Alt dot Fan dot

Goffs. Rockers, glam rockers, emo kids, punks. Hardcore punks. Metalheads. Connected and divided by: darkness, a-normative social urges, deliberately provocative styles of dress, and specific predilections concerning the application to the ear-drum of drums, dramatic vocal lines and electronic distortion of the natural tone of the guitar.

This is what I understand by alternative.

As such, I thought that there was less of it here. You see some black fringes among the mid-teen youth, where the positive pull of the alt-dot is strongest, and you see a lot of those default-metalheads, guys with long hair and a black t-shirt carrying the logo more or less interchangeably of a death-metal group or third-gen console game. And the post-hardcore kids are in evidence, proudly repping the local origins of Parkway Drive. But there’s fewer people pushing the extreme; far fewer magnificently full-on goths who’d look just dandy on the set of Thirty Days of Night. Few skinny-assed, pink-haired twentysomethings keeping the torch of emo burning beyond secondary school. Few mohawks, or where they are, they’re more likely to be hanging floppily down the scalp of a shirt-and-shorts bloke at the train station than standing proudly erect over the gleaming pate of a shiny-studded punk.

As a result, I’d concluded, there just isn’t an alt.scene here in the same way. In turn, my own appearance has tamed; if the night’s cool I’ll still fling a black leather jacket over my Metallica tee, and hang a couple of chains. But that’s about it. I hardly ever boast the bandannas and ornamentation and OTT glam-rockery that I like(d?) to break out back home. Even if something’s an a-normative statement, it’s a lot less intuitively appealing when you’re in a foreign place already, and there doesn’t seem to be any…dare I say it?…infrastructure for it.

Of course, it’s not just the inhabitants stopping me wearing seven layers of shiny black. There’s the climate, too.

And therein, maybe, lies the rub.

Idiocy probably, but it wasn’t until a chance conversation – based around music, unsurprisingly, it’s the undying hub of counter-culture – that I actually equated the groups of dreadlocky hippies hanging around Brisbane’s West End with the dreadlocky metalheads who wander past you at Download. I mean, I loved the hippies dearly, and would certainly have referred to them as ‘alternative’, but I didn’t really mean the same thing. To me, alternative defaults to those people in the first paragraph – little seperatist cliques in school, who afterwards merge into a more holistic community of the darkly-clad and free-thinking. Hippies and surfers, with their chilled-out tunes and rainbow colours, seem intrinsically different.

Which they are. Yes, yes they are. The black-clad have a more overt alliance to the alternative, the hippified a more passive falling-into it. They’re more mellow and less spike, more Marley than Manson, more of an opt-out from the mainstream than a determined opposition to it. Sunnier. But then, they would be, they’ve got the sun.

Being warm 365 days a year has to lead to a different psychology, in the same way that year-round winter can’t be denied as a factor in the Russians’ incessant production of beautiful, lengthy, tortured literature. Australia’s underpopulation – and resulting availability of space – compared to a European city that bustles and wriggles and throws people constantly past one another, rubbing off oddly as they go, is a factor too. Is it any surprise, then, if the key underpinning of any drive to the ‘alternative’ – that basic a-normative urge – has a sort of hippy-er result?

It makes a lot of sense. Aversity to the mainstream may be more likely to manifest as slow acoustic guitar twanged out headily on a beach here, and more likely to spur cold fingers into obsessively technical melodic-death riffs in a Swedish or English cellar, but there is that common catalyst.

Sepultura put it nicely: We Who Are Not As Others.

It’s that urge that makes you laugh with delight when you’re shown something weird. It’s that determination to think twice before accepting the status quo viewpoint – it’s no coincidence that the Alternative of all guises are visible en masse when it comes to ideological marches or cause supporting. It’s that love of the coruscating fear of the new, and the determination to plumb the depths of the archaic, just to see how it measures up to, how it effects, how it’s relevant to now. It’s an inescapable curiosity about what the world is and how would it be if it were other, that manifests itself in everything from art and literature, to derivative fan-fiction and MMORPG addictions (I make no claims that those who see themselves as not-as-others are any more intelligent, beautiful or moral than others. Curiosity is not predicated on virtue).

And it’s not just biker jackets and tie-dye. American hip-hop culture is stultifyingly gross at its mainstream edge (an even stronger example than stadium-rock tedium that the alternative is terrible when it forgets to question), but its proud, primal, vital underground is born of that same beauteous drive. So too the sci-fi freaks and anime cosplayers. So too the anarchists in their gasmasks, or the steampunkers in theirs. All over the fat of the rich western world, there is a thin and crispy zest of those who – at varying levels of effectiveness or nerdiness, usefulness or annoyance, Fucking Hostile or Don’t Worry Be Happy – seek to be in some way, an expression before they are an example.

