From Subcultural Capital to Parafictions

At the beginning of this final module I did a presentation outlining what I produced for the previous module and explained my goals and ambitions for this module.

  • The first thing I suggested was to change the format of my web page or produce a new one to reflect the change of direction with my creative practice. I am no longer a glass maker, for the time being, and I need a web presence that reflects my change of direction.
  • I also need to refine core lines of practice, possibly learning film making and editing and develop some form of performative and video based pieces.
  • I also stated that I need to engage with relevant art theory and
  • explore the significance of subcultures within a wider cultural context.
  • Then finally decide on the general orientation of my work.


The feedback was interesting as it was suggested that my previous work, especially the video was parafictional. The video was a satirical presentation of the craft of the “labelsmith” making bespoke white record centre labels. In the real world, record centre labels are printed onto ceramic infused paper, then fired in a kiln. Both heat resistant labels, one for each side, are simultaneously fixed top and bottom as the record is pressed. My video presents the making of a bespoke white label as an object of desire on its own terms, without being attached to a record.


Parafictions are a form of fiction which are intended to reveal the truth through presenting a plausible narrative. During the research for the previous module I was intrigued by the practice of “cover ups” on the Northern Soul scene. The discovery of a rare record would be mis-titled or the artist’s name would be changed to protect its identity. This would ensure that a particular record would retain its original anonymity protecting the DJ’s exclusive collection and from bootleggers. Originally cover-ups were just pieces of white paper fixed to the label however some DJs would have replica labels with new cover-up names and titles. Cover-up titles would usually be a lyric contained within the song or title and the artist’s names would be substituted someone already familiar with the devotees of the music and artists. For example, JJ Barnes was singer on the Ric Tic label and had a similar singing style to Motown’s Marvin Gaye. When Marvin Gaye’s lost classic, “This Love Starved Heart of Mine (It’s Killing Me)” was discovered, it was covered-up as “Killing Me” by JJ Barnes.


Of course I need to consider the wider cultural implications of parafictions and fiction in my work and the significance of subcultures within a wider cultural context. Both issues can be seen as analogous as fictions and parafictions are significant within subcultures and has implications for contemporary media culture and “fake news”. I am currently developing a fictional record label, “Sexton Records”. “Sexton” is cockney rhyming slang for fake or counterfeit, as in Sexton Blake, fake. I have been making artwork for the record centre labels but I have reached a crossroads regarding the narrative.

Sexton Records


Should it be centred around this record label? Where I create a history of a long lost unsuccessful record label?
Or should this label be a vehicle, a part of someone’s story? Where this record label is a facet of a biographical narrative?

The first option would allow me to create from scratch a narrative which could include similar record company’s histories. However I am mindful that I could just create a fictive parody. Would this be considered parafictional?

Sexton Records Dia1

The diagram shows how Sexton Records could be portrayed as a small record company similar to Drew Records and have only one group/artist on its books. I also needed to have a plausible company address for Sexton. I was researching Detroit based companies and the address of Soutrack Records was mentioned on an online message board. It appears that both the record company and its address no longer exist. Ideal.

The narrative could include elements of the rivalry between Ed Wingate and Motown’s Berry Gordy. After declining Gordy’s offer of partnership in Motown, Wingate set up a rival record company and the Ric Tic subsidiary was creative rival to Motown. Cheekily Wingate even persuaded Motown’s session musicians, the Funk Brothers, to moonlight at Ric Tic. However in 1966 Gordy bought out Ric Tic’s holding company, Golden World Records for $1m. Despite having Edwin Starr and JJ Barnes on his books, Wingate was unable to compete and both moved to Motown as part of the sale. Wingate reactivated Ric Tic and had some success until Gordy bought out Ric Tic in 1968.

Soussan dia

Simon Saussan was a bootlegger or rare soul records on the Northern Soul scene. A spiv, chancer and an enthusiastic recreational liar, his story is shrouded in mystery and there are many anecdotes about his dealings. French-Morroccan Soussan ended up in Leeds, via Paris, and discovered Northern Soul and saw opportunities in acquiring and selling bootleg copies of rare soul records. He joined the few avid collectors that made trips to the USA to hunt for these rarities. Apparently he managed to persuade Tom Del Pierro at Motown to allow him access to their archive and “borrowed” a copy of an unreleased song, “Do I Love You?” by Frank Wilson. The song made in 1965 was never released and most of the 250 demo copies were destroyed. Saussan made an acetate copy and sent it to the UK. The cover-up name was Eddie Foster and became a massive hit on the Northern Soul scene. There are only two known copies and one was sold in 2009 for over £25,000.

Eventually Soussan emigrated to America Where he set up Soul Galore Records and Soul Fox Records to sell bootleg copies to the UK. It is rumoured that he set up other labels and these can be identified by the imprint “Licensed exclusively to Soul Galore Productions”. One of them being Sexton Records?

Soussan’s story is open to speculation. Anecdotes around him have become established as facts but he still remains an enigma. However he did go on to have a brief career as a disco producer. He was Shalamar’s first manager through his connections with Soul Train television show presenter Don Cornelius. Their first hit, “Uptown Festival” was a melange of Motown hits but it was originally meant to be a Northern Soul medley. However there were limitations to this especially with the US market in mind. Despite this concession Soussan named the band after the Shalimars who had a popular Northern Soul hit, “Stop and Take a Look at Yourself”. It was while he was on the set of Soul Train that Soussan met Motown’s Tom Del Pierro.

Here is a video of Simon Soussan being interviewed on Soul Train with another band he managed, Arpeggio:


It is rumoured that Soussan has retired from wheeling dealing in the music industry, renouncing his former life and reconnecting with his separdic jewish roots.

White Label Workshop

Here is a video I made which demonstrates the process for making a single, bespoke, hand-crafted white label. The background music is: “The Lounge” » from

I posted this on YouTube to share on social media platforms.

Notes 2 – Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital – Sarah Thornton


2 – Authenticities from Record Hops to Raves (and the History of Disc Culture)


The Authentication of a Mass Media


Music is perceived as authentic when it has credibility and comes across as genuine. The experience of musical authenticity is perceived as a cure for alienation (offers feeling of community) and dissimulation (extends a sense of the really “real’).


Between the mid-fifties and mid-eighties “liveness” dominated notions of authenticity and its main site was the live gig. Interestingly “liveness” as a musical value coincided with the decline of performance as the dominant medium of music and the prototype for recording. The demand for live gigs was arguably roused by the proliferation of recordings.


The formation of new authenticities specific to recorded entertainment were dependent on changed in the production and consumption of music. Originally records reproduced and sounded like performances. As popular music was increasingly took place in the recording studio, records came to carry sounds and music that did not originate or refer to actual performances. In the 1960s, magnetic tape technology, producers edited music into “records of ideal, not real, events” (Frith, 1987a, 65). In the 1970s and 1980s, synthesisers and samplers meant that sounds were recorded from the start, so the record shifted from being a secondary or derivative form to a primary, original one.


Records gained their own authenticities as they became originals. Degrees of “aura” came to be attributed to new, exclusive and rare records. Similar to the mystification of art objects, records could plausibly be authentic and archetypal. This inversion of original and copy cannot be fully explained as “commodity fetishism” although it does explain the obsessive vinyl junkies and “completists”.  


However, records were not subsumed into popular culture as the public’s acceptance was slow, selective and generational. Changes in the way music was consumed was essential to the development of new authenticities of the disc. The authentic “live” experience was considered superior to dsc reproduction. Records gradual enculturation was signalled by the changing names of the places where people gathered to dance to discs, such as record hops, disc sessions and discotheques. The technological enculturation of the disc leads to authentication when a music form is deemed essential to subculture. Once technology is absorbed into culture, new concepts of authenticity are possible. The microphone offered a new form of authenticity as the singer exploited the intimacy that this technology offered, “moving the focus from the song to the singer” (Frith, 1986: 270). Similarly with the electric guitar has become fully integrated with rock culture, records have become the authentic musical instrument of club and rave culture.


Contemporary dance cultures are authenticated by the interaction between the DJ and the crowd. “Liveness” moved from the stage to the dancefloor, venerating the atmosphere as both DJ and dancers share the spotlight. Raves have become unique happenings similar to rock festivals.


Subcultural authenticities are often inflected by issues of nation, race and ethnicity. Black British disc cultures reflect the strength of community away from the night club, affirming politicised black identity. So there are two kinds of authenticity at play. The first involves issues of originality and aura and the second is about being natural to the community or organic /to the subculture. These two kinds of authenticity can be related to two kinds of culture. The first draws upon culture as art and the second in an anthropological sense as a way of life. With live music, artistic and subcultural authenticities collide at the point of authorship. Artistic authenticity is anchored by the performing author as the unique origin of the sound while subcultural authenticity is grounded in the performer representing the community. Whereas disc cultures separate these two authenticities. The crowd make the record a “living” culture and the DJ bridge the gap as professional collectors and players of “originals” as well as “working the crowd”, but they do not embody authenticity like live music performers. Both live and disc authenticities emphasise the cultural importance of being genuine and both seek to elevate their cultures above mass culture, media and commerce.


