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Jersey Punk: Award-Winning Paper Studies Legendary New Brunswick Underground in the Info Age

Combine the dedication to an underground subculture known for rebuking mainstream awareness and the natural curiosity of an information scholar and what do you get? An award-winning research paper.

Once fueled by flyers and word-of-mouth, New Brunswick's underground scene now lives on MySpace and Facebook

April 2010

Jersey Punk ResearchersIf there is anything that Joe Sanchez, an assistant professor of library and information science, knows how to do, it’s search for information. But even he, a longtime devotee of punk music, couldn’t find out where an up-and-coming band was playing in New Brunswick.

“I knew the name of the band. I knew the name of the coded house they were playing in. I tried to find where the party was,” Sanchez said. “I’m pretty good at searching. But I could never find the answer to the question, ‘Where is this show?’”

Combine the dedication to an underground subculture known for rebuking mainstream awareness and the natural curiosity of an information scholar and what do you get? An award-winning research paper.

The Jersey Punk Basement Scene: Exploring the Information Underground” [PDF] won the Best Poster Award at the fifth annual iConference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in early February.

Sara the BandThrough their ongoing research, Sanchez and three doctoral students – Nathan Graham, Jessica Lingel, and Aaron Trammell – hope to contribute to a unique area of scholarly research: how members of subcultures use technologies to find information while still maintaining underground status.

For something as obscure as a basement band gig in New Brunswick, a city known for its underground music scene, Sanchez was taken aback at how popular the shows turned out to be.

“I just walked through someone’s living room, opened the basement door, and there’s just shoulder to shoulder people. It was wild,” Sanchez said. “After seeing this, I decided that we needed to study the way this subculture is keeping itself alive.”

Graham, Lingel, and Trammell all were on board. All three doctoral students have experience as musicians or playing in bands. It was Trammell who actually introduced Sanchez – who got his Ph.D. in 2009 from the University of Texas at Austin, where live music is no small part of the local culture – to the New Brunswick basement scene.

“Because one of my old bands had been relatively popular, I was kind of already hooked in to the people in this really cool scene,” Trammell said. “I really think what is important with music is the community, and having a common point of appreciation. Sound and music are underexplored areas of culture that I think are both important and exciting.”

Though Sanchez is a professor in the Department of Library and Information Science, the researchers are taking an interdisciplinary approach to the project. They’re also using one of the latest collaborative technologies – Google Wave – to write and edit their work.

The group’s research method? “Going to the shows. Making sure the things we’re hearing from the audience members are actually real,” Sanchez said. He and the doctoral students will build on their observations through interviews and focus groups. They will also monitor and analyze information posted on Facebook, MySpace, blogs, and other websites.

“It used to be that shows people got the word out about shows by putting up flyers at record stores, using mailing lists, [distributing] buttons,” Sanchez said. “Now people use Web sites, post things on MySpace, now they’ve got Facebook…but still if you are not part of the scene you don’t know where the show is. You have to ask a punk. You have to earn your way.”