Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Mis-shapes and townies

A trailer for his Uncommon book, Owen offers a fine evocation on Up, Close of the liminal world and ‘alternative collectivity’ of the Mis-Shapes, with the suggestion of a false and over-stated divide (not to mention contradictions) engendered by these cultural signifiers.

Undoubtedly, the mis-shapes of indie could come from the poorest backgrounds (often the most willing converts as they're desperate for culture they never had around them), as well as those upper-working, lower-middle liminal strata who were doing their best to avoid the corporate world their parents wanted for them. Important to remember a 90s ‘townie’, too, could cut across class lines. Schooled on the surrey-hants border, I know many a public school type who dumbed down (a very 90s phrase) to that boorish Ben Sherman, lager-swilling, casual look. It was a very aspirational move back then.

I get Phil's point about our cities not necessarily toeing the marketing/media line and having their own musical and cultural preferences. Areas of Burley and Headingley in Leeds had strong local contingents who also would have been largely indifferent to the approved groups. But my impression was that in the more desperate provinces the Roses and the Mondays (and Inspirals, and James! …) were very much the chosen ones of the non-indie working and middle class tribes – not at the time of Bummed/Squirrel or the release of the Roses LP, of course, but a year later after all the Roses singles had been re-released, Fool’s Gold kept being played and Shaun had Paul Oakenfold twist his melons, man. We forget how pop had been so sorely lacking in identity for groups of young men by the tail-end of the 80s. The chimera of good vibes and unity within baggy never filtered down to those who were happy just to have a look again though. It’s almost a cliché to say it but it was only in actually dancing rave up to 91/92 that I saw an anti-aspirational mixing of the classes, and the rich kids fell away as the music became more hardcore.

Before it became grimly clear they stood for nothing so much as social nihilism and the music wasn’t going anywhere, early Oasis seemed to muddy the stereotyping further, as the indie-kids, ravers and townies all seemed to give their seal of approval, maybe in collective hallucination that this ‘swinging Britain’ redux thing was really happening. [Clinging onto them longer than was necessary it had become clear I was in a liminal world of my own, where I wanted access to the ‘solidarity of records and clothes’ of indie, the sonic advances of rave and, with football, the regular night out on the export juice in the shittiest of venues our chosen town for the night could muster. This way bred confusion and self-loathing (an indie trait?) and I wouldnt recommend it].

These were times of extended class mobility, extended HE access, etc. Now ‘we’ just sneer at the chavs and have little left to steal from their culture, while the casual look is a Mod-type Britcult curio, at best. Sportswear and logos reign, and so successful is their penetration that they are no longer seen as just for the working classes. The provincial Mis-Shapes still obviously exist but not as filtered through indie as they used to be: that world is a very stylised, commodified thing now; ‘getting the look’ can still involve thrift shops/retro gear but is more likely to involve boutique wear. And it might involve very expensive trainers or shoes, and weekends away at resorts listening to a hero curate the line-up of your dreams. Being indie now is an expensive habit which takes it away from the ghetto it used to imprison itself in.
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