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“Music fans have to stop being so fucking menopausal” | An interview about teens, emos, chavs, music

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rockabilly teenagers

By Neil Kulkarni

Editor’s note: This is a reprint of an article from Neil’s excellent blog wherein he reprises a recent interview he did with Jude Rogers for The Guardian. As Neil writes:

Jude Rogers was writing a piece on teenage subcultures and foolhardily interviewed me (and a lot of smarter people) for it. The excellent original piece is here but here’s the full exchange between me & Jude.

As a close observer of teenagers, and as a critic, do you think pop subcultures have the same weight now with young people as they used to – or at least as they were said to have done by critics like Dick Hebdige and the CCS (who I know are a little discredited these days by fan theorists anyway)?
Subcultures have ‘meaning’ to kids in as much as they’re used as terms of abuse – no kid will willingly stand up and admit to being either a ‘chav’ or an emo, but both groups use those terms against each other with definite ideas of what each means.  I think old folks keenness to be able to demarcate kids into those categories in the same way they were demarcated when they were nippers causes resistance amongst most kids to being part of any category. The subcultures definitely exist but they’re not something worn like a badge anymore, they’re not participated in with PRIDE or any aggressively militant tribal way. It’s ‘just the music I’m into’, or ‘just what I like wearing’ – also a lot of kids find their taste (for all tribes are about taste, no?) overlapping with other groups, in fact delight in those moments where what they find themselves liking is utterly at odds with everything else they like. The internet has definitely made kids more prone to those moments of surprise, less blanketly hostile to anything that doesn’t fit with their taste. But we have to realise that the default position most kids are in constantly is ‘wind up’ – emos love chastising all ‘chav’ music as about murder & guns, ‘chavs’ love telling emos that they want to kill themselves. Even though both groups love bits of the other’s stuff – subcultural groups are not hostilely ranged against each other in my experience. Isolated incidents aside in the main we’re not looking at mod/rocker cultural/streetlevel warfare here. There’s far more pisstaking, give-n-take and mutual amusement than kids are given credit for. The Hebdige/CSS models have percolated through to the mainstream so much that inevitably society itself has started kicking back, leaking, refusing to fit into the holes. Kids are supra-aware of the groupings & subcultures the elderly want to crowbar them into and don’t like it. That’s not to say that being part of a subculture doesn’t have a determining effect on what you do/see/hear/think. It’s just that no individual wants to ever admit anymore that they’re not being individual. Anyone who does conform (buys just the right clothes, only the right albums) to those stereotypes/profiles is open to abuse precisely for that easily-gained sense of belonging, the list/bullet-point nature of their affiliation. Psychologically kids still need these groups, but outwardly & avowedly they will disassociate themselves from any label that anyone dares try to throw around them.

Some critics would claim that there haven’t been any new subcultural movements for a long time – and this suggests that people don’t care enough about music any more. What are your views?
Bullshit. Kids care about music just as much as ever. I think critics expect to see subcultures walking down the street en masse: that’s not what it’s about anymore, it’s small connections between people, between sub-groups of already existent subcultures  that are important. Within each type of music (hip-hop, indie, metal, dancehall) there are hierarchies and gradations of snobbery that separate the entryist fan from the elite/connoisseur/addict. And the differences between these sub-groups are often too localized to detect on the wider national/international scale. But there’s a deeper problem here – the notion that young people ‘follow’ movements like paid-up card-carrying members of some social-club isn’t just bullshit now, it’s always been bullshit. I’m sure I’m not alone in never having felt ‘part’ of any particular subculture but if someone was to suggest to my teenage self that this meant I didn’t ‘care’ enough about music I would’ve thrown a Chinese star at them. FUCK YOU! What it’s basically saying is that as soon as you’re into more than just one type of music you’ve somehow ‘diluted’ your passion. That’s some straight-up fucking nonsense utterly at odds with most people’s experience of pop.

60s-jukebox-teenagers-vintage

Do you think labels or tribal names are important to young people in 2010?
Like I say, yes indirectly, but they won’t admit it. A kid’s year apart from the shit his parents and siblings are gonna give them, is about friends,  is often about what’s coming out, what festivals they’re going to, what gigs/tours are coming up – whatever label they’re under will dictate that, will plan that year for them almost before they’ve started it. But try actually labelling those kids and they will refuse it. Labels are purely mental occurrences & judgments now (and only verbalised as handy pejoratives in the flak-war that is teenage conversation) – they have no value as things that ‘the labelled’ themselves actually use, and the fans’ only consciousness of those labels is that if they stray too close to the stereotype it’s time for a rethink/rejig, time to fend off that categorisation.

