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Urban DIY Enclaves? : The ‘Alternative’ Cultural Spaces of Helsinki’s Music Scenes 2000–2019

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Title: Urban DIY Enclaves? : The ‘Alternative’ Cultural Spaces of Helsinki’s Music Scenes 2000–2019
Author(s): Hänninen, Juho
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Science, none
Discipline: none
Degree program: Master's Programme in Urban Studies and Planning
Specialisation: USP Peoples
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2020
Abstract:
The themes of this thesis are alternative, informal, and uncommercial cultural spaces, the scenes using the spaces, and the individual scene participants. The study’s frame is Helsinki between 2000–2019. The study combines relevant theoretical discussion from subculture research tradition and urbanism. The key concepts of the thesis are ‘scenes,’ a cultural definition of ‘subculture,’ ‘alternative cultural spaces,’ ‘DIY culture’ (‘do it yourself’), and ‘enclaves.’ The thesis presents Helsinki’s ‘DIY landscape’ to consist of interconnected actors—scene participants—who are part of a network that revolves around making, performing and facilitating music in a specific urban infrastructure—the city, Helsinki—and in which the alternative cultural spaces create physical ‘hubs’ for the scene. The data has been collected online via a combination of oral history recollections and qualitative surveying. The data was collected in collaboration between Helsinki City Museum and Music Archive Finland in fall 2019. The data consist of 70 individual responses. The data is treated through the epistemology of qualitative research and oral history, and therefore is seen to include both ‘factual’ information and the informant’s subjective interpretations, their experience. On a practical level, the analysis has been conducted mainly via qualitative content analysis (QCA), but also geographic information system (GIS) has been used. The study aims to explicate a widely recognized but poorly known cultural phenomenon. The study’s key results are as follows. Four types of alternative cultural spaces have existed: dedicated buildings, rooms, outdoor venues, and even a ship. All of the study’s 34 spaces have hosted live music events and a variety of other cultural, political, and social activities. The spaces have been acquired for use by renting, squatting, and asking permission, and in two cases are owned by the facilitator. With some exceptions, they are located in the fringe areas of Helsinki’s city center, have a relatively short lifespan (maximum of five years in a set location) and share ‘aesthetics of necessity’ that roots meager or non-existent funding and the use of subcultural symbols and art. The spaces follow certain ‘DIY operating principles’ that aim to create an encouraging and inclusive atmosphere for DIY participation. The spaces, and their users, have faced a variety of challenges, setbacks, and problems. These are rooted in funding, the deficits of the buildings and their facilities, and to other citizens, the police, and the City of Helsinki. The City’s role emerges from the data as ambivalent—a constrainer and enabler. According to the responder’s experience, the City does not have a uniform policy towards the use of vacant urban space, and DIY culture overall is not recognized. For the scenes, the alternative cultural spaces function as platforms where cherish—often ‘marginal’—music and subcultures. Some of the participants connect political and societal ideals to the spaces and DIY activities. DIY activities emerged as—sometimes self-purposefully—social and communal by their nature. In the spaces between scene participants take place socio-cultural ‘cross-fertilization,’ which sometimes leads to new organizational groups and even scenes forming. These might relocate their practices elsewhere, and thus DIY culture spreads to new locations in the urban infrastructure. For the individual scene participants, crossing with the scene represents an important part of finding a social reference group. Some of the responders described going through a ‘DIY phase,’ which is a several yearlong period in their youth when life orientations and identity are intensively connected to DIY culture. The meaningfulness of scene participation lasts to later life, even if the participant’s active years are foregone. For some, the skills and knowledge acquired in the scene creates a basis for a more professional career in cultural production. As the reasons for the diminish or end of the DIY participation are given the closure of an alternative cultural space focal for the participant, challenges in activities, and major life events. In the discussion, the thesis suggests the concept of ‘urban DIY enclaves’ in the toolboxes of urban planners and designers. The DIY enclaves differentiate from the broader urban landscape by their condition, aesthetics, political messages, and subcultural symbols. Socially they have been constructed to advance DIY culture and cherish the creative lifestyle associated with it. The concept is suggested as a device for acknowledging the existence of DIY culture; in other words, its need for space, and its participants’ eagerness to participate in the construction of the urban and cultural landscape.
Keyword(s): DIY cultural spaces subcultures urban space ethnomusicology oral history


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