Changing society with music – the 60s and the death of the scene

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A scene from Quadrophenia

A scene from Quadrophenia

With a a dearth of scenes capturing the zeitgeist, Getintothis’ Daisy Scott asks if the subculture will forever be a thing of the past. 

Isn’t it a shame that we don’t really have zeitgeist-capturing subcultures anymore?

Echoing from Liverpool to London, the 1960s was filled with the post-war children that were looking for something different to their parents. Filled with angst and the need to belong the post-war children looked for that one thing that would change their lives from the housewives of the 40s that their mothers were, and the hard-workers that their fathers were. Then it hit them; music.

Young men and women of the 60s were the first group of adolescents that went out to earn their own disposable wage. With this disposable wage the easily-influenced Modernists (Mods) could spend it on something that made them stand out from the rest – music and fashion.

The Mods took their influences from the music shipped in from America, they were likely to get their tracks from the sweaty underground clubs in Liverpool and London. The likes of these cities due to their shipping ports and the American Navy bringing in the newly-pressed records.

Previous experiences of this would be from the Rocker subculture. The 50s were an influence to the subculture – the distinctive slick quiff hair that slithered from the state of Memphis from the King himself, Elvis Presley. Equally it wasn’t just Elvis that influenced the Rockers, distinctively it wasn’t music that was the main influencer of the subculture. But often it was the modelling of themselves on the likes of James Dean and movie stars that just had that “look”, the look that stated that they didn’t care.

American Rhythm and Blues artists such as Chess Records legends Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters were what brought the Mods their sense of escapism. It was the music that was taking them far away from where they were themselves. Smooth sophisticated modern jazz music embedded itself in the first wave of the Modernist, with the likes of, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Charlie Parker making it to the soundtrack of a young Mods playlist. These beat bands of the day were then taken on and re-interpreted with soul grooves, creating the beat group sound of the mid-60’s.

The first sweat and amphetamine-driven clubs beckoned the music that would slowly influence the subculture. The likes of The Flamingo and The Marquee in London, and The Twisted Wheel Club in Manchester would throw the new American Blues on the turntables for the subculture to hear.

Later into the decade, around 1964, bands such as; The Small Faces and The Who took on the rock-Mecca of London. The latter, of course, immortalised the scene in the album and later cult movie Quadrophenia, the story of a young Mod named Jimmy trying to find his way in life. The spiteful riffs and soulful drum-beat made it perfect to dance the night away, not only was it the music of the band that gave so much influence to the subculture – but the fashion of the bands pressed onto the Mods.

Speaking of Quadrophenia – they’re making a sequel and we think it’s a horrible idea. Click here to find out why. 

No adolescent gathering congregates without angst. Within the subcultures were anxieties and hormonal disposition – the Mods and the Rockers were everything that each other designated was wrong with society. The slick hair of the rockers beckoned anxiety with the clean-cut feather cuts of the Mods; additionally the lean-cut tailored suits that the disposable wage was spent, was everything other than a scarped leather jacket that looked like James Dean.

Music was a way of escapism for the subcultures, it was a way to push themselves out of the bland and into something new and refreshing. Music continually became something that not only divided the generation, but brought them together. The 60s not only brought about a revolution of society, but a revolution of the masses of music. People were ready to begin to accept a new genre and a new beat, this was the beginning of the uprising.

There have been many scenes that have followed and defined a generation, from Punk to New Romantics to Acid House. There were also several Mod Revivals, when the late 70s brought us the likes of The Jam and what were Britpop bands like Oasis, Blur, Ocean Colour Scene and The Verve if not a throwback to the attitude and fashion of the bands of the original Modernists, bringing it all back with the love of music and a sense of belonging for many.

But somewhere along the line, subcultures have died out and perhaps even become something that we long for. The music continues to be a pressing movement towards change in society. Subconsciously artists and bands divide the attention of prolonging subcultures, but will we ever have such a communal feeling again?

The dying out of the scene is cruel and unfortunate, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how and why it has happened. Is it the harmogenised society we live in, where we all just want to fit in? Legendary DJ Don Letts said to The Guardian earlier this year that “There is no more counter-culture, only over-the-counter culture” and that “people become musicians to join the establishment“.

Undoubtedly, it is because of the excessive change in society. Lest we forget, many young adolescents don’t go out to clubs and enjoy the music, instead they stand on their phones documenting where they have been and who with, rather than losing themselves in the moment. Maybe this could count as a subculture in itself.

Has the subculture has been killed by the evolution of technology, and will it ever make a comeback? Or have we become a larger community?

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