There was a time, back in the 80s and 90s, when there was a lot of talk about urban tribes. In fact, they talked so much about them that it was almost easier to find them in the media than on the street, although there they were also going through a period of strength: heavies, punks, rockers, goths, mods and skins, hippies and neohippies, movida-style new oleros, bakalas and makineros, skaters, ravers and rappers … and posh, of course, that eternal category that one does not know whether to identify as a tribe but that meets the demands of defined aesthetics, shared tastes and a feeling of community compared to the rest. Youth cultures were articulated through these categories, which were sometimes in conflict, with a mutual aversion that reached ridiculous extremes, but at other times they gave rise to fertile intermediate zones, with subgroups created from elements of diverse origin. After all that display of appearances and attitudes, a paradox always struck: it was about differentiating oneself from the crowd by equating to a few.
Tribes have left their mark on our collective memory, with episodes ranging from the tragic to the endearing: from the fight between mods and rockers at the door of Rock-Ola, which left a young man dead and went down in history as the symbolic end of the Movida, to the tireless protest of the Alcázar brothers, the heavies of Gran Vía, engaged in a perpetual demonstration for the closure of a record store and for the debacle of our civilization in general, passing through the picturesque forced disinfection of punks at the Bilbao parties in 1985. Many of those memories tend to stigmatization –El Cojo Manteca breaking a subway sign with his crutch in a 1987 student demonstration, the ‘laughing’ reports of very old bakalas in breathalyzer controls and disco parking lots … – but it is also true that the trend sections or the youth supplements, another very typical product of that time, paid unusual attention to all these ways of being in the world.
What is happening today? Obviously, many heavies of that time are still heavies (of the heart, if it cannot be of hair) and the same happens with all those who lived one of these movements intensely in their younger years. There are even kids who tune in to these currents more typical of their parents. But It seems that the concept of the urban tribe has disappeared from the radar, perhaps since the emo boom of the beginning of this century, and that today’s youth are on to other things. “The term ‘urban tribe’ has been a bit outdated for a long time, but the phenomenon still exists. They exist, but they are much less defined than before (for example, the hipsters were an urban tribe that did not conform to the classic model) and they are being replaced by identity politics, which are not just political, but are also used by way of distinction, to appropriate the ‘cool’. That has happened in all times, one only has to remember the ‘chic left’ ”, says the philosopher and cultural anthropologist Iñaki Domínguez, author of books such as ‘Sociología del moderneo’ and ‘Macarras interseulares’. He often talks about consumer identities: “When you live in a town, everyone knows who you are and who you are from, but when you live in a mass society, you have the yearning to be recognized, to be someone.”
Gender, environment and multiculturalism
Faced with those cultures mainly composed of music and aesthetics, The puzzle of youth identities today takes into account issues such as gender, the environment, multiculturalism, animalism or politics. “The term ‘urban tribe’ was never an academic concept, but rather a media term to label certain youth groups with a striking aesthetic”, points out Carles Feixa, professor of Social Anthropology at Pompeu Fabra University and one of the leading academic figures in studying these matters. In his opinion, there have been four processes that distinguish today’s youth cultures from those of yesterday: the generalization of aesthetics (“they are no longer a minority”), hybridization (“the borders between each subculture are difficult to establish”), individualization and digitization. “Cyberculture increases the speed of transmission of youth subcultures and consolidates their globalization,” he explains. On the other hand, it generates its own spaces where young people with aesthetic, musical, recreational and political affinities can meet. Finally, it is the cradle of specific subcultures that are born in cyberspace, although later they can also be found in real space.
