As the hippie movement almost completely disappeared from the realm of popular culture, the next noticeable subculture in both music and fashion terms was that of glam-rock, with its main advocators being David Bowie and to a lesser extent T-Rex and Roxy Music. The glam rock subculture had a notable effect on gender issues at a time when gender was generally separated within music and indeed society itself. The wearing of normally “feminine” clothes and make-up by men shocked, outraged and confused many of the particularly conservative British public, particularly when Bowie appeared on the TV show “Top of The Pops” in his “Ziggy Stardust” persona dressed in what would be considered feminine attire.
In the Teddy boy subculture, women had a particular role to play and had their separate uniform and separate role to fill within the everyday workings of that subculture. In society in general women were virtually separated from men and although women’s rights and liberation had come a long way since the War, a situation still existed where a much greater number of women were confined to a role of maintaining the home and raising the family.
The emergence of Bowie and other glam-rock acts had an immense impact on the normally static gender roles in both society and indeed within music itself. Bowie’s immense popularity in the early seventies under his Ziggy Stardust persona rose to the point where he achieved a legion of fans mimicking his distinct visual style. As the music became popular, so did the visual style “which created a new sexually ambiguous image for those youngsters willing and brave enough to challenge the notoriously pedestrian stereotypes conventionally available to working class men and women”.(3)
The blurring of gender lines that Bowie and other glam-rock stars achieved did indeed cause outrage among the general public and sections of the media, which can be attributed to the fact that it was rare to see women and men as not having separate roles to play in both society and music itself. For Bowie to appear on Top of the Pops wearing lipstick seemed to rebel against the basic hegemonic values of a rather conservative Britain and the consequent popularity of this style can be seen as an instance where music has influenced fashion and created a subculture rather been a result of society itself.
The late seventies gave rise to perhaps the most infamous of all subcultures in what became termed as the “Punk” era. The punk movement was essentially a very working class youth based movement with bands such as Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash and perhaps the most famous of all the punk bands, The Sex Pistols. Punk music generally rebelled against everything hegemonic value it could find, in both the music world and society itself. Towards thbe late seventies, progressive rock was the basis for mainstream music and the music itself was generally very complicated, consisted of long guitar solos and innovative instruments, was dominated by middle class musicians and was very concerned with being “progressive”. Punk, on the other hand, mostly consisted of working class bands with the music “usually being described as “primitive”.
As a more minimalist genre, punk rock eschewed the growing use of electronic instruments associated with progressive rock” (4) and tended to stick to the formula of one drum and guitars. This basic line-up of punk bands “was a sound best suited to expressing anger and frustration” (5) and the sound of anger and frustration was clearly a message that punk seemed to express. The Sex Pistols were perhaps punk’s most popular band and tended to cause controversy from the very beginning of their careers. The title of their album “Never Mind the Bollocks” caused widespread anger amongst the conservative public, as did the very name of the band itself to the extent that they were banned from playing on Top Of the Pops.
Yet while their named caused controversy, the content of their album caused even greater debate and anger amongst the general public, in particular the song entitled “God Save The Queen”. The song starts with the lyrics “God save the Queen, our fascist regime” and continues to protest against the monarchy throughout. To condemn the monarchy in such a manner caused outrage among the general public, who would generally hold the Queen and monarchy in high regard. Respect for the monarchy was a rather dominant value in the majority of society, hence why this song in particular caused so much controversy.
The Sex Pistols were certainly not the only band who questions the hegemonic ideals of their society as the entire punk movement was founded on an act of rebellion against the society they live in. Stiff Little Fingers were a band that came from Northern Ireland, at a time when the “troubles” in the province were at its peak. The song “Alternative Ulster” spoke out against the situations and problems that existed in the province between the two sides and called for an “alternative” to be built.
Other songs spoke out against the different paramilitary organisations and divisions within the society while the album “Inflammable Material” is credited as the first completely independently recorded and produced album to achieve such success. The band clearly spoke out against the hegemonic values of its particular society while the fact that they were independently produced gave them credit amongst the punk subculture that tended to rebel against the music industry in general. The distinguishing feature of this particular punk band is that while other punk bands tended sing about anarchy, Stiff Little Fingers spoke out against the anarchy and violence that existed in their environment.
However, while such subcultures as punk may have rebelled against the existing hegemonic values in society, various tensions exist in regards to what is known as “bottom up” or “top down” tensions within forms of music. These tensions refer to where exactly the music comes from, namely whether its “manufactured” or whether it’s “real”. Generally when we consider “real” music we consider it to come from a personal and artistic level, unaffected by commercial interests, which will generally spread upwards through society and become mass culture. This process is referred to as bottom up. However since music is essentially published in a capitalist system, there will be inevitable attempts to produce music that will essentially appeal to the masses and then place it on the market. This is referred to as a top down approach.
The tension between the two is inevitable, and can be seen when looking at the particular forms of music that subcultures adhere to. In an era where consumption of music is on a mass scale, there will inevitably be market forces trying to gain money by producing music that will appeal to the masses and the subcultures within society. For every subculture that is produced, a new area of the market is open that can be exploited by the many record companies. It is inevitable that as long as subcultures continue to exist and become fashionable, then there will be a new audience to which the market forces can appeal to. Subcultures often exist as a form of expression against the hegemonic values of the particular society yet this can often lead to a “contradictory mixture of the authentic and the manufactured: it is an area of self-expression for the young and a grazing ground for the commercial providers” (6).
This tension can be seen in the new “alternative” or “indie” scene that has become popular in mass culture. While most of the “indie” bands were to some extent described as “underground” around five years ago, the popularity of bands such as Coldplay and Keane have provided this genre with a huge increase in popularity. This increase in popularity is obvious in the latest fashion trends and indeed the music business who both profess the brand of being “alternative”.
The situation of the mainstream audience purporting the idea of being “alternative” is an obvious case of a paradoxical situation that exists when a subculture resists the mainstream but then becomes the mainstream itself. The same paradoxical situation can be seen with the mainstream popularity of hip-hop and rap music, which started off as essentially a form of expression amongst black youths in urban areas and voiced the ideals of “keeping it real”. Yet as the popularity of this form of music soared due to rappers such as Eminem, it has become popularised and marketed to a vast extent.
The tensions that exist within the hegemony and subculture are plentiful. As long as grievances or the need to feel individual exists in any society, then subcultures will unavoidably appear as a form of expression in which people can air their grievances or seek individuality. The style in which these subcultures are distinguished will inevitably involve a certain type of music that will tend to express their refusal to accept the hegemonic values of the society in which they exist. And while the phenomena of subcultures continue to exist, tensions will also exist amongst with the hegemony in that society, with music providing an arena for these tensions to be displayed.