Some Subculture History

A while back i started putting together a small zine to be given away with the main zine – it was going to be a tiny guide to the key British subcultures – kind of business card sized (i was intrigued to see what the smallest sized zine i could make was) . For one reason or another it didn’t happen so…..heres the text i did write for it –


Whilst post War Britain still bore the scars of bomb damage and the bewilderment at what had recently passed a new generation of youngster was emerging from it’s rubble strewn streets. Contrary to popular myth the wildly dressed teenagers that began appearing in isolated packs across London and the North of England were not the product of American rock n roll influence. The originators of what would become known as Teddy Boy emerged several years earlier. Towards the end of the 1940′s Londons exclusive fashion houses on Saville Row had begun to push a new style to its customers in an attempt to move away from the casual, laid back influence of American style of the day. Aghast at these new influences these arbiters of taste looked to combat this by looking back to pre-war styles, those of the Edwardian period – incredibly smart tailoring with a fastidious attention to detail and quality and whilst these did hit their intended market, in a bizarre turn of events this upper class look began to find favour and grow with small pockets of working class kids all over London. This new teenage generation of youngsters set out to create a new world for themselves, one that mocked the austerity of the times with a new vibrant, forward looking attitude that would drive a wedge into perceived adult thinking of the day and create one hell of a generation gap.

These original rebel riders were obssessed with speed. In post war Britain sales of motorbikes were strong with companies like Norton and Triumph leading the way vying with each other to create the fastest motorbike possible. Across the country in the early fifties, hordes of youths were riding working on, fixing up and fine tuning powerful motorbikes. This bike driven lifestyle dictated the clothes that would become their look. Fighter pilot leathers, heavy boots, helmets and goggles were the order of the day, clothing that provided not only protection but also a strong look that would become identifiable with these groups of cafe racers (derived from their hanging out at out of the way cares) and ‘ton up boys’ (in honour of the cults goal to hit 100mph). Away from their bikes they had a strong affinity for classic rock n roll and over time a flamboyancy, associated with the teddy boys, began to merge to create a striking image with customised leathers, greased back hair and winkle picker shoes completing their look. These rockers stood for the freedom of the open road and got their kicks from racing their finely tuned machines. Like their hefty, powerful motorcycles and their traditionalist outlook found itself at odds with the emerging mod scene of the early sixties. The opposing groups clashed in a spectacular, tabloid reported frenzy along the seafronts of Britains coastal towns during this period, a period that has forever cemented the idea of effete, sharply tailored mods battling, the traditional masculine stereotype of the bike riding rocker. It’s safe to say that this was neither cults finest hour.


With its roots in the smoky, modern jazz clubs of Londons Soho modernism spread and mutated across the capital in the early sixties. Once working class kids got a hold of the scenes core ideas of individual style, immaculate presentation and an obsession with detail the thing spread like wildfire. Subsequent phases of development moved mod towards the masses and a change in look. By 63/64 much of the subtelty of presentation was gone and the hordes of identi-kit parka clad youths who fought with rockers on the beaches of Englands south coast were clearly of a new breed. The clothes and style obssesives drifted away towards a dandified, faux hippy look with a strong interest in vintage/revival clothing. In reaction to this a strain of ‘hard mods’ mutated their look even further. By 79/80 a mod revival had emerged on the streets of Britain, it’s participants, energised by the original punk rock scene but looking for a truer version of working class street style than the art/intellectual end of punk.

SUB SKINHEAD Towards the end of the sixties the younger siblings of the Mods of 63/64 began to make their own style moves. Mods route towards an effette dandyism (in many ways a truer vision to the core ideals of mod) was not for them. Instead this offshoot of ‘hard mods’ pared down the look further, accentuating a tougher, street look that included closely cropped hair (tho’ rarely shaven), boots, workshirts and braces for the day but maintained a direct link to mod in their evening wear of tonic suits, highly polished brogues and plainfronted macs or crombie overcoats. The media dubbed them skinheads. These street toughs were also influenced by the influx into Britains cities of pockets of jamaican immigrants and the rudeboy style they bought with them. Within a short space of time the skinhead look drifted back towards a softer, neater look with the advent of the suedehead and smoothies era but by 73 this look was losing out to the cult of the terrace bootboys. In the late 70’s skinhead emerged once more with an even more aggressive spartan look, the emphasis on shaved heads, boots and braces.


