Pleasure and Power in a Cover Culture: Audiences, Musicians, and Venues in İzmi̇r’s Popular Music Scene
Date of Degree
Jane C. Sugarman
Ethnomusicology | Music Performance | Near Eastern Languages and Societies
Cover Song, Popular Music Aesthetics, Power Dynamics, Gatekeeping, Politics of Nightlife, Turkey
The live popular music scene in İzmir, Turkey, is dominated by slow-changing cover repertoires that are performed by musicians who have been on stage for a few decades, at places that have been hosting covers shows for a prolonged time. In this dissertation, I question the reasons behind this practice, which I call cover culture, and analyze it from the three different but interrelated perspectives of audiences, musicians, and venues. My analysis relies on the fieldwork data I collected between March 2019 and May 2022, and on my long-term involvement with and observations of the scene since the early 2000s.
I argue that a complex web of pleasures and power dynamics leads to the continuation of a cover culture in the scene. On the one hand, all these three groups of actors enjoy this repetitive act in various ways. Audience members seek familiarity in nightlife, and experience nostalgia and pop-rock cosmopolitanism through covers. For musicians, repetitive covering means constant approval and satisfaction. Venue owners and managers find an opportunity through this practice to implement their own aesthetic ideals and preferences.
On the other hand, the power that musicians and venues hold and the gatekeeping policies they apply contribute to the continuation of a cover culture. First of all, repetition brings instrumental mastery to musicians, which turns into a gatekeeping tool in time. Relatedly, constant exhibition of mastery prevents creativity and innovation from becoming norms in the popular music scene. Moreover, prolonged careers provide musicians with such aesthetic authority that they can impose their own musical preferences on audience members and conveniently keep performing slow-changing repertoires. At the same time, demographic, spatial, and affective policies of the venues lead to an imposition of an in-group entertainment practice at the covers shows. This eventually reinforces the conditions of a cover culture because cover entertainment has close ties with collective musicking.
Consequently, I argue that the combined influence of the various pleasures that all the three groups of actors experience and the preponderant policies that musicians and venues implement results in the continuation of a cover culture in İzmir’s popular music scene.
Sönmez, Yılmaz Onur, "Pleasure and Power in a Cover Culture:
Audiences, Musicians, and Venues in İzmi̇r’s Popular Music Scene" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.
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