We are often led to believe that the world is becoming a more homogenous place, that globalisation is leading to a decline in “genius loci” and that culture and places are becoming homogenised and indistinguishable. Many of us that grew up through the so called “golden years of youth culture” in the 70s and 80s enjoying glam rock, northern soul, disco, punk, mod and rockabilly revivals, new romantic and acid house smugly look at today’s lack of clearly identified movements and question where the creativity is today. But whilst it was undoubtedly great fun being part of the aforementioned movements, we were minority interest groups kicking against conformity. Conformity that manifested itself in mass participation in watching pretty dull Saturday night entertainment shows (17 million used to tune into lightweight variety shows), in going to identikit pubs all serving samey “pub fayre” and where foreign travel meant a fortnight eating full English breakfasts in Benidorm or Torremolinos.
Looking back at pictures of punks and new romantics it’s easy to get all misty eyed about a generation that was into DIY fashion , that had a real DIY ethic when it came to “having a go” at making music, starting up magazines (ID, The Face, Blitz all came out of these movements), but the numbers really were tiny and the reason why we were treated as freaks and often had to run for our lives from those that felt threatened by our difference and were vilified by a mainstream press that felt British traditional values were being denigrated by a bunch of “perverts” was because Britain was really, on the whole, an insular, identikit nation.
So what about today? We have our problems, the proliferation of supermarkets do threaten our independent retailers, our high streets are owned by pension funds and are making it difficult for start ups to “have a go” but that’s more an economic and employment choice issue rather than the public choosing to be homogenised. Our supermarkets are positively eclectic and compared to the offer available 15 years ago are brimming with serendipitous choice, from fruits and fish that would have frightened my nan and pop to death, to strange tins of specialist dishes that allow us to dip into the tastes of the smorgasbord of nationalities that make up this increasingly rainbow nation. We might enjoy a Mediterranean rocket salad on a Monday, a Thai green curry on a Tuesday, some Middle Eastern mezze on a Wednesday, perhaps pasta on a Thursday, fish and chips on a Friday, a Saturday night curry and a traditional Sunday roast. Go into a large Top Shop or Top Man and armed with a modicum of fashion nouse you can put together an eclectic outfit that dips into the fashions of the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and today…you can even rummage amongst vintage clothes in Urban Outfitters and buy some really left field second-hand furniture in Selfridges.
Forward thinking musicians like Damien Albarn, fuse genres and cultures to create new beats that sell in their millions. Artists like Chris Olifi bring an exotic perspective to British Art. Teenagers have no hang ups about mixing their pop with some indie and some 80s disco that they first heard their parents playing.
The internet has given everyone the chance to hunt and gather, mix and match and create cultural hybrids that taking culture in new territories whilst sometimes having a smidgen of the comfort of familiarity and proven popularity.
I am writing this from my father in law’s home in Padiham, Lancashire. This afternoon I am off to watch my beloved Blackburn Rovers play some little team called Blackburn Rovers, then having a South Indian Thali before going to a Jazz Funk night for a boogie. On the train journey to Manchester I might just indulge in a bag of pick and mix.