Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Peter Manuel

Committee Members

Jane Sugarman

Eliot Bates

David Grubbs


DIY Music Practice, Bushwick, Williamsburg, Social Media, Actor-Network Theory, Assemblage Theory


This dissertation investigates how independent musicians, concert organizers, and other scene participants in Brooklyn, New York use digital technology and new media in their artistic practice. It is based on three years of participant observation in Brooklyn from 2016 to 2019, where I attended events at small venues like bars and DIY spaces, and interviewed musicians, concert organizers, independent label runners, and other scene participants. I also observed the online activity of musicians and organizers on public Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp pages. I argue that Brooklyn independent musicians use digital media, and are themselves mediated, as their activities at physical locations and in online practice are inseparably intertwined. By “mediated,” I mean that participants are changed, transformed, and acted upon by media.

Chapter 1 examines how musicians, organizers, and other scene participants construct locality through the intertwining of their social media practice and live local interactions, especially at venues. My discussion draws on anthropological theories of relational locality, social construction of space, and theories on memory and place-making.

Chapter 2 explores how developments in digital recordings affect record labels, especially independent record labels in Brooklyn; and how independent musicians use digital recordings in their professional development, since most musicians in the study do not make much money from record sales or streams. I employ actor-network theory, analyzing how independent musicians build professional relationships and expand their audiences; and I consider how the pursuit of social media influence affects musicians’ careers.

In Chapter 3, I use the assemblage concept of Deleuze and Guattari to reflect on how scenes reproduce themselves from one generation to the next, conserving norms, practices, and meanings, while allowing for creative innovation. I focus on LCD Soundsystem and Animal Collective, both popular New York bands of the 2000s, and show how each band selected elements from previous generations while creating their work. In doing so, they participated in the reassembly of the New York scene in the internet age.

In Chapter 4, I observe that the Brooklyn independent scene supports multiple genres, including rock but also electronic, experimental, and folk, among others. Genre is not linked to identity by Brooklyn independent musicians, but rather it is used as a way of finding precise affinities with others, through which musicians can connect with collaborators or would-be listeners.

The dissertation makes several contributions to the literature on ethnographies of popular music scenes. This is the first monograph-length ethnographic study of the North Brooklyn independent music scene during its prolific period from 2000 to 2019. The Brooklyn scene houses multiple genres at the same venues, which is an innovation from earlier independent rock scenes. My study uniquely analyzes both the live, physical dimension of the local scene and the online activity that occurs in relation to in-person activity, as scene participants toggle between physical and virtual modalities. As such, it presents a unique concept of what a music scene is: an interconnected, fluid, rhizomatic assemblage of physical, digital, and interpersonal elements.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Thursday, February 01, 2024

Graduate Center users:
To read this work, log in to your GC ILL account and place a thesis request.

Non-GC Users:
See the GC’s lending policies to learn more.