Subcultural SurvivalKimberly Kattari
“I got 1-2-3-4 psychobilly DNA”— Norm and the Nightmarez
Call it punk rockabilly with science-fiction horror lyrics. The outsider musical genre known as psychobilly, which began in 1980s Britain, fuses punk, heavy metal, new wave, and shock rock with carnivalesque elements. The participants in this underground scene sport coffin tattoos and 1950s fashions. Bands such as The Meteors, Nekromantix, and Demented Are Go play with a wild energy and a fast tempo. Sometimes fake blood runs down a performer’s mouth.
Psychobilly is ethnomusicologist Kimberly Kattari’s fascinating, decade-long study of this little-known anti-mainstream genre. She provides a history and introduces readers to the core aspects of the music as she interviews passionate performers and fans. Kattari seeks to understand how psychobilly so strongly affects—and reflects —its participants’ lives and identities so strongly. She observes that it provides not only a sense of belonging but a response to feelings and experiences of socio-economic marginalization and stigmatization.
Psychobilly shows how this subculture organized around music furnishes an outlet for members to resist normative expectations and survive; they adhere to their own rules by having a good time while going through a hard time.
“ Kim Kattari’s outstanding study gives psychobilly its justly deserved attention—not only as a historical genre rooted in dissatisfaction and rebellion, but as a complex, living subculture positioned deep on the musical margins. Kattari’s fieldwork brings together dozens of interviews to illuminate the scene, and then she sharpens her analytical gaze on psychobilly’s transgressive performative properties. Steeped in horror, shock, and dark, campy humor, psychobilly emerges in Kattari’s book as an immersive style that relishes the power of taboo. Psychobilly is the definitive study of this fascinating subculture.”
—Theo Cateforis, Associate Professor of Music History & Cultures at Syracuse University and author of Are We Not New Wave?: Modern Pop at the Turn of the 1980s
“ Bringing together past and present, and drawing on rich ethnographic research, Psychobilly offers wide-ranging analysis of a longstanding and often neglected subculture. From a carnival of spectacular escape to the embrace of fictional monsters, Kattari explores the everyday subversiveness of a scene often regarded as apolitical, while outlining the intimate ties and supportive identities participants share. The book goes on to tackle tensions and complexities, including the complex position of women in psychobilly and ongoing conundrums about nostalgia and change. Absorbing throughout, this is a must-read for those interested in music scenes and subcultures.”
—Paul Hodkinson, Reader in Sociology, University of Surrey and author of Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture
"Kattari provides a rich and interesting case study of psychobilly as a subculture whose strength is found in its autonomy from commercial market and other music scenes. The narrative is at its best when the author blends ethnographic commentary with interlocutors' words, creating a rich, thick description of the psychobilly scene...(A)n enticing book."
"Kattari's book, her debut monograph, not only provides an absorbing account of a complicated subculture but also demonstrates how to conduct effective and credible sociological research. Her literature reviews and her use of interviews with psychobillies to support her arguments are particularly skilled, and her writing style is lucid throughout. Fittingly, the book closes with a list of sample interview questions, a discography, and excellent notes and bibliographical references, all supplemented with a thorough index. Kattari's accessible prose and consistent rational organization make this study particularly valuable to nonspecialists interested in music-based subcultures, sociology, and cultural criticism. Summing Up: Essential."
“ The book draws on no less than a decade of ethnographical research, numerous interviews, and abstracts from song lyrics to provide a detailed account of the psychobilly subculture and its survival strategies in North America and Europe…. It is a valuable contribution that will not only interest fans of the genre but more broadly the entire field of contemporary cultural and popular music studies.”
— Popular Music History
" (Kattari's) incorporation of wide-ranging fieldwork provides breadth and solidity to the study.... (A)n original and worthy undertaking.... Scholars interested in the subject should find in Psychobilly a worthy effort to inspire and guide future efforts."
— Journal of Folklore Research
"Psychobilly is an excellent exploration of an often underlooked subculture. By providing an amazing overview of the subculture’s history, style, behavior, and developments, the book insightfully demonstrates the continued existence of subcultures within the age of the internet. For anyone wanting to get into subcultural studies and the corresponding theoretical framework, this is a great place to start." —The Journal of Asian Studies