Gillian Gower

Gillian Gower is a PhD student in UCLA’s Department of Musicology. Her research interests include the contextual interplay between affect and politics that contributes to the aesthetics of unique musical subcultures, or scenes, from 14th-century France to present-day England.



"Riot Culture: Beats, Banksy, and the Bristol Sound"

Civil disobedience is something of an established tradition in Bristol; the term “Bristol Riots” might refer to any of seven significant civil disturbances in England’s sixth largest city since the eighteenth century. While the world was stunned by news reports of widespread rioting in England in August 2011, Bristolians took it in stride—after all, there had already been anti-capitalist riots in the Stokes Croft neighborhood just four months earlier. Stokes Croft is populated by a group of activists and artists, including subversive graffiti artist Banksy, seeking to revitalize their community, a partnership that typifies the interrelations between art and politics in Bristol’s riot culture.

In this paper, I examine the ways in which Bristol’s long history of socioeconomic tension and outburst gave rise to the tense affect of trip-hop that underlies the so-called Bristol Sound. Music, art, and politics have long been linked in this culturally rich underground scene; Massive Attack’s politically outspoken co-founder Robert “3D” Del Naja, for example, began his career as both a graffiti artist and a member of reggae-inspired sound system The Wild Bunch. The "mad, sad, and scary" (per Del Naja) resentment that triggers Bristol’s urge to riot, I argue, is expressed aurally through the stylistically confined yet deeply transgressive works of musical artists such as Massive Attack, Tricky, and Portishead, and visually through the stencil graffiti that has become Banksy's, and by extension, the Bristol underground’s calling card.

My Speakers Sessions

Sunday, March 25

4:00pm EDT