Identity and belonging

back view of 3 people wearing cowboy hats, dancing in a line with their arms round each other

© iStockphoto.com/Kevin Brown

When people get together to share interests or tastes in music this may encourage them to identify with and develop a sense of belonging to a particular music scene.

One way in which a sense of belonging to a scene is fostered is through the sharing of specialist knowledge. In this sense, to be part of a scene is to be 'in the know' about the people, venues and events involved.

This is illustrated by the following comments from a rock musician in Austin, Texas, who refers to a music venue called Sparky's and its significance for the city's post-punk scene of the 1980s:

"But you know, the feeling like, when you're not in a scene? And I'd go to bars and there was, I wasn't even conscious of a scene at all. It was like, just going out to dance. And of all of a sudden I became conscious of the scene. And then you know, wanting to go write, wanting to get my songs into a band, wanting to get the band into a scene. The dynamic was, that was like, there was a time period there where before that I was a completely different person. And Sparky's was the thing that did it. Just because everybody started going up there and hanging out at, you know, this place where you didn't know where it was unless someone, unless you were part of the scene. You know it was perfect." (Shank, 1994: 12)

In other words, simply knowing about this particular venue made the musician feel that he belonged to the scene, and marked the boundary between being on the inside and outside of the scene. Through this kind of knowledge scene participants can therefore develop a sense of difference and exclusivity - even separateness.

The boundary between being inside or outside a scene can be marked in many different ways. For example, members of Manchester's Lesbian and Gay Chorus develop a sense of belonging to a local gay scene through their choice of music repertoire. Esperanza Miyake (2007) studied the chorus and its musical repertoire and noted how choosing songs for the chorus to sing involved different considerations and generated various tensions and debates. Some songs were chosen because of their association with a gay and lesbian scene.

The song 'Over the Rainbow', for example, was lovingly mocked by members of the chorus as a musical relic associated with a shared gay and lesbian past but it also had widespread appeal. Singing the song in public helped members of the chorus to 'come out of the closet' and openly express gay or 'queer' identity. Yet at the same time being 'in the know' about the song and its queer associations helped the chorus to resurrect the closet and create a sense of belonging to a wider gay or queer scene and a sense of being 'in' by being 'out'.

This example shows the importance of musical taste in terms of both the politics and pleasures of music scenes, and how music can be important for the development of group identities based on sexuality, gender, class, ethnicity, age or locality.

Being part of a scene can therefore be important for the development of individual and collective identities based on sexuality, gender, class, ethnicity, age and locality. But while some scenes define themselves in opposition to other scenes or to the general mainstream, there are also scenes that are more integrated into the lives of the general population.