Entertainment

Introducing: The Grown-Up Greebo

A moment of appreciation for one of the UK's longest-suffering subcultures.
Emma Garland
London, GB
EB
illustrated by Esme Blegvad
February 24, 2020, 9:15am
Greebos
Screen Shot 2020-01-31 at 14
Welcome to 'Introducing', where we get acquainted with Britain's weird and wonderful new subcultures. 

If you were in secondary school in the 00s, you were one of two things: a "mosher" or a "townie". The answer was predicated mostly on a combination of popularity and the width of your jeans, so unsurprisingly both terms have fallen largely out of circulation. "Mosher" splintered into lots of specific insults as alternative subcultures became more mainstream (emo, goth, hipster) while "townie" eventually found a modern rebrand in Fiat 500, but between those stark binaries lay a more subtle and unassuming identity that endures to this day, in spirit if not by name: the greebo.

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The greebo – or "greeber", depending on where you grew up – is one of the most fascinating cultural stereotypes in the UK. Existing at the perfect intersection of "townie" and "misc black nail varnish-wearers" without fully committing to any, it is everything and nothing all at once. In the 00s, the greebo was camouflaged by the broader nu-metal trend that saw every park-dwelling teenager dressed in the same three-quarter length shorts, ball chain necklace and flannel shirt with a hoodie stitched into it.

However, while many 00s teenagers evolved to become emos, goths, scene kids, skate kids, steampunks, anarcho-punks or simply ditched subcultures altogether, the greebo remained. Teenage greebos in 2020 look the same as teenage greebos in 2002, and the ones from 2002 are still hanging out in someone’s living room, wearing a pair of Globes and listening to Mudvayne. The entire look has been preserved, as if in amber, like the mosquito from Jurassic Park.

That said, greebo has taken many forms prior to the 21st century. The terminology has been around since the 70s, when “greebo” evolved out of “greaser” – a name for long-haired bikers who listen to prog rock and hang out on their hogs in groups by roadside cafés and National Trust landmarks. In the late 80s, it was reborn as a musical subgenre of its own (“grebo rock”) popularised by bands like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Pop Will Eat Itself and Carter USM, who sounded nothing alike but incorporated elements of rock, punk, hip-hop, psychedelia and electronica in a similar way.

The trend was ultimately swallowed up by the overwhelming popularity of Britpop and grunge, but greebo was always more of a vibe than a style of music. No one self-identifies as a greebo, obviously. Like most cultural classifications, it's assigned to you, and in this case usually refers to a socially awkward person who pays little heed to popular trends but doesn't make a song and dance about it. Hot girls who wear Slipknot tees with cycle shorts and go to NOS Alive will sometimes try to claim it while pretending to make fun of themselves, but that is not what greebo is about.

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Concentrated mainly in the suburbs, greebos are a common fixture of the great British high street. They may also be spotted in local pubs drinking Grolsch, doing acoustic covers on Facebook Live, comparing dice towers on Reddit or bringing their own camping chairs to Download Festival. They frequent squat parties in rural Somerset / Hampshire and house parties in general, where they will try to put a stop to people listening to Cascada “ironically” by sticking on Dirty Dike and being shooed away from the laptop. The hair is usually long; either a classic mop with a centre parting, or that one where a short style was cut in about two years ago then left to do its thing.

If you’re wondering who is excited to see Rage Against the Machine at Reading & Leeds this year, it’s greebos. Who is still funding the careers of Incubus, Dizraeli and everyone on High Focus Records? Greebos. Skrillex? Greebo from the neck up. Every lad on The Inbetweeners except Will? Greebos. Dwight from The Office? Greebo king.

Greebo is everything, but not everything is greebo. It’s a strange cultural limbo in which anything, in the right context, can cohere. Incense, topknots, Terry Pratchett, long sleeve shirts under short sleeve shirts, Hello Kitty, rum and coke, off the shoulder band tees, Games Workshop, Ed Sheeran's tattoos, literally everything Bill Bailey has ever said or done, veganism, meat porn, crochet, occultism, BBC3 comedies and BMX could all be considered hallmarks of greebo, but not in and of themselves.

Nu-metal, ska, socially conscious rap, Frank Turner, drum and bass, dub, basically any form of music that involves broadly leftist objections to ‘the system’ – all greebo. The same goes for weed, MDMA, mephedrone, ketamine and all major psychedelics (but rarely cocaine). Some have a streak of pseudo intellectualism, but most keep themselves to themselves, earnestly enjoying things many are too irony poisoned to appreciate. There is one unifying point, though, which is that mainstream pop and reality TV are the scourge of society. They hated Christina Aguilera then, and they hate Kylie Jenner now. Perhaps you have seen one recently, in your Twitter mentions, calling Love Island the "lowest form of entertainment".

Normally when we talk about British subcultures we ask: where are they now? What are they up to? What did scene kids pivot to wearing after Topshop stopped selling circulation-stopping drainpipe jeans? But the greebo has been here among us all along; the bread and butter of British society. Perhaps you have even been one yourself. Is there a photo of 13-year-old me at a caravan park, face barely visible between two thick curtains of unwashed hair like a young Ozzy Osbourne, jeans like two upside-down traffic cones and oversized long-sleeve with a silver "tribal" tattoo design on it? I couldn’t possibly comment.

@emmaggarland