Music & Ritual: Bridging Material & Living Cultures

Publications of the ICTM Study Group on Music Archaeology, Vol. 1

The Return of Ritual: Sacred Popular Music Cultures and Cults

Rupert Till

This chapter explores ritual and trance in popular music contexts, focusing on the UK and Anglo-American traditions, but with relevance elsewhere. It begins by discussing conflict between and positioning of popular music and Christian traditions, and a wider opposition between popular and official (or high) culture. This is explored broadly through discussing examples of collective effervescence and trance practices in popular music fields, including in particular music festival traditions. Activities at the annual Buddhafields music festival in the UK are explored as a specific case study, discussing shamanic trance and ecstatic dance workshops. These are compared briefly with other trance and dance practices within electronic dance music culture. The chapter concludes by discussing how postmodernity has seen the erosion of boundaries between high art and popular culture, resulting in the field of religion, meaning and spirituality in a re-enchantment (Partridge 2005). The end of the modern experiment, that began with the rationalist enlightenment, has allowed ritual and trance practices to emerge within popular music cultures. It is interesting to compare these new cultural formations, influenced as they are by traditional and ancient practices, with their antecedents. This provides us with an opportunity to further inform our understanding of the significance of for example trance practices within human cultures.

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