Constructing an avant-garde

Australian popular music and the experience of pleasure


  • Jon Stratton Curtin University of Technology Author



avant-garde, popular music, Australia, Alternative Rock


The purpose of this article is to discuss the possibility of a culturally based aesthetics of reception that helps to make sense of the ways that the three different strands of popular music that developed in Australia in the late 1970s were experienced. The particular focus of the article is on that strand known as Alternative Rock. Alternative Rock, the musical form that came out of Australia's cosmopolitan inner cities, was seen by its practitioners, and many critics, as being the avant-garde of Australian popular music. Indeed, as a musical form it represented the attempt by its practitioners to develop music that could be taken seriously as art. Roland Barthes had earlier elaborated an aesthetics of pleasure that, for him, legitimated a certain form of literature as avant-garde. In this article I show how similar understandings of pleasure permeate the ways that Australian Alternative Rock was, and indeed is, thought about. One crucial aspect of this, which applies to similar music considered to be avant-garde elsewhere, has been the debate over the distinction between what is considered music and what noise. I argue that this distinction relates to ideas of pleasure and that both are a function of cultural determinations.

Author Biography

  • Jon Stratton, Curtin University of Technology

    Jon Stratton is Professor of Cultural Studies at Curtin University of Technology. His most recent books are Race Daze: Australia in Identity Crisis (Pluto Australia, 1998) and Coming Out Jewish: Constructing Ambivalent Identities (Routledge, 2000). Jon has a book in press that collects some of his published and unpublished work on Australian popular music between the 1960s and 1980s titled Australian Rock: Essays on Popular Music (API-Network, 2007).


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How to Cite

Stratton, J. (2007). Constructing an avant-garde: Australian popular music and the experience of pleasure. Popular Music History, 2(1), 49-75.