For those who know and acknowledge the idea of a counterculture, then is it worth denying that it doesn’t exist today? Especially when nearly everything is going at such a speed, that it’s almost impossible to predict. Surely, there is a community that has a lot to object to, right? Subcultures must have formed out of mutual dissatisfaction of the government, climate change or current civil rights, just like it has in the past? The answer is yes, they have formed, and it is fairly obvious to most people. It’s just a lot different in comparison to what it used to be. And now, it is divided into two sections: ‘above-ground’ and ‘underground’.
For many, it is difficult to believe that a new and emerging counterculture is arising, especially when a high-profile figure such as Damon Albarn, the Gorillaz and Blur frontman, whom back in June 2017 in Canterbury, conversed Britain’s “inevitable, bullshit outcome” after a surprise snap election. Judging from his audience’s reactions, not many were fazed by the remark.
Other supposed purveyors of the counterculture, such as the Tunbridge Wells middle-class punk duo, Slaves (who have disappeared in the media after their fiasco with a financial grant), also fail to appropriate themselves with a subculture no matter how hard they may try to push forward the marketing act of them being disadvantaged. This, unfortunately for them and their record label, is fairly hard to believe, especially since they have families to keep them financially stable and are probably never going to find themselves in a food bank.
But please believe it, there is an arising counterculture. One that protests through technology as well as music and art. One that does not embody itself in rebellious youths smoking spliffs outside Soho and one that is not appearing in a murky, derelict house on the outskirts of Bury, spangled on MDMA whilst the same repetitive thud penetrates their ribcages.
Desperate attempts to appear ‘counterculture’ or in the words of a populist, anti-establishment, are all around us. For the purpose of this feature, those who we know that actively represent the opposition to the current world of culture and society should be deemed as ‘above-ground’. Figures such as the beforementioned Damon Albarn and those Tunbridge Wells punks, Slaves are the description of this class of countercultural activists.
Just because the ‘above-ground’ high-profile figures are seemingly failing at forming a subculture based on counterculture does not mean it’s not there. Take a look at the protests that have been occurring over the past few years, there’s been an unbelievable amount of anti-DT sentiment — but seemingly the underground has looked past this. Detroit post-punk outfits, Protomartyr appear to understand that America’s social woes were never truly accelerated by the human orange, instead believe that the woes were there from the beginning and is part of the American system, this they highlighted through interviews on Detroit’s never-ending implosion.
It is likely that the group may not realise their own significance, but they are potentially fuelling the cities next public objection to the expected American way of living: as did their protégés throughout the mid to late sixties.
As Greg Ahee, Protomartyrs forward speaking guitarist said in an interview with Stuart Stubbs of Loud and Quiet, the current American administration terror isn’t something that is new, more of an “aspect of this huge problem”. That problem referring to the expected American dream. Protomartyr’s audience in and around Detroit are not necessarily wholly compiled of revolutionaries who wish for an end to capitalism, nor do they ultimately wish for a return to their cities nostalgic motor industry years. In contrast, they don’t seem to care in the slightest about how bad things have become, but they do ask questions as to why the city has been allowed to continually decline over the past few decades.
Music, literature and other forms of communication have played key parts in revolutionising the way audiences and readerships think in the past, just as it has in Detroit on the small underground level. It’s played a part in unifying communities as well; specifically, the funk and disco community in the seventies. Today though, music isn’t as widely reachable as it once was, and songwriters and composers play it safe if they want to feature on radio stations, without which, they would not earn a living. And that really is where technology comes in, where it is actively solidifying subcultures and replacing music and art as the predominant counterculture.
In Britain, it is highly debatable that the last countercultural swing was on June 8th, 2017, when large proportions of students and young adults voted for a Labour candidate to their constituency. How was it possible? Social media sites that focus on political and societal memes. One popular example would be The Simpsons Against the Conservatives, which not only pokes fun at the conservative government but also helped many question the morality of their MP’s, Cabinet officials and Prime Minister. In truth though, Labours surge and the high turnout of youths is something of the ‘above-ground’ counterculture, which is what makes technology right now so vital.
Tabloids such as the Daily Mail would have its readership believe that the surge was something of the ‘underground’ and that the turnout of young voters was not that high from the beginning; see their front page for the 18th July. Needless to say, it’s safe to believe that the Labour parties’ rise in the polls was predominantly caused by social media, differentiating it from previous countercultures — where usually they’ve formed into a subculture due to music and literature, film or word of mouth. This use of technology to form something of an anti-neoliberal group is a tactic that is being heavily sought after by various political parties in the UK, and possibly across Europe, particularly by the far right who as of late have been using social media to distribute limited information on immigration issues.
With technology shaping and moulding the current political situation in the UK, a basis has formed. Has music, literature, word of mouth truly lost its touch in the current countercultural climate? No, but it is going to be playing a lesser role in the years to come. And yes, like Protomartyr in America, they’ll always be there for the smaller subcultures who want to yell obscenities at political and wealthy individuals.
Now, there is a culture in protesting, young adolescents have developed an enjoyment in showing their participation through the colossal social sites such as Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, attracting the attention of others. Events that get scheduled through these sites that are open to the public now can get across to thousands, and although the official turnout may not be as strong as the list of people ‘interested’ on the page, it still resonates a message of mutual unification and dissatisfaction. In some cases, specifically the abortion bill in Poland in 2016, counter-protests, organised and popularised through social media, have derailed governmental plans.
In hindsight, counterculture isn’t entirely what it meant in the sixties. Now, it isn’t about attending legalise pot rallies, nor is it about being completely controversial and opposite to your parents and family. Counterculture is now something that should be seen as more of a predominant protest-culture, with technological advancements and social media taking the realm of unifying subcultures, much like it did with the meme-revolution in the UK’s 2017 snap election. And in the coming years, specifically in worldwide politics, be prepared to see social media taking its rightful stance in countering the mainstream.