the a-z of musical subcultures

From the daytimers to the fast chatters, the voguers and the wild ones, we pay our respects to the above and below scenes that have defined our musical landscape. Get ready to go deep.

by Matthew Whitehouse
19 February 2015, 4:00pm

A is for Androgyny
When in 1971, a stylist named Chelita Secunda decided that T-Rex's Marc Bolan would look a whole lot better in feather boas and glitter than flared jeans and vests, she restored a sense of fun that had been missing in pop since the split of The Beatles the previous year. Against a backdrop of social and political unease - and only four years after the decriminalization of homosexuality - Bolan's look was outrageous and unapologetic; a glittering escape from three-day weeks and Cold War unease. Glam, and the performance of style, was born.

B is for Baggy
At 7.30 p.m. on November 23rd 1989, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays made their debut on Top of the Pops and any sense of loss Manchester had felt since the break-up of The Smiths dissipated. In a combined airtime of five minutes and forty-one seconds, ten baggy clothed Northeners (plus one denim-clad Kirsty MacColl) turned Manchester into Madchester, happiness into ecstasy and haircuts into bowl-cuts. Hallelujah!

C is for Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances
"Modism, Mod living, is an aphorism for clean living under difficult circumstances", said original Mod God Peter Meaden and although he was describing one very particular short-lived, short-haired movement he could really have been talking about any. Aspiration, defiance, conspicuous consumption and the ability to transcend your surroundings with something as simple as a three-finger collar, the mods set the template for every sharp dressing subculture since.

D is for Daytimers
While their parents thought they were at school, thousands of British Asians growing up in the 80s and 90s spent their formative years raving in secret. Gathering at large clubs in the afternoon, they'd listen to music - sometimes garage, sometimes hip hop, but mostly bhangra - performed by bands and DJs. "Like all urban music, it's a soundtrack for life,"is how i-D described it in 1993. "The language is Punjabi but the following crosses cultural and religious borders."Just make sure you're back in time for tea.

E is for Electroclash
A dayglo shot in the arm for a scene that had become dominated by superstar DJs with supersize egos, electroclash was the fashion-conscious dance genre that turned London clubbing on its head in 2001 with Tiga, Fischerspooner and Felix da Housecat. Garish and sexy, it may have been over before it really began but, like all great movements, longevity was hardly the point. As electroclash forefather Marc Bolan once said: "The prospect of being immortal doesn't excite me, but the prospect of being a materialistic idol for four years does."

F is for Fast Chat
In 1983, dancehall usurped reggae as the dominant sound coming out of Jamaica and fast chat - its stripped-back, London-influenced younger brother - began to gain prominence. Although fast chat wasn't the first British take on reggae (that distinction lies with Dennis Bovell's homegrown Matumbi in the early 70s), it was the first time that sound system culture had developed a truly unique scene, one with the primary aim of getting you on the floor.

G is for Gaychester
Before Russell T Davies' Queer As Folk brought about an explosion in popularity for Manchester's gay bars, there was Flesh, the Hacienda's monthly gay night. Arriving in 1991, three years after the use of ecstasy had transformed the club scene, Flesh was a vibrant display of all that was great about gay culture, and one that grew so popular that positive discrimination had to be introduced to ensure it remained a predominantly gay event.

H is for Heavy Metal
The most enduring youth movement of them all, one that 30 years after its commercial peak, still manages to find new converts among those who enjoy their music cranked up to eleven. Consistent, unflinching and rarely without a sense of humor, for devotees, its existence on a largely separate plane from modern pop breeds a sense of complete immersion. Put simply, you are metal in a way that you just can't be other genres.

I is for Indie
When Hedi Slimane created his slim-fitting collection for Dior Homme in January 2003, it showcased a silhouette he'd been photographing at London clubs such as the Rhythm Factory and the George Tavern for the past two years. By that summer, skinny jeans were the height of cool and gigs by The White Stripes, Kings Of Leon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Hives were awash with Pete Doherty's Englishified take on the look: fedoras, battered boots and perma-hungover stares.

J is for Jungle
In the early 90s, while the rest of the nation was raving to hardcore, London was moving at a breakneck pace to jungle. At Rage, a weekly event at the nightclub Heaven, Fabio and Grooverider brought the beats (160 of them per minute) while a label conscious crowd brought the look: high-belted jeans, designer t-shirts and MA2 bomber jackets with their favorite rave, record label or radio station embroidered on the back.

K is for Kings Road
The Chelsea Drugstore, Granny Takes A Trip, Stop the Shop, Flip, SEX… If any street in Britain can hold claim to being the home of subculture then it is this one. Although gentrified beyond recognition today (and having the rather dubious honor of being the site of the UK's first Starbucks), it's still possible to find some of the old spirit, chiefly at Vivienne Westwood's World's End, holding fast at no. 430.

L is for Leeds Goth Scene
Over thirty years before Rihanna was hashtagging her black-clad look as #ghettogoth on Instagram, the goth scene was a largely provincial movement and Leeds pub The Faversham was at its very core. Close to the Polytechnic, it's where the Sisters of Mercy would hang out in the early 80s, before descending on nights such as Xclusiv in Batley, a small manufacturing town better known for its variety club than countercultural nightlife.

M is for Manchester Hip Hop
A largely forgotten part of Manchester's musical history that grew out of Hulme's brutalist Crescents; one of the biggest - and least successful - attempts at urban regeneration in Europe. Comprised of artists such as MC Tunes, A Guy Called Gerald, MC Buzz B, 808 State and Kiss-AMC, Hulme had its own look - baggy second-hand suits - and gave rise to what was described by John Peel as "the best rap album the UK ever produced": The Ruthless Rap Assassins' The Killer Album in 1990.

