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The Three Nexal registers: Identity, peripheral cultural industry, alternative cultures

Nikola Janović and Rastko Močnik

11.5. From local “neo-folk” to peripheral cultural industry: transformation of genres

We will first shortly examine the genre-grid transformation in the neo-folk songs in South-Slav dialects. In 1986, Ivan Čolović reported two types of professional classifications, and added a classification of his own based on dominant thematic and linguistic features.XXIX One of the professional classifications distributed songs according to the criterion of the regional features of melody and speech into several “melos” – Bosnian, Montenegrin, Šumadian, South-Serbian, East-Serbian and so on. The other professional classification distinguished songs according to their events for which they were intended: wedding, birthday, soldier or Gastarbeiter songs. These categories no longer apply. The neo-folk universe is no longer  organised by the folkloristic co-ordinates of traditional regions and of the life cycle. They are now individual-centred and participate in the pervading Petrarchism of modern lyrics.XXX Linguistic localisms are now used for expressive, not for classificatory purposes. Musical mannerisms are now pooled together from a geographically much larger area, and are in no way limited to traditional “folk” sources. A revolutionary transformation was triggered by the advent of the video-clip – since now the texts are completed or contrasted with the image, and have almost spontaneously adopted the suggestive, insinuating, associative, discontinuous style of the video-montage.

Under the criterion of thematic and literary characteristics, Ivan Čolović distinguishes three main genres: rustic songs, mahala-garden songs, café songs; he adds urban-ambient songs where the city is not opposed to the village, but to abstract idealised nature. With the exception of the eternal café song, none of these genres exists any more in the form in which Čolović analysed them in 1985. The contours are now much more blurred, the textual component is now tightly integrated in the musical texture, and eventually retroactively over-determined by the video, when there is one.

The urban ambient is practically omnipresent, and does not really provide the basis of a genre, but rather a neutralised background for genre-specification. Former genre-features are now rather used as a raw material to be further elaborated by various “inter-discursive” operations.XXXI For example, the Gastarbeiter theme of coming back home is twisted so as to explicitly convey that no return is possible any more.XXXII Another familiar traditional theme – going into the “white world” – is no longer deployed along the axis (home) village – (foreign) city, but presents the emancipating anabasis from oppressive industrial labour to free-lancing in entertainment industry.XXXIII

From this short overview, we shall retain the “reflexive turn” – the mode of production in which own past formulations are used as a raw material for new elaboration which fundamentally transforms former paradigms. This treatment is by no means reserved to the elements of the own past. It seems to be the most important procedure that helps peripheral cultural industries productively to confront its specific exterior. This procedure certainly resembles the familiar parasitism and “recuperative” practices of the mainstream entertainment industries. Still, it seems to be closer to the transformational operations of the contemporary visual arts. In this sense, one could say that, as contemporary arts in many ways carry on the tradition of experimentation and critical thought that is disappearing from most areas of contemporary life – so do peripheral cultural industries, as a matter of survival, continue the authentic aesthetic procedure of “secondary elaboration” of the spontaneous cultural, that is, ideological material. In this sense, one should grant them at least a minimal critical and emancipating potential.

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