Society for the Anthropology of Work
Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
In this paper, I ask: How are material ethics reflected in “expert” assemblages of media that cross spatiotemporal scales and politicized boundaries? In 2011-12, I conducted participant observation among DJs in post-Yugoslav spaces, including at specialty workshops that I attended in Zagreb and Belgrade. These DJ workshops were loosely institutionalized spaces in which artists-in-training paradoxically pursued a sense of authentic, musical “cool” often tied to informal creativity outside formal classrooms (see also Wilf 2014). Reacting to the trendiness, perceived ubiquity of “shallow” neophytes, and even the corporate branding of their techniques, expert DJs advocated that their attendees cultivate specific sorts of “deep” material relations. Small groups of trainees polished turntablist record scratching techniques and improved their beat- and keymatching skills. Following instructor tips and informal workshop patter, trainees also sharpened other abilities for material discernment. What snippets of domestic and global tracks were worthy of preciously small space in well-made playlists? How should DJs sample or play old records in fresh ways that distinguished them from their superficial peers? What skills were necessary to creatively riff on the popular, but finite discography of a country that no longer formally exists? Repertory decisions, gear selection, and club performances intersected with broadly circulating evaluations of nostalgia, digitization, economic disenfranchisement, and resurgent nationalisms. The continued local charisma of hip-hop crafts lay partly in DJs’ studied materialized responses to shifting senses of belonging in the aftermath of socialism and a multinational federation’s violent dismemberment.