N is for New Romantics
Adam Ant may have been the first to don a pirate jacket and paint a Native American white stripe across his nose, but it was the regulars at Soho's Blitz Club - including i-D's very own Princess Julia - who came to truly define the New Romantic movement. Flash, brash and with a flamboyant sense of high drama, the scene was embodied by the late, great Steve Strange; a man who took the self-determination of punk and used it to create something weird, wonderful and very, very glamorous.

O is for Outsiders
Be it sexual curiosity or the alienation of a suburban upbringing, outsiderdom creates the need to be around like-minded people. It's the driving force behind all subcultures. "I don't wanna be the same as everybody else,"says Phil Daniel's swaggering Jimmy in Quadrophenia."That's why I'm a Mod, see?"

P is for Psychedelic Scalls
Due to high levels of youth unemployment, there was a much bigger LSD scene in the Liverpool of the 80s than there was in the late 60s. Ten to fifteen years after the airwaves were first awash with the sound of people turning on, tuning in and dropping out, bands like The Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, Walkingseeds, Spaceman 3 and Mr Ray's Wig World, were all making sonic explorations into acid soaked music. In fact, psychedelia is so much a part of the city's history that it's no surprise Europe's leading celebration, the Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia, attracts over 4000 people to its redeveloped warehouses every year.

Q is for QT
PC Music's collision of high-pitched vocals and European pop-cheese has been polarizing to say the least, but its gender-twisting embracement of masculine streetwear and queer dance culture earns it a place among other more established movements. Hannah Diamond's pink puffa jackets, QT's blunt, blonde bangs; it's the attention to detail that matters.

R is for Rockabillies
As the children of original Teddy Boys (the very first teenage subculture to grow fidgety with the status quo) began to raid their parents' wardrobes in the mid-70s, rockabilly became the first music scene to undergo a serious revival in the UK. A 'cat clothes' shop called Flip opened on (surprise, surprise) Kings Road in 1978 and a whole host of British rockabilly acts began to spring up: the Stargazers, the Polecats, the Shakin' Pyramids. Polecats guitarist Boz Boorer would later reemerge as a co-writer and guitarist for Morrissey, and his influence can be heard most clearly on 1992's rockabilly imbued Your Arsenal.

S is for Skinheads
The skins were working class reggae fans whose MA-1 bomber jackets, 14-hole Dr Martens boots and grade one haircuts have become some of the most instantly recognizable forms of street uniform. Feeding directly into the energy of punk, their reign was as short as their hair and the super-macho look was later adopted by London's gay scene.

T is for Tribe
Spending 1991 traveling around the country and putting on illegal raves were a loose knit collective, known as Spiral Tribe. A hippie subculture inspired by the recent acid house scene, their shaved heads and combat gear invited the ire of local authorities wherever they went. "There are some people who moan and they do moan very loudly,' founder Mark Harrison told i-D, "but as far as we know free festivals are about playing music non-stop. Tech is folk music. We play the people's music. And anyone who comes down and asks us to turn it down, I'm sorry we're not going to. Turn it up if anything. If you've got a voice, shout. Our attitude is 'Make some fucking noise'.

U is for UK Garage
Boys on scooters. A slim-fitting silhouette. Versace, Versace, Versace. Suddenly it was cool to be sharp again. Whether you wore a bold print shirt and Moschino jeans or Patrick Cox loafers and a pair of chinos, this was about dressing to impress and dancing en masse. Clean living under difficult circumstances.

V is for Vogue
Liverpool's reputation as the easternmost city of the United States began with American blues records flooding in via its docklands in the early 60s and continued through the 80s with its burgeoning vogue scene. A form of highly stylized dance that originated in Harlem, it gained popularity in Scouse gay clubs such as The Curzon and Jody's, where revelers would spill out into space of local cemeteries to continue the party after hours.

W is for The Wild One
Despite being banned in the UK on its release in 1954, the image of Marlon Brando's brooding Johnny inThe Wild One was enough to transform the simple leather jacket into as much a symbol of rebellious freedom as the means of transport that it was intended to accompany. Synonymous with the social change of the 1950s and 60s, for many, it offered a passport out of the drab domesticity of Post-War Britain; a teenage ticket to an exciting world of street fashion, gang culture and all-night motorway cafés.

X is for Ecstasy
Although a Brooklyn drug dealer named Cindy Ecstasy had given Soft Cell's Marc Almond the drug as early as 1981, it wasn't until a London DJ named Danny Rampling returned from Ibiza in 1987 that MDMA truly began to transform the club scene. Launching his night Shoom in the same year (its flyer read: 'the happy happy happy happy happy Shoom club' and was decorated with the now iconic yellow smiley face), Rampling set about trashing the notions of cool that had held sway since the 60s, replacing them with flares, dungarees, bandanas and an over-riding sense of unity.

Y is for The Young Ones
Running for twelve episodes between 1982 and 1984, The Young Ones was a surreal depiction of four very particular adopters of British subculture in the late 70s and early 80s: punk Vyvyan, hippie Neil, would-be anarchist Rick and cool guy Mike. An excellent portrayal of student life under Margaret Thatcher, it's worth a watch, not least for the musical cameos from Madness, The Damned and Dexy's Midnight Runners.

Z is for Generation Z
With teenagers becoming more and more interested in cultivating personas online than off, it remains to be seen where the next mass movement will come from. Is the idea of a subculture out of date? Generation Z, it's over to you…

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