Technological enculturation is a relatively new issue. The integration of media and information technologies has four overlapping stages. According to Silverstone, Hirsch and Morley in their essay Consuming Technologies, the four phases are; appropriation (by ownership), objectification (within the decorative space of the home), incorporation (into the temporal structure of everyday lives), and conversion (into topics of conversation and cultural bonds) (Silverstone et al. 1992). However this model domesticates music consumption but can be analogous to the enculturation of music in the public sphere. Recorded music is as much a feature of pubs, shops, lifts and karaoke bars as it is in a private home.


Industrial Forces, Musician Resistance and “Live” Ideology


Records moved from the private to the public sphere, enculturated into the public sphere. They replace performance in the times and places with the youngest patrons and lowest budgets. This gradual colonisation of public spaces was opposed by the Musician’s Union who wanted to eradicate the practice. It was appeased by receiving performance rights but still campaigned with propaganda about the superiority and authenticity of live music. Recorded music performs the function that live bands used to do for social and cultural events.


Thomas Edison recommended that his phonograph be used as a “talking machine” to facilitate dictation, record phone messages, books for the blind etc (cf. Read and Welch, 1976). Little thought was given to its entertainment value. By the turn of the 20th Century dance crazes stimulated the recording business, producing records for use in the private sphere, for practicing dance steps and parties. Coin-operated phonographs or “juke boxes” introduced these recording into the public sphere.


During the twenties, radio was the main source of music, most of which was broadcast live. Dance band playing for an audience of ballroom dancers while simultaneously broadcasting to people’s homes. Record companies saw radio as competition and withheld promoting their records on the radio. In July 1927, the BBC broadcast the first programme devoted to records which had a positive impact on sales. They began actively pursuing airplay and buying plays on commercial radio stations. Radio became central to the process of record selling and star-making but it unseated the primacy of the family piano rather than challenging the dancehall.


Before the “talkies”, many of Britain’s musicians were employed accompanying silent films. Yet the success of The Jazz Singer in 1927, the same year as the BBc’s first record show, saw many musicians lose their jobs. Movies became a vehicle for promoting records and by the late fifties the album charts were full of film soundtracks. The majority of these were family entertainment and despite the success of Blackboard Jungle and its closing track “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, rock’n’roll was mainly recorded on 45s which was predominantly bought by youth. By the sixties, both Elvis Presley and the Beatles albums were marketed as “original soundtracks” as these movies were vehicles for the artist’s music. Simon and Garfunkel’s soundtrack for The Graduate in 1968 marked a turning point in the popularity of the album format amongst youth.


In the 1930s, the record companies began to sue for public performances of their product. The 1911 Copyright Act only protected from unauthorised “copying” as opposed to “playing”. The companies began to attach labels to their records stating that they should not be publicly performed and set up Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) to license the performance of records where it authorised the use of records in exchange for a licence fee.


From 1946, the PPL began licensing establishments on the condition that “records not be used in substitution of a band or orchestra or in circumstances where it would be reasonable to claim that a band or orchestra should be employed” Musician’s Union Conference Report, 1949). In 1951, Danceland Records released ballroom numbers to circumvent existing copyright laws. They advertised their records for use in ballrooms, hotels and theatres, urging the proprietors of these to join the fight against PPL licencing. In 1956, a new copyright act re-enacted the rights given to the record companies, defining the sound recordings as distinct from copyright of musical works and reiterated the three acts which require a PPL licence, making copies of records, playing them in public and broadcasting them. This permitted the use of records “at any premises where persons reside or sleep” as long as no admission price was charged within non-profit clubs and charitable, religious or educational societies.


Many dance clubs exploited these loopholes. The Whiskey-a-Gogo club in London claimed exemption on the grounds that it was the headquarters of an international students association. Other small clubs dodged PPL licences in a variety of ways. The Saddle Room in London hired a trio of musicians which never actually performed. During the fifties the Musician’s Union (MU) began a propaganda campaign attacking the aesthetic quality of records and draw on notions of “live” music as worthy of appreciation. Liveness was the truth of music whereas records were the false prophets. The ideology of “liveness” was the MU’s strategy to combat the menace of recorded music. In 1963 the MU adopted the slogan “Keep Music Live” to convince the community of the human value of live music.


Jean Baudrillard noted that culture was dying on the altar of techniques of production, the creation of images that no longer reflects but generates the real. The MU’s stance was that technology was destroying music itself (The Musician, 1963). The MU’s promotion of live music was hampered by their members musical taste and their anti-mass culture rhetoric, not understanding why teenagers preferred dancing to rock-n-roll over listening to “good jazz” (Musician’s Union Report, 1959). This protectionist attitude and the promotion of certain types of music over others reinforced the association of certain music genres (rock-n-roll and later soul) with records. Rock music eventually adopted the ideology of live music and was at its most strident in its reaction to disco music as epitomising the death of music culture.


In Britain, discos and disco music (or soul, funk, jazz fusion) had a huge straight white working class following, unlike the USA which strongly identified with gay, black and Hispanic minorities. Anti-disco sentiments echoed an elitist attitude to mindless masses and generational conflict. In the 1950s the public use of discs was facilitated by the introduction of vinyl 33 and 45 rpm records which probably aided the proliferation of lunchtime record hops. In the 1960s most disc sessions took place earlier in the week, whether in discotheques or live venues, while featuring live bands at the weekend. By the 1970s, records began to dominate the “prime time” of Friday and Saturday nights. Live music had become the interval between record sets. By the mid 1980s, live music was relegated to the beginning of the week as DJs and discs became the main attraction at the weekends.


Records first gained a foothold in locations with low budgets, such as youth clubs and community centres. Records eventually moved to commercial venues, such as small basements and coffee houses. The leisure chains eventually converted their ballrooms into discotheques in the 1970 and 80s. The investment in discotheque technology and the presence of the disco top forty chart signaled the durable presence of the disco. In March 1978 Time Out began publishing a weekly listing of discotheques on the back of the phenomenal sales of Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album. Interesting to note that the film premiered in Cannes but not at the film festival, but at MIDEM, the annual international record industry convention in January 1978. When disco music went out of fashion, pubs and dancehalls continued to be converted.


Developing alongside were extended versions of mobile discos. Records became the source of music for big events. “Raves” grew out of semi-legal warehouse parties which drew their inspiration from Afro-Caribbean “sound systems” which had been around since the 1970s. These flexible incarnations explored new kinds of environments contributing to a novel “atmosphere”. This repositioned live music as few musicians today make a living from playing at dances. Live music is only profitable under certain conditions and dance venues are no longer one of them. The threatened closure of live music venues has provoked concern about the decline of live music. This marginalisation is best demonstrated by the fact that in many British towns in the 1990s, live venues are operated by local councils or student unions. University student unions supported around 800 venues around Britain and students make up the bulk of live music audiences. Record companies subsidise tours for emerging acts as a means to build a fan base. This sector would not exist if it were not for the large audiences generated by records, and videos. The bulk of the revenue for the band come from sales of merchandise and acts now sign merchandising agreements at the same time as they sign a record deal. Those aspiring to a record contract would usually have to pay to be heard at a live music venue where the band would have to purchase tickets for their gig to sell on to friends.


In 1988, the Monopolies and Merger Commission recommended that PPL withdraw its musician employment requirement as this was deemed pointless for two reasons. First, sounds conveyed on records could not be reproduced by a live band. Second, “audiences prefer recorded sound” (Monopolies and Merger Commission, 1988: 41). However the ideal of the traditional performing rock group still prevails in many record companies who see authentic live performance as a key selling point. Changes in the ideological status of discs were dependent on the following key factors. First, records increase their allure by their connection to new types of occasion, social spaces and new social groups, increasing subcultural authenticity of discs. Second, records adapted to their public use to suit discotheques and to satisfy the demand of a professional club disc jockey. Finally, the studio rather than the stage has become the key space for the origination of music, so certain genres began to acquire an aura.


“Real” Events and Altered Spaces


New kinds of environment recast records as something uniquely its own. By using new labels, interior designs and spectacles, disc dance became distinctive. Transformed from an occurrence to an occasion. Before record hops, the use of records was not mentioned in advertising and was seen by the MU to be creating the impression that a live band would be performing. Also the dance crowd had no idea that they were dancing to records. This may be evidence of the ability of records to “simulate” or “mask the absence” of performance (Baudrillard, 1983a: 11). However it was noted that the music was subordinate to the social event and the audience didn’t give the music much attention.


