Editor’s Note: Gary Warnett has inexplicably forged a career out of a misspent childhood obsessing over hip-hop, films and sneakers. He is editor and some sort of manager at Crooked Tongues, a frequent copywriter for brands like Nike Sportswear and Arc’teryx Veilance, plus an occasional blogger on his own blog which is full of self indulgent, unstructured paragraphs like this piece. He also writes for Dazed & Confused monthly and semi-regularly for some other publications, sites and brands. When he’s not being professional with clients, he is cavalier in his approach to grammar and angry with his Tweets.
Disclaimer: The opinions seen here reflect those of the author and are not necessarily representative of the beliefs and interests of this site.
In any culture, the outskirts will always be formed of some folks too old to be relevant with their screwfaces on, sipping on a haterade with hands in their pockets, going on about how “things were better back in the day” and questioning the legitimacy of pretty much anything. These people aren’t relevant.
Back when they got a start in an industry (which, as many will never tire of telling you “didn’t exist when we started”), they too were surrounded by a group shaking their heads at the clueless upstarts attempting to monetize something that they held sacred. It’s doomed to continue. Upstarts become critics who hate the upstarts who end up becoming critical themselves. It’s a vicious circle.
New jacks (and I consider myself one of them) feigning veteran status is an epidemic, and hype is a young person’s game, or you turn into a hip-hop hugging forty-something with a tilted fitted and colorful laces in their sneakers who talks trash behind everyone’s backs. You don’t need to be that dude. That’s when you’re lost. Respect the elders and all, but it should be a two-way street. But still, something’s gone wrong somewhere down the line.
In an era of information overload, where coverage seems to outweigh creativity and there’s more X’s than Color Climax’s entire oeuvre, there’s a distinct lack of movements , or movement for that matter. The greatest subcultures and movements were born of budgetary issues. Single string fretless instruments helped birth blues music, and skiffle was a strictly DIY affair. The byproduct? Popular music as we know it. Well, kind of — it’s a sweeping statement.
But skateboarding evolved via moneyless mavericks forging their own style. Even the Jordans that the Bones Brigade shredded in were predominantly copped because they hit sale racks. Hip-hop as an art form grew from a quest for local celebrity. Tagging was built on pens and paint racks, amassed and fetishised. These auspicious beginnings are now gold dust to vast corporations in a quest to peg down cultural credentials, but most of the time their involvement arose from happy accidents (plus alpha males and females exercising sartorial power over easily susceptible peers).
The key to the best output has always been having nothing in the first place. There’s no point romanticizing poverty because it’s no fun and nobody wants to go back there, but a dearth of access, cash, information and acceptance was the key to the inception of cultures that have taken recent trips mainstream.
There’s a joy in regional differences, whether it’s Philadelphia’s uncompromising golden era sonics and handstyles the size of a human being to Rinse FM’s illegal heyday, transmitting from insalubrious London locations. The reinterpretation of scenes was built on scraps of knowledge and third-hand information. The glorious misunderstandings and gaps in the story were filled with local identity and resources. Now it’s all centralized.
The quest for fresh sneakers (to which we owe an enormous debt) was built on aspirations for the little things that carried vast subcultural resonances. Hard to maintain suede sneakers? Crispy nubuck boots? Going further back to mods and zoot suits, it’s all about that clean living in difficult circumstances. The success of Carhartt, Chucks and Dickies owe a significant amount to that sense of pride and budgetary limitations.
Nowadays we gleefully absorb the byproduct, but all that gluttony has killed the hunger. Why create, when we can rip off those past glories? Why stress when the hard work’s been done. There’s beauty in having access to everything, whether it’s right click and saving a bunch of pixels or having the real thing but goddamn, are things even evolving anymore? Is anyone who covers anything online – electronically shedding light on a brand, individual or product – part of the problem? Should anyone take pride in nothing but coverage? Is coloring up a shoe even close to designing the damn thing? Are non-performance “lifestyle” sneakers steeped in superior performance lineage a total cop out? Has the entire industry descended into some weird, aspirational circle jerk?
At the current rate, animal skins and cave paintings will be the next shit by 2017. There’s a devolution taking place.
