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Britain's Alt-Rock Scene is Sexist and Keeping Lad Culture Alive

Bands need to start taking responsibility for what it is they're promoting and the inequalities within the scene.
Hannah Ewens
London, GB
October 20, 2014, 11:08am

Women in PVC and spikey bras come onstage and start dry humping. They are called The Bullet Girls. Sometimes on these nights fire-breathing models called Cyanide Girls perform. There even used to be a thing called Nymph Ernos (pictured above) - which is like an inferno of nymphs, get it? Bros ball around the club in vests, tinnies in hand. They laugh, jeer and stand transfixed along with their girlfriends and female friends. Welcome to Facedown, London's biggest rock night. These are the alt-lads and this is their paradise.

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What do half-naked girls have to do with rock? I'm a female rock fan and have thought long and hard about this. For me, it's as jarring and vaguely sad as, say, seeing Jordan Pundik at 30-something and still wearing board shorts or blink-182 having a giant flaming "fuck" as a backdrop on their recent tour. Basically, I don't think anyone knows.

The alternative world, generally, is a place where girls are a) side-lined, b) fetishised and/or tokenised for having great music taste or c) just thought to be the girlfriend or groupie that doesn't like the music at all. And as such, these half-naked girls have been a main attraction within this subcultural vacuum for as long as I can remember.

Thanks to the feminist brigade, "lad-culture" in the UK is joining the ranks of mp3 players, Nike Blazers and every X Factor finalist in the over 28s in the littering of our cultural memory. Banter is a soiled word and UCL rugby bros with shaved chests will do anything to avoid being caught up in the latest misogynistic shit storm. But the thing is: it's not actually dead yet.

I was considering the fire-batons and fanny at Facedown one night recently when this truth slid nauseatingly into clarity. A special strain of lad culture is not only surviving but thriving right under everyone's radar. It survives in the UK alt-scene.

You probably don't believe me. But let's take a look at the evidence.

The subculture clearly starts where many do – the club nights – and I don't think their importance in shaping this particular scene can be stressed enough. Face Down is attended by rock fans across the south, is a night out for younger "industry" people and, importantly, it's a place where new bands circuit, taking a slot before the main DJing begins.

This is a haven, a retreat. A few stolen hours where you can lose your shit to Alkaline Trio and The Offspring, and then throw your sweaty, thrashing limbs against other people's sweaty, thrashing limbs to a 'pop goes punk' version of a Taylor Swift song. There's no shame here, only fun. There is no obligation to be cool. You can be a reject. But only, of course, if you're an alt-lad.

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Just like Face Down with its half-naked fire girls, there are bizarre lad rituals that take place at Uprawr, a huge weekly alt-club night which is thrown in cities across the country. There'll be weekly giveaways where bikini clad women chuck inconsequential lifestyle paraphernalia into the crowd and walk around squirting Jager into your mouth. Themed events present an opportunity for girls to be in minimal, vague fancy dress or just writhing around in a pool. It's an alt-lad's wet dream. If this doesn't sound like lad culture thus far, then consider a) the other week, UPRAWR had an Only Way is Essex night and b) everyone still drinks plastic thimbles of Sours like it's 2010 in the SU.

So, who, then, are the "alt-lads"? Well, it seems like they're the New Found Glory boys that never grew up because they never had to. They were supported by a scene that said they could be rockstars or club night DJs and date hot tattooed models. Many of them actually are rockstars, per se, in post-hardcore bands. Somewhere along the way, these introverted AFI fans in Vans turned into pouting bros in vests and stonewash jeans. They accessorise with the sort of plastic wayfarers you find on the racks outside shops on Camden High Street and essentially look like blokes from Hollyoaks – if the cast had grown up listening to Taking Back Sunday and recieved nautical star tattoos.

That's perfectly fine. But it's what they represent as part of a larger whole. It's no coincidence they're reminiscent of their traditional 'lad' counterparts of a few years ago.

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Even the alternative lifestyle clothing worn feeds into the laddish subculture. Brands like Big Deal and Honour Over Glory use women to model their "unisex" garments in an entirely unimaginative way. Photos are pretty much naked girls wearing vests and tube socks. On the vanilla end, these look-book shoots are the American Apparel ads that might spark a pissy Jezebel post or two. The more extreme are just pretty pornographic.

If you're familiar with this world, you'll know how much of it centres on the modelling of alt-girls, or alternative glamour models. These are the women that have some kind of importance. Their role goes beyond that of enticing people to buy shoddy threads, but becomes one of caveman bait for club nights. This is what we're all reading from this: come to this night and [enter alt-girl name] will be here. She'll be roaming around the club with other alt girls, downing Jagerbombs with you. Look how attainable she is. She'll probably take the N21 home with you. Maybe she'll agree to go out with you and wear your Big Deal vest next week.

