Brian Su-Jen Chung

Brian Su-Jen Chung is assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His writing has been published in Biography: An Interdisciplinary Journal and Verge: Studies in Global Asias.

“Back to School: The University of Hawaii and Queer Indie Music Scene-making in Honolulu”
From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa in Honolulu, Hawaii was an important space in the development of the local queer indie music scene. Asian and Hawaiian students from across the Hawaiian islands, but mostly from Oahu, came to the University and found community through the campus art and music cultures, such as KTUH, the University’s radio station. Although performance venues across Honolulu, the city with nearly 3/4ths of the state’s population, were also important in the creation of the music scene (building friendships as well as testing out different identities and politics), the University emerged as a significant place of scene-making in which these dynamics were connected through their identification with Hawai‘i as an indigenous place.

Queer studies has challenged the dominant metronormative narrative of rural to urban migration that characterizes gay imaginaries of freedom and happiness with whiteness and upper-class city living. Queer antiurbanism argues against this exclusive narrative by exploring rural spaces that provide different notions of queer life. However, this literature has not adequately engaged with urbanism outside of the U.S. continent, such as island urbanism in Hawaii—a contested discourse that signals an American aesthetic regionalism of Hawaii lifestyle born out of U.S. colonial expansion, but also an epistemology based on indigenous Hawaiian knowledge of nurturing the land and community. This paper examines how the University of Hawaii and its setting in Honolulu didn’t privilege Honolulu the city as the site of queer possibility as much as it became a place of different social and musical encounters that fostered a sensibility about Hawai‘i as a place distinct from the state-driven narratives of American regionalism associated with urban development and infrastructure at the time. Through in-depth interviews with band members and friends, this article argues that the queer indie music scene was engaged with the local cultural politics of indigenous place.