Where Are We Now?
‘Glam was always more than a visual style, and can be meaningfully understood as
an attitude or state of mind, its expression inseparable from its cultural and societal
Darren Pih, curator of Glam! The Performance of Style.
Ever since David Bowie’s airwave-
It’s perhaps no coincidence that recent months have ushered in a glittery wave of
nostalgia for all things glam, and a much deserved look back on the pop music and
style of the early 70s. Alongside Bowie’s musical return, there’s the V&A’s stunning
Bowie Is! exhibition (the fasting pre-
The feverish excitement around the Bowie release and the audience for this crop of exhibitions is as much thanks to people in their teens, twenties and thirties as it is to people who remember glam the first time round. Yet the discussions around them almost exclusively look to the past. So to paraphrase Bowie, where are we now?
Taking on the baton from Bowie, Roxy Music, Marc Bolan and Slade et al, today there’s
But what is it about glam that seduces this new generation of be-
‘I think it’s the escapism’, says Heidi Heelz, founder of Glamracket and former member
When times are hard, people look to their own construction of identity to try and
make sense of the world. Or at least, temporarily withdraw from it through a series
‘I wondered if I should try and be me’, we hear Bowie ponder in the V&A show audio guide. ‘Or if I couldn’t cope with that, it was much easier to be someone else.’
It’s no surprise that during times of escalating unemployment, recession, inequality and on a less political note, the torpor of much current chart music, appetites turn to something a little more peculiar, playful and fun.
‘The last 15 -
For all its flamboyance, it’s no coincidence that an interest in a glammy otherworld is symptomatic of times of social and political unease.
Wyeth points to the gradual infiltration of glam-
On a smaller level, there’s no doubt that much of the hipster sparkle that spewed
out of the Kingsland Road and Hoxton side-
‘It’s a bit less “cool” than, say, the 60s or rockabilly scene – and less cliquey’, says Wyeth.
‘Cool’, almost by definition – is about disinterest, nonchalance, and intently studied insouciance. The antithesis, then, of glam.
Wyeth adds, ‘Glam’s not afraid to be cheesy -
‘Glam’s FUN!’, laughs Heelz. ‘The element of humour is very important. There’s a lot more knowingness, and you don’t get that with other scenes.’
This notion of egalitarianism – a flagrant eschewing of the tiring hierarchical
struggle for ‘cool’ -
Glam was one of the few movements in style and music to successfully traverse working-
Wyeth says, ‘Glam’s divided into two camps -
Indeed, glam can’t simply be distilled into a neat little glitterpot filed next to ‘camp’ and ‘excess’. For British youngsters of all backgrounds, it provided a new outlet of expression. Everything was there to be subverted, and everything was for the taking. High art met low culture in a totally new way.
It’s this element so expertly showcased in Tate Liverpool’s Glam! The Performance
of Style, an examination of the visual arts that informed and accompanied the movement
which proves there was – and still is -
Focusing on the years 1971-
Darren Pih, curator of the exhibition, says, ‘Glam collapsed the barriers between high and low art – there was a use of theatricality and the excess of camp. Glam was a catalyst for personal and social transformation.’
In his Glamology lecture, Pih places glam within the context of the post-
So have we really made that much progress in the last forty years? And how much did
glam help push people into being more accepting of boys in make-
‘To an extent it’s much more acceptable to be gay or bi and an element of that, I think, was down to glam,’ says Wyeth. ‘[A key moment] was that performance on Top of the Pops of Starman, when Bowie put his arm round Mick Ronson. So I think an element of progress is down to that.’
But while there’s undoubtedly a flourishing glam subculture, is it just a tribute to a beloved bygone era, or is the influence of glam being seized upon, plundered and reinvented – surely the most flattering tribute a style can be paid?
Heelz says, ‘I think it’s still influential. The first people to be directly influenced are Suede and Denim, which had two members of a glitter band in them. There was a glamrock resurgence in the periphery of Britpop, I mean Placebo appeared in Velvet Goldmine.’
Wyeth adds, ‘You can see the influence on bands like Tame Impala -
At a time when – like the early 70s – Britain seems constantly on the verge of collapsing into itself, a little sparkle, the simplistic stomp of a glam rock beat and an opportunity to reinvent yourself as whatever the hell you want are undoubtedly alluring.
I ask Pih why he thinks there’s been such a resurgence in interest in glam this year.
‘There are a lot of parallels between then and now’, he says.
‘People are looking to the past to try and make sense of the present.’
Written by Emily Gosling
Images as credited