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Topics in Focus

Musical Countercultures

Musical countercultures have sprung up across the world throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, prevailing as an expression of societal subcultures and anti-establishment movements, and as a sonic rebellion against the dominant musical genres which embody the status quo in their particular moment. Discover countercultures throughout the modern era as explored by a range of international authors on Bloomsbury Popular Music:

Psychedelic Poster Shop, Haight Ashbury, 1967 (Getty Images)

1960s counterculture

In his chapter on the politics of novelty in the 1960s, Peter Dale explores the legacy of the era’s political activism and the true countercultural contribution of its rock music. He examines the impact of reductive secondary interpretations of a singular ‘Sixties’, and the potency of the peace movement and political significance of rock having been amplified.

Psychedelic spirituality and the use of drugs underpinned the sounds and counterculture of the 60s. LSD and marijuana in particular were associated with hippiedom at a time when there was an ‘easy confluence between Indian spirituality and drugs’. Read more about psychedelia and spirituality in the context of the creative process, from the influence of Ravi Shankar and transcendental meditation on The Beatles, to the relationship between drug use for ‘mind expansion’ and the creation of psychedelic soundtracks for counterculture films.

Promotional poster for Woodstock Festival, 1969 (Getty Images)

Woodstock Festival

This iconic music and arts festival held in August 1969 has come to symbolize the ultimate expression of 60s counterculture, with its legendary performances and socio-political, activist ambitions. Read more about how it was characterized as both 'the zenith and nadir of festivals', by some as 'three days of rain and mud, with insufficient food and inadequate sanitation' but for others a shorthand for 'utopian bliss, for peaceful coexistence, and for the power of music to unify a population'.

While depictions of the festival on screen helped to mediate collective perception by playing down the commercial side of the event and mythologizing its countercultural impact and 'aura', one artist of the time for whom the Woodstock vision of free love and revolution had its limitations was Joni Mitchell. Discover how the pointed lyrics in her song, Blue sought to puncture "Woodstock’s hazy, under-conceptualized dreams of what the counterculture might achieve".

Protesters sing the Venezuelan national anthem during an anti-government demonstration, 2014 (Getty Images)

Canción de protesta and nueva canción latinoamericana

In South America, the canción de protesta or ‘protest song’, denotes a song with a political and ideological message or with a marked social criticism, usually expressed through its lyrics. The canción de protesta first appeared in Venezuela’s popular music in the mid-1960s, within the context of the global countercultural media explosion, and the centre of its activity was based in the country’s universities where concerts, rallies and marches took place.

It was a music trend similar to that of the nueva canción latinoamericana in other countries such as Chile, where 'Rock andino' was also emerging in the late 60s and early 70s as an expression of youth counterculture in combination with the movement nueva canción chilena which employed marginalized music from the Andes. One of the canción de protesta genre’s most prominent musicians was Alí Primera, who was a national political activist and expressed the idea that he was not only a singer of the political left, but a singer for all poor people.

Read about the fine line between the canción de protesta and propaganda which came to develop in the genre’s ‘second period’ from 1999 onwards, as it came to be adopted by Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez as the sound of the 'Bolivarian revolution' and manipulated in the hands of the regime as a mass-gathering device for left-wing political propaganda.

Joe Strummer, of punk rock band The Clash, performs onstage (Getty Images)


Punk as a cultural genre first emerged back in 1976 and 1977, and as author Kevin C. Dunn outlines, over the years it has become a global force that constructs oppositional identities, empowers local communities, and challenges corporate-led processes of globalization.

A key characteristic of punk music was its chaotic, dissonant assault on the established norms of rock’n’roll from the likes of the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and Siouxsie and the Banshies; shared rejection of fashion norms was also an important aspect of punk counterculture.

In Global Punk, read about how a deeper understanding of punk means recognizing its multifaceted character as a set of social practices, with punks rejecting 'sanitized' popular culture and creating their own cultural products. Adoption of the national idiom and the founding of independent labels was an important part of this DIY ethos, for example in Europe, punk was sung in native languages and organized by local scene.

Despite its overprotective 'gatekeepers' and punk participants’ tendency towards hyperbole, punk’s rejection of passive consumerism and reflection of the working-class, artistic, and nihilistic attitudes felt by young people can be seen to have 'created the opportunity for political empowerment and resistance in people’s everyday lives', beyond the parameters of 'high politics'.

