THE DUB RIFLES
A Retrospect by CKUT’s Vince Tinguely
A few years ago, I read a beat-up copy of Subculture: The Meaning of Style by Dick Hebdige. One could immediately sense this was a damn clever book when it came out back in 1979 – back in 1979 there weren’t too many books partaking of ‘punk’ design values – a lurid pink-black-and-yellow cover, featuring a stark cartoon portrait of a Ziggy-era Bowie-clone. It stood out to such an extent that I remembered it, a quarter-century later, when I came upon it in some thrift shop or other. Based on that odd media-memory alone (in our mediated world much memory devotes itself to media) I bought the book.
Reading Subculture: The Meaning of Style now means reading it as an artifact. Hebdige was writing about the punk subculture in Britain, specifically – dragooning ruminations upon its ‘antecedents’ like the mod, teddy boy and glam scenes in order to pad the book out beyond a couple of chapters. (Weirdly, he completely ignores or excludes the hippie subculture of the sixties – apparently because hippie culture was so big it falls outside of the purview of the ‘subcultural’ focus. But to me it looks like an omission big enough to drive Kesey’s bus through. I guess he likes his countercultures nice and small and contained within the dominant überculture.)
He was writing about punk in the very midst of that scene’s flourishing, which lent his thoughts a nicely unfinished, unpolished and inconclusive flavour. What I found most stimulating about the book was Hebdige’s examination of British Rasta youth culture as the flipside of the British punk scene. For some reason it was only by reading this book that I finally ‘realized’ the connection. It’s a strange thing, since I know for sure I lived this connection at the time.
I distinctly remember the first time I really felt like I was participating in something that I’d only previously known through mediated forms like records (ie. Gang of Four’s Entertainment, and the Lee Perry-produced Bob Marley and the Wailers bootleg bought at Canadian Tire for $3.99) – when the Dub Rifles played Domus Legis, a law frat house in Halifax, in June of 1983.