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 (コギャル) subculture arose in Japan in the 1980s and became widely known in the Japanese mainstream after the airing of a 1993 television special, ザ・. コギャル NIGHT ("the Kogal night"). The subculture were further featured in the fictional 1997 film バウンス 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. 


Kogals remained an exclusively Japanese phenomenon although they are apparently featured in Quentin Tarantino's film Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003). By the time of its release the Kogal had largely been supplanted by two offshoot subcultures, ガングロ (Ganguro) and ヤマンバ (Yamaba or "mountain hag").
"Kogal" in English, is derived from an Anglicized spelling of a contraction of kōkōsei gyaru meaning "high school gal." Most Kogals simply referred to themselves as gyaru (ギャル), meaning "gal." The word entered Japanese in 1972, with the launch of a brand of women's flared jeans of that name. The basis of the kogal costume is not bellbottoms, however, but the Japanese school uniform.




The Kogal's skirt was generally pinned up to shorten its length and the socks were worn loosely, often with platform boots. The kogal's hair was artificially lightened and the skin artificially darkened. A common flourish was a
Burberry scarf -- then as now a popular emblem of conspicuous consumption. 

Kogals didn't just have a look but a unique slang, known as "kogyarugo" (コギャル語), a jargon peppered heavily with words borrowed from English and acronyms like "MM" and "MK5" (the latter meaning that the speaker is on the verge of losing it).  The poster girl of Kogal style was singer 安室奈美恵 (Namie Amuro). The Kogal's natural range was the Harajuku and Shibuya shopping wards of Tokyo, in particular, the latter district's fashionable department store, 109. Their motto, if they had one, was  biba jibun "ビバ自分" or, "Viva the self!" 






Kogal style was promoted by the magazines ポップティーン (Popteen, launched in 1980), Street JamHappieエッグ (Egg, launched in 1995), and ランズキ (Ranzuki, launched in 1998). From 1992-2002 the manga ギャルズ! (Gals!) chronicled the exploits of a character whose claim was to be, "the greatest gal in Shibuya." As late as 2006, the drama ギャルサー (Gal Circle) revolved around a cast of Kogal characters.


(Source: Tokyo Fashion)



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Follow me at ericbrightwell.com 

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

The caffeinated coffee bar scene had sprung up in the London's Soho area and attracted skiffle fans, rock 'n' rollers, beatniks, trads, mods, and more. There were venues like Les Enfants Terrible, Le Macabre, Le Kilt, and La Poubelle which catered to a caffeinated clientele of French au pairs, expats, children of diplomats, students, tourists, and the Francophile Modernists, who adopted the custom of smoking Gauloises, the French cut hair style and Shetland wool cardigans paired with brushed or quilted bluejeans, white socks, and loafers (either tasseled or penny -- with a genuine American cent piece, of course). The English exposed the French, in turn, to a better class of pop music. 



The mod's French cousin first appeared in Paris around 1962, often lurking around Le Drugstore which despite its name, was more akin to a department store. It was supposedly the only place in France where one could keep up with the English music scene through editions of the now defunct weekly, Melody Maker. Perhaps more importantly, it was also open later than other businesses. 



Shortly after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the American Ivy League look which had so distinguished him from his buttoned-up predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, proliferated on the campus of The American University of Paris. Madras or seersucker jackets were paired with pastel sweaters, oxford shirts, blue jeans, and shoes from English manufacturers like Church's and John Lobb. Suits, when worn, were snug and made of Harris Tweed, herringbone cheviot, hound's-tooth, or mohair. That same year Maurice Renoma opened his shop, Renoma, which was likely the first French boutique with the English-and-American-influenced minet aesthetic.



Seize millions de jeunes' mod expose


The Ivy League look was also influential on the mods over in the UK. In 1965, Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française were curious enough about mods to send a production crew to London where they filmed an episode of the series Seize millions de jeune, which aired in May. In October, the same series turned its sites to the minets. 



Seize millions de jeunes' minet expose

For mods, obscurity was prized and finding soul records that no one else had was rewarded with cultural capital. Americanophilia and Angolophila had long been present in French youth subcultures -- going back at least to the zazous of the swing era up to the yé-yés of the late 1950s (who were of course detested by the minets) and snobbery (ironically, since snobbishness is one of the stereotypes most commonly attributed to the French by Anglos) seems to have been less important. Not only did minets embrace mod groups like The Small Faces and The Who, but well-known British Invaders like The Moody Blues, The Pretty ThingsThe Spencer Davis Group, and The Yardbirds.