Record hops gave the activity a distinct identity and identified with youth. This young group were looking to find a space they could call their own, who had the least prejudice regarding record’s presumed inferiority. These hops came to symbolise the new youth culture, “teenagers”, and records had become integral to youth. Later disc dances targeted smaller demographic segments and shades of taste, referred by Reyner Banham in New Society in 1966, as “vinyl deviationa”. The main social function of records of  distributing culture but was superseded by radio. The gramophone became the dissident medium for deviant sound to disaffected cultural minorities who were not satisfied by the constant “wallpaper” of radio broadcasts (New Society, 1966).


In the early 1960s, dancing to discs became fashionable within the latest cultural space, the “discotheque”. Translated from French as “record library”, these new cultural events began to influence their surroundings, defining themselves against the architecture of 19th century dancehalls. Discotheques continually renovated to appeal to the ever-changing youth market, from late 1960s psychedelia, through 1970s mirrorball “discos”, to post-modern 1980s “clubs”. Late eighties “raves” to dance events away from these traditional venues to warehouses and remote rural areas. The regeneration of these spaces were also to emphasis the classless of youth culture. The old ballrooms projected aristocratic fantasies and there was also a hierarchical distinction between the common dancehall and the elite nightclub. These new spaces were meant to be both classless but superior to the institution that preceded them.


Raves were particularly encompassed with notions of utopian egalitarianism. Everybody was welcome from all walks of life united under the hypnotic beat. Paradoxically only those “in the know” could hear and locate the party. This kind of utopianism, argues Barbara Bradley, ignores the subordinate position of women at most levels of rave culture who have to prove themselves twice over if they want to DJ, produce or organise these events (Bradley, 1993). These are supposed to be “sexless” events but are not necessarily sexually progressive.


The loss of spectacle of performing musicians was compensated by eye-catching interiors and lighting. Lighting in particular has become an elaborate accompaniment to the music and also to make better the spectacle of the crowd. The use of computer-generated fractals, film loops and slide projectors can act as visual equivalents of the music. The disco presents the symbolic potential of electric light, signalling nocturnal gatherings.


The complete sensory experience of the club or rave is intensified with the use of alcohol and/or drugs. These institutions developed into a total environment to offer ritual catharsis, divorced from the work world outside. Door restrictions divide the outside from the inside, long corridors and stairways create transitional labyrinths. Raves add pilgrimage and the quest for the location extends the ritualistic passage from the humdrum to “Wonderland”.


Disc Jockeys and Social Sound


The enhanced acoustic atmosphere is essential to the altered space of the discotheque for the accomodation of discs, where DJs have a key role presenting and re-establishing authenticities and directing the energies of the dancefloor.


Juke-box manufacturers started to produce extended-play records for their dance-orientated juke-boxes. Seeburg’s “Little LP” had three tracks per side, with music in the lead-in and lead-out grooves. The practice of dancing to discs was affecting the design of the record’s format. However record companies were slow to react until the influence of disco music and shrinking radio playlists aroused promotion department to look for alternative strategies to promote their music. In the 1970s, DJs were mixing seven-inch copies of the same record for prolong play. Some recorded their mixes onto tape to play in clubs. Eventually these tapes were pressed onto vinyl as extended remixes. Record labels began to create a special vinyl product which contained stripped-down instrumental breaks to facilitate seamless mixing from one track into another. This helps to sustain the momentum on the dancefloor, contributing to the other-worldly atmosphere with the constant rhythm lulling you into another state. The rave culture ritualised this into the “trance dance”.


Twelve-inch discs were made specifically for DJs where invention and improvisation rely on the human touch. The DJ becomes the guarantor of subcultural authenticity and plays a key role in the enculturation of discs for dancing. By orchestrating the event and anchoring the music in a particular place, representing and responding to the crowd. Progressive enculturation of record entertainment reflect the changing occupational status of the DJ. In the 1940s, Djs were initially regarded as a public address engineers who ran the local radio shop, supplying recorded music. By the 1950s, playing records was considered so unskilled that most though it best to play the records themselves. However by the 1970s, the DJ came to be regarded as experts about dance music and its markets. They were bought into the studio as remixers and producers, it is now quite rare to find a dance musician who had not spent time as a DJ.


Supplying records is a vital function of the DJ. They are heavy record buyers and a constantly updated record collection is as essential as the equipment. A reputation for owning a comprehensive collection of specific genres is a main selling point. A advert for Blackpool Mecca’s soul night identified the DJs as having “…records that nobody else has” (Black Music January 1974). The DJ’s status established by owning an exclusive record collection resulting in DJs becoming more of a cultural elite.


The origin of the term “disc jockey” is disputed. To ‘jockey” implies some form of trickey or artifice, deceiving the listener into believing that what they were hearing was a live performance. Interestingly in the mid-1960s, the American Whiskey-a-Gogo chain employed women who acted as both DJs and gogo dancers. These were the original “dance-DJs” who did dance routines between changing records. However this was the exception as usually there would be a “personality DJ”, usually a radio broadcaster, who would fill the gaps between records with informal chatter. They may even broadcast a regular show from a particular club.

Angela Carter noted in New Society magazine in 1968 that a DJ “is in a position of power. He can moud taste. Maybe he could do more. You’ve got all these kids looking up to you and you are in a position of authority” (Carter 1968). DJs started to be perceived as tastemakers and “moulders of musical opinion in a very similar – and far more direct – way to the music journalist” (Melody Maker, 15 November 1975). However it was as mixers, instead of personalities, where DJs performed as “turntable musicians”, performing elaborate mixes and creating new music in the process of mixing. Records and samples became the raw material of their performance and composition. These can be bought by dance fans and serve as documentation of the DJ’s performance.


By the late 1980s, DJs reacted negatively to the rise of CDs in a similar fashion to the threat of discs to musician’s livelihood. The DJ’s tactile repertoire was faced with technology that they could not see or touch, and their vast record collections threatened to become obsolete. The sound of vinyl was seen by mix DJs as warm, real and full of integrity, whereas CDs were cold, clinical and inhuman. The language used is similar to the way live music was polarised from recorded music. By the early 1990s many clubs installed CD mixers with DJs adjusting to the new technology and the possibilities of its purer sound.


Despite evolving a performative aspect, the DJ was not yet a performer. However in recent years, from the mid-1990s, the “cult of the DJ” has lead to the practice of facing the DJ while dancing as if attending a ‘live” performance. Regardless of this later development, the dancing crowd is the enduring spectacle as watching and being seen are key pleasures of clubs. The interaction of the DJ and the crowd and the atmosphere that created, is what authenticates club cultures. The DJ orchestrates this “living” communal experience, responding to the crowd through their choice of records, building up the tension and excitement. DJs are artists in the construction of musical experience. Dance cultures revolve around records and disc culture is a distinct high-tech folk culture, and records in the hands of a mixing DJ are literally “social sounds”.


The Authenticities of Dance Genres      


  1. Authenticity is dependant on the assimilation and legitimisation of records by a subculture and is the ultimate end of enculturation.
  2. Also, the distance between the production and consumption of records is relevant to the cultural value bestowed upon it. Revived rare records gain prestige.
  3. The record’s production environment adds to its authenticity.

The ideological vagaries of music genres, such as bodily “soul” and/or technology, plays a main role in how they are perceived as genuine. British jazz appreciation societies, a.k.a. “rhythm clubs” marked a shift in cultural values as records became the pivot around which a collective culture revolved. Although these fans collected and fetishised records, they valued these discs as “records” of a unique jazz performance. It was not until rock’n’roll that records started to serve as the “original” and the development of rock’n’roll was dependant on records. Radio was the main medium for rock’n’roll then television took over as the mass medium in the 1950s. Radio went local and the audiences segmented. The black audience was was a new target market and the stations’ broadcasts crossed neighbourhood boundaries. This introduced black music to white youngsters.


Records were preferred to performance where their specific qualities were exploited. The ability of records to travel in space and time led to disc cultures revolving around rare, imports and new releases afforded them credibilities independent of performance. Authenticity shifted to an interest in the degrees of exclusivity found in these rare recordings. Although occasionally a unique, only one copy, figured in disc cultures. One example is the reggae sound systems where exclusive “dub plates” were made exclusively for the sound system. Since the 1950s, disc sessions attracted audiences by playing the latest releases. Nowadays, dance sounds are often danced to before their commercial release, often on import or limited edition “white labels”.


Records foster interest in the archival as well as the novel, expediting cultural revival. One prime example was “Northern Soul”, a predominantly working-class and white, the venues located mainly in the North of England. This archival dance culture promoted obscure, forgotten and unsuccessful soul records form the1960s. The appeal was not so much nostalgia but rarity. The unavailability of these records to the dancers and the intentional anonymity of the DJs record collection meant that these events were an opportunity to hear sounds they couldn’t hear anywhere else (Black Music January 1975). These records display many characteristics of works of art, an elaborate ritual displaying cult value. The devotion of the scene bordered on the religious. The venues were temples. The congregation dances to reach a transcendental state, the service conducted by the high priest DJ.