Environmental activist from Extinction Rebellion walks on stilts and plays the violin in London (Getty Images)

Protestivals in the 21st century

Campaigning political practice within the last three decades has taken on a renewed carnivalesque atmosphere, with contemporary protests reminiscent of the festal demonstrations of 60s counterculture. Creative, diverse performances have been at the forefront of festival-style Climate Camps, Extinction Rebellion roadblocks, or the Occupy movement with its pop-up tents in urban financial centres. These collectives have drawn on rebellious festival or event culture in what author George McKay describes as 'celebratory confirmation of the demand for social alternatives'.

Discover his exploration of ‘Protestivals’ and their role as a creative response to the traditional political rituals of the left, with marches from point A to point B and speeches along the way. He delves into the concept of protestivals as experimental ‘cultural heterotopias’ providing alternative possibilities to the status quo, while exploring their countercultural value from the view of cultural critics – are they truly an ‘instrument of political opposition’ or merely a temporary 'ritual of rebellion'?

Music and National Identity

From the beginnings of the twentieth century to today there has been a fascination with the idea of music as a marker of shared tradition within a nation, and therefore as a builder of cultural identity. In an increasingly globalised world, the connection between music-making and identity has become a more difficult, yet still important, area of study.

Garifuna women (from the Honduran Atlantic coast) attend celebrations of the Columbus day in Tegucigalpa

National Identity

National identities are often simultaneously embraced and contested in the practises of popular music, particularly through its fusion of traditional with contemporary or commercial styles. Discover how the creation of Punta Rock, in the 1970s and 80s helped to promote Garifuna identity through the maintenance of the Garifuna language and song forms; how Zenji Flava demonstrates the locality of the Isles of Zanzibar through song lyrics, musical patterns, and music videos; and how Moroccan fusion bands have elevated regional and sub-group musical traditions such as gnāwa to a marker of national identity.

Television presenter Katie Boyle, left, checking the Eurovision Song Contest scores of 1960


Held annually since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest involves over 50 participating countries and regularly reaches hundreds of millions of television viewers. Overtime it has refashioned the national identities of the countries involved, making them appear more attractive through new media, technologies and fashions. Eurovision songs, while derided by some as over the top cultural kitsch, present elements of national and European identity through the selection of music style and performative symbols. Explore Dean Vuletic’s Postwar Europe and the Eurovision Song Contest on how the contest has historically reflected political and cultural shifts across Europe, acting as a vehicle to address topics such as patriotism, European integration, and war. Read more about Abba, one of the most iconic Eurovision acts, in Elisabeth Vincentelli’s contribution to the 33 1/3 series.

Folk dancers in Turkey

Bridging Gaps

Perhaps owing to its ability to conserve cultural memory, and therefore a collective identity, music is particularly important in cultivating ties to the home country of migrant or diasporic communities. Read about how migrants from Turkey, who settled in Berlin in the 1960s, utilise bağlama and Türkü bars in order to keep their cultural heritage and identities alive; and about how Parisian-based Radio ALFA uses fado to establish a contemporary relationship between the Portuguese communities of France and their homeland.

Popular music has also been used to assert a cultural identity that is in opposition to the dominant culture of a country; this is often communicated via hip-hop. Since its birth in the Bronx in the 1970s as a protest medium, hip-hop has been utilized as a mechanism for expression. Discover how hip-hop features in the musical life of individuals from Mexico to Sub-Saharan Africa, alongside how indigenous musicians in Australia empower themselves through hip-hop whilst rejecting the idea that their expression of identity has to be done in a traditional way.

Popular Music and Literature

The relationship between popular music, literature and the written word throughout the 20th and 21st centuries has extended from their critical connections as subjects of study, to structural similarities, and a shared narrative power to represent and shape cultural, social and political history. Explore the ongoing encounters and collisions between these disciplines, and some of the key artists and writers at the heart of their intersections.

