A spotter's guide to the emerging tribes of Sydney

TIM ELLIOTT
Last updated 05:00 09/06/2014
Tribe
Wolter Peeters

COLOURFUL: Rachelle Piercy says the punk fraternity these days is more of "a big family" focused on the music.

goth
TRIBE TIME: Do you know your punks, emos, goths and haua girls?

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One day they were there and the next day they were not. Goths, that is. Not the Germanic tribes who dominated central Europe in the middle of the first millennium, but the sub-culture.

They of crushed velvet, Dracula-eyeliner and white foundation. Where had they gone? Had there been some invisible signal to disband? Some mysterious plague afflicting only Bauhaus fans?

Some observers have blamed climate change, noting that with their Doc Martens and vinyl corsets goths were particularly ill-equipped to cope with global warming. Others say they simply morphed into emos or even satanists, or that they were eaten by all the hipsters, or that they were, in fact, wiped out in an armageddon-scale battle with the last army of Classic Flannelled Bogans, a native Australian sub-culture that also seems to have disappeared.

"Sub-cultures rarely totally disappear," says Professor James Arvanitakis, from the University of Western Sydney's Institute for Culture and Society. "They simply go in and out of fashion."

According to Arvanitakis, youth sub-cultures are like mushrooms; even after they seem to have died off, their spores linger in the soil of society, awaiting the right conditions - a certain movie, a band - to trigger their re-emergence.

But with groups like goths and punks enjoying a prolonged hibernation, who are the new sub-cultures? Who can the old folks point at now, and say: "I don't get it." Prepare to be bewildered.

HAUL GIRLS

At once, deeply confessional and irredeemably materialistic, "haul girls" represent the perfect amalgam of consumerism and the YouTube age. Basically, it's where young girls go and buy things in shops, then go home and make a YouTube video telling everyone what they just bought.

"It started as a hobby, because I was bored," 21-year-old Brittney Lee Saunders says. Now Saunders, who is from Newcastle, has her own YouTube channel with 78,000 subscribers, people - young girls, usually - who watch every video. "They're interested not so much what you buy, but your taste, your life in general. I've had lots of people say 'You are my inspiration'. They're interested in everything you say, no matter if it's what you bought or when you last went to the toilet."

Saunders doesn't refer to herself as a "haul girl", rather as a YouTuber who posts "haul" videos, whether it be a shoe "haul" (about the shoes she just bought), or a "make-up haul", or even God forbid, a Woolworths "haul".

EMOS

Shoe-gazers. Undiagnosed depressives. Goths who can't be bothered dressing up. Yes, emos are still out there, though in fewer numbers than they were in their heyday of the late 1990s, when every second kid seemed caught in an angsty parallel universe of suicidal ideation and recreational skin-cutting.

Emo was driven initially by a type of music called "emotional hardcore", bands like Rites of Spring in the mid 1980s, and Weezer and Sunny Day Real Estate in the 1990s. Since then, emo has fractured and splintered, into screamo - really just a (very loud) type of music - and even "wemos" and "memos".

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According to ilove.thedanger.in. distance, a rather hilarious blog by Melbourne student called Tijana, wemos are wannabe emos, and memos are mistaken emos. "The latter is someone who is not an emo but is confused for one," says Tijana. "I can't personally explain how this happens but apparently it does."

LADS

Do you use the N-word when greeting a male colleague, despite the fact you're whiter than Tipp-Ex? Do you believe the best place for a bum-bag is not in fact around your waist but over your shoulder? Do you wear polo shirts and say things like "bros ahead of hoes"?

Congrats - you're a "lad". "Lad culture was imported mainly from Britain," says Arvanitakis. "But over time it has taken on an American gang aesthetic, with a hyper masculine feel, plenty of signing with the hands and a general air of misogyny."

Some have posited that "lads" first appeared as a reaction to the "sensitive new age guy" phenomenon of the late 1990s, which was fuelled by men's magazines such asMaximFHM and Loaded.

In Australia, lad culture has been embraced by young Lebanese men who dress in Nike, Canterbury or adidas tracksuits, and also by white boys who hang out in Westfield and share much of the blame for the reintroduction of the hairstyle known as the "trash mullet".

GYM BROS

"Jock culture" has long been a presence in high school locker rooms. But "gym bros" have taken this to the streets, maximising the trend toward "healthy living" made popular by inner-city professionals (see Christian Bale in American Pyscho).

Gym bros are in an endless pursuit of an idealised masculinity; their lexicon consists almost entirely of bodily functions and muscle groups with a diet that is 100 per cent protein. "It's chicken, eggs and steak for breakfast!" says Ali, who works on reception at Platinum Fitness First at Bondi.

Shredding (enhancing muscle definition through dehydration) is a favoured activity, especially before a night out, as is the "party pump" - a gym session just prior to going out. "Saturday evening is one of our busiest periods," says Ali.

