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Here’s How It Felt to Grow up In Rural England In The Time Of Odd Future

Growing up in rural England, Odd Future shouldn’t have made sense. Yet three years ago everyone in school started buying snapbacks.
January 15, 2015, 10:49am

By internet standards, three years is a lifetime. Watching the video for Odd Future's 2012 posse-cut "Oldie" is like trawling through embarrassing Facebook photo albums documenting the awkward stumble through adolescence. It's a track that's grown into its name - the spontaneously captured visuals depicting the OF crew fooling around at a photo-shoot already feel decades old to me, evocative of the brief and heady period of my life when Odd Future blew up and irrevocably changed the parameters of cool for a generation of British teens.

Back in 2011, the group were hotter than a Summer spent in Death Valley. They snarled their way into mainstream consciousness via your standard catalogue of offence: rap, murder, blasphemy, and a light sprinkling of questionable language. A lot of people were also dumfounded by these seemingly nihilistic punks – the group famously appeared on Newsnight, telling a reporter that their only mission was to "piss off old white people like you".

Against all odds, Odd Future's chaotic, aggressive aesthetic exploded out of Ladera, California, and into my peaceful, little corner of rural England. They shouldn't have been so popular: what appeal did a gaggle of black skaters from urban Los Angeles hold for a bunch of white teenagers living in the middle of prime UK farmland? Well, from the start it was about more than the music.

Odd Future embodied a complex collection of contradictions that transcended superficial social differences and struck a chord with every angsty youth in my neck of the woods. Growing up in a rural area allows you to experience levels of boredom and stagnation that make James Milner's Twitter feed read like a day in the life of professional exhibitionist Jordan Belfort. There's a reason rich couples only visit their Oxfordshire retreat for no longer than a long weekend - any more time spent in the wilderness, with only their significant other for company, usually results in the sort of deep mental contusion that leads people to smear their own shit all over their Farrow & Ball wallpaper.

Odd Future presented an outlet for empty frustration, one that even cultureless teenagers in the middle of nowhere could access. They embodied the intense emotional turbulence felt by young people the world over. Sometimes they'd appear as bolshy swaggering dickheads, leaving no one safe from their antagonistic trolling. Other moments would see them showcase disarming vulnerability, spitting rhymes about absent parents, unrequited loves and intense loneliness. But it was on social media that Odd Future really cemented their status as a movement. Twitter, Vine, Instagram… The new watering holes for teenagers became the centre of Odd Future's activity and their refreshingly unpolished perspective on life made them popular beyond belief. When explaining their attraction, one fan I spoke to emphasised their raw, stream-of-conscious style commenting: "They're just kids in adults' bodies… they're more of a franchise than a hip hop collective. I think a lot of our generation could see themselves in OF - they just do their own thing and don't care about opinions."

From reading Tyler's garbled CAPS LOCK tweets or watching a Vine of them ripping into Jasper at the skatepark, being a fan of Odd Future was more than casual appreciation: you felt like you really knew Tyler and Co, understanding the inner working of their minds and emotional states. They possesses a ridiculously cool, no-fucks-given approach that we could only dream of brandishing in our isolated backwater of fly-tipping and half an hour bus-rides into town. Emulating the way they talked and how they dressed enabled us to claim some of that rebellion for ourselves.


Of course, that emulation turned from the odd tweet or casual swear-word flung in the direction of a parent, into something else. Soon the hallways of my tiny sixth form were awash with Supreme t-shirts, OBEY sweats and snapbacks. Symbols of subversion and skate culture were universally adopted by a mainstream that normally prided itself on staying firmly on the beaten path. Girls still sporting red tidemarks along their hairlines from attempts to dye their way to being Rihanna were suddenly tweeting links to Yonkers and RTing Tyler's outrageous sentiments with an added laughing emoji. Boys who had been wearing baby-poo coloured chinos the previous month suddenly produced snapbacks and swapped their Converse for Vans that had clearly never been within 5ft of a skateboard. The individualism of Odd Future had spawned a generation of strikingly dressed clones.

Fads had come and gone before, but the one heralded by Odd Future felt different; those swept up in it had their attitude to life irreversibly altered, in ways that weren't quite quantifiable. In a December interview with Mike Tyson, Earl Sweatshirt struggled to explain exactly what his crew had tapped into, stating:

"We like developed our own, like self-sustaining like fan base that was separate…. We started making music, and it was like, it was idiot music, but it was really, I think, what we had in hindsight, what attracted so many people to it was potential… It was just kids became, like, obsessed with it, because they… they got attached, because in the same way that that punk expressed, like, the angst of being a teenager so well, a lot of our music and early energy had a lot of those elements… just illogical… passionate un-aimed anger, you know".


It's telling that a core member of the group recognised the sentiment they had generated - but wasn't quite able to exactly convey the mercurial factors behind it.

Roll around to 2015, and the Odd Future story is about to enter a new phase. It's become clear that both the fans and the group alike have grown past their old ideas and begun to follow diverging paths. Tyler's spoken at length on the subject, most revealingly through a meandering Facebook post that urged the remaining Golf Wang Stans to accept that changes had occurred and to:

'Start believing in yourself and stop living for all these other fucking idiots… FUCKING STOP BEING A FUCKING FOLLOWER… love you, today I want you to find your wings.'

It's pertinent that a man who was at the forefront of a movement I watched homogenise UK youth culture is now urging people to stand out and strike their own path.

The ultimate dream of any teenager is to feel unique while also fitting in. Attaching yourself to Odd Future allowed the illusion of following a dissident doctrine, while simultaneously letting people blend in among the crowd. As we've got older, the satisfaction in being part of the herd has diminished. I remembered one guy who constantly retweeted OF members - yet when I asked him if he kept up with the collective, he told me he wasn't into them anymore. "When you get older, you want music you can actually relate to" he said, while another girl was unable to pinpoint why she fell out of love, remarking "I just became disinterested in what they did, their music and what was happening in each member's life. It didn't appeal anymore." Followers of the group have paralleled their former teenage champions - our identities have developed further and the unfocused frustrations of our teenage experience have abated a little. We've gone to university and maintained – albeit low-paid - jobs. We're still lost, but now we're old enough to be independently adrift in an urban metropolis of our choosing, rather than being stuck with our parents in a tiny village.

Where do Odd Future go from here? Their story is not over - this isn't a tale of one-hit wonders and sad decline. Instead, it's a narrative of evolution. Frank's become a worldwide star. The Internet are cult darlings. Earl's got the critics in the palm of his hand while Tyler, Jasper and Taco have created a surprisingly funny and biting sketch show in the form of Loiter Squad. I see the legacy of Odd Future in my peers all the time; the irreverence, the cynicism and, particularly in the boys, a willingness to be emotionally exposed in a strange, challenging manner. Think tweets like this:

Odd Future gifted us the modern concept of a fucking walking paradox: they gave no fucks, they gave all the fucks. Wherever they go from here, I'll be watching them as closely as I do my actual friends, to see how the musical radicals of my adolescence tackle adulthood.

Follow Moya on Twitter: @moya_lm