The ideologies of music genres played a crucial role in the authentication of recorded music and discotheques. However, rock music pivots around the ideal of the live performance, despite most of the listeners knowing by primarily its recorded form and has been often played in discotheques. “Dance music” does not have an exclusive claim on dancing. Rock audiences are usually physically responsive by head banging, pogoing and moshing. Although these responses often fail to be categorised as dancing as the gaze of the dancers is focussed elsewhere, not the performance.


Dance music genres often announce it in their names. For example, “Disco” from discotheque, “house” from the Warehouse in Chicago, “garage” from the Paradise Garage in New York. The ideological categories of black and white music define the main axes of authenticity within dance music. “Black’ dance music is said to maintain a rhetoric of body and soul, regardless of sampling and digital technologies. Whereas “white” or “European” dance music is about minimising the human element and futurist celebration. However, these categories often have little to do with the colour of the people making the records, they are discourses about the value of dance music. Both have their authenticities and both have been the forefront of studio experimentation. The truth of dance music is often found in the revelation of technology to create new sounds instead of imitating “natural” sounds.


The “black” tradition still maintains a key interest in vocals and “funky” instrumentation. For white youth, black authenticity is anchored in the perceived emotional honesty of the performance, rooted in the body and soul of the performer. The “white” dance tradition explores the possibilities of the instrumental over the caporeal. When vocals are used they tend to be heavily manipulated to sound almost non-human. Although these sounds were first used by black DJs in Chicago, the sound became associated with white club culture in Britain. Few black clubbers perceived acid house as black music.


Both black and white dance music are primarily producers’ rather than performers’ media. The authentic sources for black music are the singers or rappers, whereas the white tradition embraces “faceless” anonymity. This denial of image seems to allude to art discourses which celebrate the autonomy of music and plays with branding strategies, as opposed to the persona of the artiste. Their credibility is measured by their author’s invisibility. Album covers correspond with this aural abstraction by sporting computer-generated, non-figurative imagery.


Provenance is also a factor regarding these versions of authenticity despite both bearing witness to trans-Atlantic influences. Black dance music tends to be rooted in local urban scenes, whereas white dance music claims to be a global an nationless. The trajectory of the genre “Techno” which began as black music ended up as white reveals this cultural logic. This dance music from Detroit was to be featured on a compilation album, Techno: The Dance Sound of Detroit, to be launched in the UK by Virgin Records. The A&R and marketing departments discussed with the DJs and producers what to call the music being produced in Detroit at that time. They eventually decided on the name ‘techno” as it gave the music a distinct identity, having its roots in subcultural Detroit. Despite the British press hailing “techno” as the sound of that city, the genre did not take off as few singles from that album. The term “techno” was later appropriated to describe “acid house”. Overexposure, tabloid defamation and the overt drug references compelled record companies in the UK to rename the genre. The shift from the first to the second kind of techno, from a black to white sound, shifted the discourses on the place of origin. Techno was later seen as musical Esperanto and no longer rooted to a particular city.


The Response of the “Live” Gig


Records rather than performances were increasingly perceived as offering the best sound, decreasing engagements for live music. Faced with the threat of recordings, performers embraced new technologies and reinvented performance as “live music”.


Since the 1960s, records have increasingly dictated the nature of performance. First, people came to know a band’s music through listening to their records and the band’s live performances were checked against the memories of those recordings. Second, the changes in production and the use of multi-track recording became the preconditions for the development of the concept album. Rock records could be musical events in themselves and the album rather than the single was the format to be elevated. Why?

  1. The duration of an album was similar to a band’s set and allowed for exploration
  2. Rock bands can enoble themselves by association to classical music, which the LP was the original configuration.
  3. Album consumers had the appropriate demographic, mainly white, male and adult (rather than teenagers)


Of course these experimental recordings presented further challenges to music performance. The Beatles were the first band to perform in arenas and stadiums but gave up gigging after they were effectively drowned out by the screaming fans. However, the main reason for giving up was that performing live impeded their creativity. Playing the same set, with the same songs, using the same instruments was frustrating their creative development.


In the 1970s, rock groups like Pink Floyd developed spectacular live performances to accompany their studio experiments. Today audiences come to expect a spectacle akin to or better than the one they have experienced by watching music videos. The flavour of these videos are re-enacted with dance routines projected onto giant video screens. Also, these screens offer “live” close ups of the performers so the audience can enjoy the intimacies that they are accustomed to seeing on the television. This not only enlarges the spectacle it also intensifies the presence of the personalities.


“Live” music’s spontaneity elevates the performance to a unique event, although sometimes this enactment is limited to a well-rehearsed deviation from the original record track, for example a guitar or drum solo. Sometime the deviation is more dramatic. Smashing up the instruments on stage has been a perennial crowd pleaser since the 1960s. The Who borrowed the idea from the artworld’s “happenings” which fetishised the impermanence of performance. Audiences are likely to enjoy behavioral as well as musical spontaneity. Punk band found the essence of performance in all the mistakes and brazen displays of musical incompetence.


During the 1980s, many shows began to use recorded music and sound effects to bring the performance closer to the original recording. Surprisingly this didn’t seen to threaten the “liveness” of these performances, unless of course the star was lip-synching. Live lead vocals act confirms the star’s presence and sincerity. Despite all the instrumentation supplied on backing tapes, a live vocal performance is a convincing origin of the sound.


Dance acts have felt the pressure as record labels see touring as a means to promote the artist’s identity. These new kinds of performance delivered recorded music different from that already available on the released record. Underlining the event as a “happening” by re-enacting the music making process, taking the studio onto the stage and mixing it live. Sometimes mixing the tracks completely differently in the studio and then spontaneously running samples and effects during the performance. Some acts included rappers, live keyboards and creative visuals.  


Technical Journal – White Label

I wanted to create and replicate the undulations of a record where the label is attached, so I initially attempted to emboss by rubbing a spoon over a piece of paper on top of a record centre label. The results were underwhelming so I decided to make an embossing form from cardboard.


Again I used a spoon although the results were better but still not sharp enough. So I reused the cardboard ring offcut and used a roller, sandwiching the paper between the form and the offcut. The results were much sharper.


I fashioned a burnisher from a scrap of cardboard to accommodate the circular embossed form but I felt this could facilitated by creating a negative version of the base so that the paper can be properly sandwiched without the need for burnishing.


Here I have used some tape to fix the inner ring in position. This is a bit flimsy so I glued the top section onto a piece of card.



Although the embossing was successful I was concerned that the quality would deteriorate from wear and tear of the cardboard form. I felt it was necessary to have a form made from something more substantial.


Here are the tools required:
The form in two parts, top and bottom
A roller
A scalpel
A leather punch
A hammer
A pencil
A stencil (this one is made from glass)


This is laser etched wood and I have inserted dowels for accurate registration.


Place a sheet of paper between and used a roller to emboss.


Flip the form over, as this is the top, and draw a circle through the hole.


Use a leather punch and a hammer to pierce the spindle hole.


If you cannot find a suitable circular paper cutter then use a stencil to cut out the label. I used a piece of coloured glass as I have a circular glass cutter. I also flipped the paper over so that the stencil sits in the outer edge recess, making it easier to line up and cut with a scalpel.

“Got any White Labels mate?”

According to the term “white label” refers to vinyl records which have a plain white centre label, usually in plain packaging. This label can have hand-written or rubber stamped details of the artist and its title or a sticker.

  • Some of these are test pressings to check the sound quality and are usually in quantities of 5 or less.
  • Some are promotional copies sent to retailers or DJs and are a black and white facsimile of the record company’s label, with the background colour removed and details printed with additional wording such as “promo copy only”.
  • Sometimes white labels are used to conceal the artist’s identities so that the record can be listened to without any preconceived prejudices.
  • Producers may supply copies to dance clubs to gauge the crowd’s reactions to a new release.
  • There are also unauthorised copies and remixes from independent DJs/Producers without the artist’s or record companies consent.
  • Competing DJs would tear off the original label or cover up with a plain white label to conceal what record they were playing.
  • Generally not distributed for sale to the general public.

The two final points allude to the rarity of white label records, their intended anonymity and particularly the “gatekeeping” practices of DJs which is of interest to me. The subcultural capital afforded to these limited edition pressings manifests to many on the outside as elitism. The authentic and original is a closely guarded secret aware to only those in the know. I found an Ebay advert for a limited edition 12” single for sale. The seller provided a photograph of the item in question.

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What struck me was the fact that by providing a photo of a white record label, without any identifying features, The seller assumes that the prospective “in the know” punters would identify this as the “real deal”, whereas to anyone on the “outside” it’s just a white record label without any information to suggest that this is in fact that particular record. This ambiguity interests me and I want to present white labels as the currency of subcultural capital.

