Music Now with Robin James

Monday, October 4, 2021


Guest scholar Robin James presents the talk “No Genres, Just Vibes.” Music Now is an informal forum series for Brown’s community of composers and music scholars. These talks are free and open to the public.

Unless otherwise specified, our Music Now talks will meet virtually via Zoom. Register here for the talk featuring Robin James.

About this talk, “No Genres, Just Vibes”

In the last decade, the discourse of vibes (and its analog “mood”) has migrated from its historical place in various countercultures (think hippies, DJs, and VIBE magazine) to a place of prominence among mainstream social media users, brands, and music streaming services Spotify and Apple Music. Across those platforms, users are inundated with messages such as “pop isn’t just a genre…it’s a mood” or “Genre-less. Quality First Always.” My talk studies the contemporary use of vibe as a musical category and argues that vibes are translations of what anthropologist Nick Seaver calls “the ‘postdemographic’ ideology of algorithmic recommendation” (16) into qualitative musical terms. As such, they don’t fix or transcend genre’s identity-laden baggage, but remake the race, class, and gender relations the music industry has traditionally managed with the discourses of genre and format into terms compatible with the speculative financial logics that dominate contemporary capitalism.

About Robin James

Robin James is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte. She is author of three books: The Sonic Episteme: acoustic resonance, neoliberalism, & biopolitics (Duke University Press, 2019), Resilience & Melancholy: pop music, feminism, and neoliberalism (Zero, 2015), and The Conjectural Body: gender, race and the philosophy of music (Lexington Books, 2010). Her work on feminism, race, contemporary continental philosophy, pop music, and sound studies has appeared in venues such as The Guardian, LARB, BELT Magazine, The New Inquiry, SoundingOut!, Hypatia, differences, and the Journal of Popular Music Studies.

She is currently working on three book projects:

  • The Future of Rock and Roll: 97X WOXY and the fight for true independence. (Under contract with UNC Press). This is a book about the philosophy behind former modern rock radio station 97X FM/ The station and its programming was driven by the idea that true independence is possible only when practiced with and for other people. The book argues that this idea of independence is what we need to fight the 21st century corporate mainstream, which is driven by the false idea that real independence is being left to fend for yourself.
  • Vibes, Moods and Feels: on the culture of speculative neoliberalism. This book is in many ways the follow-up to The Sonic Episteme. It argues that discourses of “vibez,” “mood,” “aesthetic,” and the like translate the calculative practices behind speculative (i.e., post-Gaussian) finance capitalism into the terms of popular culture.
  • A 33 1/3 like book on The B-52’s Cosmic Thing as a work of sonic speculative fiction.

She loves dogs, gardening, running, and face-melting industrial techno. You can listen to recordings of some of her lectures here. She is also a digital sound artist and musician, and also works as a member of citation:obsolete. The most current version of Robin’s CV, including links to most of my published writing.