This PhD thesis is an in-depth study on Norwegian dance band music and culture. Dance band can be defined both as a specific music genre with its own songs and lyrics, artists and aesthetic contents, and as a taste culture in a wider sense of the word, which includes festivals and events where the artists and their audience meet to dance, sing and celebrate the social and cultural values they share. Dancing to dance band music is the most central activity at the dance band festivals, but many people also attend the events in order to listen to their favorite bands and/or socialize with other fans and dancers present. Dance band culture also includes magazines and internet communities where the fans and lovers of dance band music read about their favorite artists and discuss their interest. The research object of this thesis is not just the musical genre of dance band; it is dance band culture in a wider sense of the word, as a whole set of social practices and aesthetic expressions. By using Bourdieu’s concept of field, the research object of the thesis is defined as the field of dance band.
Dance band music is a popular cultural expression in Norway, in the sense that a large number of people listen to and dance to the music, buy records and attend events where the music is performed. But dance band music does not enjoy a high status in the field of culture as such: Critics tend to describe it as bad taste, simple, commercial and of poor quality. The artists performing it are not included in any official cultural policy plans or funding systems, as is the case for musicians from almost every other musical genre in Norway. As a consequence of the disparagement of dance band music and culture it has not yet been the object of much research. A few Norwegian and Swedish studies, however, confirm the position of the dance band in the lower part of the cultural hierarchy. According to present cultural statistics, those who listen to dance band music are working class people with low education living in rural areas. Furthermore, the aesthetic content of the dance band music is described as classically lowbrow, in the sense that it is characterised by following strict conventional formulas rather than being artistically experimental, and that the music promotes functional use and involvement rather than distance and critical reflection.
The departure point of this thesis is the people in the field of dance band; those who love to listen to and dance to dance band music, and those who perform and promote this music. The aim of the thesis is to analyze how these people experience being part of a popular and widespread, but devalued part of Norwegian culture.
The main research question of the thesis is: What social and aesthetical values and distinctions are present in the field of dance band in Norway, and how do these values and distinctions contribute to establishing a social community in the field?
The main question is elaborated through four sub questions:
1) What is the meaning and function of dance band festivals in relation to the wider field of dance band?
2) How do the statements and practices of the participants at the dance band festivals and events contribute to establishing certain taste distinctions in the field of dance band?
3) How do the discussions on quality and artistic recognition in dance band music relate to the general social values of the field of dance band?
4) How does the devalued position of the field of dance band in the Norwegian field of culture affect the construction of a community among the participants in the field?
The thesis is based on empirical data from participant observation at events in the field of dance band, such as festival and public dances, through qualitative interviews with central persons in the field (dance band musicians, dancers, fans), and through qualitative analysis of magazine texts about dance band music and culture.