Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Chemical Generation: From Docs to Kicks

When inner city youths rejected hippy music and heavy metal in the late 60s they created an alternative culture which was more utilitarian, unisex and affordable to out of work street kids. Bomber jackets, fitted shirts, Levis & braces with Doc Martens (DMs) boots were hip but dancing took second place to a good punch up. Skinheads (or suede heads) was a very machismo movement soon hijacked by racists and Neo-Nazis but initially they listened to Reggie music which was replaced later by racist, Oi music.

The once ultra-conservative Dr Martens shoes became the trademarks of urban youth excited by violence.

Dr Klause Martens of Munich invented his air trapped soles in 1945. The inspiration came had come from a personal injury he experienced when skiing and he wanted a more comfortable pair shoes. He started to produce the air sole in 1947 but it took until the mid to late 60s to peak. DMs became the essential accessory of youth harnessing the aggression of the storm trooper into the streets. European skinheads made it their own in the seventies and used their DMs (Bovver Boots) fierce weapons to shatter the complacency of the bourgeoisie. Skinheads were not the first to do this and in the seventeenth century young men called 'footpads' terrorised the highways and byways. DM's were readily adopted by all and became a youth phenomenon worn by women and gay men and not just as weapons of terror.

Into the 70s the generation of teenagers identified less with the sophisticated sounds of studio and disco but rediscovered simple rock music played live. All this took place at a time when the Western World was experiencing the beginning of economic hardship and aimless and unemployed street kids disinterested in finesse just wanted to be rocked.

Tapping into the movement came Malcolm McLaren and his girl friend Vivienne Westwood when in 1971, they took over the back part of the retail premises at 430 Kings Road in Chelsea, West London. Initially they sold rock n roll records, refurbished '50s radiograms and dead stock. Then they opened Let It Rock with Westwood repairing original clothing and making facsimiles. They designed clothing for theatrical and cinematic productions including as That'll Be The Day as well as catering for the brief fashion for all things Teddy Boy.

McLaren spent time in New York and was influenced by the New York Dolls what he saw at the notorious CBGB in New York City. He and Westwood opened SEX Boutique in the Kings Road and started to sell Westwood originals which appeared as simple clothing intended to shock. McLaren then decided to manage a makeshift band made up of SEX customers, John Lydon, John Ritchie, Paul Cook and Steve Jones with his shop assistant, Glen Matlock. The band were called The Sex Pistols and could scarcely play, no matter the Svengali, McLaren jumped at the opportunity to capitalize on their recording potential. The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle followed and the Sex Pistols became the front of a new teenage phenomenon called Punk Music.

Punk represented a return to more simplistic music and dancing to live music was back in small clubs and pubs. Crowed dance floors meant little room to do much more than pogo to the throbbing beat.

By the 80s, across Europe, groups of young men gathered on football terraces not to watch the games but to engage in fighting with rival fans.

Many were unemployed with no visible means of support yet wore extremely expensive designer clothes and shoes. Most were involved in crime and particular illicit drug trafficking.

Dubbed Soccer Casuals they joined the Chemical Generation who went clubbing) or frequented dance parties called Raves.

Acid house music parties started in Chicago but quickly spread and caught on in the UK within clubs, warehouses and free-parties. Activities were related to the party atmosphere of the hi-tech discos in Ibiza, a favorite holiday destination of British, Italian, Greek, Irish and German youth.

Looking good came with a new sartorial awareness. Shoes (kicks) needed to match the outfit and a hungry market was created.

To keep demand high, the giants like Adidas, Puma and Nike produced what were virtually fashion ranges of their popular sport shoes. Each season brought new design modifications, colour combinations (colourways) and logos, most of which were sales promotion ruses and had little to do with improving the efficiency of the shoe for exercise. The young enjoyed the exclusive designer element and cost was no barrier. A combination of clever marketing and the desire to rebel against conservatism assured the sneaker culture endured into the third millennium. Ravers danced ‘all-nighters’ and many took drugs like Ecstasy. This is a stimulant drug which contained methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Electronic music both recorded and live were favored in clubs like Manchester’s Hacienda

Reviewed 20/04/2018

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