UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A pauper of pop : Mac DeMarco, sound fidelity, and the politics of noise Wainwright, Maxwell Stanley Hector


This thesis is a subcultural reading of Canadian singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco’s recording style. I examine how acoustic noise, crude production values, and do-it-yourself ethics exact symbolic and practical resistances to pop music hegemonies that privilege hi-fi sound and elite studio technologies. As an expression of what Dick Hebdige calls a “spectacular subculture,” I argue DeMarco’s self-taught recording style challenges technical standards in the recording arts, tastes underpinning the economy of popular music, and codes of masculinity in popular rock music. Borrowing from the work of Jacques Attali and Tony Grajeda, I explain how DeMarco’s “lo-fi” Makeout Videotape recordings use noise and distortion to symbolize and enact ruptures in procedural and aesthetic scripts that denounce non-professional music production. However, many of DeMarco’s other recordings are not decidedly lo-fi. Focusing on songs from Rock and Roll Nightclub and 2, I argue DeMarco also challenges lo-fi mythology as a form of resistance, using its crude DIY production technologies to instead create a more refined aesthetic, downplaying noise and distortion. Drawing from ideological and material histories of sound fidelity in the work of Friedrich Kittler and Jonathan Sterne, I argue DeMarco exposes what Sterne calls decompositionism, “a plurality of relationships to noise for engineers, for listeners, and for many others through the total disassembly of sound” (MP3 126). While privileging music production rooted in the quotidian, DeMarco maintains an ironic distance, often disavowing the importances of his work. Borrowing from Susan Sontag, I analyze how DeMarco engages “camp” style through sound reproduction, turning his sociopolitical disruptions into cultural satires that he is himself also implicated in. My overall aim is to examine, through DeMarco’s sound reproduction processes, how subcultural music styles can express and manifest their own alternative social codes and economies within pop music’s aesthetic and technological hegemonies.

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