Amoeblog

Introduction to Subcultural Anthropology: Kogal

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 12, 2015 10:37am | Post a Comment
Even disregarding the sense having to do with bacteria, there are many definitions of "subculture." The longest that I've found is that of the The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition:

A group within a society that has its own shared set of customs, attitudes, and values, often accompanied by jargon or slang. A subculture can be organized around a common activity, occupation, age, status, ethnic background, race, religion, or any other unifying social condition, but the term is often used to describe deviant groups, such as thieves and drug users. ( See counterculture.)

No one will ever be able to document every subculture, or even agree upon what they are. With this series I will examine subcultures primarily organized around two things, music and clothing. That way I can largely avoid the can of worms which are gangs. For gangs, both music and clothing are of considerable importance but the engagement in of criminal activity is assumed to be their raison d'être. Also, I don't want to provoke a bunch of angry, misspelled comments written in all caps. 

This week's subculture: Kogal

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The kogal (????) subculture arose in Japan in the 1980s and became widely known in the Japanese mainstream after the airing of a 1993 television special, ??. ???? NIGHT ("the Kogal night"). The subculture were further featured in the fictional 1997 film ???? ko GALS ("bounce Kogal") (1997) depicted Kogals turning to prostitution to fund their insatiable materialism. In reality, many Kogals were apparently engaged in "paid dating" although for the vast majority that means involves little more than accompanying a man to karaoke in exchange for money and drinks. 

Vive les minets - French Dandyism in the 1960s

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 8, 2014 08:00pm | Post a Comment
As a fan of fashion, youth subculture, and the 1960s, at some point I was bound to be made aware of the French minet subculture. Obviously, since I'm writing about it, that momentous occasion has arrived at some point in my past. I can't remember when or where it occurred (the internet is a safe bet) but in the intervening years I've found very little about this stylish group. Compounding my frustration is the fact that what little that I have uncovered about minets is almost always written or recorded in French -- a language of which a month of skipping class at College les pins Castries did little to improve my command. The French Wikipedia (Wikipédia) is humorously blunt in its entry: un jeune homme vêtu à la mode, équivalent masculin de la minette. Last and least -- most of what has been written about minets in English is by writers discussing within the larger context of mod subculture -- a style tribe about which far too much is artlessly written and rehashed.




With that in mind, however, kindly allow me briefly add to the conversational clutter concerning mod, as its evolution is tied closely to that of the minet. Although today mod is often characterized as a mid-60s, working class subculture fueled by the holy trinity of amphetamines, scooters and soul music, it first appeared in the late 1950s when a largely middle class group of mostly Jewish teenagers with families in the clothing business and for whom the chosen drug was apparently coffee. Modernists, as they then to themselves referred, championed modern jazz over trad jazz (which was championed by the Acker Bilk-listening, bowler-hatted, beer-swilling, baggy sweater-and-duffle coated trads). Sharing their love of modern jazz were the beatniks, but their beardy, black, cultivated scruffiness was rejected in favor of the natty continental style associated with untouchable icons of French cool like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon

All-Female Bands of the 1960s - Happy Women's History Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 3, 2014 08:11pm | Post a Comment
The Carrie Nations - a fictional band from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls


In the first half of the 20th Century there were many popular all-female musical acts. In the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s there were vocal groups like The Andrews Sisters, The Boswell Sisters, and The McGuire Sisters. In the early rock/soul era, the so-called "girl groups" such as The Shirelles, The Teen Queens, The Paris Sisters, and The Chantels all achieved both artistic and popular success. However, none of these groups were proper bands. There were some all-female bands -- that is, groups comprised of female musicians -- but sadly most were viewed by many as little more than curiosities. You can read about them here.

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37 Years! Celebrating (or at least thinking about) VHS

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 25, 2013 06:37pm | Post a Comment
The inaugural Cassette Store Day took place this past 7 September. On that day, over 50 audio cassettes were released by major musical acts like The Pastels, The Flaming Lips, and Suicidal Tendencies. Unfortunately for video cassette fans, Cassette Day was a strictly audio observance. For whatever reason, Cassette Culture (or the cassette underground), which lovingly embraces audio cassettes for whatever reason treats the word “cassette” as if it only applies to the audio variety. As if that weren’t offensive enough, just two days after Cassette Store Day was the 37th birthday of the VHS VCR. Now that a couple of weeks have passed and the sting has subsided a little, perhaps we can do a bit of reflecting on the video format that dominated the 1980s and '90s (but was born in the '70s). 



The year 1976 was marked by several serious technological milestones. The year of the US' bicentennial saw America land Viking 2 on Mars and introduce the first space shuttle -- the Enterprise OV-101. In the computer world, IBM introduced the first laser printer -- the IBM 3800 -- and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak launched Apple.