Sketchbook – Initial ideas – the kudos of white labels.

I printed a black and white copy of the white label from the Ebay advert and mount it in an oversize frame. The fact that it is a printed photocopy and not an original, creates tension regarding that label’s authenticity.


The currency of subcultural capital and commodity fetishism has inspired me to present the white label as a desirable object on its own terms. I had previously cut out a circle of white paper with centre-hole in the middle, but this looked very bland and flat. I looked at a white label record and noticed the contours where it has been attached to the record, so I decided to replicate these undulations.


I eventually created an embossing stamp, first from cardboard and then from laser engraved wood. A piece of paper is sandwiched between and pressed or rolled and then trimmed.


Self-adhesive white labels are available to buy and plain CD stickers can be adapted. However these are mass-produced for the DJ/record producer market. I wanted to produce individual hand-crafted bespoke labels with the emphasis on quality using a laser engraved jig on the finest plain paper, trimmed to size using a handmade stencil. This implies commodity fetishism as the label itself has an intrinsic value as a handmade object, despite being cheap to make.

Technical Journal – Digital Embroidery

Save as “.eps” file in Adobe illustrator, or similar vector drawing package.


Export as “.tiff” to the Bernina software on PC

  • Drag and drop to “Art Canvas”
  • “Auto Digitiser” reduce colours   
  • Type “4” in this instance, click “OK”


My original designs were done using an open-source vector package, Inkscape, which is similar to Illustrator but I was unable to save in the desired format for exporting to the Bernina software. We had to redo the lettering around the edge of each patch design.


‘Object Properties” – For redoing the typographic elements

  • “Height” = 6.5
  • “Width” – 43
  • “Baseline Radius” = 4.0 and 5.0


File – select



Card/Machine Write



Select device



Either USB if the sewing machine is not attached to the PC, or straight to a connected sewing machine.



USB connected to standalone Bernina 580.



Bobbin is inserted in the compartment under the sewing machine needle. This stitches the underneath of the cloth.



Attach cloth to the hoop and tighten.



Load the first colour thread. This will need to be changed when the next colour is ready to embroider.



Pull the thread through and attach to needle.



Through the needle but not through the needle guard.



Switch on when you are set up with the correct colour thread.



The red layer being done.



The finished embroidered patches on the hoop with the digital version on the Bernina software.



The “home” screen on the Bernina 580. Choose the hoop on the right.



The first colour – blue.



The third pass is red, remember to change the thread on the machine.



There are registration issues with this set up. Bernina is a domestic set up and not quite consistent industry standard.



Finished Patches

“Patches? We don’t need no stinking patches!”

Misquote from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948


My creative practice has evolved around the practices of appropriation snd re-contextualisation which are also common within subcultures, for example taking items of clothing and affording them subcultural capital by constructing a unique style. I decided to use the Northern Soul patch as a basic format and subsume elements and argot from another subculture, the swingjugend (Swing Youth). 


The swing youth was a German group of young jazz and swing enthusiasts during 1930s/40s mainly around Hamburg and Berlin. Their admiration for American jazz, British dress style as well as the rejection of  National Socialism was always going to put them at odds with the authorities.


fullsizeoutput_22cMy initial sketches follow the “house style” and format of the Northern Soul patch. The wording states the clubs they visit and the slang used within that scene. Along with the typical jazz saxophone I have included a “jazz hand” salute. Northern Soul devotees appropriated the “black power” clenched fist salute, whereas I have countered that assertive symbol with a less provocative hands wave.  However, I have decided that this passive gesture could be reinterpreted using labanotation. The labanotation symbols have a runic appearance which alludes to early North European history and culture. Runic symbolism is currently being apppropriated by alt-right groups and presenting the jazz hand salute as a labanotation symbol appears sinister on the surface. Subcultures have a tendency to present an edgy version of itself, aided and abetted by the media, which can be misinterpreted by the general public. This tension between the public face of the Subculture and it’s symbiotic relationship with the media.



These patch designs were generated using a digital illustration package and then converted for digital embroidery.

Notes 1 – Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital – Sarah Thornton

Exploring the Meaning of the Mainstream (or why Sharon and Tracy dance around their handbags)


Academics Accounts of the Cultural Organization of Youth

Academic writers on youth culture have relied on binary oppositions generated by us-versus-them social maps and using loaded terms like “mainstream” with academic arguments, depicting mainstream youth culture as an outpost of the “mass” or “dominant” culture.

Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979) uses the mainstream to measure the youth’s “resistance through rituals” and subversion through style. The mainstream according to Hebdige is abstract and ahistorical. For example, comparing punk apparel to high street fashions and the anti-dancing to “conventional courtship patterns of the dancefloor” (Hebdige, 1979: 108) prevalent at provincial dancehalls. From my own personal memory, punks and “soul boys” initially wore similar cloths; plastic sandals, mohair jumpers etc. Both soul scenes, Northern Soul and the Southern “funk-orientated” Soul, revolve around dancing unconventionally to rare, old and imported African-American popular music.

Each reference to the mainstream is presented as a version of the bourgeoisie whose function is to be shocked. Subcultural youth are characterised as predominantly working class which is not a true reflection youth culture as a whole. Inconsistent fantasies of the mainstream are rampant in subcultural studies. Geoff Mungham’s article “Youth in Pursuit of itself” is research done at a provincial Mecca dancehall. Here he searches for the mundane, positioning the study as a counterbalance to sociology’s orientation towards the spectacular, emphasising conformity and conservatism. The dancing is described as a “Meccanization of the sexual impulse” (Mungham, 1976: 92).

Hebdige perceives his mainstream as bourgeois and the subcultural youth as an artistic vanguard. Whereas Mungham sees it as a stagnant “mass” and the “others” are creative and challenging.

Angela McRobbie maintains the binary opposition between the mainstream and “subcultural alternatives”, but suggests that dancing offers creative expression, control and resistance for girls and women in either space. Simon Frith contrasts the culture of middle class students and working class school leavers. The “sixth-form culture” of buying albums, listening to progressive rock and attending rock concerts, whereas the “lower-fifth-form culture” of buying singles listening to commercial music and going to discos (cf. Frith 1981a), outlines a distinction between rock and pop culture. Pop culture is both younger and predominantly female as well as being working class. Stephen Evans finds two distinct nightclub cultures, one commercial and the other alternative. The commercial culture is working class and mainstream and the alternative culture focuses on the latest development in dance music and are attended mainly by students.

There is a contradiction within subcultural studies where one positions the mainstream as a middle class, dominant culture while the other describes it as “mass” culture. However since the 1990s these dichotomies are challenged. Lawrence Grossberg asserts that subcultures and the mainstream have fluid boundaries and are indistinguishable and “the mass audience of pop, the mainstream of style, is the postmodern subculture” (Grossberg, 1987: 151). It is an appealing argument but Grossberg ignores the social significance of the concept of the mainstream to subcultures which is stronger in Britain. He pictures youth as a homogeneous mass.

The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital

Club culture is faddish and fragmented. Many clubbers constantly catalogue and classify youth cultures according to taste in music, forms of dance, kinds of ritual and styles of clothing. Although most clubbers struggle to classify their own crowd they are happy to identify a homogeneous crowd that they do not belong and locate the mainstream in the “chartpop disco” of the Mecca dancehall, a place where “Sharon and Tracy dance around their handbags”. This unhip crowd were denigrated for having indiscriminate music tastes and being amateurs in the art of clubbing, turning up with that uncool feminine appendage – the handbag.

At its height acid house was subject to extensive media coverage and ravers began to talk of a new mainstream, a second-wave of media-inspired acid house fans. When the culture came to be positioned as mainstream it was feminised. The coincided with the dominance of house and techno compilation albums bringing the music to the masses. The music even came to be called “handbag house”, danced to by “Techno Tracys” and raving Sharons, exhibiting the burlesque exaggerations of an imagined other. Techno Tracys and Acid Teds, like like yuppies or lager louts are more than euphemisms of social class, they reveal the cultural values and social world of hardcore ravers. These personifications of the mainstream have class connotations. Sharon and Tracy, rather than Camilla or Imogen, are trapped in their class and do not enjoy the classless autonomy of “hip” youth. The recurrent trope of the handbag is something associated with mature women, not a sartorial sign of youth culture but a symbol the shackles of the housewife.

Young people espouse a different “order of prestige symbols” as they cannot compete with adults for occupational status (Parsons, 1964: 94). The investment in leisure enables youth to reject being fixed socially. Youth culture is attractive to people well beyond their youth as it delays “social aging” enjoying a reprieve from necessity.

