Pet Shop Boys focus of two-day Edinburgh University conference

EDINBURGH University is to host a two-day academic conference - on the work of pop icons the Pet Shop Boys.

Tuesday, 22nd March 2016, 9:34 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd March 2016, 10:39 am
The Pet Shop Boys perform in Edinburgh in 1999. Picture: Jane Barlow

The capital’s university is well-known for being an institution steeped in over 400 years of strict academic tradition.

But on Thursday and Friday Edinburgh University will throw open its doors and lecture halls to a host of scholars and students from across the globe who are keen to study the works of the 80s pop duo.

The £100-a-ticket event will feature lectures such as “Between revivalism and survivalism: The Pet Shop Boys’ New York City Boy, disco pastiche and the haunting of AIDS”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

A speaker from Texas will lecture on “Musical Desire and Frustration” while an Israeli academic will speak about “Rhetorical and performative strategies in the Pet Shop Boys’ cover versions”.

And after the lectures and discussions have concluded the gathering will culminate in a three-hour disco on Friday night - where academics can let their hair down to the pair’s greatest hits.

The conference will mark the 30th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut album - Please - which featured their breakout single West End Girls.

Dr Glyn Davis - a pop music fan at the university’s school of design who is organising the event - said: “It’s really crucial that this isn’t going to be a dry academic event.

“As well as having an array of thought-provoking talks there will be a lot of socialising, film screenings and a DJ set.

According to him the work of the London-based duo has largely been ignored in favour of more conventional musicians.

He added: “In recent years there have been a number of academic conferences where the focus has been on individual bands and artists, like Joy Division, the Smiths and David Bowie.

“They have all been fascinating events, but we wanted to focus on a band who did pop rather than rock or indie.

“There have been one or two articles written about the Pet Shop Boys, but they have largely been ignored by academics and universities.

“We wanted to put that right and recognise the huge contribution they have made to British popular culture over the last 30 years.

The conference - being touted as a “symposium” - is set to examine the band’s artwork, lyrics and music videos. Speakers are coming from as far afield as the US and Singapore.

And Prof Stan Hawkins of the University of Oslo will present the headline keynote address on the Pet Shop Boys’ status as gay icons.

Speaking about their influence on gay culture Dr Davis added: “If you go back to the 1980s, when they first started out, it’s really interesting to see them working with elements of gay culture but never being explicit.

“It’s fascinating to look back and find that Neil Tennant only publicly came out in 1994.

“They had been on the scene for years before they made any overt statement about their sexuality.”

The band are not set to appear at the symposium, but they have apparently given it their blessing.

Dr Davis added: “They have been really supportive. Because it coincides with the launch of their new album they are busy with promotions and they can’t make it along.

“However, they have been using their official Twitter account to promote our event, which is fantastic.”