As with mods, the minets also championed American rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, and soul acts like Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett -- who were heard in Europe via anti-authoritarian British pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline and Wonderful Radio London (both of which launched offshore in 1964) and the English language Radio Luxembourg. However, whereas most mods seemed only to appreciate mostly black American music and style icons, the minets were embraced the sunshine pop of The Association, the baroque pop of The Left Banke, and the garage rock of The Shadows of Knight. Approval was also granted to rebellious figures like James Dean and -- after he starred in 1966's The Wild Angels -- Peter Fonda


In May 1966, the American magazine, LIFE, ran a piece titled "Face It! -- Revolution in Male Clothes," the sartorially subversive subjects of which profiled men in the UK, the US, and France. Five months later, the first song which acknowledged the existence of the minets topped the French pop charts, Jacques Dutronc's "Les play boys." First Nino Ferrer, then Vignon (né Abdelghafour Mouhsine but sometimes referred to as "Le James Brown marocain"), and Michel Polnareff were among the few French pop singers rated by the minets before the dawn of Dutronc.

Dutronc was employed as a songwriter and artistic director at Disques Vogue, whose previous efforts to exploit subcultures included records by Dylan-inspired hippie, Antoine, modish Les Mods, and beatnik Benjamin. Rising above all silly subcultures was the magnificent Françoise Hardy, who would years later marry Dutronc. Benjamin had recorded the satirical, "Et moi, et moi, et moi," a collaboration between Dutronc and Jacques Lanzmann -- an established novelist, ex-boyfriend of Simone de Beauvoir, and future director of the epic holocaust documentary, ShoahUnsatisfied with the Benjamin's version, Dutronc gave the song a shot and it almost topped the charts. 



Dutronc's second single, "Les play boys," was released in October 1966 and the lyrics humorously acknowledged the minets with the lines:

J'ai pas peur des petits minets
Qui mangent leur ronron au Drugstore
Ils travaill'nt tout comme les castors
Ni avec leurs mains, ni avec leurs pieds


"Les play boys" resided at the top of the charts for six weeks and sold more than half a million copies and Dutronc become one of the few French musicians adopted by the mods. The two subcultures continued to convergently evolve and around 1967 a psychedelic foppishness began to undermine the dignified dandyism of both. Furthermore, the original stylists of both were becoming a bit old for  adolescent scene-dependent soul searching and group-derived displays of non-conformity.

Even as the scene lost its style steam the void left by the departing originals was filled by growing numbers of new, peacockish recruits. Catering to them were new hangouts in and around Saint-Germain-des-Prés including Carette, Le Club Pierre Charron, Le Mimi Pinson, Le New Store, Pub Renault, Le Relais de Chaillot, and Scoss. If maturation and domesticity claimed most of the original minets, more were led away by the events of Mai 68, the cultural effect of which was far more resounding than even the tunes of their 45s. 

The final generation of minets continued to dance dance dance at then-new clubs like Le Roméo Club Paris. When Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson moved to the Le Marais area of Paris in 1971, Courson frequently crossed the Seine with her dope-dealing chum, Count Jean de Breteuil, to hang out with the last minets at places like Brasserie Lipp, Cafe de Flore, and Les Deux Magots. Whilst I wouldn't want to be the first person to suggest that Morrison was inspired by minets, Courson was certainly aware of them and Morrison did seem to trade in his leathers for a preppier look. 


Jim, Alain and Pamela - 28 June, 1971, St Leu d'Esseurent (image credit: Alain Ronay)

The impact of the minet subculture seems to have mostly faded in the 1970s although the Japanese cityboy (シティーボーイ) trend of the late 1970s (associated with the magazine Popeye) similarly embraced a preppy yet anti-authoritarian bohemianism -- as does Free & Easy, which promotes the what they call the "rugged ivy" aesthetic (although few would argue that either are fully-fledged subcultures). In 1998, Franco-Teutonic band Stereo Total released a song "Les Minets" on their album, Juke-Box AlarmThe current preppie-but-not-peppy uniform of the Hipsterjugend - though uninspired in its execution -- is perhaps nevertheless in part inspired by the minets -- although that shouldn't be held against them (and one of their betters should tell those knaves to starch and tuck in their shirts). More clearly aspiring to minet revivalism are so-called Paris Mod Allnighters, with a flyer from one such event pictured here.





The little that I have found about minets which I can share is this short documentary, Les Minets du Champs, which is really just a short interview with former minet Bernard Bacos, who's one of the scene's only chroniclers of which I'm aware (check out his website, Paris 70). There is at least one written work, Christian Eudeline's Anti-yé-yé: Une autre histoire des sixties which I haven't read but has a nicely provocative title. 



Probably the highest profile look back at minet movement was La bande du drugstore, the debut film of writer/director François Armanet which I also haven't seen and has so far only been released on a PAL 2 DVD with French audio and no subtitles. That film also resulted in the release of a soundtrack available on CD, a format for which there are thankfully no region codes and which includes many of the aforementioned bands as well as the Autralian band The Easybeats, Sam & Dave, Cream, Little Esther Phillips, Sonny & Cher, Christophe, The Troggs, and The Full Spirits.