The differential earnings of young men and women contributes to the masculine bias of subcultural capital and the feminine representation of the mainstream. Girls go out dancing more than boys and generally start clubbing at a younger age and is the only out-of-home leisure activity that women do more often than men. Young men are more likely to attend a sporting event and the first choice for an evening out is the pub, whereas for women it’s a dance club. Women are more likely to identify their taste in music as pop and spend less time and money on music and more on clothes and cosmetics. Men regard the label “mainstream” as “unhip” whereas women understand it as “another way of saying popular music” (Christenson and Peterson, 1988: 298). Women tend to use music “in the service of secondary gratifications (eg to improve mood, feel less alone) and as general background activity”. The male use of music is “central and personal” whereas the female orientation to music is “instrumental and social” (Christensen and Peterson, 1988: 299).

The Sharon and Tracy image is a position statement made by subcultural youth about girls who are not culturally “one of the boys”. Subcultural capital seems to be the currency which legitimises unequal statuses. It has been argued that mass culture has been positioned as feminine by high cultural theorists and these views are replayed among youth cultures which devalues girls’ cultures as imitative and passive. The authentic culture is depicted gender-free or masculine, the prerogative of boys.

British youth have a habit of borrowing from African-American and Afro-Caribbean culture. Even the word “hip” derives from black “jive talk”. Subcultural capital is the linchpin of an alternative hierarchy where age, gender, sexuality, and race are employed to keep the determinations of class, income and occupation at bay. It reveals itself by its dislikes and and what it emphatically is not.

Participation versus Observation of Dance Crowds

The two methods that make up ethnography – participation and observation are often in conflict. By participating you adopt the views of the group and what it says, whereas by observing you give credence to what you see, subjectivism (participation) versus objectivism (subjectivism). Both modes of thought are too one-sided to describe the social world. The author during her research could not find a crowd that could be identified as typical, average or mainstream. Although she did observe the old and new mainstreams together in the same room where the music alternated between chart pop and house/techno. The practices and participants of the dance floor fluctuated with the shift in genres, from mostly female to totally male. To apply the label “mainstream” would denigrate this crowd. Ethnography is best suited to observing the diverse and particular. The mainstream is an abstraction of the general.

In 1992, Mecca realised that their branding policy was backfiring as they were intent that their brand would become generic. This branding presented them negatively as the mainstream. Mecca abandoned the unifying brands’ and renamed each of their venues individually (Mintel, 1992). However, Mecca dancehalls have been the home of spectacular subcultures. The Tottenham Mecca was a Teddy Boy hangout; the Blackpool Mecca was one of the main venues for Northern Soul and the Hammersmith Palais has hosted several Bhangra events.

The American  author was baffled by British ideologies about the mainstream, especially as the clubbers who disparaged the mainstream admitted never visiting these clubs. Their knowledge of the mainstream crowd was mainly second-hand from the grapevine or media sources. The presume that this crowd see Top of the Pops as trend setting, as well as the late night programme The Hitman and Her which was shot on location at Mecca venues. Acid Teds and Techno Tracys would be denigrated as Sun readers.

The concept of the mainstream grows out of the media and lived culture. The consensus in North America is that the mainstream is a cluster of subcultures (cf. Crane 1986; Grossberg 1987; Straw 1991). The size and ethnic diversity as well as the proliferation of local, regional and niche media in the USA weaken the myth of the mainstream. Due to the predominantly white population and London as the centre for mass media in the UK, the mainstream is a more powerful idea.

Crowds are the building blocks of club cultures and unlike the “mass” they are local and splintered. Any analysis of youth culture needs to take into account the social groups to which they belong, and studies often loose sight of the social existence of youth cultures, focussing mainly on their clothes and consumer habits. The function of a disparaged “other” adds a sense of shared identity and community and this feeling of belonging can override social differences. The clubbers experience is not of conformity, but of spontaneous affinity, where the good clubs are full of familiar like-minded strangers. They describe the social character of the of their clubs as “mixed” and heterogeneous, unlike “other” crowds which are assumed as homogeneous. Most clubs have observable “master statuses”, so different clubs contextualise social differences in different ways, eg. sexual identity, racial or occupational identity unify the crowd. Although the New Romantic, “gender bending” clubs were sexually mixed, the axis along which crowds are mostly segregated is sexuality.

After sexuality, music is an important factor determining who congregated where. The genres of music is specified on flyers as is naming the DJs who is associated with certain types of music played. George Lewis explains, “we pretty much listen to, and enjoy, the same music that is listened to by other people we like or with whom we identify” (Lewis, 1992: 137). Aesthetic appreciation is passionate and aesthetic intolerance is violent because aural experiences take a firmer root that visual ones.

Door policies also regulate the crowd which usually involve age, gender and sexuality. For example mixed gender groups have a better chance of admission that an all male group. Discrimination against youth of African or Asian descent is not openly acknowledged and ratios of white and black patrons are carefully managed, usually by black bouncers using clothes as the alibi. A “no trainers” policy would exclude Nike wearing black youth. Door people put the finishing touches to the composition of the crowd and are key readers and makers of the “meaning of style”.

Clothing is a potent indicator of social aspiration and position, “the code language of status” (Wolfe, 1974: 23). “White collar” and “blue collar” are euphemisms for class, referring to handbags and white stilettos are euphemisms for a social group that lacks subcultural capital.


References to the mainstream sometimes signals the universalisation of the embodied social structure of a group. The binary thinking is linked with a series of value judgements, political associations and journalistic cliches.

Us v Them

Alternative – mainstream

Hip/cool – straight/square/naff

Independent – commercial

Authentic – false/phoney

Rebellious/radical – conformist/conservative

Specialist genre – pop

Insider knowledge – easily accessible information

Minority – majority

Heterogeneous – homogeneous

Youth – family

Classless – classed

Masculine culture – feminine culture

Popular ideologies about dance crowds are riddled with implies statuses and subcultural capitals. The clubber/raver ideologies offer alternatives rather than subvert the dominant culture as had previous subcultures. The mainstream is a powerful way to put youths in the big picture, imagine their social world, assert their cultural worth, claim their subcultural capital.

“A Handbag!”

I was contemplating my move to Fine Art and what sort of work that I can now produce, now that I am free from the constraints of glass. I have always been excited by the prospect of expanding my creative practice towards a multi-disciplinary approach. The first thing that occurred to me was the enduring image of girls dancing around handbags; the cliche of girls wearing white stilettos dancing to chart-pop at a mainstream “Mecca” nightclub. Although my research is focussed on subcultures and alternatives to mainstream culture, I felt it would be interesting to present the unhip “other”.

I mentioned this line of enquiry to Kim Charnley who suggested reading Sarah Thornton’s Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital, particularly chapter 3 Exploring the Meaning of the Mainstream (or why Sharon and Tracy Dance around their Handbags). Ravers would repeat these cliches, usually drawn from the audience of Top of the Pops or The Hitman and Her. There is still a debate as to whether girls did actually dance around their handbags, but what is apparent is the tension between subcultures and the mainstream, particularly the binary “Us v Them”, the hip and the naff, and the authentic masculine and the perceived frivolous feminine culture.

IMG_20180723_122450 IMG_20180723_122501









So my plan is to build a totem of handbags, or if possible a “henge”. The problem is sourcing large quantities of  handbags. alternatively I could construct each bag out of cardboard or sheet plastic. If it proves difficult to source the quantities of bags then I could place each bag on a plinth, it would be more feasible to create a henge with a few bags on plinths.

Notes 2 Theory 1 – Resistance Through Rituals

The following notes outline the theory behind this paper. It explores the relationships between dominant and subordinate cultures, parent cultures and subcultures as well as the post-war socio-political climate which has enabled the development of a separate youth culture and market.


Edited by Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson


Theory 1 – Subcultures, Cultures and Class

The social and political meaning of Youth cultures are not easy to assess. Signified as a social problem by moral guardians, yet plays an important role to help understand and interpret that period. Youth as “a powerful but concealed metaphor for social change” (Smith et. al., 1975), a society which has “changed in ways calculated to upset the official political framework, but in ways not calculable in traditional political terms” (Smith et. al., 1975).

Is youth culture purely a construction of the media, a superficial phonomenon? Would need to find the correct relation between “organic” (permanent) and “conjunctural” (occasional/immediate/accidental).

  1. Some Definitions

Culture – The level which social groups develop distinct patterns of life. The group or class is the distinctive “way of life”. Their meanings and values is their “map of meaning” which is to make this understandable to its members, who in turn become a “social individual” who lives and functions within a culture. Also serves to modify and constrain how groups within a culture live their social existence.

Groups/Classes – Exist within the same society and share each other’s culture to some extent but cultures are differently ranked. Those that have the monopoly of power in society, the hegemony determines the extent and direction of an epoch. Groups and classes find ways of expressing their culture, their subordinate position and experiences. The dominant culture represents itself as “the culture”.

