Doctor of Philosophy
School of the Arts, English and Media
Russo, Nicholas, 'Feels like we only go backwards': nostalgia and contemporary retro rock music, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of the Arts, English and Media, University of Wollongong, 2015. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/4786
The cultural fascination with retro and nostalgia which has characterized popular music and indeed popular culture more broadly in the first decade of the twenty-first century has been particularly evident in the recent trend of new rock music which is highly evocative of 1960s and early 1970s rock music styles. This contemporary retro rock music is notable for its exacting use of the conventions of canonical rock music of that period as expressed through the various modes of composition, sound production, performance and visual aesthetics. In addition, while retro trends are not uncommon in popular music, contemporary retro rock music is uniquely positioned temporally such that it also represents the coalescence of an underlying cultural mode in the current youth generation of vicarious nostalgia for the 1960s and early 1970s. Unlike a more traditionally understood nostalgic predilection for one’s own personally lived past, vicarious nostalgia evinces a yearning for a past outside of lived experience. It is through this cultural phenomenon that temporalities of past and present are forced to coexist such that nostalgia without lived experience is enacted in the present day.
This thesis can be understood as a case study into how contemporary retro rock music functions as its own system of meaning which actively negotiates and homogenizes these conflicting temporalities, and as such, is primarily concerned with the workings of this particular cultural form as a grammar for cultural practice. By examining the music and paratexts of three Australian contemporary retro rock artists – Tame Impala, the Frowning Clouds and Stonefield – it will be possible to consider not only how meaning is produced, but also explore the wider implications of the recurring motifs of meaning that are signified and communicated across the modes of contemporary retro rock music practice. Namely then, the notions of authenticity, originality and creativity emerge as some of the underlying functions of a perceived connectivity with the past in contemporary retro rock, critical to its negotiation of past and present temporalities and for practices of vicarious nostalgia as they are undertaken and understood in the twenty-first century.