TPS Responds: “Are Music Subcultures Losing Their Definition?”

The other day I came across a post on’s I-D called “Are Music Subcultures Losing Their Definition?”, which is a pretty interesting read.  Wanting to get into it more – especially considering we actually just covered the subculture subject recently (twice) – I figured we should bust out another edition of “TPS Responds”, where we break down an article with our own agreeing and/or disagreeing.  As always, click the above link for the entire post, as we’ll just take specific excerpts to respond to.  Here we go!

“Today, thanks to the wonders of modern technology we can plug into any genre of music, anywhere, and at any time. We’ve opened up our iPhones to sounds from all over the world, but what does an unlimited access to music actually do for us? Not only are we becoming less committed to one genre of music, our musical choices are increasingly losing their ability to challenge the status quo too.

A far cry from the distracted youth of today, who spend their days fiddling around with selfie sticks and hashtagging themselves to oblivion, kids of generation’s past lived and breathed music. Music dictated what they wore, how they danced, who they hung out with and what drugs they took. No longer children, but not quite adults, these kids spent what little they had on the perfect threads and rarest vinyl, as they tried to carve out an identity outside of an oppressively conservative mainstream culture.”

The world is definitely a smaller place with today’s technology, and music is a shining example of that.  I still think music largely defines a person, but certainly not like it used to.  Really, things evolve and that’s fine.  People are still drawn to certain cultures, and that “outsider” feeling still exists.  Maybe not like it used to though…

“‘Back then music was behind everything,’ agrees cult photographer and author of iconic photo book, Skins and Punks, Gavin Watson. ‘You’d go to school and talk about the bands you liked. When you met up after school you’d talk about the bands you’d like. That’s how you’d relate to your peer group. I remember hearing Madness on Top of the Pops, when I was 14. It just blew me away. The day after, the school was literally a buzz: who was that band?! It was only later that I found out they were Skinheads. At the time I just thought: ‘this band are fucking brilliant. I want to look like them.’ But back then it wasn’t like you could just casually shop the whole look from Asos, if you wanted to look like your favourite band you actually had to leave the house to do so. And even then, the music and its surrounding imagery were still pretty hard to come by. Yes, there were the music papers which came out once a week and, yes, you had Top of the Pops, but there was no Soundcloud or Spotify to stream your tunes from. No Tumblrs dedicated to Suggs’ thigh gap or an endless feed of Jerry Dammers’ selfies to swoon over. Only snippets of information being whispered in dark corners at gigs, which if you were underage you had a hard time sneaking into anyway. ‘It kept everything very exciting,’ recalls Watson. ‘Music released the pressure of having to live.'”

Music and artists are more accessible than ever in 2015, which if anything strengthens the connection with the fans.  Back in the ’60s, aside from the lucky few all people knew about their favourite artists was the music, and maybe what they looked like.  These days, social media has real time pictures of a guitarist drinking a smoothie or a singer writing lyrics, and as trivial as that stuff can be, it’s great.  The level of intimacy today’s technology provides is overall awesome.

“From grime to gabba, PC music to J-POP, because of the sheer wealth of choice we have today, the ease with which we have access to it (gone are the days of journeying to the Black Ghettoes of America to find a never heard before vinyl), and how programmed we are to consume rapidly, we no longer have to commit to one genre of music like we once did. And, even then, because we experience most of our music through personal devices like our iPhones or iPods, taste in music is no longer a thing of the collective, it’s much more down to the individual, which is why music subcultures are becoming increasingly less defined. This, in turn, affects the clothes we wear; because without any one genre of music dictating our sartorial choices, and the internet opening the floodgates to everything from Harajuko to Health Goth, Normcore to Navajo, and Seapunk to Chola, we can click in and out of Post-Internet trends, when and as we please.

Furthermore, in our consumer-driven, social-media obsessed society, subcultures are not only losing their definition they are also losing their ability to challenge the status quo. While the internet has given us so much in the way of democratising music and its surrounding culture, by making it universal and accessible to everyone, and allowing us to connect to like-minded people from all over the world, it also has the ability to numb us into mindless consumption.”

The increased fusion of genres isn’t even just a fan thing: different types of artists are collaborating, ones we’d never have thought would.  I was born in 1984 so I and maybe you missed that “golden age” of subcultures, so perhaps it’s hard to relate.  However, they still exist, and you can still usually tell what type of music someone likes by the way they dress.  When it comes to the focus and passion, there are definitely people who are more “flavour of the month” and not as hardcore as others.  But, there have always been differing levels of music fandom: even The Beatles had their fans that just listened to them on the radio, and those that followed them around on tour.

“Although all wildly different, the one thing that united subcultures of generations past was their being forged in opposition to mainstream culture. They were rebellious and subversive. They stood up against mindless submission, against their parents’ conservatism and government oppression. But fast-forward to today, and what are Chola and Navajo except gross misappropriations of minority cultures? And what about Health Goth and Seapunk? Sure, they’re nice to look at, but ultimately they’re just the product of a self-obsessed generation that values its self worth on how many ‘likes’ it gets. By posting a picture of a mermaid or Joey Essex in an airport, dressed head to toe in Nasir Mazhar what are you actually getting other than square eyes and a virtual erection? And then there’s Normcore (the most Googled trend of 2014) a trend that advocates rebellion through conforming to bland, boring, beige society. What could be more dangerous than indoctrinating Britain’s youth into submitting to the norm? And anyway, none of these subcultures are associated with a specific type of music, they’re just image based.”

Music is an escape, a friend that we always have.  And yes, it’s something we can rally around to make us feel like we belong in a big, crazy world.  But, a subculture not rooted in rebellion isn’t a bad one.  The world is still crazy in 2015, but tensions that existed decades ago – racial, international – are largely gone.  You can say that people have become more self-absorbed in a social media-driven world, where everyone has a voice and can celebrate themselves and others in multiple ways.  But that doesn’t mean today’s music fans don’t feel the same passion older ones did.  Maybe it’s just different: we can like punk music without running around yelling “FUCK THE SYSTEM, STICK IT TO THE MAN!”

Finally, the post ends with a call-to-action that hopes for a throwback:

“As the sun sets on the year that brought us a wealth of meaningless trends, let 2015 be the year that subcultures find their definition. Let kids put down their iPhones and go out into the real world and engage with the subversive, as opposed to listlessly posting a picture of it. Ultimately, let 2015 be the year we shake off our social media induced Narcolepsy and reignite our passion for music.”

You know, evolution is good.  Just because music fandom comes from different places than it did ages ago doesn’t mean it’s lesser.  There are still very passionate music fans who do everything from turn on the radio, to go to a local show to sitting on Spotify and Bandcamp discovering new music to reading (and writing, LOL self-props) blogs.  The very post we’re responding to mentioned how fandom is more “individual” these days, and yeah…we’re all unique and enjoy music in our own way.  It’s all good man, music is one of those things that we could fight about for days, but shouldn’t for a second.  Chill out and be who you are, whoever that is and whichever subculture (s), if any, you most identify with.

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