“It’s just a phase!”
I was 15 when I was at the peak of my “phase”. I had long hair, exclusively wore clothes that were varying shades of black and adorned with a band’s logo. I only owned two pairs of jeans, both of which probably needed to be chucked away (or set on fire) a long time before they mercifully were. My taste in music was limited as well. It had to be some form of metal, no matter how obscure or bizarre, for it to be noticed. Entire genres were ignored and looked down upon because they either didn’t meet the criteria of a stubborn and moody teenager, or because I secretly did enjoy them and was worried my image would be tarnished if my peers were to discover my audio blasphemy.
Who the fuck did I think I was?
Thankfully, I eventually grew out of this “phase”. Ditched the monochromatic wardrobe (although I still think black is a very flattering colour on me), and started listening to a much wider variety of music. Then cut my hair and assimilated back into normal society.
Despite all the changes in my appearance and coming to terms with enjoying the occasional ABBA song, I still don’t feel particularly different. I still hold many of the same beliefs, the same attitudes and the same outlook on life I did during the “phase”. I still listen to a lot of the same music, although my tastes have mellowed with age. I managed to replace Slayer with Simon and Garfunkel. Which made me wonder, was it a phase? Or was it something more? Maybe the formative stages of who I was going to be?
I set out on a journey of self-discovery, to find out if it was nothing more than a passing phase or something a bit more significant. I decided to get in touch with some people who knew what I was talking about, people who had been there themselves.
I spoke to Amy, 22, who was a self-proclaimed member of the pop-punk scene in her teenage years. Not quite my scene, as I thought the likes of Blink-182 and Sum 41 were too “soft” for my ears back then (whatever the fuck that means? If time travel is ever invented I will have to go back and give myself a stern talking to), but familiar enough for me to be able to relate to my own experiences.
I was curious to see how the involvement in alternative scenes had impacted other people, and if there were any shared experiences.
A Discussion with Amy:
How deep in the scene were you?
“I would say I was quite deep into the scene, but mostly on social media, on things like Tumblr and Twitter. I was more invested in that side of things, the social media side, because a lot of the gigs and stuff were happening in Glasgow, so it was harder for me to get involved and go to that.”
What impact did the scene have on your life?
“Being involved in that scene definitely had a positive impact on my life, especially in terms of the fashion. I feel like I’m quite expressive now with how I dress, even if it’s not quite the same as back then. I don’t wear drop-dead anymore! It enabled me to become a bit of an extrovert in some settings.”
Did you ever feel pressure to change? To try and fit in, or conform?
“I thought about changing my style and the music I listened to when I first started high school to try and fit in, but because I was being bullied, I decided it was pointless and I continued to listen to what I wanted, dress how I wanted and be happy with myself despite what other people might have said.”
“The thing about these scenes is that while an outsider might look and just see an emo, a goth, punk or whatever. They actually allowed people to dress how they want and express themselves.”
Tell me about the music. Who were you listening to, and what did the music mean to you?
“I was listening to bands like A Day to Remember, Bring Me The Horizon, Neck Deep. They were some of my favourites”.
“Music meant a lot to me when I was younger, probably more than it does now. It resonated a lot for me then because I went through some hard times, bullying at school, I was different from other people. Music gave me a way to express myself and be myself. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone because I had friends who liked the same stuff, so even if I was being told I was a freak or I was having other horrible stuff said to me, the music acted like a safety net and reassured me.”
What’s your perspective on the whole “it’s just a phase!” thing?
“I think the whole phase thing just depends on the person. When I look back on that time, I know some of the people around only listened to the music because the group did, and that’s totally fine. People are going to go through phases. For me, I don’t think it was a phase. Someone who is bold and loud and expressive and a bit of an extrovert is more likely to stay like that.”
A lot of what Amy had to say struck a chord with me. Especially when she mentioned deciding to keep doing her own thing despite the comments and grief she was receiving. The fact that I changed a lot of aspects of my personality to avoid catching shit, has always weighed on my conscience. I felt guilty for abandoning what was previously a really big part of who I was. Almost overnight, I completely changed the way I dressed and the way I acted. Amy’s courage is admirable, and I wish I could have shown some more of that myself.
The importance of music to people in these scenes is also abundantly clear, because it provides relief and comfort. It’s an escape from a world that can seem overwhelming at times. It gives people a sense of community, a way to connect with others who share their interests, something which is essential to their wellbeing.
I also spoke to Macky, 28, who was a member of an alternative scene, one he described as falling somewhere “between emo and scene”. I always struggled to differentiate between the two personally, but I’m no anthropologist. I wanted to know if there was any common ground between his story, Amy’s and my own, despite the fact we would all consider ourselves as being part of a different groups.
A Discussion with Macky:
How deep into the scene were you?
“I was quite deep in it, I did the whole thing. I painted my nails, dyed my hair, wore eyeliner, dressed in the fashion. I really went out of my way to try and look that certain way”
How did you get involved in the first place?
“A lot of it probably came from my dad. When he was young, he was into punk and all that stuff, so I’ve always been around alternative music rather than chart stuff. That made it easier for me to find some of the heavier music, and when I did find it, I thought it was really appealing. It reflected more of who I felt I was”
How did you find it, being different, standing out?
“When I dressed that way, I felt the happiest I’d ever felt. Even though it came with a lot of stick, a lot of comments from people, it didn’t really matter. I felt so good in myself and so confident I just brushed it all off. I didn’t care”
What about the music? How important was that for you at that time in your life?
“Linkin Park were my favourite band at that time, by far. I liked other stuff too, bands like Metallica and Killswitch. I took a lot from the music. The meaning behind the music, the lyrics, was important. Songs could help me understand what I was feeling, and I could relate to the artists because they’d been through the same thing. The music helped me process a lot of stuff.”
Looking back, was it just a phase for you?
“I wouldn’t say it was just a phase, I think it sticks with you. The choices you make when you’re younger decide what sort of person you will become, so I don’t think it leaves you. The image you portray might change, but the things you learned, the attitudes you developed, are who you are.”
The conversations I had, made it clear to me that while we might have identified ourselves as being part of different groups or subcultures, there are some universally shared experiences you will go through if you look or dress a certain way. You will undoubtedly be faced with a choice at some point, between expressing yourself freely and receiving negative attention, or restricting yourself, committing to a sort of self-censorship. No matter what decision you make, to conform or not, a lasting impact on your identity has already been made.
After speaking to Amy and Macky, I think I’ve come to a conclusion. I can understand why some people might think that dressing differently and listening to different music is just something that you go through as a young person. Some will assume it’s a form of angst, or maybe rebellion, a way to act out and cry for attention. While some will assume it’s a period in your life you eventually move on from, because they haven’t experienced it. Sadly, if you haven’t experienced something for yourself, it can be difficult to comprehend.
If you’re someone who’s actually been through it, someone who has felt such a strong connection with music or fashion or whatever it may be, despite knowing it means you’ll be marked as different, then you know it’s much more than a phase.
Much, much more.
Written by Logan Walker