Blitz Kids, Punks, Mods and Skins: The book “The Bag I’m In” shows 36 subcultures from England. Author Sam Knee shares a view into the family album of the teenage rebels in advance.

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Ever since Great Britain is regarded as the hotbed of the newest fashion and music trends. Teenager from all over the world looked on England to thankfully borrow from its youth cultures – now book author Sam Knee, Mode-A cionado and kid of the late 60s compiled the most interesting subcultures of the British islands in more than 300 pages of his new book “The Bag I’m In” and gives INDIE an exclusive impression. Knee specifies the internationally style-defining times as the years 1960 to 1990. „The Bag I’m In sets out to excavate, explore, dissect and connect the evolution of 36 of Britain’s most radical, vital underground scenes from 1960 to 1990 – undoubtedly the most actionpacked 30 years of UK youth history.“ In his book he portrays the youth scene with yet unpublished snap shots of private photo collections: „In order to reflect this complex reality, the book had to feel genuine, personal – warts’n’all, like an extended family photo album – not some superficial, soulless survey. I channeled deep, contacting original scenesters and band members for unseen photos and tidbits about their sartorial getups from back in the day. People were incredibly generous, contributing heaps of personal archive material – way more than I could end up using.“

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From Leatherboys to Mods, Space Rock, Punk, Shoegaze to Baggy – every scene is extensively explained by Knee: Where does it originate from, which bands belong to it, how was the look and how did the outfits develop? Some of the several tribes listed did not reach overly big popularity – Medway Garage (1981-85) or Suedeheads (1970-71) for example appear to be specific Britain phenomena with a low global spread. Also many of the Mod versions between 1961 and 1985 let gape the non-britain non-mod of the 21st century. This photo-english look pervades all decades – and comes back in reliable regularity until today. Also Knees personal imprinting goes back to that: „My own musical/sartorial journey started at secondary modern school in Leigh-on-Sea, when I first became aware of the mythical ’60s through the ’79 mod revival, which briefly engulfed the post punk generation.“

Why England became a trendsetter nation Sam Knee explains with the mixing of cultures within the country:  „The seeds of the scenes originate in the generic state school system; secondary moderns, comprehensives and grammar schools – where kids exist on a street level around other kids and cultures in the great mishmash of society that makes up Britain.“ But this coexistence lead to more and more violence between the youth groups in the late 80s. Many styles existed parallel or only for a short time. In the early years of the decade Goths, Psychobillys, Mods, Skinheads, Rockabillys, Anarcho-Punks und New Romantics competed for the rank as the most spectacular splinter-group.

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Who loses the overview browses until the end of the book: In delightful-naive style of drawing the french illustrator Florence Bamberger illustrates every scene with one couple, which is dressed exemplary – plus short explanations for the outfits. A nice DIY-guidance for admirer of vintage-trends. The retro optic of the photography is not staged. The depicted types are as authentic as the quality of the images. The non-perfect  allows an intimate view on the scenes. Like reading through a family album one browses through the sides and discovers old acquaintances and surprises by looking closely. Knees parents, Janet and Robert, enjoy their youth as Beatniks in the beginning of the 60s, whilst artist Tracey Emin dances exuberantly to the music of the Milkshakes. The 16 years old John Ritchie proudly presents his Ziggy-Stardust-shirt combined with flared pants in 1973 – six years later he, as punk-icon Sid Vicious, dies of an overdose of heroin.

The book ends with the Madchester scene: The soundtrack to it comes from the Stone Roses and Happy Monday, nucleus of the scene is the club Hacienda in Manchester. Knee writes: „By 1988 the scene was overground, coinciding with the acid house, ravey summer of love. Soon the nation’s youth were decked out in baggy, tiedyed t-shirts, bucket hats and dungarees, and the scene approached commercial critical mass. The movement hit its zenith at a Stone Roses gig on Spike Island in the Mersey Estuary in May 1990 – the Woodstock of the E generation. 28,000 teenagers gathered in Stone Roses t-shirts and bid farewell to the ’80s.“

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Underground became mainstream, England lost its interpretational sovereignty to the US. Because of that Knee ends his search in this year: „I ended this adventure in 1990, as this is where I feel that the pioneering British Indie youth cultures reached full circle, giving way to American imports (such as riot grrrl and grunge), or a diluted state of insipid regurgitation (Britpop).“ After Techno and Grunge in the 90s only warmed up trends followed, the US was ahead with Hip Hop, RnB and Soul. The most current british Indie-bands plead on the models from the 70s and 80s, retro trend strings after retro trend. Good, we know the originals now, thanks to Sam Knee.

The Bag I‘m In: Underground Music and Fashion in Britain, 1960-1990, By Sam Knee, Prologue by Bobby Gillespie, 336 pages, Cicada Books

All images from The Bag I’m In

By Esther Stein

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