A funny conversation I had whilst on my break at my PTJ (part-time job) has encouraged this musing. Stay with me…
Standing on the shop floor the other day, I noticed something that made me laugh. There were these dudes wandering around the store, expertly studying clothes, sizing up their options, inspecting the workmanship.
One approached me and asked for my opinion on something. After reminding him that I am a Sales Assistant and that my duties are limited to selling and assisting, he asked me why we don’t stock any dashikis.
Suppressing my laughter (and my sarcasm), I asked him why he thought we would stock such an item, an item so closely associated with Africa and its strong cultural identity, with its rich colours on intricately woven fabrics, and so came his response….
“Cos it’s in fashion, innit fam.”
And there you have it, the death of cultural identity and originality, and the beginning of this summer’s fashion trend, Zanzibar Chic.
These dudes weren’t dressed conservatively, in fact, they couldn’t have drawn more attention to themselves if they had tried. What got me thinking was not the fact that they were dressed to (not) impress, but the fact that everything about them, their whole get-up, was borrowed. Stolen. Copied.
The pictures above illustrate this episode perfectly…think ’1980s-Brooklyn-meets-the-bush’…or ‘Coming To America-via-Catford’…just add a couple of garish toilet chains hanging from their necks, a pair of acid brights on their feet, some jazzy African cloth on top and you should have a vision. A vision of theft.
The evolution of youth culture has seen many a trend, fad and style come and go over the years but it’s amazing to think that this generation has yet to discover one that will transcend genres and cement a lasting impression for decades to come; one that will provide a platform to analyse youth culture and provide historians with a snapshot of what life was like in 2010.
Maybe I’ve been thinking about this too deeply (maybe I need to find a proper, full-time job?) but when you look at it, music and fashion have always been intrinsically linked and the last time we vaguely saw anything that sheepishly masqueraded as a movement was the Nu Rave scene in 2006.
That summer saw the rise of all things nu rave, a collision of rave culture with disco and rock, with the synthesizer/indie/dance/electro, fashion and art thrown in to mix it up; think art school meets dirty club chic. But looking back, was it merely a cheap 80s rip off, borrowing heavily from the new wave era and the early 90s rave scene?
The music was an important device in the nu rave scene, helping illustrate a generation of teens who loved nothing better than flocking to Koko, Punk or the Amersham Arms on a Friday night, where they would immerse themselves in a day-glow, hedonistic utopia and dance to bands and music which NME heaped loads of praise on and deemed cool.
Led by CSS, New Young Pony Club and SHITdisco, this genre was effectively created by the music industry press and many alike, when really these were just guitar bands whose riffs and bass lines made them sound a bit dancey.
But the real poster boys of the genre were the Klaxons, a group of blokes whose debut album, ‘Myths of the Near Future’, won the Mercury Music Prize in 2007. You could say that they were the culpable catalysts for this minor subculture when singer Jamie Reynolds declared they were nu rave, only to sheepishly take it back a few months later. Speaking to thelondonpaper, he said: “I created it as a joke, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now it’s a global media buzzword and I’ve talked about it in different languages.”
Okay, so global maybe a little over exaggerated.
Whilst some of the fashion was questionable, there’s no denying that music, clubbing and fashion have always gone hand in hand. Look back at the New Romantic movement from the early 80s and it’s clear to see how the music of the time influenced the fashions and social trends.
The Blitz Club in Great Queen Street, Billy’s in Dean Street and The Camden Palace over in Mornington Crescent gave birth to the New Romantic scene- it was where androgyny met the typical English gent, with over-the-top make-up, big hair and brand new music.
The leaders at the time were Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Visage and Ultravox. It inspired a generation and helped cement the 1980s in popular culture.
New York caught onto this and developed their own answer to the New Romantics, with the Club Kids in the late 1980s. Known for their famous partying, eye-catching outfits and love for all drugs illegal, the Club Kids re-defined clubbing culture and paved the way to the 90s rave scene.
Nu rave made many things popular again, like East London districts such as Shoreditch, Hoxton and Spitalfields. Once run down areas, all three places have seen gentrification and rising house prices over the last few years and now have been colonised by art students and fashionistas alike, becoming the epicentre of contemporary bohemia, with pretentious media types frequenting various bars and clubs, traipsing around the many vintage and thrift stores and creating studio space from the numerous disused warehouses.
But as ‘great’ as this was, it makes me wonder what was new about nu rave? I mean if this was nu rave, what was old about ‘old rave’? Looking at rave from the 1990s, it was a term used for dance parties, usually all-nighters, where DJs and live performers played electro dance music, which was usually accompanied by lasers, strobe lighting and LED’s.
The word ‘rave’ was used to describe the acid house movement of the late 1980s but rave gained notoriety in the late 1980s and early 1990s when thousands of party-hungry youngsters would descend on hastily arranged weekend parties that would take place in warehouses, industrial parks, country retreats or London parks.
While rave saw a revival in dance styles such as body popping, break dancing and glow sticking, it also saw a rise in the use of recreational drugs, or ‘club drugs’ as they were known at the time, like LSD, ecstasy, amphetamines and GHB.
The then Conservative government set about imposing its limitations on the rave scene and youth culture by imposing the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which ultimately gave the Police the power to stop an outdoor rave if more than 100 people were attending, or if two or more people were making preparations for a rave.
Effectively, this killed the rave scene and to the present day, we have yet to see a movement like this.
A few years ago, the idea of shopping in a charity shop was laughable. Back in the early 2000s, it was about who had the cleanest Reebok Classics, the freshest Air Force Ones, the tightest Nike tracksuits, and now the word ‘Vintage’ has become a byword for cool. It’s proof that fashion comes around, that trends recycle. And with so many subcultures consigned to Wikipedia entries and lookbooks for fashion brands, it’s no surprise that the fun and originality of wearing clothes and expressing yourself clothes has long gone.
Going back to the images of those boys who graced the shop floor with their African-inspired look…hip hop has long taken its cues from Africa. Sub cultures, or ‘youth-quakes’ are normally born out of political unrest or socio-economic struggles and act as a form of rebellion against the system/the establishment.
Look back to the early hip hop movement in 1970s New York and it’s almost as if the new school were doffing their proverbial hats to their forefathers in the mother land, and so it transpired a movement which transcended genres and generations. But that was then. We need ours now.
J Dilla saved my life. But it doesn’t mean I want to dress like him.
♫ Common Feat. Erykah Badu, Pharrell & Q-Tip – Come Close (J Dilla Remix)