Pop Conference 2015

A melting pot for fans, musicians, scholars, and journalists.

  1. The 2015 Pop Conference, "“Get Ur Freak On: Music, Weirdness, and Transgression," kicked off with keynote panel "Can Pop Really Be Transgressive? Poptimism and Its Discontents" featuring several panelists. 

    Photo courtesy AJ Dent.

  2. American author, music journalist, and cultural critic Greil Marcus joined the weekend's discussions of pop culture and music scholarship.

    Photo courtesy Nat Seymour.

  3. Local Seattle act TacocaT took part in a showcase of subversive Seattle music performed by some of the region’s most oppositional and talented bands.

    Photo courtesy AJ Dent.

The annual EMP Pop Conference, first held in 2002, mixes together ambitious music writing of every kind, in an attempt to bring academics, critics, musicians, and dedicated fans into a collective conversation.


Our thanks to all who attended the 2015 EMP Pop Conference, with its theme of “Get Ur Freak On: Music, Weirdness, and Transgression.” For those who could not be there, want to enjoy presentations that they missed, or  just hope to share favorites with others, we offer some highlights from the gathering on this page.

More to come!
Eric Weisbard, University of Alabama and Pop Conference Organizer

Here are other presentations and links to work presented at the 2015 EMP Pop Conference.

Niko Taylor


Niko Taylor, co-host of the Away from the Numbers rock ‘n’ roll radio program on the Seattle freeform station KBCS, presented “Radio Killed the Radio Star.” During this session, Taylor takes participants on a frustrating musical journey, reliving his own nightmarish experiences by playing radio-edits of some of the greatest rock and pop songs of our era, and raising questions about a culture that treats the “classics” as mere blocks of content to be managed. What happens, for example, when what the fun operetta listeners thought was in the bridge of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is unexplainably absent? And what about the theoretical kid tuning in who won't know it was ever there in the first place? Prepare to leave wanting more, literally. See the video of the presentation.

Tobias Carrol


Tobias Carrol’s “The Secret History of Breakfast Violence” was subsequently published by Redbull Music Academy. Carrol, managing editor of the cultural website Vol.1 Brooklyn, writes: “Within punk, there’s hardcore; within hardcore, there’s powerviolence, a style notable for its relentlessly fast pace, dense guitars, and harshly screamed vocals. Powerviolence contains further divisions within it, including one particularly small category: breakfast violence. Breakfast violence was notable for introducing a sense of humor into the relatively dour hardcore scene of the late 1990s. Bands like Waifle and Mancake demonstrated irreverence in a way that was rare in a scene characterized by earnestness on one hand, and doses of tough-guy posturing on the other. Their true legacy may not be wholly musical: they were part of the same late-90s hardcore scene that would beget artists ranging from Fall Out Boy to EDM DJ Steve Aoki. But Breakfast violence helped contribute to an aesthetic expansiveness that, in turn, made hardcore a significant musical influence on popular music.” Read Carrol’s essay.

Tom Smucker


Tom Smucker’s presentation, “Transgression As Cover for Transgression: Vertically Integrated Billionaire Media Heir and Americana Blues-Rocker James Dolan, the Union-Busting Overlord of Hip-Hop Inspired Brooklyn Cable Techs,” reflects his background as both a pioneering music critic and president of the Local 1101 Retired Members Council of the Communications Workers of America. Smucker notes: “James Dolan inherited and runs Madison Square Garden, the sports teams that play there, the cable channel that carries their games, and in much of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, the cable company that carries that MSG channel. For basketball fans, he is the disastrously meddlesome owner that finally promised to leave the Knicks alone and hired Phil Jackson. For music fans, he might be noticed as the untalented front man for J.D. and the Straight Shots, a vanity project that gets undeserved bookings through co-conspirator Irving Azoff. For cable and telecom workers in New York City, he is the unrelenting, obsessive enemy who will do whatever he must to block the unionization of his largely African American and Hispanic Cablevision workforce. The bemused media coverage of Dolan’s musical career typically mentions his sports teams and his money, but rarely if ever connects the dots from his music to the unionized Cablevision 99 who he fired and was forced to rehire, nor their hip-hop videos and live acts, nor their support from Mayor Bill de Blasio. Dolan’s music trades on keeping-it-real blues and roots rock notions of transgressive authenticity and artistic honesty, while his Cablevision management self-revels in no-holds-barred, spend-what-it-takes manipulation to portray his unionized employees as Big Labor transgressors. Is his music just a mask? Or is it the place where the true perversity leaks through?” Read the presentation.

Keith Harris


Keith Harris’s “The Mall Gaze” uses the less than hallowed Tiffany version of the Beatles song she reworked as “I Saw Him Standing There” as a starting point to discuss how déclassé musical forms can dispel the aura of “greatness” that accrues around canonized popular music. His thesis is that “the music which launches a full-on assault against the canonical is often less effective in undermining calcified historical narratives than the music that joyfully refuses to acknowledge them.” In essay form, Harris’s presentation appears in Maura Magazine, but you can also read the presentation here on our website.

Sofía Córdova


Sofia Córdova is an interdisciplinary artist with a focus on performance, video, and installation. Her work dissects the pleasures and pains of Caribbean Diaspora through the creation of various performances scored with original music. Here, she looks at the afterlives of Hernández Marín’s “El Cumbanchero,” first recorded in 1949, then as a Tito Puente staple, a salsa anthem for expatriated Puerto Ricans in NY (through Ismael Rivera) in the ‘70s, and later, as “Rockfort Rock” in Jamaica. After taking a detour to Italy, where italo-disco group Raggio De Luna interpolated portions of the song into their 1984 single “Comanchero,” we will circle back to Hernández Marín’s native Puerto Rico by way of Iris Chacón, a performer better known for her over-the-top”‘vedette” (showgirl) performances. In each of these performances, the song's transgressive potential is renegotiated, depending on who is embodying El Cumbanchero and his denial of identity and concomitant refusal to be tied down.

Program Committee Members

Will Hermes (Rolling Stone), Jennifer Lena (Columbia University), Emily Lordi (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Greil Marcus (The Believer), Rashod Ollison (The Virginian-Pilot), Ann Powers (NPR Music), Shana Redmond (University of Southern California), Julianne Escobedo Shepherd (New York University), Travis Stimeling (West Virginia University)

PDF Resources

Call for Proposals

Support for the conference is provided by the University of Alabama College of Arts & Sciences, on behalf of the Department of American Studies.