A story of idealists.
1978. Young people in anoraks, oversized jumpers, leather jackets, black jeans and blouse shirts are walking down the streets of London underground scene. Charity shops are full of cheap and very stylish clothes from the 1960s — shift dresses, hemlines of skirts, go-go boots, bright and bold patterned and coloured blouses, checked jackets, and tapered dress shirts are flooding the shelves. There, some shorthaired girls and boys with longish and messy hair build their second-hand wardrobe.
They are poor or on the dole students and listen to or form bands, whose influences are a mix of the 1960s garage punk, folk rock and some post-punk sounds, giving birth to a psychedelic and dreamlike music. Byrds, Velvet Underground and Love thus merge with punk groups such as The Subway Sect, Television Personalities, and Josef K — among many others — to ‘create a unique sonic blend to the era’, explains Sam Knee, the author of The Bag I’m in and A Scene in Between.
In this context, the indie scene slowly comes to life and grows out of post-punk and the DIY movement between 1978 and 1980. ‘Punk had liberated the nations youth with its ‘anyone can do it’ attitude.’ Sam Knee says. ‘The DIY scene saw countless post-punk groups and individuals release their own music on cassettes, flexi discs and vinyl.’
Rough Trade in West London is one of these record shops to support the scene. Above the bold and black-lettered sign is a white wire dangling from the roof. In the window, some vinyls are hung like on a clothesline and attract the curiosity of the indie youth. Inside, tons of record tracks filled with private press releases… Quickly realising the potential behind this independent scene that exists out of the traditional record industry, Geoff Travis, the owner and founder of Rough Trade, creates the Cartel — a system where independent record shops, bands, fanzines, etc. form a self-reliant network distributing each other’s releases nationwide first, and then internationally. ‘The Cartel was itself quite a revolutionary concept, as it completely existed outside of the mainstream — as the 1980s’ dawned people began referencing the underground scenes as the ‘indie’ scene.’ Sam Knee explains.
1980s. The indie scene blossoms and becomes a universal movement — a counterculture even. At that time, ‘new labels such as Postcard, Whaam and the fledging Creation all had a 60s’ pop art imagery — punk idealism to them’ Sam Knee recalls. The rather left-wing young people of the indie scene like the optimistic idealism of the 1960s. It inspires them. And so they use it as a model way of living through the conservative regime in the UK. In A Scene in Between, Sam Knee writes: ‘it’s easy to understand why so many young folk (myself included) felt disconnected from the times they were living in and were seduced by the poetic paisley haze and noisy positive moxie of an era rich with romanticism and escapism, rather than endure the ghastly, harsh, mundane reality of ’80s Thatcher Britain.’
All in all, ‘the indie scene was an alluring way out, offering romanticism and reality at the same time. It was a life choice, not just a fad.’ Sam Knee remembers. ‘The scene was purely a coincidental natural occurrence of the times, and history can never be repeated in the same way. But it remains an influence and inspiration for all future idealists to pull from…’ he adds.
2016. There are still some underground scenes that exist and thrive away from the mainstream culture. A youth either apolitical or politically leaning to the left is gathering all around London, in their own secret places…
Like a hidden gem behind Stamford Brook underground station in West London, after a few-minute walk through Wilson Walk, is the Arch Studio. At the end of the corridor, whose walls are impregnated with a smell of sweat, a band plays upstairs in the rehearsal room with the arched ceiling. Their name is Balcony. They’re a London-based unsigned band composed of four music lovers — although only three of them are present today — playing their instruments, singing their heart out and slowly escaping what is.
A beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, their outfits range from skinny black jeans, loose fitting t-shirts, vintage velvet jackets and ‘Beatles boots’ to trainers, Doc Martens and leather coats. A mix of different vintage styles that resonate with their very aerial, galactic, psychedelic sounds.