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If you've got more information on minets, please let me know in the comments and... 



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.

Continue reading...

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.



On 9 September, Chairman Mao passed away in China and across the East China Sea in Japan, the first VHS video cassette recorder (or VCR), the JVC HR 3300, was introduced. It wasn’t the first example of magnetic videotape technology -- that had first been demonstrated in 1951. AVCO had introduced the pre-recorded tapes of their Cartrivision system for sale and rental in 1972. In 1975 Sony had launched the Betamax recording system but it would be VHS that would conquer the home video market.



Although I'm not sure how it was chosen for the honor, the first theatrical film to be commercially released on VHS was a South Korean drama, 청춘교사 (aka The Young Teacher), which had been released to theaters in 1972. It was directed by Kim Ki-duk -- the one who made the daikaiju classic, Yonggary, Monster from the Deep as well a less-well-known-outside-Korea adolescent films like Barefooted Youth (1964) and not the Kim Ki-duk who helmed such internationally acclaimed films as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003), 3-Iron (2004), Address Unknown (2001), and Time (2006).



The VCR wouldn't come to the US until 4 June, 1977, when it was introduced at a press conference before the Consumer Electronics Show starts in Chicago. Despite Betamax having better picture quality than JVC's VHS, Betamax tapes could only hold an hour's worth of recorded material whereas the capacity of JVC's standard T-120 doubled that. Furthermore, whilst Sony maintained tight control of the Betamax format, JVC immediately licensed out its technology to companies like Sharp and RCA. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, JVC embraced porn, which Sony shunned. By the end its first year, VHS had eroded 40% of Betamax's market share.




When my father bought our family's VCR in 1978, he chose RCA's SelectaVision. Its heft and fake wood grain paneling matched the aesthetics of our living room TV. It didn’t quite have a remote control -- there was a portable control panel connected by maybe a ten foot long cable. The machine also had a dew indicator because supposedly humidity could make it stop working although I don't remember that ever happening even in the swampiest Missouri summers of my childhood.




VHS surpassed Betamax in sales in 1981 -- the same year the doomed, phonograph-like CED (Capacitance Electronic Disc) was released after fifteen years of delay. Other rival technologies would follow. VCD (Video Compact Disc) debuted in 1993 and quickly became the format of film producers and consumers in the developing world. In 1997, a popular weather drama, Twister, was the first Hollywood film made available on DVD. The awful and evil DIVX (Digital Video Express) was introduced in 1998 (and had its plug pulled none-too-soon the following year). All of these formats boasted potentially superior image and sound quality to that of magnetic tapes (although VCDs often looked worse and LDs (LaserDisc) often trumped all other contemporaneous formats).




VHS still had at least one major leg up on the competition – the ease with which it allowed users to record (and re-record) content from their video cameras and televisions. Who among those alive back then didn’t amass a collection of home movies, soap operas, episodes of Manimal, and collections of music videos? My music promo compilations – laboriously culled from programs like MuchMusic’s City Limits and RapCity, BET’s Rap City, and MTV’s 120 Minutes and Yo! MTV Raps (and interspersed with selected TV ads) remained among my prize collections for many years. Digital Video Recorders like TiVo were introduced to the market in 1999 but were slow to catch on. By 2006 were still only present in 1.2% of households.




And, as with audio cassettes vs CDs, there are still thousands (maybe millions if you consider porn) of films that have never been released on digital formats – classics like Captain Eo (1986) and Walk Proud (1979) (which, of course, can both easily be watched online as can most others). Finally, if it weren’t for VHS, there would probably be no TV Carnage, no Future Schlock, and no Everything is Terrible!, and no Tim and Eric Awesome Show ...no Nam June Paik!



HD DVDs and Blu-Ray hit the markets in 2006, pleasing people who felt that the problem with movies was that their resolution wasn't high enough -- but far more ground-breaking and detrimental to the popularity all physical was the Internet and the launch of YouTube and Dailymotion in 2005. Although in their early days, shared video content was regularly taken down as quickly as it was put up, over time they and other video-sharing websites were part of the rise of online streaming. In 2006, advertising-supported free porn hosting service websites based on the YouTube appeared.




In 2006 the Canadian film History of Violence was the last “Hollywood” film to be released on VHS. In 2008, JVC produced its last standalone VHS VCR. Then, signaling that there was at least nostalgia for the format, promo copies of the independent House of the Dead (2009) were released on VHS to giddy response. So how about it Cassette Store Day people? Maybe next year exclusive video cassette releases!

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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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