Subcultures – Subsets within larger cultural networks, AKA the “parent” culture, will share some things in common with that parent culture. Subcultures most exhibit a distinctive identity from their parent culture – activities, values and spaces, but as subsets there must be something that binds them with the parent culture. For example the Kray twins belonged to the criminal subculture yet belonged to the “normal’ life of East End working class culture. The “differentiating axis” of the criminal subculture from their “articulating axis” which binds them to their class.

Some subcultures are loosely defined stands or “milieux” within the parent culture, while others develop a clear identity and structure, These tightly defined groups which are also distinguished by age are referred as “Youth Subcultures”. Some of these subcultures only appear at particular times, become visible, are identified and labelled, then they fade or become so widely diffused that they lose their distinctive identity.

Subcultures continue to exist within the inclusive culture of their class from which they spring. They may project a different cultural response but membership cannot protect them from the experiences and problems that shape their class. Especially the relationship of the dominant culture and their subordinate position as a subculture within their parent culture.

“Youth Culture” is how the phenomenon of youth in the post-war period has been most common. That age and generation mattered most or that youth was classless or had become a class itself. So youth culture was exclusively identified with its styles, music and leisure pursuits. The gowing “teenage market” reveal two aspects:

  1. Youth groups fed off and appropriated this market.
  2. This market expropriates and incorporates things produced by the subcultures.

When examining the dialectic between youth and the youth market, bear in mind that individuals may move into or out of one or several subcultures. The relationship between “everyday life” and “subcultural life” of different sections of youth is an important question. Also the major concern for youth is their biggest occupation, passing the time. The dialectics of doing nothing.

  1. Youth: Metaphor for Social Change

These are the three stages of investigating youth subcultures from their phenomenal aspects to the deeper meanings:

  1. The qualitative novelty of youth culture.
  2. The most visible aspects of social change responsible for its emergence.
  3. The wider debate.

Robert’s account reminds to be cautious to refer to youth culture as a post-war phenomenon. His account describes Edwardian youth and point to a historical continuity that should be taken into account. However evidence suggests that the historical significance of the post-war period should not be ignored.

Firstly, the importance of affluence and consumption where the teenage consumer was the prime beneficiary. “Distinctive teenage spending for distinctive teenage ends in a distinctive teenage world” (Abrahams, 1959:10).

Secondly, the arrival of mass communication which influenced youth culture in two ways:

  1. The arrival of the means of imitation and manipulation.
  2. Youth culture was seen to represent the worst effects of this ‘mass culture” and its negative influence.

The third point was that the post-war period reflected the disrupted influence of the war. Breaks in family life and constant violence was held responsible for the “new” juvenile delinquency of the mid 1950s. However the dropping of atomic bombs and the possibility of life without a future instigated the “generation gap’ (Nuttall, 1970)

The fourth set of changes relates to education. The 1949 Education Act promoted “Secondary Education for All” and equally the meritocratic ideology of social mobility through access to higher education. Young people spending more time within age-specific educational institutions creating the pre-conditions for a specific “Adolescent Society”.

Lastly, the arrival of distinctive styles of dress and rock music presented through mass media, targeting the teenage market.

There was a much wider debate about the whole nature of post-war social change. The key changes were; “affluence”, “consensus” and “embourgeoisement”.

  • Affluence – The boom in working class consumer spending. Relatively better off.
  • Consensus – Acceptance by both political parties, ost 1945, of a mixed economy, increased incomes and welfare state. The drawing in of all classes together and the ending of major political and social conflicts.
  • Embourgeoisement – The assimilation of working and middle classes, sharing the same patterns, aspirations and values. Boureoisement of the working class.

Also the new “teenager” committed to style, music, leisure and consumption to a classless youth culture. (Zweig, 1961)

The pre-war social patterns eroded, the teenager was the beneficiary of the new opportunities. This translated into a generational gap as opposed to a social class “pecking order”. Youth was a new class, “the vanguard” of social change.

The relative affluence obscured the fact that the relative positions of the social classes remained. However the affluent miracle was built on the promotion of private consumption at the expense of the public sector.

Yet these reforms led to a socially-minded capitalism for the tories when they returned to power in 1951. The shared consensus led to “the politics of the centre”. Labour believed that a potential upwardly mobile working class voter would now be wary of a radical alternative to conservatism’s “bread and circuses”. However voting consensus could be mistaken. Working class voters may have favoured a left-leaning alternative, especially during and after the economic stagnation of 1956.

Embourgeoisement was the product of these factors. Increased affluence and a minor convergence of the working classes towards the social world of the middle classes. Social mobility.

  1. The Reappearance of Class

The social myth of a disappearing working class was challenged when it was discovered that poverty still existed and is a structural feature of capitalism. Proportionally income values had not changed since 1945. For example abundant white-collar clerical jobs had declined in status, widening structural divisions between “middle-management”, “supervisors” and the clerical “shop-floor”.

Elsewhere increased affluence caused a decrease in union militancy. The rise in expectations from workers as well as resistance to anti-union legislation in the 1970s led to a rise in militancy from unions as expectations remained unfulfilled.

Colin MacInnes (1961) noted that the “two nations” are no longer the rich and poor but teenagers and “all those that have assumed the burdens of adult responsibility” (MacInnes, 1961:56). Yet the teenage market itself was predominantly working class. The middle class teenagers tending to remain in education with less disposable income. (Abrahams, 1959: 13)

Subcultural studies during that time focussed on delinquency and “slum culture”. The frustration of working class youth to attain middle class status. Blocked opportunities. Some studies recognised the class basis of subcultures but these relied on the concept of subcultures as “problem solving” due to poor educational attainment leading to dead end jobs. Creating excitement and self-esteem through their collective identity. This premise ignores the specific development of subcultures and wider youth culture.

  1. Subcultures – An Imaginary Relation

Phil Cohen (1972) explores the ntra-class dynamic between youth and parents, using the East End working class. Their strengths depended on:

  1. The extended kinship network, offering support and stability.
  2. The ecological setting of the neighbourhood which shapes and supports local loyalties and traditions.
  3. The structure of the local economy.

Post-war development and the rationalisation of the family and the local economy led to depopulation of the community. The community split along two opposing types of social mobility. Upwards towards skilled, well paid jobs as the local businesses and economy died out. Moving away towards suburban redevelopments. Whereas the other was stuck in low-paid, unskilled work. Removed from familiar streets and neighbourhoods into high-rise schemes. Family ties fragmented from “extended families” into nuclear “families of marriage”.

Cohen’s (1972) analysis interprets the relationship between the fate of a class and the rise of the subcultures. Yey what remained unexplored is the precise impact of certain forces on the parent culture and how these are experienced differently on its youth. For example, Mods exploring an “upward” mobility whereas Teds and Skinheads explored the “downward” option.

  1. Dominant and Subordinate cultures

Cohen has used class to clarify the concept of subculture and that relationship has been placed in a more dynamic historical framework. The subculture is seen as a specific reaction with its own “meaning structure”, its own “relative autonomy”.

The war and post-war situation hastened the changes already happening before the war. New technological industries represented a new sector whereas the legacy of the industrial revolution was in decline. Areas such as the South East benefited from this which influenced the ideological debate, North v South etc.

The wider economic forces dismantle and restructure the productive basis that working class culture has developed. Changes in housing follow a similar pattern. Post-war rehousing, new estates and new towns break up the traditional housing patterns. What is left behind is the decay of the “urban ghetto”. Some of the ghettos are selectively re-developed, attracting middle class families.

Regarding the ideology of affluence, for most of the working class there was no qualitative leap. It was a construct to lower the gaps. Affluence was an ideology of the dominant hegemony about and for the working class.

Hegemony works through ideology by inserting the subordinate class into its institutions and structures which support its power and social authority. Hegemonies are usually composed of an alliance of ruling classes, a “hegemonic bloc”, which requires a degree of consent of the subordinate class. The ruling classes not only rule but leads through and educative process, regulating life through cultural institutions and the law.

The ideology of affluence dismantled working class resistance through consent. Conflicts re-emerged as society polarised and the dominant classes adopted coercion in favour of consent, marking a crisi for the dominant hegemony.

The subordinate class has developed its own corporate culture,values and mores of life and class conflict is rooted in this culture. Despite the ideology of affluence “institutional solutions” structure how all classes coexist. These preserve the corporate culture of the working class, but also negotiate its relationship with the dominant culture. Counter-hegemonic power consist of a whole repertoire of responses to the power, forming a “negotiated version of the dominant system” (Parkin, 1971:92).

In the working class neighbourhood different strata of working class have won space for their own forms of life. This corporate culture exists in material and social form yet are socially and economically bounded. For example the local school is horizontally bound to its locality and vertically through authority, streaming and selection as its repertoire of control. However it is also possible for the “labour aristocracy” to provide radical leadership to win space through a repertoire of strategies.

