The UK has long been fertile ground for all manner of anti-establishment, non-mainstream cultural movements, each with their own values, norms and practices. Taking on the herculean task of defining, categorising and explaining this panoply of subcultures are editors Rebecca Gillieron and Cheryl Robson. Their book, Counterculture UK – A Celebration takes a broad look at this vast array, with fifteen essays by academics, journalists, artists and performers on topics as diverse as disability arts and activism, environmentalism and Youtubers, including a chapter on feminism by former Joyzine writer Hayley Foster Da Silva.
Each of these subjects could easily be the focus of a book by themselves, but the authors do a good job of presenting the distilled essence of their chosen group, generally beginning with a potted history (which in most cases leads inevitably to the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s), before segueing into more contemporary issues. Some are fervent, railing against the inequities faced by those outside of the mainstream, others more pensive and measured, while one or two tackle their subject with a lighter more humorous touch. All are fascinating and insightful in their own way.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is that it provides a glimpse into a range of subjects, and enough information to then read more deeply into those which grasp your interest. From a personal perspective, I found Susan Murray’s essay on the rise of alternative comedy and Mark Sheerin’s investigation into the crossover between supposedly rebellious artistic movements and the super-rich collectors who buy their work particularly fascinating. Others may find their interest piqued by Em Ayson’s investigation of Lady Gaga super-fandom, Simon Smith’s look at how online gaming culture has infiltrated our offline lives or Coco Khan’s article on the barriers faced by black & minority ethnic artists.
Whatever your interest, if you are curious about the multitude of ways in which people chose to express themselves or live outside of the norm, this book will have something for you.
Review by Paul Maps
Counterculture UK – A Celebration is out now, published by Supernova Books