Fan culture works in mysterious ways, but for a band as popular and influential as U2 have been over four decades, it seems only natural that a whole academic discipline has emerged to study them.
The inaugural Australian edition of the U2 Conference – part symposium for researchers in the robust field of U2 studies, part fan gathering – will take place in Sydney in November, to coincide with the Irish superstars bringing their Joshua Tree tour to local shores.
“The band has so much meaning to so many people,” Naomi Dinnen, organiser for November’s conference and an academic at Australian National University’s school of music, told Guardian Australia.
“That’s why we wanted to do this conference – to bring people together to look at how [U2 has] really influenced society, culture and music over the last 40 years. It’s actually been huge.”
The conference is the brainchild of US literary academic Scott Calhoun. Three editions of the conference have run in the past – in 2009 and 2013 in the US, and last year in the pop band’s home town of Dublin, Ireland.
Australian film director Richard Lowenstein, behind the recent Michael Hutchence documentary, Mystify, will be a special guest at the conference. A friend of both Hutchence and U2 frontman Bono, Lowenstein’s association with U2 goes back to his little-known documentary, U2 Lovetown, following the band’s lengthy 1989 Australian tour.
The U2 Conference will host screenings of both U2 Lovetown and Mystify, the latter of which includes an interview with Bono.
It will be a day without the band itself – U2’s members are not expected to make an appearance at the conference, except perhaps in the form of indelible ink: in what promises to be a conference highlight, University of North Florida associate professor Beth Nabi will present the results of almost five years of international research documenting hundreds of U2 fan tattoos.
With conference attendance capped at 100 guests, Dinnen told Guardian Australia she hoped the Sydney event would attract a local audience who wanted to be part of the conversation around U2’s work.
“Within academia, pop music is a relatively new discipline,” Dinnen said. “Because U2 were so big in America there was a lot of focus on the theological aspect [of their music] in the 80s.”
Academics in U2 studies have since looked at the band as a cultural phenomenon and how they’ve changed or influenced concert culture, but there hadn’t been a lot of study into the musicology of the band’s work, she said.
The Sydney resident and former music journalist had been a fan of U2 “since the beginning”. One of her earliest memories of the band was catching the music video for Gloria on TV in the early 1980s.
The Antipodean leg of U2’s Joshua Tree tour starts in New Zealand on 8 November before making its way to Australia for shows in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth. The U2 Conference: the Australian Edition will take place on 21 November at Studios 301 in Sydney.
Source: Guardian Australia