As much as the urban tribe label sounds inappropriately old, perhaps the most recent reference is the followers of the trap. “I think trap is dying now: you just have to see C. Tangana, who now makes flamenquillo,” says Domínguez. But yes, the trap has some identity constellations such as the combination of different elements of clothing: that if they wear the shoulder fanny packs, that if they go down the street with what used to be a transistor, that if the most radical have teeth of gold and tattoos on the face … What is very curious is how this tribe is fed from the world of styling and fashion, to the point that you no longer know who imitates whom: at first the stylists imitate people from the slums and working-class people, but later those from the slums and working-class people imitate the stars dressed by those stylists. You no longer know who is who, you don’t know if the pimp is in disguise or not. The voracity of the fashion industry when it comes to engulfing youth cultures is not new (already at the end of the 70s, for example, there were clothing stores that used punk as an exotic claim), but in recent times both worlds have become confused: there is Bad Gyal, one of the Spanish stars of trap and urban music, designing a collection for Bershka.
A recent video clip of trap singer Yung Beef.
Iñaki Domínguez provides another interesting approach to this interaction between the street and the fashion industry: “Globalization, with its clear and universal references, does not allow you to create your own indigenous styles: Before, without internet, the modern people of Asturias were different from those of the South, or the Bakalas of Madrid wore Pedro Gómez coats, which in Barcelona were not even known. There were no shops: the first moderns had to turn to their mothers to have their clothes customized. ‘ Today practically any novelty materializes immediately in the exhibitors of the big chains, manufactured in series for its massive sale, but Evaristo Páramos, the charismatic singer of La Polla Records, has evoked on some occasion the first time he dressed as punk in his hometown, Salvatierra: “I put on my old man’s jacket turned around, some chains and, since I worked in a garage, some engine valves, which then went around doing ding, ding, ding …”.
Outside and inside
All this leads to a fundamental question: are today’s young people more similar to each other or more diverse than those of yesterday? By boat soon, it is clear that they inhabit a society much more diverse and tolerant than their parents, but at the same time they are subjected to the standardizing bombardment of global marketing. “It should also be noted that there are fewer: when I was 15, we were twice as many people on the street,” says Domínguez, born in 1981 -. In terms of image and clothing, they are more homogeneous. There is a certain strange contradiction in the feeling that they should be more different because they have the internet, but the internet has these two aspects: some minorities allow them to seek diversity, the different, but the visits are concentrated on certain influencers, in certain patterns that emanate from power and have a homogenizing effect. Of course, today’s young people have other advantages: they are much less self-conscious, and perhaps externally they are more homogeneous but in other ways they are more varied. There are more sexual identities, for example.
Carles Feixa is convinced that there has been a tremendous advance in diversity: “They are more unequal than ever,” he maintains, as the boundaries of class, gender, generation, ethnicity and race are amplified. If anything, there is a certain external uniformity as an effect of the consumer society and youth macrocultures promoted by transnational franchises and digital technologies, but what is important is the survival of microcultures that connect young people with certain affinities ”. The Pompeu Fabra professor also concludes with a very important caveat: «Today subcultures are no longer youthful but transgenerational: subcultural identity is not transitory, but can last for many years and even attract adults. The ‘tribes’ are no longer marginal and become ‘mainstream’ ».
“Chulería, narcissism … The youthful attitude is very similar in all generations”
«With the words, the young person can use a double language. You can’t lie with your clothes, ”Miguel Trillo, the photographer who has dedicated a good part of his career to documenting urban tribes, declared many years ago. He has remained as the great street portraitist (and ‘garitero’) of the Madrid Movida, but in his work we can come across’ peggy sues’ from Badalona, heavies at the Reading festival, mods with their ‘lambrettas’ in León,’ skaters ‘Jerezanos,’ sinister ‘in a Badajoz cemetery and even young people from a few years ago in Vietnam. “I am neither a sociologist nor a scholar,” he replied to this newspaper. I have never been interested in talking to those photographed about what they think or stop thinking. But his pints, the cockiness, the narcissism, yes. And the youthful attitude is very similar in all generations, call it trap and reggaeton now or before emo and rap or long before heavy, punk, rocker … ».
Trillo opens a new exhibition at the end of this month. “It’s about the world of cosplays, manga and the public at comic festivals. The fact that it is not about the world of music, but followers of fictional stars (although they also have soundtracks), reflects another change in the cultural consumption of young people today. A ‘videogame’, a manga movie, a comic … is a journey to the imagination, to youthful creation ».