The world has undergone massive changes throughout the last two centuries, and at each step of the way, there’s been groups of individuals that challenged the status quo. Though at some times powerful and other times embarrassing, these subcultures have since become unmistakably iconic and have helped shape their respective eras. “Scene Kids: A Subculture Retrospective” takes a journey back in time and look at some of the fringe groups that went against the grain.
THE FLAPPER (’20s)
Long before Baz Luhrmann popularised them in his polarising rendition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, these bad b*tches were giving conservative America the middle finger throughout the ’20s. Smoking, boozing, cool rides, risqué fashion, and promiscuity were amongst the activities and characteristics of the flappers in their quest to reject the social norms of the ‘lady’. When they weren’t swinging to jazz in back alleys and night clubs, they were inadvertently setting a tidal wave of change in motion for attitudes towards women in the West. Although their live-large mindset was brought to an abrupt halt at the arrival of the Great Depression, the Flappers were undeniably pioneers of counterculture. Hats off to ya, gals.
THE HIPPIE (’60s)
These tree-hugging radicals were at the forefront of the peace movement during the ’60s. Spiteful of middle-class wealth and opponents of ’Nam, the hippies used their own brand of dissent and rebellion, ‘flower power’, to fight the “love it or leave it” mentality of the pro-war US government. Characterised by long, unkempt hair, flared denim, progressive sexual attitudes and a love for hallucinogenics, these revolutionaries inspired alternative lifestyles that would carry through to the present. Save for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s nauseating experiments in noise, the hippie generation produced some of the best artistes and music festivals of all time, many of which appeared at the seminal Woodstock festival of 1969. They didn’t just embody the street, they took it by force – with love, man.
THE PUNK (’80s)
Taking a less forgiving stance than their peace-loving predecessors, the Punks were crass cultural revolutionaries hell-bent on tearing down the ’80s riff by riff. With music as their weapon of choice, blaring guitars and anarchistic lyrics formed anthems for the Mohawk-ed, silver-studded youth as they stomped the streets and set the new standard for alternative aesthetics. With anti-establishment and anti-corporation sentiments forming the core of almost every facet of the lifestyle, it was a bitter pill to swallow when corporate retailers like Hot Topic turned the DIY culture on its head and had every teen adorning studded bracelets and Ramones T-shirts – in effect putting the legitimacy of the once unique ‘punk’ look into question.
THE EMO (’90s)
Following the hardcore punk aggression of the ’80s, the following generation had much less to yell about. Cue the emos. Apathetic yet heartbroken, outspoken yet misunderstood; the emos were happy in misery and looked the part. Dressed from head-to-toe in black with makeup to match (including the fellas), these jaded romantics screeched their way from their D.C. origins to the international street scene of the new millennium. If you didn’t know each and every word to ‘Hands Down’ by Dashboard Confessional, you better have assumed the title of ‘conformist’. Despite the caricaturist nature of the emo aesthetic, the young and impressionable had no qualms with wearing their hearts on their sleeves, much to the dismay of parents worldwide.
THE HIP-HOPPER (’90s)
Perhaps one of the greatest influences on today’s enduring street culture is hip-hop music. At the height of its heyday in the ’90s, emcees and quick-witted freestyle wordsmiths told of the tough life on the streets through rhyme and vocal acrobatics. The hip-hoppers had something to prove and flaunting swag was all part of the game. From baggy jeans below the waistline to oversized clock necklaces (yes, Flavor Flav made that a thing), hip-hop inspired waves of followers to establish an urban look that is prevalent in today’s street scene. It wasn’t long before the white middle class were speaking in Ebonics and rappin’ about the ‘projects’ in an ironic turn of societal role reversals. However, after countless feuds, gang violence, and a devolution of subject matter from everyday struggles to how much is in the bank, even the greats started questioning whether hip-hop is dead.
THE HIPSTER (’00s)
Not unlike their jive-talking, coffee-obsessed cultural ancestors of the ’50s and ’60s – the beatniks, the urban hipsters exploded on to the scene in the early millenium, only more opinionated and more sarcastic. Lovers of everything organic, antiquated, and undiscovered, these modern bohemians conquered roadways on fixed-gear bicycles with vintage flair. Perhaps in a demonstration of ingenious tact, the hipsters were stylistic chameleons, switching from their Steve Zissou-inspired thrift shop threads to outfits from the local GAP in a display of apparent irony. Unlike subcultures before them, this group of dapper ladies and gentlemen were known for explicitly denying association to the hipster identity – which is a shame, considering there was nobody to take credit for Topshop’s subsequent Fall catalogues.
This article was originally published in JUICE Singapore November 2014, Issue #194, and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.