Rockin’ The Rockabilly Scene :
Rockin’ : The Rockabilly Scene was a photographic exhibition at the National Theatre, South Bank, London. Featuring the portraits and reportage from the contemporary Rockabilly scene – a stylistic diehard that weathers fads and trends with its sta-prest uniform and regulation style code.
The photography exhibition by Andrew Shaylor is insightful to the shuttered circle of Rockabilly, a retro-throwback calling on a world that never was. Taking it’s style cues from Coca-Cola advertising, Johnny Depp in Crybaby as gospel and sweet dreams from Back to the Future part one.
At first glance this is all style over substance – what can a modern take on a denim clad fairy tale teach us? How can such a deliberately stunted movement justify it’s reason for existence in the modern world?
To find the answer we were drawn not to the laboriously studied hairstyles, the Archie comicbook caricatures or the mock-American rock n’roll band – (although they had their admirers, especially one old Teddyboy who rocked in his chair more than rolled with the band).
It was out in front of the gallery that the Rockabilly movement made it’s suckerpunch claim on cultural evolution.
Parked in the ‘lot’ were lovingly maintained examples of mid-twentieth century mobile Americana – all chrome lining, leather upholstery, custom engine parts: fans, “Big Daddy” Roth skulls, low-brow modifications, the essential Coca-Cola bottle opener where one would expect to find the filler neck.
These were vehicles that were built to last. The antithesis of modern consumerism, with its engineered obsolesence. These beasts heralded the time when consumption was meant to improve the world, not destroy the planet.
By understanding the old fashioned values that is inscribed into these vehicles, one is able to comprehend the continued existence of Rockabilly. It’s the idea of simplicity, rigidity and faith in the unsullied values that America was founded on… exported to the UK. When men were men and women were real dames. Clearly defined roles with little of the ambiguity of modern life, splintered families and rampant consumerism. A pair of jeans built to be buried in, not just for one season. A time before feminism eroded mens ideas of masculinity, bubbly soda water was a health tonic not a global obsesity concern, when fridges represented the pursuit of increased leisuretime not a guilty generator of climate change. Perhaps even when patriotisim didn’t feel like apologetic fascism.
It doesn’t matter what I feel for a movement that is so staunchly defiant of the entire world, so locked in it’s ways, with it’s studious heirarchies of ‘cool’. A movement so utterly desperate for a time that never was and stagnant in it’s views. In a world that seems in the permanent thrall of change for change’s sake, that’s a refreshing choice.