DJs as Cultural Brokers. The Performance and Localization of Recorded Music Across Time and Space

Kim Ramstedt

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


In this doctoral dissertation in musicology, I study DJ practices in contempo-rary Finland. I am particularly interested in how DJs function as cultural bro-kers when music in recorded format travels across time and space. The mainquestion my study seeks to answer is how are musical cultures localized, ormade meaningful in a new socio-cultural environment through DJ perfor-mances and therein related activities. This question is investigated over four re-search articles in three distinct case studies, each focusing on a specific musicalcategory, conceptualized as a “disc culture” (Thornton 1995), emphasizing thecentrality of recorded sound as a medium of the music. The three categories ofmusic investigated in my thesis are dancehall reggae, Finnish iskelmä music andLatin American music. These categories, which from the local audience per-spective represent remote musical cultures, are not to be understood as fixed,but rather as narratives that are constructed in the performance setting. Theconcept of performance, following Auslander (2004), is applied as an analyti-cal concept to all empirical material. As such, although the study also includesanalysis of DJs’ stage performances in a nightclub setting, I am also concernedwith how the DJs work as brokers off stage. This work, which could be char-acterized as taking place in the space between production and consumption,influences values and meanings that listeners ascribe to the music. Method-ologically this study combines ethnographic accounts with theoretical investi-gations. Empirical material analyzed in the study includes interviews with DJs,observational field research in nightclubs, media discourses, promotional mate-rial, individual recordings and set lists from DJ performances.

My research shows how the function of records as a medium is under con-stant negotiation, as records are in various ways altered and embedded into aDJ’s work. The authority of a discrete musical work is questioned in my casestudies in several ways, as ideas behind records find new forms of expressionand as industry driven distinctions between the live performance of bands ascollective audience experiences and recorded albums as objects intended fordomestic private listening are discarded. I argue that genres moving to anothercultural sphere will not maintain all their inherent values and meanings, asthe terms for the adaptation of the music is negotiated between the DJ andthe local audience. The audience intimately involved in the localization processis, however, not a homogeneous group and members of the audience who areless engaged in the performance setting can become outside observers to theunfolding drama of the events. The DJs’ strategies to facilitate the process oflocalization include various practices of framing through the choice of musicalrepertoire, and through verbal and visual communication. I maintain that DJsplay a significant role mediating between the remote production and local con-sumption of a musical genre. Through their work, DJs can challenge dominat-ing cultural narratives and explore alternatives to established discourses. 

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Print ISBNs978-952-12-3619-8
Electronic ISBNs978-952-12-3620-4
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

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