The Decline of the British Tribe

Chris is in love with the past. The Doc Martens of a Punk, the skinny suit of a Mod, the flamboyance of a New Romantic.

I could tell from his own fashion sense that Chris was a man both informed and inspired by eras gone by. “I love looking back at photos of what people used to wear, people around the world used to share their personal stories through sartorialism. People back then gave birth to subcultures, and truly took ownership of what they wore."

We were in the basement of a hotel in Shoreditch, the dingy bar was full of young creatives, eager to be admired in their coolest thrift store bargains and ‘distressed look’ jeans. Hair styled perfectly to look naturally messy, and beards grown out for that essence of hobo chic. I asked him if he thought the people here were those same sorts of people, exploring themselves and the world around them through self-expression in art and fashion. He shook his head, brow pensive in contemplation he thought a while, carefully considering the words that would roll from his lips.

“Back then they had these cultural hideouts, like the Wag club, where the New Romantics used to all go. You could go there and explore the scene and people wanted to be part of it, of course you had to dress a certain way to get in”

So why do you think we don’t have those tribes today? You had Mods and Rockers, Punks and New Romantics, but now we don’t seem to have the sense of loyal subcultural ethic. In fashion at least, there’s no uniforms anymore. Tribalism back then wasn’t just dressing in a certain way; it was a possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity. It was that precondition for members of a subculture to explore, create and challenge the boundaries of society.

“I think it may be because the source of discovery is lost, when we go to a club, we hear the same music that has been playing on YouTube for months, or in film, we have it all at the click of a mouse-pad. People don’t have that same curiosity. Simply profiling yourself on social media doesn’t help. We are happy just to stream it instead of going out there and experiencing new things for ourselves.”

What he said touched a note with me; as I looked around the bar, everyone was on their phone. With nose buried in a touch screen they posed for photos, uploaded witty statuses or hash-tagged how they were feeling at that moment in time. It seemed vitally necessary for these people to prove an online world how much fun they could have, how cool they were. Invisible Wi-Fi signals shot through the air screaming “look at us, look at how much fun we can have, here is the proof on Instagram”. We both looked at each with a knowing look that showed we two were guilty of the very same offense we judged those around us for committing.

I asked if he felt social media is our subculture now, and being so global and all- encompassing that we don’t really seek other means to define ourselves anymore.

T“Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that we’re exploring and uncovering with a click of a button, the problem is that people are simply satisfied with just that. Once it stops trending it just becomes old news. With the social media platform there is no genuine ownership, not just of videos and music, but of ourselves. We are all guilty of it from time to time, but communication and expression through things like going to gigs, seeing a new gallery show, or simply just going somewhere that’s strange to you, has been lost in the digital age.”

We have all become voyeurs of our own society. In a way that’s great, we possess a greater ability for self-reflection, critiquing the world around us with a growing pressure. Does this sort of world cater for people like those young creative of the 60s 70s and 80s though. Like Chris, I was sceptical as to the potential a digital age has for artistic innovations, but they say fashion is cyclical, so I guess in a world where everything is recycled, only time will tell.

Reporting by Andrew Gale