She’ll make you laugh. She’ll make you cry. She can anger you. She can sometimes sneak in at 4 in the morning stinking of sambuca and Hugo Boss. She can claim she’s been ‘out with the girls’ all she wants but the wry smile under her smeared lipstick betrays her. Whether she’s the demure thinking […]

She’ll make you laugh. She’ll make you cry. She can anger you. She can sometimes sneak in at 4 in the morning stinking of sambuca and Hugo Boss. She can claim she’s been ‘out with the girls’ all she wants but the wry smile under her smeared lipstick betrays her. Whether she’s the demure thinking man’s crumpet or the tarted-up pop princess, everyone’s had a go and had a ruddy good time to boot. You’ll always go back for more, whether intentional or instinctive, and once that’s happened she’s got her claws in.

Anyone who’s done something as seemingly nonchalant as wearing a band t-shirt has been privy to her truly manipulative ways. You like a band. You buy a t-shirt to show support. There’s nothing darker at work.

Allow me to be the first to shout “balls!” You’ve been had mate. You’ve bought a t-shirt to let everyone know you like said band. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that mind.

I love my ‘J DILLA CHANGED MY LIFE’ t-shirt but I’m very aware of the attention it garners. I’m ok with that though, because he did and we’re not talking about me anyway.

If you love something you want people to know about it. You can claim you’re humble until the Aberdeen Angus commute home but a couple of gin and tonics will always loosen your tongue. There’s no better way to portray allegiance than a good ol’ fashioned uniform.

If you like hip hop, dress as though you’re between wardrobes following miraculous gastric band surgery. If metal is your bag you could do worse than snagging any item of clothing that’s really, really, really dark blue, dying your hair really, really, really dark blue and growing a ginger beard. Or if your particular brand is punk/pop/emo/shouty music, go ahead and look like you’ve been sexually assaulted by a clown.

People can indeed adore the output a particular genre provides without wearing the accompanying garb though. You can also say that a style of music doesn’t have a uniform, and you’d be right – but a scene does.

Everyone enjoys a sense of belonging and music, that little harpy, provides the grandest of communities. But like any harpy worth her salt, music can draw you in and make you lose yourself. When you find yourself getting vexed at ‘man dem mercing your crepes’ at a gig or covering yourself in tattoos of an artist who has the shelf life of a reduced Muller Rice, you’ve likely lost sight of what got you hooked in the first place. There’s a fine line between defining your musical identity and letting your musical identity define you. If the only reason you listen to music is because it matches the particular philosophy your scene possesses then claiming you love it seems somewhat invalid.

As David Hargreaves et al testify to in their succinctly titled book, What Are Musical Identities And Why Are They Important?:

“Because music is essentially a social activity – it is something we do along with and for others, either as listeners or as cocreators – there is a strong argument that the social functions of music subsume the cognitive and emotional functions in certain respects.”

They also go on to use words like ‘interpreted’ and ‘saxophonist’.

I’ve always felt that the personal appeal of music should outweigh the social aspects. It’s much easier to appreciate a more obscure style of music with the backing of your peers, but if that appreciation is grounded in social terms then it’s less of a personal identity and more of an ideology. As a bloke called Nicholas Cook said:

“In today’s world, deciding what music to listen to is a significant part of deciding and announcing to people not just who you want to be…but who you are.”

So I shall announce to you thus: “Who I am is a man who likes J Dilla, but I don’t want to be the kind of person who has to wear a ‘J DILLA CHANGED MY LIFE’ t-shirt to let you know that.”

But he did though, and we’re not talking about me anyway.

Tom Belshaw.