Nor is this divisive: those from these subcultures, if they’re intelligent enough to rise above the goths-vs-emos cliquiness which arises much too easily, tend to be the most accepting people I know. The most ready to accept the Other, even when the Other is as Other from their Other as it can go.

And, I’m sure it’s obvious, however reasonable I may force my article to be, I have a massive bias in its favour. The weird are the beautiful: The Other are vital.

And alternative culture, while my bones walk in society at all, feels like home.

[note to anyone reading this on the homepage: it really is worth your while reading the comments field, I think a lot of the problems with the article get questioned and — hopefully — ironed out a little]

Look at all the shiny black!


4 thoughts on “Alt dot Fan dot

  1. Ha ha, it’s amazing how you can just sum up things like this and make the world better.

    Personally I often feel like the stereotype of me can infect the whole of me – till I become little more than a caricature of an alt.girl (arty, dyed hair, pagan-y, bisexual, it’s like an erosion of identity) but then at the same time it’s good to have community… kinda.

    I like your argument about the Other being more open to change, difference, debate but I’ve found that after a certain age it’s more about having a peter-pan complex than anything deeper.

    “Being warm 365 days a year has to lead to a different psychology, in the same way that year-round winter can’t be denied as a factor in the Russians’ incessant production of beautiful, lengthy, tortured literature.” – this made me happy.

    It would be good to talk about this issue sometime though – it’s been on my mind too.

  2. [I’m copying in here a conversation held in the comments field below my link to this blog on Facebook. I think it’s a fascinating debate, and also gave me the chance to address a couple of the most basic issues with this article — especially that, through some poor framing/word choice, I possibly seem to be making a much more prescriptivist social judgement than I ever intended. I’ve edited these comments a little for clarity, but only removed things completely tangential to the debate, like, you know, whether Kenny looks funny, and whether Parkway Drive are REALLY post-hardcore.]

    Catriona Ward Sell:

    The problem is, there are so many alternative types of alternative. Gothic isn’t a very alternative alternative in the great scheme of alternatives. It’s also rapidly falling out of fashion – interesting that it *has* been in fashion in the first place. But that’s purely aesthetic anyway. Alternative lifestyles are so much more than that.

    Rachael Murray
    interesting article, it has me a- thinkin… and i will be a-respondin

    Catriona Ward Sell
    Just incidentally, by the above I’m not pretending to have a better style of alternative than the next person. And I’m not suggesting that the alternative elements of my lifestyle are better than someone’s alternative dress code. Just… saying, that’s all.

    Unusually for an Aran article, some elements of it have me strongly a-disagreein’. So I was a-deletin’ my a-responsin’. Alternative grammar FTW.

    Carmel Ward:
    well, I’d rather be a hippie than a nail. ;-))

    Jessica Buntrock:
    O hey, I’m in ur bloggy-blog, fun! All I know is: Goths, real goths, the ones who live the lifestyle and don’t just do it in their mid-teens, really hate emo’s. I also once read an interview with some American musician, possibly a hip-hop artist, who said he had massive respect for the goths in QLD for wearing all they do all the time regardless of heat.

    Rachael Murray
    i think- tho i know you’re not for simplifying anything, that it can be a sellout to self-identify as alternative – “I am ascribing to this alternative view”. the most alternative people i know are alternative not because of how they look …or because they are part of some other movement and not even because they associate themselves with that pool of “odd jobs” because honestly i think we are all odd jobs- but those that hold their free-thinking and stick to their (cliched) guns WITHIN whatever their environment. Sure we are influenced by what is around, as you mention with climate etc, but why did you water down your outfits here? if that is what you really want to express- then why aren’t you?

    Rachael Murray
    i think there is a grand difference between alternative in its aesthetics and its actions.

    the most alternative i FEEL is when im wearing a disgusting tracksuit reading a book under the sun and writing. you might feel most ‘alternative’ rocking out to a band wearing a leather jacket. but that doesn’t make me a hippy and you a g…oth. but this is more in theory- in reality yes- there are particular lifestyles that i would want to be a part of over the alternative? mainstream… “would rather be a hippie, to quote your mother”… but MAYBE this is the easy way out???

    Catriona Ward Sell
    ‎”it can be a sellout to self-identify as alternative” = best sentence I’ve read all day (and I’ve been reading since 9 am. Damn King Offa)

    The people I know here who are the most “alternative” (in my definition of the sense, albeit…) act…ually probably wouldn’t even think of themselves as “alternative”. They’re just, well, themselves. Cliched as it sounds.

