Collection of quotes from Dick Hebdige’s “Subculture”. From Rasta to Punk

The Rastaman

The profound subversion of the white man’s Religion which places God in Ethiopia and the black ‘sufferer’ in Babylon has proved singularly appealing to working class youth in both the ghettos of Kingston and the West Indian communities of Great Britain. […] Clothed in dreadlocks and ‘righteous ire’ the Rastaman effects a specatcular resolution of the materian contradictions which oppress and define the West Indian community…

Even in the ska records of the early 60’s underneath the ‘rudeness’ and the light, choppy metre, there was a thread of Rastafarianism (Don Drummond, Reco etc). [..] Reggae began to slow down to an almost African metabolism. The lyrics became more self-consiously Jamaican…

The Rude Boy

This was a rebel archetype which remained firmly tied to the particular and tended to celebrate the ‘individual’.

With dub and heavy reggae, this rebellion was given a much wider currency […] Thus, the rude boy hero immortalized in ska and rocksteady – the lone delinquent pitched hopelessly against an implacable authority – was supplanted as the central focus of identity by the Rastafarian who broke the Law in more profound and subtle ways.

The Sound System

The ‘sound-system’ perhaps more than any other institution within working-class West Indian life, was the site at which blackness could be most thoroughly explored, most clearly and uncompromisingly expressed. … representing a precious inner sanctum, uncontaminated by alien influences, a black heart beating back to Africa on a steady pulse of dub…

…The music itself was virtually exiled from the airwaves. It could live only in and through the cumbersome network of cabinets and wires, valves and microphones which make up the ‘system’ which, though legally the property of an individual entrepeneur, was owned in a much deeper sense by the community.

…And it was through music, more than any other medium, that the communication with the past, with Jamaica, and hence Africa… was possible. The ‘system’ turned on sound; the sound was intimately bound up with the notion of ‘culture’; and if the system was attacked ehn the community itself was symbollically threatened. It thus became hallowed ground, territory to be defended against possible contamination by white groups.[…] The Notting Hill riot of 1976 and Carib Club incident of 1974 can be interpreted in this way, as symbolic defences of communal space.

White Subcultures

According to DH, the succession of post-war white subcultures (teds, mods, skinheads, punks…) can be read as a series of…

deep structural adaptations which symbollically accomodate of expunge the black presence from the host community. it is on the plane of AESTHETICS: in dress, dance, music; in the whole rhetoric of style, that we find the dialogue between black and white most subtly and comprehensively recorded, albeit in code…

Hipsters & Beats

The Black Man, mistily observed through the self-consciously topical prose of Jack Kerouac (who carried the idealization of Negro culture to almost ludicrous extremes in his novels) could serve for white youth as the model of freedom-in-bondage. Saint and exile, he flew like ‘Charlie Bird’ above his wretched condition…

Although the Hipster & Beat subcultures grew out of the same basic mythology (Black man’s Jazz) the two styles drew on black culture in different ways:

The Hipster was a lower-class dandy, affected a very cool, cerebral tone to distinguish him from the gross, impulsive types that surrounded him in the ghetto. Aspired to the finer things in life… jazz or Afro Cuban.

The Beat was originally some earnest middle-class college boy who was stifled by the cities and wanted to cut out for distant and exotic places… where he could ‘live like the people’, write, smoke, meditate..

The Teds

Menwhile another convergence was occurring outside Jazz in the late 50’s.
Black gospel + Blues had fused with White County and Western = Rock ‘n Roll
To the English working-class lads, this symbolised ‘America’,

…fantasy continent of Westerns and gangsters, luxury, glamour and ‘automobiles’.

The Ted style juxtaposed two blatantly plundered forms: black RnB and the aristocratic Edwardian style. A shamelessly fabricated aesthetic: Suede shoes, velvet and moleskin collars, bootlace ties… in contrast the the beatniks’ ‘natural’ blend of dufflecoats..

Hebdige describes them as ‘uncompromisingly proletarian and xenophobic’. They were involved in many unprovoked attacks on West Indians and featured prominently in the 1958 race riots.

