The Seattle-based EMP Pop Conference — Shangri-La for music nerds — has this year split into five regional ones, and the Los Angeles incarnation starts tonight. Musicians, scholars, and music writers from all over Southern California will discuss and debate, with specific focus on everything from Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city to the Long Beach Music scene. The conference is free and open to the public.
The theme this year is “Pop & Politics In This Town,” and co-chair Oliver Wang notes that pop music is defined broadly at the conference — not so much Top 40 as music popular within any segment of the population. (Another homie, Drew Tewksbury, will also be in effect.)
This includes Spanish-language music, which is under-represented in Los Angeles music writing, though we try our best. On Friday morning, Jose Anguiano will be presenting a paper on custodians who listen to Spanish radio at work. As part of a his dissertation at UC Santa Barbara, Anguiano followed over 20 custodians for about six months, documenting what they listened to at their “brown-collar” jobs, and how it gave them a sense of identity.
Anguiano found that these workers, immigrants working graveyard shifts, listened primarily to Top 40 Spanish hits on a small chain of radio stations that operate out of the Central Valley. The stations play older, romantic music: slow-tempo mariachi music and ballads.
“Besides entertainment,” Anguiano says, “it was also about claiming that workspace for themselves, and it was also about their ethnic identity, it was a way to showcase how proud they were of that identity. An English language dominant space during the day became Spanish language dominant at night.”
As soon as the office workers left and the custodians came in, the language being spoken switched, both in the room and coming from the radio.
Other interesting L.A. subculture panel subjects at EMPLA include Los Angeles' Black Disco Queers, “Porn Funk” — the music that scored pornos in the 1970s — and a lecture on krumpin, the subject of Dave LaChapelle's 2005 documentary Rize.
The EMPLA features a wide array of talks and panel discussions, starting tonight and continuing Friday and Saturday, at the USC- Ronald Tutor Campus Center and the Redcat Theater. A full schedule can be found here