Alligators, Hipsters, Beatniks, Teddy Boys. How many youth subcultures can you mention? Mods, Rockers, Hippies, Skinheads.
Their presence is a sort of fil rouge in 20th century mass culture. Punks, New-wavers, New-romantics, Grunge, Hip-hoppers, Goths, Emos. They are deeply different in music and outlook, but they probably share a vision, the dream of staying young. Forever.
One of the craziest, less known subcultures in history developed behind the Iron Curtain, during the Cold War days. They were young and stylish, they were…
In post-war years, Stilyagi suffered from the state of complete isolation from the Western World’s most recent trends, but at the same time they were able to change this weakness into a point of strength and identity. They were mad for Jazz, but, completely unaware of modern jazz trends (bebop and cool), they idolized the sounds of the big bands era (from the 1930s to the early 1940s), a kind of music which was basically dance music.
There was a sort of black market for the underground circulation of jazz records. In a time when tapes and cassettes didn’t exist yet, old gramophones were modified in order to duplicate music. One sided flexi-discs were made from used X-rays films (this is why they were confidentially called bones!).
As far as the outlook was concerned, they used to wear stylish clothes in bright colours, which made them immediately recognizable and despised by ordinary people.
The Soviet Regime regarded them as enemies of the Revolution, because of their love for an imaginary America and took any chance to punish and repress them. Saxophones were considered as a sign of social deviation, more dangerous than knives.
After Stalin’s death in 1953 and the 6th World Festival of Youth and Students, held in Moscow in 1957, things began to slowly change. The Stilyagi subculture started to evolve into something different and a new generation of youngsters came out, which was more attracted by Rock’n’Roll and, later, British Beat.
Today, young people in modern Russia can choose their music and their clothes, but the recent story of the punk collective “Pussy Riot” clearly shows that real freedom, in Putin’s era, is still to come.
Somewhere, in the dark, a stilyaga is still dancing to the sound of growling saxophones.