To a gym bro, "a workout hasn't happened until it's been posted to Facebook". There is also more than a soupcon of sexual ambiguity. Though they wear cut-off denim shorts and hang out together, half-naked and sweaty, gym bros are frequently homophobic. Go figure.

THE HIPSTER

Sub-cultures, by definition, fly below the mainstream, exposure to which should, theoretically, make them shrivel up and die. And yet we have the hipster, that bearded apogee of retro affectation that has not only survived but thrived on main street. Hipsters. Are. Everywhere.

Despite their vintage shirts and lumberjack hairstyles (lots of facial hair, with a sculpted thatch on top), the hipster is a hyper-urban construct, one with roots spread through the jazz age of the 1940s, the beats of the 1950s; even the art-lit pretensions of Europe's original bohemians of the late 19th century. With their Buddy Holly glasses and fixed gear bikes, today's hipsters also get a lot of license from the Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs: their message is, geeks own the world.

Perhaps one of the reasons hipsters have survived so long in plain sight is their inbuilt reflexiveness. Irony is their oxygen; they are both hairy and effete, retro and contemporary; studiously oblivious yet suffocatingly self-conscious. This may also explain why they generate such antipathy: there is nothing more annoying than a person who has already successfully satirised themselves.

SEAPUNKS

Warning: by the time you finish reading the word "seapunk", someone will probably have leaned over your shoulder to tell you seapunk no longer exists that it is, or was, a social media joke that someone actually took seriously.

Depending on who you listen to, seapunk started around 2011, born out of the US mid-western club scene or as a bit of a lark on Tumblr. Seapunk melds bits of 1990s house music (broad-brimmed caps, chains), with R&B, rap, and new age whimsy.

Seapunks dye their hair green or neon-blue; like Harlem rapper (and self-identifying seapunk), Azealia Banks, they may even refer to themselves as a "mermaid". But seapunk also epitomises the microcosmic and ephemeral nature of modern sub-cultures.

According to The New York Times, seapunk has already been superceded by slime punk. So watch your step.

Punk's heart still beating

Carnation pink, atlantic blue, spring green, apple green, enchanted forest, turquoise - these are the colours of Rachelle Piercy's hair, which only partially obscures the Where's Wally tattoo behind her ear. 

The Newtown hairdressing apprentice and her 12 piercings are proof that punk's not dead in the digital era. 

Piercy finds clothes on alternative websites such as Tragic Beautiful and Berserk as well as eBay, but they are not quite ready-to-wear.

''I'll customise it, cut it up, bleach it, sew patches onto it,'' Piercy says, ''but I won't wear it to work because it's not very ... well, professional.''

For the 24-year-old, ''a lot of inspiration comes from the London punk scene'', rockers the Clash and US hardcore band Black Flag. ''Punk is about the music [rather than] the stereotype of the violent rebellion,'' Piercy says. ''It used to be a bit rough a few years back, but now we are more of a big family.

''It is a family that comprises subgroups, from ska punks to Oi! punks, thrashers to crusties. ''Crusty punks, they've got a bit more of an attitude,''  Piercy says. 

She goes to warehouse gigs in Sydenham and Marrickville, and popular punk pubs such as the Town Hall Hotel, the Sly Fox in Enmore and the Agincourt Hotel's Valve Bar on George Street.

Meanwhile, many veterans of the movement gather online on the ''Sydney Punks and Skins'' Facebook page, haranguing each other to upload old photos, asking whatever happened to their friends from decades ago. 

''Great for people to come back together and try to piece together the memories and lost parts of the jigsaw that was punk in Sydney in the late '70s and '80s,'' group member Steve Waller writes. ''Nice to see so many photos of the people we lost along the way.'' 

Modern paradox: hipster and proud

Ask a moustachioed, Panama-hatted Ben Pierpoint whether he is a hipster and he will reflect on the paradox of saying yes, for if you are a hipster, you would never say so.

The 26-year-old, a composer at the Clockfire Theatre Company, knows many people would see him as a hipster, but he notes the vagueness of the term. 

''There are people who are labelled hipsters on the weekend and through the week are suits,'' Pierpoint says.

He wears battered R.M. Williams, black jeans, a knitted sweater that may be his father's or grandfather's, and a floral patterned black scarf.  On a recent trip to Turkey he grew a thick moustache in the local fashion, which he continues to sport.  

Does he put a lot of thought into his style? ''No but yes but no,'' he replies. ''I know what I want to wear, so I don't really put much thought into it.''

Pierpoint rides a single-speed bicycle, but for cost and convenience reasons, rather than the look. For new vinyl he goes to Title in Surry Hills; for a good night out, The Dock in Redfern. 

''It reminds me of a New York dive bar ... You go in by yourself and leave with 10 new friends.''His friends he calls  ''a bunch of weirdos in the best possible way''. He says: ''They all look normal, or what I think of as normal.'' 

- Sydney Morning Herald

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