Subculture for Sale

Subcultures – movements of likeminded people, simultaneously dependent and rebellious –are, by their very nature, particularly hard to identify. At what exact moment a subculture loses its precious prefix is, of course, up for debate. In music, genres such as Jazz or Hip Hop would unlikely nowadays be referred to as subcultures, despite the forward-looking values that existed at their origins.

“Always look ahead, but never look back” – Miles Davis

Familiar examples of subculture can be found everywhere in music. Here, subversive genres are adopted and capitalised upon for commercial gain; the rebellious and innately genuine nature of subcultures in music makes it a prime target – a target to be nicely packaged and placed in front of the mass population as the ‘future of music’. During this appropriation into mainstream tastes, the genuine nature of the movement is removed, as what was once distinctive or defiant becomes commodified and defunct.

Current examples of this are easy to recognise as even Goth culture is grossly paraded across the airwaves of Radio 1, ventriloquised by vapid artists and management teams that desperately cling to any USP they can find.

However, in what seems like a purely condemnatory opening to an article, the brands that support independent rising artists have been overlooked; those brands that use subculture to forward themselves, but also to celebrate those in the movement that supply this wealth of business opportunity. One example of this is Fred Perry, who declare:

“Fred Perry has always had a unique place at the heart of British subcultures and music, this heritage still informs the brand today. Since 2005 Subculture has been the platform to both work with true icons of British music and introduce some of the very best new artists from the UK onto the global stage.”

A sceptic would, quite rightly, flag up Fred Perry’s eagerness to place themselves in the ‘heart’ of all British music, taking credit for new artists and nailing their heritage as a clothing brand into the history of British music. However, Fred Perry aren’t lying when they claim to support new and independent artists; their Subculture shows take place at London’s 100 Club, give small artists the opportunity to support some of the UKs most iconic bands, and pay very, very well.

Of course, no brand’s intentions are entirely altruistic – none ever are – but for examples such as Fred Perry, it’s win-win for both band and brand. And it’s not just musicians that benefit from Fred Perry’s use of subculture: venues, DJs, photographers, journalists and models are all supported by the brand’s ‘platform’ for subculture.

Whilst it’s true that corporate appropriation effectively kills the defiant nature of subculture, it is with this ‘sell out’ that artists can afford to continue their career. This is what allows underground culture to turn into successful popular culture, creating a new norm for future movements to rebel against, and producing a never-ending cycle of reaction and revitalisation.