Beefeater x vice
In a city that changes as rapidly as London, mourning is inevitable – mourning for people, yeah, but more often than that ideas, rituals, relationships, realms. Perhaps most regularly it’s nights out that are mourned, sweated to death into bedsheets by millions of Londoners every Saturday, eulogised or posthumously hexed in anxious afternoons via food delivery order, therapeutic group chat, shaky corner shop fag run. Nightlife, we are told, is dying more quickly than almost anything else in London, other than possibly the NHS, restaurants that don’t serve food on weird little wooden boards and the social concept of subculture – always so intimately wedded to nightlife, subculture has at a rough count been declared dead every five minutes for the last 15 years, to the point where it seems that all future big nights out must inevitably topple into the grave after it like some kind of hungover, heartbroken widow. It’s maybe not that difficult to see where people are coming from. Clubs are closing down. The Met are getting more militant. Noise complainers are getting louder. Hexes, death and heartbroken widows aren’t the makings of great party chat.
Subculture isn’t dead – we’ll get to that in a sec – but all the same it’s possible to detect some deeper anxiety at the heart of the near-constant media-borne fretting about subcultural demise. Is it the banging pairs of trousers and fresh haircuts that people mourn when they talk about the death of subculture? Or are they really more worried about some sudden loss of that underlying human urge that gathers people together into gangs when they seek out identity, codes of honour, adventure, closeness and meaning?
Andres Branco has spent his life surrounding himself with the paraphernalia of subculture, from the string vests and inside-out caps of the Jamaican kids he ran with after-school on the streets of South London’s Abbey Wood, to the dark drum n bass records and Technics decks he’d find in nearby Belvedere a few years later; from the “women in furry boots and bald geezers with tribals” he met at illicit Vauxhall happy hardcore raves in his adolescence to the graff paint and Airmax 97s he’s carried with him as he's put on raves around Deptford and New Cross. Now, he lives in Lewisham borough and runs Wavey Garms, a community he founded online with 20 mates in 2013 that in two months had swollen to a membership of 10,000, clocking up now to 70,000 devotees across three different Facebook groups, and many more that make a pilgrimage to the shop he runs with his sister Rhiannon in Peckham.
“I think you can say there is a Wavey Garms subculture,” he says, when the question is put to him. “I go to a lot of festivals and raves, and I’ve seen the way they’ve changed in terms of the way people dress there – if you go to a jungle rave, there’ll be about 60 Wavey Garms kids there, and they all know each other, chatting about clothes and stuff. I don’t think it’s necessarily been me that’s done that. There’s about ten key influencers who are about 19, 20 years old who are at the forefront of the scene, dictating the styles. It’s very tight.”
The sense of community is key when it comes to assessing where Andres and Rhiannon have got things right. It’s a scene that refuses to go stale because of the amorphous and hyper-competitive members who continue to drive it on. It has its own codes and rituals, its own soundtrack and slang, its own books and club nights. Maybe one day there will be a Wavey Garms wedding. Maybe there already has been. It’s impossible to think that people haven’t at least copped off with each other after meeting through it. Yesterday, the vibe was old school Moschino and bits of Tommy gear. Tomorrow, Andres reckons, it will be Arc’teryx, Cottweiler, Rolex and Prada: the brands the more tuned-in and fashion-conscious members are wearing most at the minute. But such is the nature of the scene – powered by its organic synthesising of various working-class style trends – that tomorrow could always be something else entirely.
“I started Wavey Garms when I was stuck in a rut; it was around the time indie music was big and there wasn’t much creativity. I was doing that a bit but got to the point where I was like, ‘This is boring now,’” he says. “Rhiannon had a massive hand in kickstarting the Moschino and Versace side of it too; she had a website before Wavey Garms called Ninety Fly and was there at the beginning. It’s a mix of the stuff I used to wear as a kid and things I’ve seen travelling around – I got the InterRail around Europe with the YRP graffiti crew who are renowned for knowing everyone abroad. I learnt so much about fashion in places like Italy, France, Switzerland…”
When I speak to Andres, he and his sister are on a buying trip on the continent, touring a clandestine network of warehouses to pull pieces for sale in the shop, in the Facebook group and from a new website they’ll have up and running soon. “We’re waiting to go online in the next month,” Rhiannon explains. “We’ll continue to do UK pop-ups and also one in Sao Paulo, Brazil – where our family are from – this Christmas. We’ll keep putting on raves, continue to collaborate and expand and take up any opportunities that come our way.”
London is changing. It will never stop. Speaking to Andres and Rhiannon, it becomes clear that they’re worried about the city they’ve built their lives in losing some menace and edge, becoming too polite and whitewashed as the clubs they love are shut down and gentrifiers move in with their cash and sacrosanct rest schedules. (“We had a party in the arcade the other day for Chase & Status’s album launch,” explains Andres. “It was loud and the next day we had about five neighbours screaming in our face, saying they were gonna shut down the nightlife in Peckham.”) But years of nocturnal city living have left them adept at finding a party whenever they’re in need of one, even if they’re in derelict warehouses in Bermondsey rather than licensed nightclubs.
There are parts of the “old London” night that they’re happier to surrender. “When we were younger, it was a very dark place,” says Andres. “I got robbed about 30 times – it wasn’t even cos I was a geek or anything; I hung about with quite gully people. It was just a bit horrible, you’d get beaten up for no reason, you constantly had to balls your phone and money off. You just had to look over your shoulder 24/7.” It’s a sentiment Rhiannon echoes: “It was rowdy, growing up round here. I feel like my image drew a lot of unwanted attention – loud Moschino or Versace jeans with a pair of Kickers or loafers or Airmax; hair slicked back, big gold earrings, loads of fake tan! It’s funny cos it’s what a lot of people are wearing now. I often got jumped and was forever hiding my phone in my bra on silent. Getting on the top deck of a bus back then was a different story to today – from Plumstead Corner at the bottom of my road to my dad’s in Streatham, it was robbery central.”
Subculturally, London might not be as divided and territorial as it once was. But Wavey Garms and its cult thrust prove that latent tribalism is an urge that continues to find a way out, as it surely always will as long as clothes remain capable of giving people more than warmth and comfort. Clothes can make you more than yourself; show where you’ve been, where you are, where you wanna go. Conversely – and this is always half the fun with anything subcultural – they can show what you hate, what you aren’t and who you wouldn’t wanna be seen dead with.
“The opposite of a Wavey Garms kid? I’d say fuccbois,” says Andres. “Those trill wankers. They do my head in. I always wanna do my best to make sure the Wavey Garms kids don’t turn too ‘lit’; I’m keeping away from all that American trap stuff. I’d prefer to jam with country folk than for us to turn into loads of kids drinking lean and being gassed off that American shit. I’m getting really into making my own films and lookbooks now, actually, taking on more of a creative direction role – but I’m doing it in my own, dark English rudeboy way.”
Judging on events to date, there doesn’t seem much point in switching up that formula. In a city constantly on the change, just being who you are can take you far.