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The Sound of Neoliberalism: The Role of Music and Sound in Neoliberal Culture


This paper treats the connections between contemporary popular music and neoliberal ideology through a historical analysis and critique of digital music platforms, lo-fi, and EDM. Following the work of Byung-Chul Han and Philip Mirowski, I explore how the transformation of the disciplinary liberal state into a permissive, post-disciplinary society based on a new subjectivity of “auto-exploitation” intersects with digital music. This disciplinary shift corresponds with the emergence of a new form of entrepreneurial labor, which entails a new form of subjectivity under neoliberalism. As neoliberalism becomes dominant in the political economic sphere, its effects are felt across the social scape. To analyze these effects, I focus on lo-fi and EDM, two musical genres that develop within a hegemonic neoliberalism. My central claim is that under neoliberalism these digital musical forms take on a double character; specifically, they might be understood as countercultures expressing a desire for freedom, and simultaneously, they depend on and at certain moments reinforce the dominant socio-economic code. Mapping out the mediating antagonisms between neoliberal subjectivity and digital music leads me to the construction of a schematic framework for the listening practices of the neoliberal subject.

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