Are British subcultures really dead, or are they just hiding behind extremely side-swept bangs?
Remember when young Brits used to wear funny hats and have piercings and stuff? When they shouted words like "Grunger!" at each other from buses, or let Pete Doherty inject heroin into their arms on a beach? You probably didn't think it at the time, but they were the last days of something Brits used to have in their country called "subculture." And it was something that the UK did spectacularly well, perhaps better than any other. Until, that is, the great Hollister pandemic of 2012 swept in and Britain started looking like a refugee colony for people who'd been exiled from California for being too ugly and melanin-deficient.
The last teen subculture to really hold sway over there were the emos. They infested shopping precincts from Bluewater to the Trafford Center, and seemed to make total sense there, their checkered Vans even matching the mosaic tiles of the water fountains they always congregated by.
But like most of the other tribes, their numbers have dwindled. You might see one trudging home from school on their own, and you may be the kind of person who's inclined to throw a can at them because of this. But it's kind of sad that they've essentially vanished, because their disappearance is symptomatic of the star death of subculture in Britain.
Then, however, I found out about a club night called Face Down—which sells itself as "London's biggest rock night," but was sold to me by a friend as "Britain's biggest emo night." Was it just going to be Chase, Status, and Benzo Fury with slightly longer bangs than the local Oceana? Or was it for real? It was time to get some answers.
The venue for the night's proceedings was the Scala, a large-ish venue near King's Cross station in London. It's been going here for a few years now, emo promoters seem to know which side their bread's buttered. There was no sense of cool or ambition here. The venue was decked out like a school disco for the quarantined-at-lunchtime kids, which made a lot of sense, because that's essentially what it was.
Nevertheless, I had my fears that I was going to some kind of emo old boys social event, with a bunch of aging weekend revivalists standing around swapping Get Up Kids trivia. But instantly my worries were assuaged by the appearance of these guys, who probably don't know anything about The Get Up Kids and just use them as a tokenistic reference point for olden days emo culture in exactly the same way I do.
As well as the older-brother's-passport crowd, there were a few veterans scattered around the place; the kind of guys the youngsters wished their older brothers were.
These guys have probably seen it all together: watched emo rise from being a one-rack genre section in a Brighton record shop, to causing a nationwide moral panic, before fading back into nostalgic obscurity again. Speaking of which, can you imagine how life-shattering it's going to be when they finally break up? The thought of it is giving me a vicarious breakdown.
Face Down also had an upstairs room dedicated to those who like their emotional catharsis a bit more full-blooded. The room smelled like an Aussie Rules changing room, played music by bands named after war crimes, and was inhabited only by two distinct groups of the same sex. First, there were guys like this, who work in RPG programming, never wear full-length pants, and think Slayer are a pussy band.
Then there were dudes like this, who staple their eyebrows to their foreheads in DT lessons and could probably get their slam dance on to an acoustic Morcheeba set at the Jazz Cafe. He seemed desperate to prove his generation's mosh pit worth to the community elders, and I think he succeeded, by dancing like a very, very angry wolf.
Back downstairs, I ran into these four. I assume they're members of emo scene royalty because they were bowling round the club in that way people do when they know half the people in there have masturbated over them.
I found myself being introduced to these lovely ladies, who were part of a strip/burlesque/all-sorts-of-weird-shit act named "Nymph Erno." Geddit? It's like an inferno of nymphs. Now, I've read Lolita, and I'm pretty sure these weren't the kind of girls Nabokov had in mind when he referred to nymphs. But they were nice girls; the tall blonde one is apparently Adam Ant's drummer. Needless to say that's not the kind of income you can rely on without a side gig, and hers was breathing fire at emo nights.
This picture presents us with the dichotomy of the male emo type: First up on the left, you have the slightly sad, goth-influenced breed, who've been there since the early days and don't really have the clothes but do have a glam mom with some eyeliner in her purse. Then you have the other guy, who is clearly a late-adopter, only there because of the buzz you get when you steal other people's girlfriends.
