It may come as a surprise to some readers of this blog that there is an annual academic conference dedicated to sharing scholarly work on punk and its legacy of subsequent underground music scenes. But such an event does exist and has done so since 2014; it’s called KISMIF, which stands for Keep It Simple, Make It Fast – a kind of punk manifesto – and I was fortunate enough to attend the 2022 edition with the generous help of a Research Support Award, along with a smaller but equally helpful award from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. I was coming the end of my first year as a PhD researcher, jointly supervised between the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and the School of Architecture. In my research I’m investigating experimental electronic dance music scenes, seeking to understand how they continue to develop in spite of the widespread financialisation and gentrification of contemporary cities. I’m interested in what we can learn from their continuing emergence and flourishing that might be applicable to other forms of ‘bottom-up’ initiatives in the city of the future.
A global event
The conference takes place in the riverside port city of Porto in northern Portugal, a place I’d never visited before and to which I will be returning as soon as I can. I stayed centrally, meaning a daily commute to the Faculdade de Lettras da Universidade do Porto, an odd architectural confection of variously coloured bricks located to the west, a twenty-five minute walk, metro or bus ride away. Last year’s conference was online only; 2022’s was hybrid, with the virtual option a no-brainer for participants from Griffin University in Brisbane, Australia, where the event’s co-convener, Andy Bennett is a Professor of Cultural Sociology. There were in-person participants from across the Americas, Europe, the Baltics and Scandinavia, the Near and Far East – even Liverpool – a truly international meeting.
Punk and beyond
Although its roots are in punk and punk studies, KISMIF extends to a multitude of alternative, indie and underground musics which, along with the global diversity of the speakers and attendees, must be a logistical headache for the organisers. Fortunately, the co-convener, Porto University Professor Paula Guerra, is a seemingly ever-present bundle of collaborative energy as well as a formidable scholar field. The organising team pulled together an extraordinarily wide-ranging programme covering Italian goth subcultures, punk aesthetics, dancing as social and political subversion, the co-option of underground music in tourism, jazz under military dictatorships in Brazil and Portugal, music and gender struggles, reggae archives and much more. We were treated to performances, workshops, exhibitions and book launches. Stand-out moments for me included the academic who sung his presentation, another who showed videos of himself drumming on trees and rocks during lockdown in Canada, and the sixty-something Californian punk singer who gave a deeply researched and erudite presentation and, later that day, a fierce vocal performance backed by local musicians.
For me the event was a revelation, a treat and an experience of validation. There were other people working in my field! I actually had a field! As well as making a lot of new friends undertaking related studies, I met academics and students working in areas close to mine, a diverse crowd, from northern Germany, Liverpool, Milan, Budapest, Tallinn and Belgium, including a young Sicilian living and working in Preston with whom I shared almost identical music tastes, and an academic from Manchester Met, of all places, who was exploring areas of British culture and music that were gratifyingly close to my own interests. Even before I left Porto I’d received a formal request to review a book chapter, an invitation to give a talk to students and discussed a potential opportunity to write for an scholarly journal. The academic impact on me was huge and the confidence boost very much welcome.
Despite having excellent public transport, Porto is a walking city. And it’s hilly. It turned out that one of the steepest climbs was to the Ferro club, a punky venue above the main railway station which played host to evening gigs that were part of the non-stop conference programme. Other performances and discussions took place in the Casa Da Música, a stunning modernist venue. Everywhere in the city you can find good, cheap food, bars that spill loosely out onto the street deep into the night and amazing views, the best of which I enjoyed by mistake, taking the metro in the wrong direction, across the Duoro on the Ponte de Dom Luis 1, a spectacular metal arch bridge designed by one of Eiffel’s disciples.
It was a truly memorable trip; the acceleration of my learning, the expansion of my network and the satisfaction of discovering and exploring my field all made it a valuable opportunity to develop my research and learning in multiple ways. I’m very grateful to the University, particularly to the Graduate School, for making it possible.
Steve received a Research Support Award to allow him to attend the KISMIF conference in Porto. Find out more about the Research Support Award in the Funding section of Moodle.