So what’s gone wrong in terms of innovation and subcultures? Underground went overground, but that’s no bad thing. The handicap now is accessibility, whereas Francis Ford-Coppla bemoaned that, “We had access to too much money, too much equipment and little by little we went insane.” In Hearts of Darkness, we had access to too much and little by little we went mundane. We’re not in street culture; it’s a homogenized e-culture that merrily digests itself. In some ways, defiance and defeatism gave us some of the industry’s defining looks. If you couldn’t get something, make it yourself…a new interpretation and thus, we got the alternatives.
Those alternatives became the norm. Now we need alternatives to those alternatives, and nobody’s delivering.
West Coast, East Coast, UK, USA, Japan…the different outposts are a unified community. Once information was traded as ‘zines, third generation tapes, word of mouth and those brief moments of bemused mainstream coverage, the result was a locally sourced reinterpretation that took a life of its own – the same spirit, but different looks.
Rumors, misunderstandings, colloquial attitudes, speech and regional politics all played their part naivety, and a yankophile streak generated great results. Inaccessibility was a gateway to innovation. What was accessible was open to reinterpretation, and thus work and sportswear entered the picture with different subcultural meanings and cultural clout beyond the track, court or building site.
Do we even have regional looks anymore? Some might be operating behind what’s perceived as a “now” look, but they’ll get there eventually. Is anyone starved of information? Take a trip to any country and you’ll see hiked-up chinos and vulcanized footwear. We’re trapped in a realm where people enter an electronically unified scene “over it” already. Coverage dominates over creation and we’re simply inhaling second-hand smoke. Operating in a self-destructive realm, we simply settle for variations on a theme. For all the hefty price tags, there’s a distinctly beige conservatism at work.
Can hype sustain as a culture of its own? Surely it needs to be the accompaniment to something bigger? Sports, skate, music, anything…Brands I’ve loved, lost and lusted after over the years – who treated me, the wide-eyed browser – with a certain iciness, have suddenly had an SEO and social media TED-speech incited a change-of-heart. Now they’re all behind-the-scenes blogs, questions to engage a consumer on Twitter and Facebook. It’s too much information and it closes that “third wall” that helped generate desire and drive mystique. But once again, where are the new movements?
“Sneakerheads” telling me nothing new about a retro of a 1997 Penny Hardaway shoe on a YouTube video? Internet rappers trying to be like Wiz Khalifa because they’ve got tattoos up to their necks? Their time’s limited.
Products once worshipped and impossible to obtain is just a PayPal click (and customs charges) away. Even the funding for that item isn’t so unattainable. Accessibility kills desire. What would have been ripped out of a magazine and memorized for life, or identified from an album cover for a cult lifespan of sorts is now page 2 within the morning and page 4 the following day, then a targeted Google search away in longtail limbo.
Like the aforementioned critics locked in a negative Phantom Zone, generations seem to have become locked in a realm where old tracks are trodden and weary equines are repeatedly flogged…a place as unimaginative as the latter two journalistic clichés. Ignore the conservatives who act like some unofficial council, everything isn’t done yet.
Mainstreamed subcultures are nothing new, they’re an inevitable byproduct of commercial success, but we need the new to stay enthusiastic and move forward. Jesus, even pointless explorations like this stack of paragraphs are counterproductive. If the new wave doesn’t arrive soon, the current cultures will have cannibalized themselves to the point where there’s nothing left.
Maybe the next movement will be based on the notion that there is no movement. When this back-patting, Facebook-”liking,” re-tweeted, blind faith in brands, fast food coverage and the supposed “influencers” who inform them ends up taking things to a point where there’s nothing, we’ll get those new movements. Some major waves of originality have sprung from these very pages, as Odd Future and Madbury Club represent independent visions and movements in the making. Anyone smugly trying to decipher the lineage of these brands misses the point: everything requires its cultural jumpstart from an earlier source.
By covering and consuming things blindly, we’re all part of the problem. And by accelerating an inevitable burnout, perhaps we’ll inadvertently become part of the solution too. Once everything’s been pillaged, repackaged, heavily blogged and resold, we’ll have to start these things of ours all over again. Maybe we’ll create something new, or maybe we’ll just start this cycle all over again watch that switch from chinos and quasi-formality to camo. Give it a couple of years and everyone will be back in dad wear.
The next wave needs to arrive to dead unnecessary introspection like this article, break this internet-fueled Groundhog Day and just get creative.