The problem is the eternal one I mentioned earlier: not every woman is an alt-girl. These are the fetishized few; the ones that have a clear space and function in this world. And if you're not an alt-girl – if you're just the average female music fan – then how do you fit in?

You're compliant in it. You're an alt-ladette. You buy the tacky merch, you watch the naked fire girls, you make out for the photos and you get your bra out. It's a circus of faux lesbianism and exhibitionism. If that's your bag, fine. But what's not okay is that sadly this is the only option if you want to have a space within this subculture.

And don't think about being a female alt-DJ, by the way. There is only one female DJ at UPRAWR and that is an alt-model called Mel Clarke. Quota full. Try again when you're a 9/10 with tattoos.

Now let's consider banter. Lads wouldn't be lads without the witty repartee. Look at the way Uprawr engages with its followers. Back in August, it posted this – a listicle entitled "The Girl You're Dating Is A Whore." Sometimes they step it up a level to post think-pieces like this (it's just lots of pictures of bums they have accumulated over time). Other times the bros manning the site participate in social commentary. When the second wave of the Fappening happened, they could barely contain themselves and this jubilatory news story went up. Sure, let's revel in the shame, humiliation and invaded privacy of women, and guffaw publically over the wanks we will have.

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From the flyers to the IG posts, it's baffling this hasn't been properly called out sooner. It's enough to make you wonder whether, besides Uni Lad, the alt-rock scene is the last true remaining outpost of banter.

Why is this so unchallenged? Basically, it's all happening under the "alternative" banner. Those from the inside have probably had the odd moment where they've thought – hang on a sec, something about all this doesn't seem quite right. But then they've shrugged and returned to the mass masturbatory alt-girl circle. Outsiders, if aware of all this, would probably pass it off as an isolated world of customs and traditions. Something they don't understand and don't particularly care to, like flesh tunnels or Camden Market. The "alternative" is a blank space with limitless possibilities.

If this lad-culture seems to exist in its own subcultural bubble, then does it really matter? My answer is: of course it fucking matters. It matters because the UK alt-scene isn't just about alternative lifestyle. Lad culture has grown so closely together with the UK rock scene; it's now impossible to separate the subculture from the music.

Uprawr has DJs and club nights at the various rock festivals. Brands sponsor stages at UK day festivals like Hit The Deck, Warped Tour and so on. Bands have "after-parties" for their shows at the club nights, where they will presumably show their face, so gig-goers will bundle down to the club afterward. The same people who go to Face Down and Uprawr go to the festivals and listen to the same bands.

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Blurring laddish alt-culture into rock music subcultures is exactly what FRONT has been doing for a long time. It's the splurge that has quietly cemented the parts of this world together. Sure, many alt-kids and rock fans will defend FRONT to the hilt but make no mistake: FRONT is more than an FHM for alt-lads – it's a lad's mag cleverly/not cleverly disguised as a subcultural music mag.

While FHM, Zoo et al speak for blokes, FRONT speaks for both sexes. It has a very high percentage of female readers and is marketed accordingly. It's not stupid. They call their readers the FRONT army for a reason: the whole alt-scene is recruited. And just like Uprawr and these other lifestyle brands, they sponsor stages and work with bands.

The moment I realised lad culture had truly got into bed with rock music, affirming their incestuous alliancem, was when I saw FHM's Very Metal Sandwiches series (below). Incidentally, it's exactly what it sounds like. We rockstars. We like SANDWICH. We make sandwich for lad's mag. You get the idea.

So, how can we untangle these qualities from the UK rock scene? Who needs to take responsibility for this undying strand of lad-culture? Is it the punk-appropriating shit-rag, the club night organisers, or the beige lifestyle brands? Is it the alt-lads themselves? No. If the alt-scene is going to become female friendly and drain out the lad culture like the pus from a putrid cyst, I think there's only one group to do this quickly. And that's the bands and their PR.

Hey, bands, here's a thought: stop playing at club nights right after half-naked fire-breathing women or holding your after parties there, stop headlining the stages sponsored by sexist brands, stop making your lad sandwiches. and stop doing interviews that you know will run the page after a topless eighteen year old. Start taking responsibility for what it is you're promoting and the inequalities within the scene.

Or, you know, don't. It's time to decide whether you want your beloved subculture to remain the strongest defender of lad-culture, banter and bullshit remaining in the UK. Yeah, Canterbury, I'm looking at you.

Follow Hannah on Twitter: @HannahRoseEwens