Do you think that most well-known subcultures (mod, traditional punk) are now all-ages pursuits? If so, do you think they are merely nostalgic subcultures, or can they be genuinely creative? Or were only thought of as youth cultures in the first place because of the way rock and roll began with young audiences?
Yeah, all-ages, all-twats. Subcultures stop being creative as soon as  they become aware of themselves as subcultures. Mod (in the Fred Perry, Weller sense) is a dead-end of cord-slack wearing Vespa-riding laddish retro now (Jamie Oliver being perhaps the most cuntish culprit) – fearful of black music beyond the 70s, scornful of make-up, i.e utterly antithetical to everything (sharpness, only the hippest hottest black pop as a soundtrack) that ever made Mod interesting. If you want to see a dead end in which creativity/surprise is simply not on the fucking menu, go to a ‘punk’ gig and you’ll see an utterly misguided attempt to magic the sound of ’77 into the here and now without anyone wondering where the fuck the spirit went. Too much reverence, not enough abuse of the sources.

angry teenager

Some people would argue that music was better and more important before the internet because fans had to work and save to buy the music they loved, so they would invest more of themselves in it as a result. Do you agree?
No fucking way. Music fans have to stop being so fucking menopausal. At some point that nostalgia has to lift and us old farts have to fucking get on with the world we’ve got, realise that the destruction of the industry we knew and were reared by (in all senses) might actually be the best thing to happen to music in our lifetime. All that’s happened is that we’ve got way more to listen to and nobody at the sluice gates actually willing to wade in and start sorting things out, critiquing or giving the music the sense of drama/depth it deserves – too much fucking cheerleading and not enough confidence/confidentiality. So it seems like an undifferentiated glut where the actual ratios of shit to gold are the same as ever. It’s easy for folk of a certain vintage to get dewy-eyed about those years when only a few albums a year really took up your time, where you’d have to wait/save/anticipate music: but the fact we’ve gone from waiting outside record shops for what we want to just watching numbers fall on our screens doesn’t mean that the music was ‘better’ or more ‘important’ than it is now, just that your life FELT more highly-strung, felt more dependent on those moments where pop came in and saved you. [Amen – Ed]

Undoubtedly the internet/p2p/spotify world has transformed the way we get and hear and make music but I think too many writers are wasting their time mourning something lost instead of doing what they should be doing i.e writing AS IF NOTHING HAS CHANGED because there’s still only a few dozen bits of music each year that really transcend the glut, that stop time, that take you somewhere. The fact that the kit you use to hear it, the ways you find about it, the ways you can press it into other people’s consciousness, have all changed doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the shit that matters, the music that sticks a spoke in our infrared agility and stops us, holds us, captures us,  is still rare, special, and needs talking about as such. We’re this weird intermediary generation who remember the tactile rub of vinyl, the wounds and caresses and we’re now living in this slightly airless, air-locked entertaino-podule world where music is this dim distant one-track thing that comes out of tiny flinty speakers. But flittish lack of attention isn’t a necessary consequence of the internet. Critics have got to get out of that nostalgic cramp, get out of the lassitude and limpness that having ALL THAT MUSIC to listen to is creating and realise that no, actually, in a pile-high sell-cheap age finding the real fucking gold, the new gods, the new revelations is tougher and more precious than ever.

2 Responses to “Music fans have to stop being so fucking menopausal” | An interview about teens, emos, chavs, music

  1. Golightly November 2, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I have always been something of a punk in spirit… and nothing annoyed me more than discussions with mohawked punks about how fascist they were- I called them punk fascists. I used to say that at one point Marilyn Manson was the most punk performer on the planet. He was the most shocking and anti-establishment. The punks looked at me like I was stupid when I said stuff like that. I used to argue that once music can be neatly filed into the Punk section in a record shop it’s sort of devoid of it’s rebellion and dripping with conformity.

  2. Mr Hyde November 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Jamie Oliver? Doesn’t he listen to Jamiroquai? That “fearful of black music beyond the seventies” comment is complete and utter fuckin’ bullshit, how many mods (or actual human beings) does this fella actually know??! There are no black mods, are there?? Middle class wanker.

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