    Also as a historian I would like to remind you what a goth REALLY is… (:

    Rachael Murray:
    cliches are a great help. maybe that is why they are cliches??? also i know exactly what you mean, they just…. are…

    Aran Ward Sell:
    I think there’s a constant dichotomy with tribalism, which I’ve fallen prey to to an extent with my writing here — which is that pretty much anything that seeks to include then excludes by definition. Something like an aesthetic/musical subculture doesn’t enforce this in any way, but it can still be an automatic assumption that something lauding those subcultures is thus damning other subcultures in the same move.

    What I *meant* to do here wasn’t to say for a moment that those consciously identifying as alternative are better than those who aren’t, or even are more alternative than those who aren’t. The central *intended* message (which may differ from the actual one due to deficiencies in the writing) was pretty much an observation that there’s a common urge which leads people to consciously identify as alternative, and that the same urge may be behind apparently disparate subcultures. The only value-judgement was in the last bit, which was just me saying ‘I like these people’ and nothing more.

    I also did use ‘alternative’ throughout in the common-usage sense of ‘people who consciously identify as members of an alternative community’. In hindsight, this may have been a bit lazy, at least without spelling it out first. I also thought some bits (ie the infrastructure comment) were more obviously self-mocking than maybe they’ve come across.

    Catriona Ward Sell:
    The problem with your definition, I think, is that – as stated above – by this definition:

    ‘people who consciously identify as members of an alternative community’

    you perhaps DISCLUDE the “most naturally alternative” (for want of a better ph…rase) people. And I’m not talking about, like, natural remedies and homeopathy. To me, the definition your looking for is more “clique” than “alternative”.

    Does anyone actually try to identify with being “normal”?

    Aran Ward Sell:
    Kt – yeah, I don’t dispute for a minute that there are much more genuinely ‘alternative’ ways of being — hence the hindsight analysis of myself as lazy in that word choice. I think a lot (not all) of the disagreement here has come from the word choice of ‘alternative’ when ALL I MEANT was that shallower pop-culture definition. If you imagine every use of the word alternative replaced with a non-extant word meaning ‘people who consciously identify as members of an alternative community’ (where ‘alt. community’ is a largely self-defined notion often focusing on contemporary music and associated clothing styles / attitudes), then I think I might be closer to what I thought I was writing … :p

  3. I’m with your sister on this one. I don’t think there’s a person in the world who identifies themselves as “normal,” but almost everybody is afraid everyone else will figure out that they aren’t. The only difference between “alternative” and “mainstream” is how willing people are to risk ostracism to express themselves, or how strong their local “alternative” culture is. It’s really hard to be the only one dressed (or acting or thinking) a certain way. I think that’s why communities spring up in the first place–it’s easier to “be yourself” when there are other being people similar selves with you. We are social animals. We want to be liked.

    But on a personal note, I don’t take much stock in subcultures based around everyone dressing the same way, regardless of what the style might be. I find it stifles individual personalities even more than the “mainstream” does, especially in high school, because at least everybody knows you’re SUPPOSE to subvert the mainstream. I’ve seen people get lost behind dreadlocks, piercings and tattoos just as often as abercrombie t-shirts and prada shoes. It can be hard to tell how much you’re doing for yourself and how much is just a reflection of the people around you, regardless of what your “normal” is.

    The real “alternative” folk, in the most basic sense, are the ones who don’t give a rat’s ass either way. And even they can’t be properly defined. Some of them are really cool, while others are total dicks (I even know people who qualify for both categories; in fact, I’m dating one of them). I guess what I’m really trying to say is: “alternativeness,” to me, isn’t a trait in and of itself. Everybody is “alternative” in some way. The “Others”–normal people–are a myth, a conspiracy of statistics. People just can’t be simplified like that. And, really, isn’t that fantastic?

    On a (un?) related note: I want to see fully glammed-out Aran whenever I manage to drag my ass to Scotland. I want to party like a rock star with him. PROMISE ME.

    By the way, my high school was freaking FLOODED with hippie metal heads. Seriously. They were everywhere. They use to start rainbow mosh pits in the middle of our cafeteria. It was really annoying.

  4. Nice piece of fashion writing. I could see this in ‘The Face’ or ‘I-D’. ‘Vogue’ or ‘Harper’s ‘ might want the word ‘chic’ substituted for the word ‘alternative’ , but that’s fair enough, it doesn’t change it at all. ( go on, try it)

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