WTF is Britishcore?

From desolate country paths to local Co-Ops, TikTok’s Britishcore movement celebrates the UK in all its nostalgically mundane glory.

by Bailey Slater
23 September 2021, 7:59am

Imagery via TikTok

If you, like us, can’t resist a few sneaky glances at TikTok’s For You Page when you *really* shouldn’t — be it in the office or at a funeral (no judgement here) — chances are you’ve stumbled upon a montage of eerily familiar grey skied snaps of an indistinguishable British suburb.

The videos feature an irregular mix of moss-stained warehouses, pool tables in empty pubs and lone Lotto signs swinging in the wind outside an off license. Sometimes it’s a glimpse of a Stagecoach bus seat, adorned in that classic wotsit-above-the-ocean pattern, or a winding country path overgrown with weeds. Even the Game Of Thrones billboard outside Tottenham Hale tube station that hasn’t been changed since it appeared over four years ago perfectly captures the mundane yet comforting aesthetic of the UK cherished by TikTok’s Britishcore movement.

So what exactly is Britishcore?

Max Ballard, the 24-year-old photographer and graphic designer who popularised the phrase on TikTok, describes Britishcore as “anything you look at or hear and instantly feel like you’ve been there before”, sort of like a UK-specific amnesia triggered by Cadbury wrappers and those polystyrene boxes that house chips from the kebab shop. “It all ties in with the whole nostalgic feeling for me,” Max explains, noting that he wonders what might constitute the visual world of “Americacore” — perhaps guns, gators and a carrier bag from 7/11?

To city folk, these feelings of nostalgia might be sparked by the remnants of an old ad campaign flaking off a tube billboard, or a geo-tag of a once-beloved club now lost to high-rise apartments. To country bumpkins, maybe it’s our god-given right to wait an hour for the (still late) bus, or that first sight of those tiny black insects that wind up inside your TV screen when the crops have been cut. In Max’s case, it mostly resembles the type of suburbia remembered from teen years spent pining for the freedom promised by coming-of-age shows like Skins and Sex Education — seemingly free of responsibility or consequence.

Starting the account as a means to show off the various 00s and 90s wares from his online store, Camera Nostalgia Club, many of Max’s snaps are captured in the village of Great Wakering, which is a stone’s throw from Southend, Essex. “It’s a little more rural compared to Southend,” he says, “but very British to some people — mainly due to it being so stuck in the past”.

Before Max embarked on this journey, TikTok’s Britishcore tag had been used around a thousand times. Over the last four months however, that number has skyrocketed to over five million, attracting bustling comments sections full of viewers offering up their take on the copy-paste nature of life outside of the UK’s major cities. “Rich or poor, every Brit can relate to these photos,” says user @we_need_a_new_plague, while @merlintheemrys notes, “the only way you know it’s the south is the road works sign. They don’t fix the roads up north…”

Why are we stanning?

Max’s videos are fairly uncomplicated: from jaunts to his village’s neighbouring beaches to something as banal as a walk to the Co-Op, he captures bliss by appreciating all there is to hate about hometown life. “Not a lot goes on here, like there have been a couple of new housing estates going up, but that’s about it,” he says. “I can’t see it getting modernised anytime soon, but that’s what I love about it. It still feels like my childhood.”

This particular element of nostalgia is what truly drives the tag’s aesthetic, because, at some point, we’ve all been in a cul-de-sac populated only by streetlights and a lone ASDA delivery van, or second guessed a trip down the alleyway by our houses for fear of what lurks in the unknown. It all pertains to this idea of liminal spaces, eerie time capsules of life in a place of transition between all that was and all that is next; of scenes that are simultaneously comforting and harrowing. Add some loneliness and a little bit of déjà vu into the mix, and you’ll have yourself a recipe for total, utter nostalgia.

Max’s shots of the mundane make up a shared world of visceral imagery that has been documented by Reddit’s Liminal Spaces community and Facebook’s The Backrooms for some time now. Such pages offer up regular doses of found and made images to their respective community members, all intent on questioning what lies beyond this mortal coil. Artu Mouza, the savant behind Twitter’s @LiminalSpacesBot, attributes the growing interest in these images — which range from doctor’s waiting rooms to actual dreamlands — to a kind of pleasure-seeking. “I think it’s because of the feelings that they can induce, especially those that can hardly be found elsewhere.”

“The idea of a mysterious existence beyond this world — one so mundane and still — is a masterwork of reality,” Artu says. “The range of emotions this can evoke, and the level of deepness they can reach within oneself… yeah, I fuck with that.”

And why now?

It’s no secret that nostalgia itself is having a bit of a moment, be it at fashion week or in the 00s-centric new tunes by Digga D and RAYE. Of course, it’s understandable that we’re keen to escape our current reality — with the threat of further lockdowns and the very pressing issue of a worsening climate crisis, the future hardly seems like the shiny, utopic wonderland once dreamed of by our starry-eyed predecessors.

Max believes that this might also have something to do with Britishcore’s sudden popularity. Faced with tough times and bleaker prospects, who wouldn’t want to return to a rose-tinted vision of childhood familiarity? “I think it's quite comforting knowing you’ve got somewhere to call home,” he says. “Like, imagine in 30 years going back to that same spot where you used to chill with your friends and spend most of your days laughing… for me that's what Britishcore is all about: enjoying life.”

Other explanations are far less existential. For starters, British suburbia is defined by its efficiency — amicably fitting rows of identical terraced houses side by side with enough space to fit a small slice of green paradise and possibly even a front porch. The reason the Britishcore aesthetic looks so familiar is because, well, it is. Carbon copy houses crop up everywhere, only distinguished by their wheelie bin stickers and maybe the odd extension; it's a terrain most of us know and, oftentimes, have sought to escape.

But after lockdown left many young people stranded in their adopted cities and away from home comforts, Britishcore treats us to a not so distant past before all the madness; feeding into an unending swirl of Y2K-focused content on TikTok designed for pure, unadulterated escapism. And indeed doom scrolling.

As Moya Lothian–McLean recently wrote for gal-dem, “we are starting to run out of the recent past to consume, recycling outfits, songs and films that first came into being less than 20 years ago”. What happens when we truly suck the life out of grainy camcorder footage and those hideous BT telephone boxes? Will Topshop return to the high street? Will we have to relive the era of Vine?

Britishcore doesn’t have the answer, but as long as it’s spreading the love with some potently nostalgic TikToks, that’s all that really matters, right?

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