Southend Subcultures

February 26, 2019 by

At the weekend I visited the Subcultures exhibition at Southend's Beecroft Gallery, part of the brilliant Southend Museums. A collection of photography, fashion and memorabilia, it charts Southend's subcultures past and present, from mods and punks to teddy boys, goths, and more recent scenes like Junk Club. 

It's an inspiring collection showing just how diverse the scenes have been in our humble town. But it got Jo and I thinking as we walked home: what are the subcultures now?

When we were teenagers, it was clear from the clothes you wore what 'group' you were in. Were you a goth? A chav? (Or 'townie'/'trendy' as it was then) Indie kid? The band tshirts and corduroy trousers with Vans firmly put me in the indie category.

The 90s was probably the last meaningful correlation between fashion and music. It was a huge, sweeping trend. I remember my sister sporting an Oasis Union Jack tshirt and me picking the perfect Adidas Gazelles to complete my outfits. We all had army satchels from the Army and Navy, decorated with tippex or glittery beads. All Saints had a LOT to answer for too, with their combat trousers and crop tops with chunky white trainers. It was a LEWK. 

I walked into H&M after the exhibition on Saturday and the clothes looked exactly like the cast of Clueless had donated their threads. Tiny checked skirts, varsity cable knit jumpers in blues and yellows, pinafore dresses. There were also baggy white tshirts sporting the cast of Friends, and the movie poster from Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. It dawned on me. The kids of today are harking back to when *I* was a teenager. Romeo + Juliet cane out when I was in Year 9 and the world was DEEPLY EMBEDDED in Leonardo Di Caprio obsession. My Gran bought me the videotape of the film in Woolworths because I was studying the play for my SATs. In my head this wasn't that long ago, but of course, it's been twenty years Rachel. 

I do remember seeing a shift in the culture of wearing what you were into when they started selling AC/DC and Ramones tshirts in Topshop, and anyone would wear them even if they'd never heard the band. And now that all music is available to everyone at all times, you're absolutely unlimited in what you can listen to and when. When I was going to college, Xfm was the only radio station for people like me. Radio 1 was pop and dance music, but Xfm would play The Strokes and The Postal Service when no-one else would. 

Now it's a different story. BBC 6 Music is a place for everybody's tastes. And you can build Spotify playlists or YouTube folders that brim with PJ Harvey, Taylor Swift, Neil Young, Gustav Holst, Nine Inch Nails, Adele, Cocteau Twins... (you get the idea). No boundaries - the possibility for listening to music is endless.

I guess what I'm saying is, there's no big movement anymore and for a while that made me sad but it also means you can dress how you want and listen to what you want, and there's less judgement. A shifting point for me was being in the Pink Toothbrush and seeing head-to-toe-leather-clad goths pogoing to Beyoncé's Crazy in Love. 

Subcultures still very much exist as the exhibit shows, and in a nostalgic way I wish there was another movement around the corner rather than recycling Cher, Dionne and Tai's 90s tartan, but if it means there's more freedom for everyone and we're less definable by how we dress, then that definitely resonates with me. 

Subcultures is showing upstairs at the Beecroft Gallery, Victoria Avenue, until October 2019.

To read all of Ray's previous blogs please click here


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