Photo: Installation view, courtesy of YOUTH CLUB.
In 1987, the Smiths released “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” a moody groove where Morrissey exhorted petty criminals to join forces because the future was grim. The efforts to ameliorate stress and alienation through small but thrilling acts of theft could be better served if that energy were put towards a greater use. Not that Morrissey fully articulated this, but his foppish ennui was a symptom of a much larger malaise.
That malaise, which continues to haunt us today, is the result of first world comforts put in place of the rebellious spark of adolescence. But for a brief shining periods throughout history this spark burns then flames out. Yet, it continues to ignite, year after year, as new generations are forced to bear the brunt of the mistakes of their forbearers.
Knowing the people of his day and age, Morrissey understands that angst is a double-edged sword. Rather than allow it to cut against the self, the singer plaintively exhorts, “Learn to love me / Assemble the ways / Now, today, tomorrow and always / My only weakness is a list of crime / My only weakness is… well, never mind, never mind / Oh, shoplifters of the world / Unite and take over.”
It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and patently absurd, yet within the mask of boredom is something far more telling. It is the knowledge that nothing, but nothing, will move people to action except the sense that there is no other way to go than up. This is what engages kids to act out, to forgo the rules set for them by the world and develop their own.
Unite and Take Over, a new exhibition curated by YOUTH CLUB, those who dared to go against the grain, the freethinkers, revolutionaries, and hedonists who created their own subcultures and countercultures that spoke to the time. Currently on view at the Camden Stables Market, London, through May 3, 2017, the exhibition a collection of photographs by Gavin Watson, Normski, Dave Swindells, Giles Moberley, Matthew Smith, and Molly Macindoe.
From the rave scene of the 1980s to the Grime MC of East London in the 2000s, United and Take Over takes us deep into these realms, when youth was driven to deal with the fact that the world they are inheriting is spoiled and corrupt. And rather than simply drop out and fade away, they came together to .. unite and take over—or at least, go our in a blaze.
The exhibition has been organized to reflect this, while trying to keep spirits bright in a club environment. The show presents a section of photographs hanging from movable walls, keeping with the feeling of accessibility and lacking the usual pretensions. It allows people to interact without feeling they are in a formal gallery environment, removing the formalities of the white cube and making the mission relatable.
Because, if not youth—then who, and when? Can we trust those who bought into the system to tear it down? Unite and Take Over is a reminder that anything is possible once the group comes together as one.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.