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Extreme Audio Culture in the New Digital Underground

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posted on 2021-11-14, 00:01 authored by Ngarimu, Tamatai-A-Rangi

This thesis examines the use of technology – particularly obsolete technologies and residual¹ media – within underground and experimental music, using extreme audio culture (the genres of noise music and power electronics) and its relationship with the new digital underground of music and art as a primary focus. It seeks to illuminate issues surrounding not only the survival of underground music culture into the internet age (zines², mail order and independent production and distribution networks) but also broader, philosophical and sociological notions concerning humanity’s relationship with technology within contemporary urban society, as well as examining how these notions have influenced alternative and extreme music cultures. This includes how these issues are addressed within underground and avant-garde scenes; specifically, the manner in which extreme audio culture (beginning with industrial music) voices critique upon the digital age and post-industrial environments by illustrating the negative and grotesque aspects of contemporary urban society through the employment of transgressive themes and subject matter, coupled with the use of materials, practices and ideas coded as residual or as ‘noise’ (reappropriating what dominant culture perceives as unwanted, unfashionable, ‘wrong’ or taboo). By addressing these issues, we may work further towards understanding the progression of musical thought and the influence of sound upon the human psyche, as well as the ways in which music aids the continual transformation of culture within the digital/post-industrial age.  This research was undertaken from February 2012 until July 2013 with the primary methodological approach consisting of discourse analysis coupled with anthropological observations and historical contextualisation as we trace extreme audio culture back to its genesis within industrial music and the avant-garde. Drawing from the theories of Jacques Attali, Donna Haraway and Pierre Bourdieu, it will be argued that such music is prophetic of the way in which a society may develop over time, particularly in regards to our perceptions and attitudes towards technological advancement and urbanisation, not to mention our increasingly symbiotic relationship with machines as a prescriptive element of everyday urban existence. With these factors in mind, phenomena such as extreme audio culture and the new digital underground offer rich and striking considerations for the examination of digital age, post-industrial society from the perceptions of marginal creative scenes, extreme music, the avant-garde and contemporary underground music cultures.  ¹ As discussed by Michelle Henning, Will Straw, et al., residual media are those media technologies and techniques which are no longer useful, fashionable or profitable within dominant culture and are thus seen as obsolete or ‘noise’ (residue). These technologies, laid to rest upon the ‘scrapheap of dominant culture’ (as we shall discuss in Chapter One) may be acquired, utilised and reappropriated by dominated, marginal – i.e. alternative and underground – cultures and, as examined here within the context of underground music culture, be given a new use-value within creative communities or fetishised by collectors. See Acland, Charles A., ed. Residual Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2007. Print.  ² A.k.a. Fanzines: Independently produced, often hand-made, magazines.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Media Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Stahl, Geoff