Speaking of people whose faces didn't really fit, this guy must have been real disappointed when he found out DJ Hype wasn't playing tonight. Still, it looks like he stayed long enough for the Mitsis to kick in, and possibly even began to enjoy himself. He's pulling a face that says: "I'd much rather be watching Skibadee on the mic right now, but I don't want the bus ride to kill my buzz."
Back on the main dancefloor, the crowd was whipped up into a zeitgeist frenzy when the DJs dropped a pop-punk cover of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." There's a "grand" tradition of comedy pop-punk covers, and I was heartened to see it was still going strong. It was hands down the most sugary song I've ever heard, like eating frozen candy floss at Clueless: The Musical. And this guy fucking loved it.
In terms of getting photographic compliance, Face Down was by far the easiest Big Night Out I've ever done. The clientele weren't just happy to be photographed; they got upset when you didn't photograph them, as if they were Hollywood stars that I'd failed to recognize through my own ignorance. The night even has its own videographer, who captured the proceedings like an Etnies Scorsese for their YouTube channel. Which needless to say, is quite something.
It's hard to portray exactly how the overall club vibe was getting along, because everyone there seemed to experience their nights within their own, personal micro-climates. Emo girls were always incredibly self-obsessed. They'd change their MySpace profile pics every hour, yet somehow they were always the same, and there were always loads of weird guys who probably didn't actually exist with Xs in their screennames saying things to them like "pc4pc plz" and "nyc hair."
This girl has obviously decided to take her latest pic on location, but she might want to crop out the bingo wings and slightly-too-old voyeur dude on the peripheries before she loses scene points.
Back upstairs in the hardcore room, it was all systems go. They were now only playing music by bands whose singers sung like cartoon dragons and a lot of guys who look like second-rate MMA fighters had started doing weird, rhythmic dances. Not sure exactly what I was pointing at here, might just be a safe passage out.
They might look like a Serbian version of The Wanted, but they were determined to create a vicious circle pit on the emptying dancefloor. But although the evil Biebers were making a good fist of the snuff movie soundtrack, it became clear what the rest of the club was really waiting for...
...which was this, obviously. I'm sad to break it to anybody who got excited thinking that everyone's into Drive Like Jehu again, but emos fucking love dubstep now.
By now, the younger crowd had been well and truly possessed by the demons of dub. They stomped their feet like fairytale giants crushing tiny towns beneath them. My vain hopes of hearing "What's My Age Again" began to fade in an endless onslaught of wubs and thuds. I'd been fired back into the mainstream.
The night was getting on, and I was left with the brittle wheat from the chaff of the older crowd: guys who look like backyard wrestlers and guys who look like they test drug packages for dealers. These people weren't the dead-legged losers who bashfully haunted my school corridors, they look like they should be stealing radios from hospital parking lots.
The Nymph Erno girls were now onstage in the main room, and they transformed the school disco into a kind of experimental science lesson which managed to encompass physics, chemistry, and even a few glimpses of biology. The kids stood around gawping and filming like it was a playground punch-up, and I decided it was probably time to leave before I got roped into holding a chainsaw for them or something.
Things were getting rough now, there was smoking in the hallway and fingering on the dancefloor. By 2AM, the tears of regret and the vomit of sadness were flowing.
But I left on a tender moment, with our sweaty Romeo here protecting his Juliet from the stench of the smoking area gut gunge that sat next to them as he she cried into his purple hoodie. Even in this climate of broken hearts and aching stomachs, a rose could grow.
Did I enjoy Face Down? Well go read the Time Out clubbing section if you want a review. I'm not interested in the playlists or the beer quality, but I am interested in the people. I'm of the opinion that youth culture has reached such a bland nadir, that something like Face Down can only be a force for good. The sad part of the night is that it's essentially retro now, one day you'll see it listed next to those fucking 1940s tea dances, and when the culture police investigating the murder of teen tribalism carry out their dawn raids, the kids that go to those will be the first to fry.
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
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