Defending the Indefensible: I Love Crusties, Electronic Music's Most Maligned Subculture

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Defending the Indefensible: I Love Crusties, Electronic Music's Most Maligned Subculture

We might like to think we are at the cutting edge of the underground...we aren't.

Defending the Indefensible is a semi-regular series which sees us trying to find merit in the abject, the terrible, and the deathly dull. We don't believe that there's such a thing as "guilty pleasure", so this series sets out to prove that even the most shocking and schlocky corners of dance music can find a home in somebody's heart.

Cool, right now, is clean. Monochrome, slick hair, Instagram filters, kale smoothies, and lines of cocaine off iPhone 5 screens. Whether it's house, techno, disco, or even grime (a genre literally called "grime"), we're all pretty concerned with looking fresh whatever we're listening to. Personally, I see nothing wrong with this. In fact, in a roundabout sort of way, I actually hugely enjoy the element of a night out that involves the smell of deodorant mixed with the flavours of fabric softener in my best T-shirt. Throw cigarette smoke and lager into that mix and you've got, in my mind, the scent of great night out. Yet that doesn't mean it's the only way to do it.

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Briefly, for the uninitiated, groups of people referred to as crusties are normally comprised of a huge variety of people. Mostly baggy trousered twenty-to-thirty-somethings with dreadlocks, some are the kids who were in jazz bands and then discovered psytrance, some got into Bob Marley via Pendulum, some sit in parks smoking spliffs and juggling. They preach peace, love, veganism, and loonies. They occupy huge swathes of Glastonbury, running from the Unfairground, all the way along to the post-4am Stone Circle. Some are good at poi, some run techy-dubby sound-systems, and some are simply teenagers who don't like shit cheesy house, and do like drinking a big old bottle of cider and having a party in a forest.

Crusties occupy a strange place in our zeitgeist, and an unfairly maligned one. You'll often hear a festival described as "full of crusties", or an illegal rave being "too much of a crustie vibe". I'm not even entirely comfortable typing the word crustie to describe them, the term itself an adaptation of crust-punk, carrying with it baggage of shit music, bad smells, and middle class kids referring to themselves as children of the earth. The theory goes that while we're all enjoying the cutting edge of electronic music in the capital's shiny basements, the crusties are stuck on abandoned industrial sites wearing patchwork pyjama bottoms, smashing hippy crack while listening to relatively aggressive gabber.

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But the thing is, crusties don't care about Boiler Room. They don't care that you heard "What's a Girl To Do", just as the sun was coming up, on some really great MDMA. They don't care that you've just spent £20 on that long-sleeved 1080p T Shirt. They don't even care that you know the DJs girlfriend so could probably get them on the list. But more importantly than all of that, they don't care that you do care about all of those things.

Crusties represent a sort of separate cultural ecosystem to everyone else. They throw their own parties, wear a completely independent of clothing from everybody else, and crucially really don't seem bothered by what the rest of us are doing — even if the mainstream is bothered by them. Back in 2009 leading liberal editorial The Daily Mail published a Liz Jones' column titled "I hate these crusties, with their droppy dyed skirts and boiled wool cardigans". The article goes on to pick apart how Glastonbury is teeming with these "dreadful people" who eat "disgusting things such as falafel". The column's main drive is attacking the alternative lifestyle that many crusties pursue, eschewing capitalism and modernity, in favour of spiritual development — ideologies articulated and honed over rollies at illegal forest raves, and dub festivals in the Counties.

Yet the sad truth is, it isn't just Liz Jones from the Daily Mail who talks about crusties that way. All of us, with our "number three back and sides but still long on top" cuts, and our Tumblr accounts of Swedish interior design, see crusties and secretly seethe with arrogant content. We see something regressive, and a bit gross. We hear the ragga wobbles popping off their subwoofers and assume they are only at that party because they aren't cool enough for the one we just Ubered past them on our way to. Well sadly, that's just wrong. Crusties are having way more fun than us. All of the time.

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Not only that, but crusties are an actual subculture. They are actually alternative. It's depressing, but the fact is, the only way we get to Warehouse raves now are when a promoter has hired the space, collaborated with a lager brand, and charged £30 for a ticket. The only way we get to "secret rave" is by following a sponsored hashtag campaign to get the location. Crusties throw real free parties. Completely illegal and completely unsupervised sessions in the middle of nowhere, and people flock to them from far and wide. We might think we are re-living the second summer of love because we are wearing polyester bomber jackets we found in Beyond Retro, but the real heirs to the rave throne are crusties.

Yes there is the argument that the whole mother-earth thing (which, by the way, is a hugely over-exaggerated facet of crustie culture) is a bit facetious considering most of them probably have relatively nice middle class lives underneath all the hemp. But again, how many other subcultural groups in the UK can claim to have a genuine streak of political activism at their core? You might not like psytrance, but who was on the front-line of the anti-austerity marches? Who led the occupy movement? Who is standing up against fracking (apart from Bez, obviously)? That's right, crusties.

So why do we complain about them? Why do we find them hard to swallow? Well perhaps because they represent what we can no longer have. We have been stung by irony, condemned to a life spent second-guessing and chasing trends, eyeing each other up and down in Oval Space, checking everyone's trainers, making small-talk in the toilet queue about our jobs in PR. Crusties don't have this, they are free. Free to have the sort of earnest chat that would make our skin crawl from our skeletons. Earnestly saying, "that's fucking amazing it sounds like I'm flying!" Free to say, "I just think, nobody should be able to tell you what to do." Free to say, "who's Dean Blunt?"

I hope this doesn't sound like I'm taking the piss, because I'm genuinely not. The groups that are largely deemed as grotty and uncool are in fact living the life I spend every day pretending to. They actually don't care what people think of them, whereas I will delete, repost, and delete a tweet a couple of times every day. They really don't give a shit about fashion — even my black t shirt and black jeans were fairly carefully combined this morning. Finally, they are all really lovely. Seriously. When did you last get a dirty look from someone in sandals floating a glass ball between their hands — never, that's when.

So here's to you crusties. The most maligned subculture in the world of electronic music. The only true ravers, the last bastion of do-not-give-a-fuckery, the politically charged and politely inclined beating heart of bass-lines so filthy you leave smelling of them. We may think they are a weird blip, stuck listening to dubstep remixes of "No Woman No Cry", but when history turns to look for the illegal parties and protest movements of our generation — you can bet our moisturised faces won't be in the books.

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