Voices from Underground Music Scene Added to Archives

Across the country, a substantial number of academic musical archives are dedicated to folk, world, country, bluegrass, classical and other musical genres, while other popular forms – namely punk, hardcore, indie and rock – are left out of the mix.

Aiming to correct this imbalance, UofL’s Louisville Underground Music Archive (LUMA) was established in 2013 to preserve recordings, photographs, videos, ‘zines, set lists, fan mail, and other artifacts of the Louisville underground music scene from the late 1970s until the present.

Not only does LUMA not consider these musical genres to be chopped liver, it recently pursued and was given a grant of $1,800 by the Kentucky Oral History Commission (KOHC), allowing LUMA to add oral histories – interviews with individuals from the era – to its collection.

luma2

Hard Times covered the hardcore/punk scene in Louisville.

“These oral histories will be an excellent way to round out our collection” said Heather Fox, co-director of the Oral History Center and archivist for manuscript collections with Archives and Special Collections. Eighteen-hundred dollars doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it makes it possible for us to do this work,” said Fox, who will oversee the project.

Matched by funds from the ASC’s oral history budget, the project will be built with $3,600, most of which will go toward paying local journalist and former punk rocker Chip Nold to conduct interviews with musicians from the era.

Nold is not only an experienced journalist and interviewer, with a degree in history from Princeton, but was also the lead singer for Babylon Dance Band (aka “the Babs”), one of the first punk groups in Louisville, thus “the perfect candidate for the project,” Fox said.

“Chip had experience interviewing people for feature stories, but we made sure to train him on oral history methodology, and then sent him out with a trusty Marantz PMD 660 [a portable compact flash recorder] to get started.”

SkullofGlee

Skull of Glee

“The oral history project fills in the gaps of our collection,” she continued. “It lets us discover what it was like to be playing music during that era, and what it felt like to be there then. This is something oral history is great at fleshing out.”

Among the first interview subjects  was a local music critic, with other musicians from the scene also on tap.

“LUMA is an effort to document part of Louisville’s culture that might not be documented otherwise. Music has played an important role in cultural life of Louisville and still does, and LUMA is filling in that gap.”

“When we’re collecting artifacts around a music scene, we’re less interested in the published material, because there are multiple copies of that. We’re more interested in finding unique items, like fan mail.”

As an example, LUMA has a collection of fan mail sent to Louisville hardcore band Endpoint. Mail addressed to the band came from fans in Louisville, around the U.S., and even Germany.

“Fan mail demonstrates the impact this music had on this community and in other parts of the country and world. . . .It documents the ways in which people communicated before the internet, which is really neat,” Fox said.

“There is fan mail from Louisville fans just across town to the guys in the band. I doubt that ever happens now. People are on Facebook or other social media and have immediate contact.”

Once completed, Fox will upload them to the digital collections where visitors will be able to search for specific passages within the recordings. Archives and Special Collections will be “integrating a new software that will allow us to index digital oral histories and then provide online access that will include a search box, to make the recording key-word searchable. It’s also time-coded, so you can go to the exact place in the audio to find that passage.”

“Ideally what we want is a full transcription of an interview; that’s the most time consuming thing of the process,” she continued.

Fox has eight years of experience with all aspects of oral history, including recording, transcribing and conducting such interviews. She also provided access to oral histories through her work at the Kentucky Historical Society on the Pass the Word website and at the University of Louisville’s CONTENTdm instance which provides online transcripts and streaming audio.

The LUMA advisory board is comprised of local musicians like Nathan Salsburg, musician and curator of the Alan Lomax Archive; musician and actor Will Oldham; Diane Pecknold, professor of popular culture who has written and edited books about country music (who is married to a member of the Louisville band Squirrel Bait); and other members of the community like John Timmons, owner of celebrated ear X-tacy, an erstwhile record store that employed many active participants in the scene, developed a list of active and well-known musicians in the scene during the early to mid-1980s.

Please browse the LUMA collection and find out more about Archives and Special Collections.



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