“I’m a poet, and I know it.
Hope I don’t blow it” 
– Bob Dylan (from ‘I Shall Be Free No 10’, 1964)

Bob Dylan plays piano with a harmonica around his neck during the recording of the album 'Highway 61 Revisited' in Columbia's Studio A in the summer of 1965 in New York City

Poet songwriters

In 2016, Bob Dylan received widespread media attention for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, in recognition of the poetic value of his lyrics. Discover the story behind the enduring critical interest in his ‘song-poems’ and Dylan’s own intention for his songs as continuous lyrical autobiography, statements of political protest, and as an outlet for his disillusionment with the big city, in the style of poets such as Charles Baudelaire or Arthur Rimbaud.

Another poet-songwriter and Bob Dylan’s contemporary, Leonard Cohen, transitioned from writing formalistic poetry and prose, to poetry in song. Learn about how jazz and poetry readings by Jack Kerouac had a notable early influence on his work.

Allen Ginsberg and other Beatnik poets reading poetry during a party.

The Beat Generation

American writer and figurehead for the ‘Beat Generation’, Jack Kerouac, lived a life infused by the sound of songs at home, out on the road, and within live performances. Read more about the rich association between literature and music in his work and how his peripatetic style sought to mirror bebop jazz rhythms.

Also discover Kerouac’s influence on modern artists from Van Morrison to Pearl Jam and that of his fellow Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg on The Beatles, as well as how Paul Simon came to reinvent their American road narrative.

 Rapper YG performs onstage at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California

Intertextuality of rap music

Intertextuality is a device mainly known within a literary context, but author Quentin Williams explores the frequency of intertextual references within rap, along with its multiple levels of meaning and linguistic subtlety. Discover more about the way MCs sample from everyday texts circulating in and outside of hip-hop spaces and how their performances may be indicative of intertextual sampling.

English singer Sheila Buxton reads music magazine 'Melody Maker' at her home in 1958

Music Journalism

Reporting or writing about music is a key component of the industry’s ecosystem. Read more about music journalism’s common critical criteria, its role in capturing the essence of music, and how its connection to the more literary style of New Journalism led to the development of the cult of the rock journalist.

The Swing Phenomenon

Photo of Fletcher Henderson, circa 1970

From Fletcher Henderson to Elvis Presley

In When Genres Collide, Matt Brennan rethinks popular music history by exploring how writers in the music magazines Down Beat and Rolling Stone constructed an artificial ideological divide between jazz and rock ‘n’ roll that would be replicated in American musical discourse for decades to follow. This provocative new history received an honorable mention in the Association of American Publishers’ PROSE Award for Music & Performing Arts in 2018.

Brennan challenges the widespread view that the mid-1950s was a revolutionary starting point for popular music, the moment when African-American-originated ‘rhythm ‘n’ blues’ was brought to a new mass market of white teenagers through re-branding it as ‘rock ‘n’ roll’. In the chapter 'Jazz Culture as the Precursor to Rock 'n' Roll', he argues that this was in fact pre-empted by the 1930s swing craze. When Benny Goodman hired the African-American bandleader Fletcher Henderson (pictured) to create arrangements of hot jazz for his 1935 radio show, Goodman leaped to stardom: hot jazz, now labeled ‘swing’, immediately tapped into a young white audience across the USA, in a similar way to Elvis Presley’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956.

Read more about the swing phenomenon in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World entry on ‘Swing Music and Big-Band Jazz’.

Music and Gaming

A classic video game 'Space Invaders' is displayed at the Science Museum in London.

Music and Gaming

From classic arcades of the 1970s to modern blockbuster video games, music is key to the experience and popularity of gaming. One of the most iconic and innovative gaming soundtracks to date is Koji Kondo’s score for Nintendo’s 1985 game, Super Mario Bros. Andrew Schartmann's 33 1/3 title outlines how Kondo and his team transformed the creative landscape of video game music.

During the 21st century, musical production, performance, and gameplay have become increasingly interconnected. Discover more about the evolution of hip-hop, electronic dance music, and interactive media in Mike D’Errico’s chapter of Critical Approaches to the Production of Music and Sound.

Artists in Focus

Celia Cruz performs at Alice Tully Hall, 1992

Celia Cruz

The Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz rose, during the mid-twentieth century, to become one of the most important and dynamic performers of Latin American music, across genres such as Salsa, Bolero, and Guaracha. Born in Havana in 1925, she produced her first recordings in Venezuela in 1948, before touring Latin America over the subsequent decades with groups and artists such as Sonora Matancera, Tito Puente, and Johnny Pacheco.

American jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis performs live on stage at the Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970

Miles Davis

Miles Davis enjoyed a prolific five-decade career as one of the most acclaimed and innovative musicians in the history of jazz. Born in Illinois, his family eventually moved to St Louis, Missouri where he began to play his trumpet in bands, before later moving to New York City and becoming a jazz session regular in Harlem – performing jazz in the bebop style, and alongside his hero Charlie Parker. He went on to develop the idiom of cool jazz with his various groups, eventually coming to write his seminal work Kind of Blue in 1959, which became the best-selling jazz album of all time.

Find out more about one of his greatest albums, Bitches Brew, in the 33 1/3 edition by George Grella Jr.

Aretha Franklin appearance on The Andy Williams Show, 1969

Aretha Franklin

Over the course of a career that spanned more than five decades, Aretha Franklin became the internationally recognised voice of Soul. Her music sound tracked the burgeoning feminist movement of the late 60’s while powerfully evoking the emotions of the civil rights movement. Her recent death prompted an outpouring of tributes, including from President Obama who stated that her music ‘helped define the American experience’.

Undated portrait of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum

Umm Kulthūm

Discover the works of one of the pre-eminent figures of Arabic music, Egyptian singer-songwriter Umm Kulthūm.

Photographic portrait of Tim Maia, 1987

Tim Maia

Brazilian singer, composer and musician Tim Maia enjoying a long career in which he created music spanning an eclectic range of genres from soul to samba-rock. His memorable musical style and impassioned approach to life were encapsulated by his infamous Tim Maia Racional recordings in particular. Allen Thayer’s 33 1/3 volume on Racional Vols. 1 & 2 Introduction explores Maia’s larger-than-life public persona and pioneering contribution to international soul and the music of his homeland.

At the time of the US civil movement, Maia was the first black Brazilian entertainer to thoroughly break from the traditional roles, namely samba, as he introduced American soul music with its outspoken cultural stances to Brazilians of all colours. His music’s blend of modern soul and Brazilian music with elements of samba and baião, led to the development of the so-called Black Rio music scene in the 1970s, which helped to define a modern black Brazilian identity beyond mass culture’s circumscribed role for Afro-Brazilians.

Prince performs at the Fabulous Forum on February 19, 1985 in Inglewood, California


Prince’s eclectic, genre defying music, and uniquely flamboyant style made him one of the most popular yet controversial artists of the late 20th Century. Key themes dominating his life, work, and legacy are explored in Joseph Vogel’s illuminating new biography, This Thing Called Life, including chapters on gender, race, religion and death.

Find out more about Prince at his creative peak in the 33 1/3 edition, Sign ‘O’ the Times, by Michaelangelo Matos, which delves into one of the landmark double albums of the 1980s. Also discover the para-religious devotion of Prince’s fan community in Chapter 7 of Religion and Popular Music, and the significance of his connection with Minneapolis in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

Singer Caetano Veloso performs on stage during Coracao Vagabundo at the 3rd Rome International Film Festival, 2008

Caetano Veloso

As part of the brand new 33 1/3 Global series covering key recordings from around the world, discover the life and work of the legendary Brazilian artist, Caetano Veloso. Exiled by the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s, Veloso helped pioneer the Tropicália movement that took the South-American country by storm, having a lasting impact on Brazilian popular music and remaining a point of reference for innovative musicians into the twenty-first century. Find out more about Veloso’s life as Barbara Browning explores his third studio album A Foreign Sound.

American singer-songwriter and founder member of the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed (Getty Images)

The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground are seen by many as one of the most influential rock groups of all time, despite a lack of commercial success during their years as a band in the mid-late 1960s. Their avant-garde style of rock 'rejected the creative status quo of the time', and sought to 'mould the perverse, the brutal and the beautiful into art'. Lou Reed and John Cale combined complex musical techniques from other genres such as jazz and classical with controversial lyrics about subjects such as drugs, sexual deviance, and prostitution.

Their music was built on drones and distortions, and was pioneering in its unashamedly experimental tone, blurring the boundary between the avante-garde and pop with significant cross-pollination from beat generation lyrical imagery and minimalist classical composers such as La Monte Young and Steve Reich.

