Underground Testing: Name-Altering Practices as Probes in Electronic Music

Stark, David C.; Formilan, Giovanni

Name-altering practices are common in many creative fields – pen names in literature, stage names in the performing arts, aliases in music. More than just reflecting artistic habits or responding to the need for distinctive brands, these practices can also serve as test devices to probe, validate, and guide the artists’ active participation in a cultural movement. At the same time, they constitute a powerful probe to negotiate the boundaries of a subculture, especially when its features are threatened by appropriation from the mass-oriented culture. Drawing evidence from electronic music, a field where name-altering practices proliferate, we outline dynamics of pseudonymity, polyonymy, and anonymity that surround the use of aliases. We argue that name-altering practices are both a tool artists use to probe the creative environment and a device to recursively put one’s creative participation to the test. In the context of creative subcultures, name-altering practices constitute a subtle but effective form of underground testing.


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British Journal of Sociology

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March 4, 2020


Accepted for publication in the British Journal of Sociology (forthcoming 2020).