleasure and socialisation. The boundaries between work and leisure or public and private are blurred in the construction, excecution and experience of these temporary gatherings. However, the innovative claims of the festivals also forward ambivalent realities. Be it aspects of diversity[5] or the perpetuation and consolidation of precarious cultural labour. The festivals therefore reflect the reproduction of power relations and hegemonies in the present. The connection to the cities in which the festivals take place has also remained underexplored in previous research. My research examines the city of Berlin as a main example. Cultural policies, both at national and European level, are of importance.

I interpret the internationally active festivals as crystallisation points of techno-economic and socio-political shifts. The transmedia festivals show how these events are increasingly intertwined with economic and political aspects of society and that self-determination, creativity, mobility, flexibility, improvisation and the joy of innovation are no longer the antithesis of work, but rather have become the guiding principles of a new world of work. The festivals function as nodes ans filters within networks [6]. In recent years, festivals have been increasingly forced to organise ever more spectacular events due to the eventisation of major cities, and many of them are also fighting for funding and survival each year over and over again. I situate the object of my research in the context of electronic-experimental music scenes, in media art scenes, in transnational networks, in and in the urban environment. While cultural life and cultural infrastructure are central aspects in the restructuring of post-industrial cities into creative cities, the providers of this cultural infrastructure and their existential needs are given shockingly little consideration. With my research, I want to draw attention to these circumstances and provide clues as to why the actors involved accept these conditions and how cultural work has changed in the post-industrial and digital era.

Networks appear on multiple levels. The utilisation of creative skills, personal networks and ressources is a habitus and a strategy that also proves to be formative for the transmedia festival scenes. This “network sociality“[10] has become established in club culture, or in the world of internet start-ups and it is increasingly becoming the norm in art and culture, as well as in the service sector of the so-called creative industry in general. The network paradigm is closely linked to the development of digital communication technology. Since the 1990s, digitalisation has led to the expansion of networks on the internet and resulted in a networked individualism[11]. This goes hand in hand with key concepts such as projects, platforms and databases, which are also central to the organisation of transmedia festivals. A trend towards the integration of the art field into knowledge capitalism can also be observed, which the transmedia festivals also illustrate.

Research questions:

What understanding of the world do the cultural workers, festival organisers, volunteers and interns involved have? What spaces of possibility and potentials are created by music and art when they are presented in those festival formats? What connections and relationships exist between scenes, their events and the cities in which they take place? What role do networks, digitalisation and technology play within transmedia festivals? How are the working conditions of those involved within the festival circuit? How are those festivals financed? What strategies are the actors developing under tightened economic conditions? Are there still subversive spaces of experience that counter hegemonic power relations?

Methodology and field research:

My approach is a cultural studies perspective on event research, which aims to illuminate and bring together aspects that have hardly been examined in their relations in past research. I pursue an interdisciplinary approach by drawing on theories and studies from European ethnology, cultural anthropology, sociology, art studies, philosophy, contemporary history and the transdisciplinary canon of popular music studies. I follow a modern ethnographic research methodology, and apply multi-sited ethnography (MSE)[12].

MSE is not a ready-made method, but has been in constant development and elaboration since its beginnings in the 1980s, because the worlds that anthropologists study are still in a state of flux and I see my work as a contribution to the development of this methodology. This form of MSE research design is useful for fields such as transmedia festivals, where the global collides with the local and leads to glocal fields. As a researcher, I moved back and forth between several locations and empirical data sets. At the same time, however, I also visited some research locations several times in the sense of commuting research or yo-yo fieldwork[13] The actors in my field of research move within communication and mobility networks. The festivals – as a physical place that can be visited, are only existing temporary and are thus ephemeral.

My research can be understood as what MSE calls ‘studying sideways’, because although my research field is by no means homogeneous, most of the actors come from the educated middle class. The researcher shares this background with the field. I understand culture not primarily as an object of research (even if this is the case here), but above all as an analytical approach, an instrument and a research perspective. I apply the methods, content and procedures with a focus on relations and relationships and bring together different disciplinary bodies of knowledge, theories and research perspectives. A similar approach underlies my understanding of popular music studies, where society is analysed through the perspective of music; the underlying subject is always society.

Ethnographic descriptions of social worlds arise through an intensive proximity to the research subjects, through active participation, observation and interaction in the research field. I mainly used the method of participant observation, especially close participation[16]. To this end, I not only visited festivals, but also worked there repeatedly in various roles. I documented this through field notes and photographs. I aimed for a mode of collaboration which was not always possible. Organisational processes in particular can hardly be understood only through expert interviews; as much only becomes comprehensible through informal conversations and the active participation within the work process. Interviews were an important supplement to participation and field notes. A special challenge was, that relationships of trust must first be established and then constantly renewed or maintained. I conducted around 100 interviews and analysed about 60% of them through a coding process.

The field research phase was completed in March 2019. The phd thesis was completed in 2020 and defended by the end of 2020. Since then I am working on the publication (and the financing/ funding) of the book. A German version will be published via Böhlau /Brill and the english version will be published with Bloomsbury.

Comments & References:

[1] The Ars Electronica in Linz can be seen as a role model/pioneer of this type of transmedia festival in Europe. The festival has been held annually since 1979. Or the ORF Musikprotokoll in Styrian autumn, which was founded back in 1968, but also presents symphony orchestras and chamber music alongside electronic-experimental music.

[2] In academia, the term is often used synonymously with the term intermediality; the meanings overlap, but also differ. On the one hand, it describes new forms of artistic exploration that practise a theme across different disciplines and break down the rigid boundaries between the disciplines or to the audience. In recent decades, the meaning of transmediality still refers to inter- and transdisciplinarity, but increasingly also to technology and digitality.

[3] C3 is a hacker congress and not, strictly speaking, a conventional transmedia festival, although transmediality is also part of the programme here. It was added in order to demonstrate alternative organisational processes and event structures.

[4] On the concept of precarisation, see Marchart 2013. Marchart emphasises that the cultural dimension of precarisation must not be neglected in any analysis, as it is not a purely economic process.

The field of cultural work is characterised by freelance activities with temporary contractual relationships (i.e. generally without health and pension insurance) as well as symbolically remunerated or unpaid internships and volunteer activities; the paid activities are generally in the lower wage and salary range.

[5] Dazu gehören nicht nur Aspekte der Rasse und des Geschlechts, sondern auch der Klasse, wie Ege in seiner Popkulturstudie von 2013 gezeigt hat. Diese Aspekte werden im Diskurs der Post-Subkulturen oft als obsolet dargestellt, aber meine Studie weist auch in eine andere Richtung.

[6] Cf. Gellner & Hirsch 2001.

[7] Cf. Stahl 2005, 2014.

[8] Cf. Voropai 2017.

[9] Cf. Teissl 2013.

[10] Cf. Wittel 2001.

[11] Cf. Rainie & Wellman 2012.

[12] Cf. Marcus 1995, 2009, 2013.

[13] Cf. Wulff 2008, Welz 2013.

[14] Cf. Marcus et al. 2008

[15] Cf. Wietschorke 2012.

[16] Cf. Spittler 2001.

[17] Cf. Bourdieu 1997/ 2005.