Un-making and re-making music festivals: Compressed cultural trauma, rematerialisations, and responses to cultural loss

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On March 6, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen declared that all gatherings over 1000 people would be banned until at least August 31, 2020. This announcement, and subsequent further reductions in gathering numbers, effectively ‘cancelled the summer’ of music festivals and much more in 2020. In this paper, based on a study of three music festivals in Denmark, we focus on the un-making of music festivals and their creative re-making across diverse social spaces and contexts by multiple agents in response to the trauma of cancellation. The absence of music festivals points actors to a Corona-induced social and cultural lack, an emblematic fact referring to the loss of spaces of intense sociality and connection which we interpret via literatures on compressed cultural trauma. Our field research shows that lack and loss are not the defining features of this event. Instead, a suite of strategies is enacted to protect and repair the festival ritual, its history, community, and commercial interests in the wake of Corona’s attack. The paper draws upon extensive ethnographic and qualitative research, including a 7-month ongoing longitudinal phase of interviews with audiences and various types of organisers associated with three cancelled Danish music festivals, as well as a 9-month ongoing large-scale longitudinal media and netnographic analysis. We examine how agents of festivalisation - festival organisers, musicians, audiences, local entrepreneurs, and festival spaces – have gone about remembering, commemorating, and mobilising festivals in the wake of Corona. We explore the ways festival agents use materials, spaces, symbolic resources and creative strategies to respond to the external threat of the virus and reflect on who these festival agents are acting for, what they end up making, and why. Specificities of responses differ depending on festival type, history and context. Further, responses are also relationally and temporo-spatially anchored to interpretation of wider Corona developments. However, we observe widespread evidence of creative re-materialisations of festival experiences, pointing to processes of remembrance, repair, and the ongoing constructive re-making of ritual festival experience in novel contexts.


ConferenceThe Australian Sociological Association, TASA 2020 Virtual Event
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  • festivals
  • COVID-19
  • cultural consumption
  • innovation
  • ritual
  • cultural trauma
  • music festivals


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