There’s a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll streak running through streetwear these days — grungewave, as I not-so-seriously named the trend a while back. Basically, rock ‘n’ roll staples like biker jackets, shredded jeans and chelsea boots have become the new streetwear uniform, and brands like Fear of God, Midnight Studios and Homme Boy have been reviving and modernizing iconic looks from the Bay Area thrash, London punk and Seattle grunge eras. It’s the latest evolution of streetwear and a lot of people have made some great clothes in the process.
One unfortunate side-effect of this cultural revivalism is that vintage band merch has become a must-have fashion accessory. Rihanna, the Biebs, the Jenners, the Kardashians, Kanye, you name it, everyone’s been repping vintage band tees of late. This trend is completely phony most of the time, obviously — nobody actually thinks Kylie Jenner is into thrash metal. Although considering that Yeezus was basically 40 minutes of grinding noise, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kanye has a soft spot for Metallica.
There’s a near-endless list of cringeworthy celebrity-band combinations — absolutely everyone has jumped on this trend at some point — but Chris Brown inadvertently repping Municipal Waste is my personal favorite (SADISTIC MAGICIANNN!!!!! \m/ \m/).
Unsurprisingly, the rock and metal communities aren’t too impressed by Hollywood mega-basics and their pseudo-interest in the genre — especially when Kendall “I don’t get how some people can listen to heavy metal” Jenner suddenly decided she’s into Slayer merch (or, more likely, her stylist is). Slayer’s Gary Holt (replacement for Jeff Hanneman, RIP) deserves a Nobel Prize for his part in creating what’s probably the greatest meme in the history of the internet, though.
There’s good news, though — the band tee fad is dead. RIP. Pour one out. The trend’s time is up because H&M has started selling Metallica, Nirvana and Guns ‘N’ Roses T-shirts. Rather then going to a show, trawling eBay, hitting up a vintage store or venturing into Hot Topic (or getting your stylist to do it, if you live in Hollywood), you can just cop a piece of rock history from one of H&M’s 3,716 stores.
On the surface, this might seem as the ultimate insult to the rock community, and yet another tedious case of cultural theft from a billion-dollar fast fashion giant. But it’s actually the beginning of the end for the band T-shirt trend. Fast fashion is ruthlessly hungry for new and disposable trends, and now that the vintage merch fad has crossed over into the mainstream, it’s only a matter of time before people who don’t give a shit about music with guitars and double bass drums will forget about it and move onto something else. It’ll be buried in fashion’s great hype graveyard, next to extra-long tees, leather sweatpants and anything that says “Been Trill” on it.
Give it another six months, let’s say until September 2017, and the band tee will be free from its briefly tainted history. No more fake-lipped Jenners or Kardashians sullying metal’s history with their mediocrity. If you know the difference between Burton, Newstead and Trujillo-era Metallica, then all those glorious thrash designs will be yours once more.
“SO BAD! I’m actually in shock…I have never come across a more pretentious, clueless and rude staff in my life,” reads one Google review of Rag Freak (RIP). Rag Freak was Brighton’s one-stop shop for all things metal, punk, hardcore, grunge and goth — basically an English version of Hot Topic.
Stepping into Rag Freak, or any other shop like it, was one of those we-are-not-worthy experiences that really captures your imagination when you’re young. It stank of cheap incense and weed, the music was unbearably loud and the staff barely even looked at you — kind of like shopping at Supreme, but with Pantera on the radio. Unlike any of H&M’s 3,000 stores, you were definitely not welcome at Rag Freak.
That cooler-than-you, us-versus-them attitude is the exact reason basics love to dabble in stuff like Slipknot tees, skateboards, tattoos or ripped jeans. They’re trendy props for unimaginative people who want to look a bit edgy, a bit rock ‘n’ roll, a bit cool. Why bother learning an instrument, going to shows and getting tinnitus when you can just cop a T-shirt from H&M?
If wearing a T-shirt actually meant anything these days, Slayer would be Travis Scott and Kendall Jenner’s favorite band. Pretty much anyone can fake an interest in Nirvana or Guns ‘N’ Roses — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” are karaoke classics — but Slayer? SLAYER?
In Slayer’s 35-year career, they’ve courted controversy at every turn — they’ve had albums banned and faced constant backlash from Christian groups. Rolling Stone called their music “genuinely offensive satanic drivel.” Slayer’s most famous tune, “Raining Blood,” reaches speeds of 214bpm (that’s faster than drum ‘n’ bass, jungle and gabba). I’ve been into metal for as long as I can remember, and Raining Blood is still not easy to listen to — it’s so fucking fast.
By comparison, Travis Scott’s “Antidote” is an exercise in radio-friendly mediocrity. It’s got those standard-issue halftime, 808 drums, the slightly auto-tuned vocals, and even some excruciating screeches of “It’s lit!” It’s basically elevator music with a bit of swearing (before you jump into the comments section, I have to point out that not everyone at Highsnobiety shares my opinion on this). That sort of mainstream mediocrity is what made the band T-shirt trend so bothersome. It’s reality TV stars and radio-friendly rappers trying to look a bit edgy by pretending to align themselves with musical outcasts who managed to offend 99% of the world with their music.
Appropriation is what makes streetwear so fascinating. The genre is constantly evolving in new directions, finding inspiration in a million different places at once. It’s a tricky game, though, because cultural sampling always needs to be done with respect.
Supreme uses its collections to celebrate everything from Jamaican musicians and British metal legends to oddball artists and weirdo Japanese designers, but nobody’s doubting James Jebbia and co.’s commitment to counter culture. Supreme’s collabs are done respectfully, they don’t dumb down on their subject matter, and for every blockbuster The North Face project, there’s a collab with some obscure creative that only a tiny fraction of their audience has heard of.
In contrast, the A.P.C. and Timberland fiasco — where Jean Toutiou dropped the n-word multiple times and said Timbs are a “ghetto signifier” — is a prime example of appropriation done poorly, clumsily and with no respect for the culture at hand. As my colleague Stephanie Smith-Strickland pointed out at the time, “The message taken from such episodes is this: we like your culture but we don’t care about you.” The same goes for the vintage band tee trend. Will we start seeing the Kardashians at Metallica shows? Is Kerry King going to be shredding on a Travis Scott tune anytime soon? Of course not.
You can hardly blame people for trying to borrow a bit of rock ‘n’ roll swagger, when the genre has produced some of the most exhilarating music in history. At the end of the day though, it’s just millionaires with PR teams, ghostwriters, producers and stylists trying to look like they don’t give a fuck, but doing the exact opposite.
But the trend is dead now, so it’s fine. Thanks H&M.