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Alternative kids are taking over the world

June 6, 2004

I was a grunge kid before such a category even existed, before the marketers identified it as niche, got the youth magazines to do features so that kids could see how to dress, like working stiffs with just the right blend of punky rebellion – and then sell those clothes to us at designer stores.

Alternative music was a protest against the end of the post-war social contract, engineered by Thatcher and Reagan, which is why it tended to embrace a working class ethic. It started with punk kids in the UK rejecting both Thatcher’s attacks on conditions and the hypocrisy of the Labour party.

Among White (and to a lesser extent, ‘Coloured’ and Indian) youth in South Africa, it was a rejection of both the Apartheid establishment and the strident Stalinism and African chauvinism of the liberation movements.

Probably the biggest recruiter for the alternative underground was the South African military. Apolitical kids, facing conscription to the Apartheid death machine, were quickly politicised and found communion among fans of anti-war bands like Crass, and their local equivalents like Durban’s Power Age.

Of course, the greatest obstacle the scene faced was one Bernoldus Zaaiman, aka Barney Simon, who ran two ‘alternative’ shows on State-owned radio – how ironic is that? Barney, of course, always argued that ‘it’s all about the music’ – when of course it wasn’t. The music was an expression of the alienation and disconnection we felt from the world around us. It was about more than the music. The music was a symptom. We wanted a new world.

When I was 16, in 1990, I lived in a small town in the Karoo, the arid semi-desert at the heart of Azania. I had one friend, Lourens. We listened to hard music – metal, alternative, punk and goth, and smoked kak majat [ditch weed] through milk stout bottle necks. We wore plaid shirts – ‘tartans’, as we called them – from Pep stores, over band T-shirts, old jeans and tackies [sneakers]. We dressed like this consciously to communicate a rejection of consumer culture. We had a different way of expressing it then: “us arm ouens [poor boys] must stick together. Fuck those rich bastards”.

My dad was a minister of religion, responsible for a parish that included half a dozen country churches. Whenever we went on car trips to out of the way places for church services, my sisters and I insisted on playing our music. It amused me to think how I was piercing the virgin African sky with my shrieking sings.

And then along came Nirvana. We couldn’t believe it. A fringe genre, an alternative subsect until then represented only by a few groups like Sonic Youth, had broken into the mainstream. We felt vindicated. Our primal yell of pain and anger had broken out of the underground and was screaming from the airwaves, tearing the consensus apart.

Suddenly even the yuppie kids were paying attention, and starting to dress like us. The mainstream had caught onto what we had been doing for years, had commercialised it, and was attempting to sell it back to us.

Our response was instinctual – listen to less Nirvana, and go for something more hardcore. But it didn’t resolve the central contradiction – how could Outsider music be so popular with Insiders?

But now I realise that what we saw then was the beginning of a trend, as the primal scream of our repressed shadow grew in power till it exploded into the mind-numbing-dumbing consensus.

Who would have thought that aesthetic extremists like Eminem and Marilyn Manson – and revolutionaries like Rage Against the Machine – would become so popular? So popular that they had to be accepted – and recuperated,repackaged and resold by a mainstream more interested in profit than the level of consciousness in society. But as some cynical Russian revolutionary commented, “just when you’re about to hang the last capitalist, another will appear to sell you the rope!”

A hostile band of brothers indeed!

But Art both reflects and shapes consensus reality, and it is significant that this much anger has moved into the mainstream. Something is stirring in consciousness. A demon wants to get out, a Chaos God is waiting to be born.

For example, no one is more mainstream than Eminem, if you look at copies of CDs sold, but the ideas he spreads are certainly alternative, showing that rejection of the status quo has reached a certain critical mass amongst youth. This sample from White America sums it up perfectly:

I never woulda dreamed in a million years I’d see

so many motherfucken people who feel like me

who share the same views and the same exact beliefs

it’s like a fucken army marchin’ at back of me

so may lives I’ve touched

so much anger aimed at no particular direction

it just sprays and sprays…I shovelled shit all my life

now I’m dumping it on

White America…see the problem is I speak for suburban kids

who otherwise would never knew these words exist….

That’s it, exactly. Rejection of the heritage bequeathed to us by our parents is reaching a critical mass.

The exsistence of bands like Dead Prez, and the rebirth of punk, only add fuel to the fire.

Those of use who were into alternative music in the 80s and 90s made sense of what was initially an instinctual rejection of the status quo, and became the next generation of political activists.

Reading the lyrics of bands like New Model Army now, we can see where our generation’s political ideas come from.

We know what makes the flowers grow

But we don’t know why

We all have the knowledge of DNA

But we still die

We perch so thin and fragile here

Upon the land

And the earth that moves beneath us

We don’t understand

How do we tell the people in the white coats

Enough is enough’

NMA ‘White Coats’

I got the first inkling of this when Kurt Cobain killed himself, and I saw his funeral on TV. People just like us swarmed over the TV screen, mourning the death of their shaman. I didn’t know there were so many of us.

When Woodstock ’99 was burnt down by protesting kids – ‘This isn’t Woodstock, it’s Commercialstock’, I realised that that anger was going somewhere interesting – and it erupted later that year in Seattle, home town of grunge, when 40 000 punk kids shut down the most high powered meeting in the world.

Fuck you. Alternative kids are taking over the world. We will wrest it from your greasy, money-grubbing fists, burn down your banks and temples of greed, and create beauty out of the ashes.

In the old days, we put on our docs and stovies and slunk out to our basement clubs, Alice D, Playground, Arties Underground. Police harassment was common, and the wider community regarded us as Satanists.

Now, we are everywhere. Long hair, earrings and tattoos no longer mean you’ll only ever be a bartender or mechanic. We program your computers,
write your copy and slowly gather strength to take over from you. Watch youth culture. We are creating a new world before your eyes.

What happened in Seattle, the birth of a new movement, was an affirmation of what I already knew, that out movement was political and that it had finally exploded into the mainstream.

Young people, not burdened by the need to be realistic, find it much easier to storm the gates of heaven. The explosion of 1968 – which is seriously de-emphasised in a lot of history books – was one of the moments in history when humanity stood on the brink of a new possibility. That moment is coming again. This time, we will not be fooled by ‘leaders’ from political parties into compromising with the Thanotocracy, we will seize the world and make it beautiful.

We came across the sea we’d fill

With offal and disgust.

And any object is industry required

We bought, enslaved or we cushed.

But now our minds are as naked

As the paradise we stripped

And our reward is our entropy

Our emptiness is our gift

So God forgive America

The end of history is now’.

SWANS ‘God loves America’, from the album ‘White Light from the Mouth of
infinity’
.

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One Comment leave one →
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