The Mods

The Mods were the first in a long line of working-class youth cultures which grew up around West Indians, responded positively to their presence and sought to emulate their style. Like the American Hipster, the Mod was a ‘typical lower-class dandy’ obsessed with the small details of dress…they wore conservative suits in respectable colours, they were fastidiously neat and tidy…

The Mods invented a style which enabled them to negotiate smoothly between school, work and leisure, and which concealed as much as it stated.

The hard-core Soho mod of 1964 – Tony Clarke’s ‘Entertainer’, James Brown’s ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’, Dobie Gray’s ‘The In Crowd’, Jamaican Ska eg, Prince Buster’s ‘Madness’…

Lifestyle: lots of jobs, amphetamines, long weekends – polishing scooters, buying records, trousers to be pressed, tapered or fetched from cleaners, hair to be washed and blowdried.

By 1966, the mod movement, subject to the concerted pressures of the media, market forces and the familiar set of internal contradictions (between keeping private and going public, between staying young and growing up) was beginning to break down into number of different scenes. Most noticeably, the polarization between the ‘Hard Mods’ and those overtly interested in the fashion and 60’s ‘look’.

Hard Mods –> Ska, rocksteady, reggae –> Skinheads

Extravagant Mods –> Carnaby street scene… merging into the fashion conscious psychedelic hippies.

The Skinheads

Aggressively proletarian, puritannical, chauvinist, dressed-down – cropped hair, braces, short, wide levi jeans, or functional sta-pressed trousers, Ben Sherman shirts, Doc Martens, suppression of any bourgeouis influences <—- West Indian 'rude boy' immigrant culture + White working-class.

Whereas the mods explored the upwardly mobile option, the skinheads explored the lumpen.

They copied the West Indians’ mannerisms, adopting their curses, danced to their music… thus the skinheads ‘magically recovered’ the lost sense of working-class community.

The skinheads resolved or at least reduced the tension between an imaginary present (the mixed ghetto) and an imaginary past (the classic white slum) by initiating a dialogue which reconstituted each in terms of the other.

But this dialogue between Black and White youths was precarious. Other alien
groups were scapegoated (queers, hippies, Asians) to maintain this alliance. eg Paki-bashing.

The decline of Skinhead culture in the 70’s <– consumer capitalism + glam rock, reggae music became more openly committed to racial themes and rasta and less appealing to white skinheads…

Glam and Glitter

In the 70’s black British culture came into its own with its own magazines eg ‘Black Music, and its own youth culture.

Glam rock <– Synthesis of two dead or dying subcultures – the Underground + Skinheads. Moving away from soul and reggae. More teeny-boppy.

Not only was Bowie patently uninterested either in contemporary political or social issues or in working-class life in general, but his entire aesthetic was predicated upon a deliberate avoidance of the ‘real world’… Bowie’s meta-message was escape – from class, from sex, from personality, from obvious committment – into a fantasy past or a science-fiction future…

…yet Bowie was responsible for opening up questions of sexual identity which had previously been repressed, ignored or merely hinted at in rock and youth culture… The subversive emphasis shifted away from class and youth onto sexuality and gender-typing

And thus, Glam rock tended to alienate alot of working-class youth.


Punks claimed to speak for the negelected constituency of white lumpen youth… and did so, typically in the stilted language of glam and glitter rock. It was obsessed with Class and Relevance… themes of Anarchy, Surrender, Decline, Alienation

There was a new wave towards Reggae… a shared political agenda.

Just as the mod and skinhead styles had obliquely reproduced the ‘cool’ look and feel of the West Indian rude boys and were symbollically placed in the same milieux (big city, violent slum), the punk aesthetic can be read in part as a white ‘translation’ of black ethnicity…

This parallel White Ethnicity was defined through contradictions. On one had it centred on traditional notions of Britishness (the Queen, the Union Jack) and was ‘local’. It emmanated from the recognizable locales of Britain’s inner cities and spoke in city accents. On the other hand it was predicated upon a denial of place.. issued out of nameless housing estates, anonymous dole-queues, slums-in-the-abstract.. rootless… Bound to a Britain which had no forseeable future…

The punks’ open identification with black British and West Indian culture served to antagonize the teddy boy revivalists –> ted/punk battles along Kings Road 1977. Ironically, punk and reggae were fundamentally musically opposed.

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