The 70’s – anti-rock subcultures

From ‘Cool Cats: 25 years of Rock n Roll Style’, chapter on “The Seventies: Rebellion, Revival and Survival” by Paul Noyer

Rock was floundering as a force because it had split along the most enduring fracture line of all, that of class. No wonder the more astute observers seized on the 1969 Hyde Park concert as a pointer: while Mick Jagger minced across the stage and his ageing audience, mostly college kids now, sat back affecting a sort of blissed-out complacency, there were young thugs up from the nastier end of town…

The skinhead look embraced all that was ugliest and most opposed to the relaxed trendiness of of a now established and semi-respectable 60’s style. It owed nothing to Rock. Pop held nothing of interest to them – except perhaps for the then-despised simplicity of reggae and Motown. Mostle they followed football anyway. It took pop a while to realise this: by the time Slade adn Rod Stewart began to capitalise on the mood, skins had all but disappeared again.

In externals these new mutants were aggressively working-class, taking traditional styles (big boots, braces, short hair) up to the point of parody. In fact it was the exaggerated uniform of an old proletariat that had vanished along with the blitz… (Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange was soon to depict this dream-gone-wrong in a vivid and – ironically – influential way)

…Pop might have become as noise as ever, but it was becoming a minority pursuit. And meanwhile, in Wigan they had Northern Soul.

Northern Soul was 1972’s only true underground cult. Its whole language — secret sounds, soul survivors, keep the faith, the torch — was that of a sect. Historically the movement was what remained of the original mods – preferring black music over white, obsessed with exclusiveness, dressed with uniform austerity, a subtly perverted restraint which stood in quietly defiant contrast with the gaudy rock-based excess that overtook mod in the south and finally became hippy. Overlooked or forgotten the style thrived in small, unfashionable provincial towns, hidden away.

The look helped preserve the cult’s invisibility. To anyone else, the northern mod’s appearance would seem commendably conformist, or only mildly eccentric. The details only signified to fellow insiders: the vent, the turn-up, the right-button fastened, the curl of the sideburn…


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