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Chapter 3 - Sub to Pop
"Excess marketing of youth movements during the eighties often degenerated the cultural validity of each movement into mere styles and fads."(1)
As the Acid House event was becoming big business, this was recognised by more mainstream concerns who sought to cash in on Acid House's success. The original idea behind Acid House was that of escapism from the restrictions of everyday, British, mainstream culture. Now, clubs were being organised because promoters recognised that this youth culture could be sold, that the drugs, culture and fashion surrounding Acid House was something that young people aspired to belong to, and so the culture became a commodity.
It is when aspects of a culture, such as a particular fashion or style of music, are taken away from the original reasons for their existence, produced merely to sell to a youth market, that the culture is changed into no more than a fad. This is when a subculture gets assimilated into mainstream, popular culture.
"By the end of 1989, street fashion was beginning to be affected by the 'dance craze'."(2) High street fashion outlets were selling baggy, long-sleeve tops for this new market. Acid House music saw its input into the mainstream with cross-over acts such as D-Mob's "We Call It Acieed" reaching number three in the charts.(3) The style of the music was being watered down and re-emerging, without any illicit connotations, to appeal to a broader, popular, public taste.
Of course, flyers formed a parallel to the culture that they were part of and aspects of their style were borrowed, watered down and assimilated into popular culture.
Fruitopia was a new drink brought out in 1995. Its labelling (plate 15) had a distinct New-Age spirituality to it and its television adverts had "trippy", kaleidoscopic visuals. "The graphics and rhetoric (of Fruitopia) have come straight from the acid/ Ecstasy/ spliff stoked imagery of flyers."(4) The spiritualistic, "inner-body", environmentalistic themes that had come about in flyer design for specific reasons to do with the culture, were taken in order to sell a product for one of the world's biggest companies, Coca-Cola.(5)
These stylistic attributes were taken because they are seen as being associated with a drug oriented, frivolistic lifestyle. "Drugs are fun and sexy," says Mike Linnell of Lifeline - the drugs advice and information centre in Manchester, "young people like them and that's why they appeal to anyone who's trying to appeal to young people."(6)
As such giant companies as Coca-Cola realise the money that surrounds youth culture they also realise the potential for that money to get into their pockets. The subversive joke that flyers like the Smarties flyer (plate 8) played on companies, by associating a mainstream product with drugs, has been turned around with a vengeance as the same big companies seek to cash in on a previously untouchable section of the market. On the cover of Adamski's "N-R-G" single, an Acid House hit that became popular enough to chart, a Lucozade bottle (the non-alcoholic energy-giving drink chosen by many ravers) was altered to have the same name as the single in place of the Lucozade logo. This parody was not appreciated by Lucozade who threatened to sue, after which the single with the offensive cover was deleted. Soon after this, Lucozade apparently realised the young market that they could be selling to and subsequently altered their product to say "Lucozade - N-R-G" and gave an appropriately young, exciting, "techno" feel to the label.
This corporate, mainstream take-over of a youth culture can be seen again with companies recognising the power of flyers to sell to a young audience; instead of assimilating flyer graphics, they simply associated their company names with the youth market through the method of sponsorship. I have seen club nights sponsored by "Pro-Plus" - the favoured over-the-counter alternative to speed! "Advertisers are recognising the power of flyers," says Mark Whelan at London's D.F.G.W. advertising agency, "because young people are difficult to reach with conventional advertising."(7)
So once again, flyers have taken a visual and theoretical parallel of their culture. "Flyers tell a story. And the story emerging is yet another episode where a youth cult, enslaved to corporations, is becoming a bastion of bland conformity."(8)
This development of Acid House seems intrinsic to youth cultures in general. The same happened to sixties Psychedelia when its style became watered down and marketed, stripped of its unwholesome connotations, and assimilated into mainstream culture. The difference with Acid House is that the newly found appetite for danceability that it brought about, sparked off many other subcultures. Acid House had dispersed, but its DIY ethic of inclusivity and relaxing of barriers, lived on as countless other mutations of this original provided a means of escape for British youth.
1. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.93
2. Kristian Russell, 'Lysergia Suburbia', Rave Off, Avebury, 1993, p.137
3. Matthew Colin, Altered State, Serpents Tail, 1998, p.4
4. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.178
5. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.178
6. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.179
7. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.178
8. Stephen Kingston, HighFlyers, Booth-Clibborn Editions, 1995, p.182
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revised 24 September 2008