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Happy Cassette Store Day

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 7, 2013 12:52pm | Post a Comment

Cassette Store Day merchandise available here

First there was Record Store Day which began in 2008. Now, 2013 brings the first Cassette Store Day (7 September). Stores across Europe, North America, Oceania, and South America are on board with the latest celebration of a format that most consider obsolete. There are events taking place and totes and Ts (natch) commemorating the day are for sale. Although it’s not called Audio Cassette Store Day, that seems to be what it more properly is (sorry valorizers of Betamax and VHS). It's also Cassette Store Day, not merely Cassette Day -- is there such thing as a store that exclusively sells tapes? Even Tape World carried CDs and records.


Image source: Pimp Your Kitchen

A part of me winces at what seems at first like a twee joke. Does anyone genuinely prefer the sound of music on cassette or is this just nostalgia or worse -- obsoletism? Back in 1994, after I heard that Pearl Jam had released a song titled “Spin the Black Circle” my immediate reaction was to pen a song -- “Turn the Wax Cylinder" -- and vinyl is genuinely and justly still loved. It just struck me as this sort of luddite snobbery -- which Mr. Show hilariously skewered with one of their best skits -- “The Last Donut”  -- in which an insufferable prick scoffs at CDs and states that he only listens to music on a “Mini Victrola.” In other words, it all seems a bit Portlandish. What’s next, festivities memorializing piano rolls, 78s, reel-to-reel, or 8-tracks?
Quiet Doing Cassette Wallet Cassette iPod case
A couple of Quiet Doing's (canvas and vinyl) cassette motif products 

Then again, there was a time in the CD era when cassettes seemed like a DIY/punk alternative to the corporate CD world. The 1980s saw the rise of Cassette Culture and even in the 1990s several primarily (and in some cases exclusively) tape-friendly labels arose (especially in the Pacific Northwest) like Apraxia Music Research, Brown Interior Music, Burger Records, E.F. Tapes & CD-Rs, From the Wheelchair to the Pulpit, Gnar Tapes, Happiest Tapes on Earth, K Records, and Ladd-Frith.

What's more there were also countless bands who since the audio cassette's introduction recorded tape-only albums -- and not just hopelessly obscure ones; the celebrated Triffids never bothered to release their first seven albums on any other format. Finally, long after tape decks disappeared from most homes, a lot of people I know held on to their tapes because their cars had (or have) cassette decks.


Cassette Stall - source: Warren Hill

Though I shun pretentiousness, I am highly susceptible to nostalgia and I do have some fond tape-centric memories. As a kid I used to tape the radio (usually KCOU) and then dub the songs I liked onto a second tape (using my brother’s boom box). I also used to hold a tape recorder up to the TV to record great themes like those for Miami Vice and Perry Mason. I remember the first tape that I bought (Peter Gabriel’s So) and even my first dub (The Queen is Dead, Happy? and most of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me onto one tape). Tapes were fragile and when my brother was angry at me he tore my copy of Beelzebubba. However, for those motivated to, cassettes could and can easily be repaired with a bit of tape, some scissors and maybe a small screwdriver.  Try doing that with a destroyed CD or vinyl record! I even remember being sassed by a classmate who, after I asked her to repeat herself barked, "I didn't mutter, utter, or stutter! I'm not a tape! I don't rewind!" 





When CDs came along and cassette values plummeted, they allowed me (and presumably others) to take a chance on bands or records that I hadn't heard for a cheap price. I remember picking up two Severed Heads albums, a Steve Kilbey solo record, and two Wire cassettes – all for a quarter each – at a Camelot Music. In the pre-Shazam era, finding unlabeled dubs could introduce the listener to a mysterious collection of songs and figuring out who the artist(s) were amounted to a life-changing quest. When tapes became even less valuable they were frequently discarded by stores and I’d tape over the two square-shaped holes on top and make mix-tapes (usually based around a genre or mood) on them -- goodbye Bobby Brown hello mix of cowboy music. Personally, I think a laboriously-constructed mix-tape (hopefully with nice packaging) was one of the greatest gifts that one could give or receive. 

Cassette stall in Badung, Indonesia - image source: Jacqueline Chang's Life as a Hairdresser

Tapes were never my favorite format and though their technical merits were relatively few, there is a bit more to their appreciation than just nostalgia and obsoletism. In the developing world they never really went away (which is perhaps why Cassette Store Day seems to be either going unnoticed or happening everyday in Africa and Asia). If it weren't for cassettes, a lot of great music would be lost and to me that's what makes tapes most valuable -- by some estimates, 50% of recorded music has never been released on CD. Roughly 1% of all recorded music is available on iTunes. Far less than 1% is available on Pandora or Spotify. When a teenage neighbor of mine bought a wallet with a cassette design, I asked her if she know what it was or if she simply thought it looked cool and she surprised my (given this BBC piece) by knowing what it was an elaborating that many luk thung (ลูกทุ่ง) recordings circulate between her parents and their friends.


Still from John Smith and Graeme Miller's Lost Sound

Finally, there is perhaps no more poetic evocation of the charms of cassettes than experimental filmmaker John Smith's Lost Sound (collaboration with Graeme Miller – 1998-2001, 28 mins. Color. Sound. Video).  It consists of shots of discarded bits of tapes found around East London and played accompanied by their recovered audio.

So dust off those tapes, try to find a tape player, and have a Happy Cassette Store Day.

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