  1. The Subcultural response

Subcultures are not simply ideological constructs, they also win space for the young and serve to mark out territory in the localities.Within these particular locations they develop structured relations between members. They explore “focal concerns” and develop a set of social rituals which underpin their collective identity to define them as a group. By adopting and adapting objects, goods and possessions they re-organise them into distinctive “styles”. These become embodied in rituals of relationship, as well as linguistically as argot which classifies the outside world to them in meaningful terms within their group.

However, subcultures have an ideological dimension. Subcultures provide a strategy for negotiating their collective existence within the “class problematic”. The problematic of a subordinate class cannot be resolved but it can be negotiated or resisted. Subculture’s stylised form and its attempts at a solution is pitched at a symbolic level and is fated to fail. There is no subcultural career or no solution for the problems of the subordinate class. They do solve but only in an imaginary way. For example, the Teddy Boy’s expropriation of upper class style of dress covers the gaps between their actual career and life chances, the “all dressed up and nowhere to go” experience of Saturday evening. Also the Mod’s cover the gap between neverending weekend and Monday’s boring resumption of dead-end work.

Working class subcultures are a response to a problematic which youth shares with its parent class culture. Which in turn structure the adolescent’s experience of that problematic through the socialisation of youth into a class identity using two informal agencies, the family and neighbourhood. The characteristics of a class are reproduced, not only through talk in the family, but through daily interaction in the neighbourhood. Through friends and relations that the distant world of work and face-to-face authority are appropriated.

Class also structures the life-chances of young people by determining the distribution of achievement and failure. However, despite the shared class situations youth encounters these within different institutions and experiences from those of their parents. The three main areas: Education, work and leisure. Education has the most impact as the most “paramount reality” as it cannot be easily avoided. The transition to work from school requires learning the formal and informal cultures of work. Whereas leisure and recreation provides a more negotiable space than the workspace. Although these form the corporate culture of a class, it wads the growth of the “teenage consumer” that generated an outlook specific to age, a “generational consciousness”.

  1. Sources of Style

Main Points:

  1. How class and generational elements interact to produce a distinctive group style.
  2. How materials available to the group are constructed and appropriated.

The young are within the “parent” culture and also encounter the dominant culture through institutions formed by that dominant culture, school, work and leisure.

Youth cultures arise at the intersection between the parent and dominant cultures. They borrow and adapt the resistant and negotiative from the parent culture with their encounters with the institutions of mediation and control. They apply and transform to situations and experiences of their own group-life. They develop distinctive outlooks which have been structured by the parent culture, such as group-mindedness, territoriality and conceptions of masculinity.

These “focal concerns” are defined by the parent culture and these are reproduced in subcultures. But some of these concerns are specific which consist of the materials available to build identities (dress/music/argot) and contexts (activities/sites).

Subculture identities imprint a style on the thing with which they are identified. Appropriation of dress or music does not make a style. The activity of stylisation is what produces an organised group-identity. Phil Cohen identified four modes; dress, music, ritual and argot.

Working class subcultures could not have existed without “disposable income” and the growth of a specific youth market. The new youth industries provided the goods but not many authentic styles. The objects were used to construct distinctive styles by subverting and transforming these objects into other meanings and uses.

Commodities and also cultural signs invested by the dominant culture. Their meanings have already been arranged into cultural codes of meaning. So it would be difficult for a working class lad to turn up for work dressed in a bowler hat without, either, aspiring to a bourgeois image or to take the piss out of the image. Expropriation of the meanings of these commodities, or “social hieroglyphs”, subvert their original meaning.

However this re-signification was achieved by many different means. A subculture would borrow from a system of meanings into a different code, also modifying what has been produced or used by a different social group, or exaggerate a meaning to change its meaning. Another way was to combine forms according to a secret language or code where only members possessed the key. Group life enabled the appropriation of these objects, structure their use into a collective self-image.

New meaning emerge from these things bought together to form a new stylistic ensemble, forming a unity within the groups relations defining their public identity. This can lead to negative labelling and stereotyping.

We can broadly distinguish three aspects:

  1. Structures – Set of socially-organised positions in relation to major institutions and structures.
  2. Cultures – Range of socially-organised responses to these social conditions. Though cultures form a set of traditions, they must always be collectively constructed anew for each generation.
  3. Biographies – “Careers” of particular individuals, their identities and life histories are constructed from collective experiences. These only make sense in terms of the subcultures and cultures through which the individual constructs.
  1. The Rise of the Countercultures

Distinctive kinds of “expressive movements” among middle-class youth, for example the Hippie movement and the cultural revolt of the student protest movements. The phenomenon of the counterculture.

Working class subcultures are clearly defined collective structures, “quasi” gangs. Whereas middle class countercultures are less group centred, a diffuse counterculture milieu. These milieux blur the distinctions between necessary and free time and activities by attempting to explore alternative institutions and new patterns for living. They tend to construct enclaves within the dominant culture. Unlike the working class youth who appropriated their existing environment, the middle class countercultures would form alternative societies and underground institutions as their parent class affords the space to drop-out.

Countercultures take a more ideological or political form as they articulate their opposition to dominant values and institutions. These countercultures are a feature of the mid-1960s, in particular the “hippies” which helped a wider sub-cultural milieu to come into existence, shaping style, dress, music etc. Yet this culture fragmented into different strands and fed into the the drop-out and drug subcultures of the time. The two most distinctive strands flow in one-way towards a utopian alternative culture and the other towards political activism.

Like the working class subcultures, the countercultures were also seen as marking a “crisis in authority”. The “delinquency” of one and the “disaffiliation” of the other marks a loss of deference to “betters and elders” and was seen as a crisis among the youth of the dominant class. This dissent from their own dominant parent culture was directed at the institutions which reproduce the dominant cultural relations, attacking the bourgeois ethic by subverting them from the inside through negation.

The middle class has also been affected by the division of labour and the growth of white collar, managerial strata in communications, management and marketing. The expansion and partial democratisation of education was also central to changes in the composition, character and problematic of this class. The crisis in the youth of this class expressed itself as a crisis in the educational and ideological apparatuses.

The culture of the “bourgeois” man; emotional restraints and repressions, commitment to the protestant work ethic, career, competitive achievement and possessive individualism, forms a cultural integument (protection). The post-war reorganisation eroded this culture. The middle class culture was disturbed by the cultural upheaval of this “unfinished revolution”.

The growth of “permissiveness”, the swinging rather than sober life, caused the middle class to take fright and conjure demons. They imagined they were undermined by a conspiracy by progressive intellectuals, soft liberals, pornographers and the counterculture.

Gradually a struggle emerged between the traditional bourgeois (petit-bourgeois) strata and the more progressive modern middle classes. The traditionalists bewailed the “crisis in authority”, whereas the progressives boosted, incorporated and exploited it commercially. The revolt of the middle class youth and its trajectory owes much to its ambivalent starting position between the two “moral worlds” of the system.

The countercultures performed an important task on behalf of the system by pioneering  and experimenting with new social forms which ultimately gave it greater flexibility. Despite the efforts to create an alternative press it did not bring the system to its knees, instead the mainstream became more permissive. The mystical Utopianism was viewed as unscientific and over-ideological.

The counterculture’s emergence marked a failure of the dominant culture to win over the “brightest and the best”. The cult of “being true to your own feelings” becomes dangerous when society no longer want you to feel them. Between 1968 and 1972 the counterculture fell into “alternative” paths and utopian solutions. Others adopted a harder approach of political protest and community activism, converging with working class politics. It has fragmented but not disappeared.

Alternative lifestyles and values with radical politics is a continuing feature. However, the working classes recognise that the this “cultural revolution” is only a thinly disguised middle class elitism. Individual act of self-liberation is economically impermissible.

Counterculture inhabit a dominant culture, albeit negatively, are strategically placed and represent a rupture inside the dominant culture.

  1. The Social reaction to Youth

In 1950s “youth” became a metaphor for social change. A vanguard party of a classless consumer society to come. Social change, although beneficial, was seen to erode the traditional institutions of that society. The boundaries of society were being redefined marking the inception of “troubled times” for the status quo, giving rise to the displacement of social anxiety onto scapegoat groups. This is the origin of “moral panic” by identifying a “responsible enemy”. The most visible of these youth groups were involved in dramatic events which triggered off moral panics, signifying a crisis of authority with youth playing the symptom and scapegoat.

Reactions to these groups took a variety of forms. Modifications to youth services, prolonged debates about the decline in influence of the family and clampdown on truancy and indiscipline in schools. Added to this was a new set of moral panics around middle class youth and permissiveness and was interpreted as undermining social and moral stability, the active agents of social breakdown. The “politicisation” of the counterculture through protests was seen as the “subversive minority”. A succession of trials and legal actions as well as legal controls against youth’s political wing and the widespread use of conspiracy charges, extended the law to industrial relations, strikes and picketing. The birth of the “Law ‘N’ Order” society is cracking down on youth and the permissive society, the dominant culture seeks to find folk devils in youth which that society has fail to win their hearts, minds and consent.