Why the re-emergence of Mods, Rockers, Punks & Skinheads…all at the same time?

It’s nearly the Summer of 2013, and we’ve actually seen the sun in spurts. The tattoos are on show…nothing wrong with that. In fact far from from it, we all need to express our identity somehow. But something struck me, when walking past a young lady, the other day. I’d guess she was around 18 yrs old, and was proudly displaying a rather sizeable tattoo of Buddy Holly on her upper arm. Naturally, this was also matched by 50’s summer-style attire, she looked pretty cool. But, Buddy Holly died in 1959, probably around 35 years prior to this young lady being born. Most people don’t permanently mark their bodies without high degrees of passion, emotional association and a need to express themselves. So, for this young lady, where did the passion come from? Especially for someone, who died 54 years ago, and would be nearly 77 years old, if alive today. Maybe an influence from her parents or grandparents, perhaps? Although being a parent myself, I very much doubt it.

It appears that the Buddy Holly tattoo is not an outlier. Having observed today’s British music and fashion culture further, there is a definite resurgence of various tribal music genres, from Jazz, Mod, Ska and Northern Soul, through Punk and New Romantic, to Metal and Prog’ Rock. In fact, if you check the music press to see which bands are on tour, there is a similarity to The NME or Sounds music papers of the 80’s. Any band with able-bodied members (who can still stand up and make a noise) seem to be on tour. From the UK Subs, Bad Manners, The Who, Motorhead, Hawkwind, etc., there are a plethora of bands who are re-living and re-capturing that fan obsession, which they first experienced many years ago. Also, there is a resurgence in “all nighters” and scooter rallies.

So why is this? Going back in time, to the 50’s and up until the late 90’s, the awareness and interest in music and fashion relied on three things:

  • Being able to hear it. The transmission of audio and visual medium – whether TV or radio mass media.
  • Physically being there. At the gig, or where the music was being played.
  • Having the record. The ability to get hold of the physical medium of music, in vinyl, cassette tape or CD. All of which were only available for certain periods, as they only printed so many.

These three elements dictated that certain genres of music, that had a tribal following, would follow a time line. And therefore, wax, migrate and wane as trends moved on.

Today it’s different. Through iTunes, YouTube, the move from physical medium to download, Shazam, and the Internet as a whole, every genre of every type of music is readily available, whenever and wherever people choose to access it. This enables anyone to discover and rediscover music from any era and be just as passionate about it, as if it was the first time around. All those music tribes of years gone by are able to co-exist at the same time. That timeline of music genres has been collapsed, and everything is available in the here and now. This has stirred up demand for these tribes to congregate in the real world and share their new found passion, hence the revival of band tours and events.

So what is the impact on British life? As we know, music influences fashion; some has political undertones, it’s not just the music, it’s actually a way of life for many. I think we’re experiencing, and about to experience:

  • Continued growth of music tribes of years gone by, who knows, it may even become cool for kids to go gigging and clubbing with their parents! The streets will continue to be populated by Mods, Rockers, Punk, Hippies and Skinheads, and hopefully co-existing in harmony.
  • The high street will change. Retail fashion outlets will cater for all and we could see the re-emergence of niche boutique stores. I’m all for that. We may also see bars and clubs become centres for specific music tastes….just like they used to be. I grew up in a “bikers” pub.

More interestingly. What will be the impact on new tribes? Will any evolve? Since the Internet, and the accessibility of any music genre, can you think of any new, self-evolving music tribe which has emerged? I can’t think of any…other than the X Factor, manufactured, instant fame, thing.

“I’d be spending my time on the Green Line”. Image London Transport.

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  1. Interestingly we’ve seen the early shoots of a punk resurgence in our recent work on the post-Millennial generation, Generation Edge.
    We think this is a partly a conduit for the new spirit of rebellion and desire for the alternative that we’re seeing among this new generation, and – as you suggest – partly a result of shared cultural / musical interests that Gen Edge share with their Gen X parents.
    Interesting times.
    More here: http://generationedge.com/

  2. Karl Havard on

    Stuart, That’s good to know. Another “data point” if I can call it that, indicating this cultural resurgence.

    I’m thinking a good barometer would be Dr Marten sales in the UK. There’s a brand with products that spans the tribal music genres….and I’m seeing many more people on the Tube wearing them. But that maybe because I’m looking for them.

    Thanks for the info.


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