Celebrity visual artist Andy Warhol became the group’s manager in 1965, having decided they were the perfect house band to provide music for his multimedia pop art shows 'The Exploding Plastic Inevitable'. He created the famous 'banana' artwork for their album 'The Velvet Underground and Nico' and the avant-garde scene at his Silver Factory headquarters helped Lou Reed grow as a songwriter and musician.

Read more about their seminal album, 'The Velvet and Underground and Nico' in Joe Harvard’s 33 1/3 which explores its creation and lukewarm reception in 1967’s 'Summer of Love'. Harvard delves evocatively into the sounds of songs such as Heroin and Venus in Furs: 'Clear and cool at times, in some passages dark and murky; ebbing in certain places, then suddenly rushing forward as bubbling, boiling rapids in others, it always flows like water.'

Countries in Focus

A man walks past an image of Carlos Gardel painted on a wall in Buenos Aires


Popular music in Argentina has a richly diverse history, with influences from the indigenous population, European settlers, and African slaves. Tango developed as a vibrant and passionate style of music and dance towards the end of the nineteenth century in Buenos Aires, and grew to become a significant and enduring component of Argentinian cultural identity. Artists such as Carlos Gardél and Ignacio Corsini were key in popularising the genre through the 1920s, leading to a ‘golden age’ of tango in the clubs, dance halls, and streets of 1940s and 50s Argentina. 

Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume IX explores the eclectic popular music genres of the Caribbean and Latin America, including Argentinian folclore, milonga, and rock nacional.

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg singing duo in 1969.


Popular music in France evolved from the emergence of jazz and chanson in the early 20th century, which flourished in the café-concerts and cabarets of Paris. Yéyé became a popular genre of the 1960s, with artists such as Serge Gainsbourg (pictured, with Jane Birkin) creating music influenced by rock ‘n’ roll and doo wop from the US. Darran Anderson’s 33 1/3 provides an account of Serge Gainsbourg’s 1971 concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson, which is widely acclaimed for its combination of lush cinematic strings, proto-hip hop beats, and Serge’s spoken-word poetry.

Japanese pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu performs on stage at The Showbox in Seattle, Washington, 2014


Volume 5 of the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music covers Locations in Asia and Oceania, with articles on the history and music cultures of every country, plus important cities and regions, each one with a bibliography and discography. Included is a scholarly account of popular music in Japan, exploring ancient musical traditions such as gagaku and shômyô, through to the adoption of Western instrumentation following the Meiji Revolution, and the J-pop phenomenon of the 1990s. Additionally, read the introductory chapter of Keisuke Yamada's contribution to the recently launched 33 1/3 Global Series—Supercell's Supercell featuring Hatsune Miku, in which Yamada explores the groundbreaking use of synthetic vocals in popular music.

Mexican Mariachi man playing trumpet against a wall


From Guadalajara and Durango to the Chicano Music of California, Mexico’s music is a vibrant melting pot of cultures, styles and ideas.

Outdoor performance by traditional musicians and dancers from the Imperial City, Vietnam (Getty Images)


The music of Vietnam is influenced by both Chinese and South Asian elements. Prior to colonization, popular music entertainments included musical theatre with origins in Chinese opera, folk theatre and chamber music, as well regional folk song styles. After colonization by the French in the nineteenth century, Western melodies and instruments such as the guitar grew in popularity.

In the years following the nation’s division in 1954, government in the communist North controlled everything from musical training to broadcast while in nationalist South Vietnam, popular music was largely left to the free market, with an influx of US troops and money. More widely, US involvement in the Vietnam War which followed was an enduring influence on western artists including Bruce Springsteen and The Clash.

Following post-war reunification, the communist victors sought to ban and confiscate all cultural vestiges of the former southern regime. Many singers and songwriters fled Vietnam, moving primarily to France, Australia and the United States. By the mid-1980s Vietnam’s government began to relax its control on culture, with tea rooms and karaoke establishments spread through the city of Hô Chi Minh.

Since the late 1990s, some Vietnamese commentators have expressed concern about the influence and popularity of overseas Vietnamese music, Hong Kong music, US music and, more recently, Thai music on the marketplace. In contrast, however, to many years of hostility between the Vietnamese diaspora and those residing in Vietnam following 1975, there has generally been a growing interaction between the native and diaspora musics and music industries.