Throughout the seventies a truly underground scene developed across areas of the Midlands and more strongly in the North. As music tastes developed in the South, hordes of people in the North had no intention of giving up their love of the black American soul music that had been the soundtrack for the Mod scene. Wildly enthusiastic about rare soul grooves Northern Soul devotees lived for the weekend when they would travel across the country to all nighters and dance non-stop to a strict soundtrack of uptempo soul stompers. The records and sounds they cherished were all but forgotten by the labels and artists in America from where they sourced the sounds. The rarer the better. Legendary clubs appeared including the Twisted Wheel, the Highland Rooms at Blackpool Mecca, The Torch and (arguably) the most famous venue The Wigan Casino. Initially the look on the soul scene had a strong mod influence but gradually things began to change. A new style developed to suit the environment of dark, sweaty clubs with adidas t shirts, sports vests, billowing oxford bags and leather shoes. Fans also carried sports holdalls which contained spare sets of clothes as they made their way from club, to all nighter, to all nighter squeezing as much soul as they could into the entire weekend. Northern Soul may be the strangest and most fanatically followed of all Britains subcultures. With zero interest in anything ‘current’ its appeal was almost impossible to explain to the uninitiated, its devotees going to incredible lengths to feed their addiction, hitchhiking, car sharing and organising coaches to make it to these underground, outposts where they could dance ALL night away to obscure, long forgotten soul 7″ records

sub PUNK

Punk hit Britains streets in the latter years of the seventies. Influenced in part by the underground rock scene from New York its back to basics approach to rock n roll’s original spirit of subversion sparked with London shop owner and agent provocateur Malcolm McClaren. Along with his partner Vivienne Westwood the pair had been selling teddy boy revival gear to a few die hards from their shop at the end of the KIngs Road. For McClaren the teds represented something exciting, a spirit of rebellion sorely missing from the current period. The revivalist mentality of that scene was however too narrow minded to take on board the influences of avant garde art , political rebellion and style subversion that made up the pairs worldview. Radically changing the design approach to their new shop they created a magnet-like destination for all manner of weirdo dressers and outsiders from across London and its outer suburbs. When The Sex Pistols were formed from within this scene (along with a handful of fellow alien outsiders in other bands) punk was shot overground in explosive fashion. The original scene was heavily clothes based and at it’s most fantastic was built around strong, individual looks that took in the strange glamour of Bowie alongside fetishwear and a magpie-like ransacking of street styles from the late fifties onwards. At its purest it was a strong return to the type of obssesive youth cults of earlier years, with its own secret codes and practices and one that was soon successfully diluted out of recognition and adopted across the mainstream.

sub 2TONE

Emerging from the Midlands cities of Coventry and Birmingham in the late seventies the movement known as 2 Tone presented a mix of the punk spirit of recent years alongside a love of late sixties ska and reggae. Style wise the scene revived elements of the original skinheads but leant more heavily on the influence of the Jamaican rudeboy look that had earlier inspired it with tonic suits, button down shirts, tassled loafers and pork pie hats. The 2 Tone scene was named after the record label set up by its instigators and greatest exponents The Specials. Sound and vision wise the scene was developed by the bands keyboard player Jerry Dammers whose love of early ska was mixed with the energy of punk to create a hybrid that perfectly fit the times. Politically aware, a sharp songwriter and with strong understanding of the visual (he was an ex art student) Dammers created a scene that nurtured other bands (via the 2 tone label they set up) and created a look that perfectly represented the idea of a multi-racial Britain at a time when right wing politics and economic uncertainty plagued the nation.