We’re now well versed in the concept of the retro revival. But while most revivals have roots in a specific era – the mod subculture, for example, with its reverence for early-60s pop and fashion – we’re currently in thrall to a much more slippery concept. “Old school” is as much as state of mind as a musical movement or style aesthetic, and it is firmly back in the modern lexicon, applied to everything from sunglasses to compilations of 1980s rave tracks; from vintage motorbikes to the name of a not-for-profit cafe in San Francisco.
Your old school could be Debbie Harry circa Rapture in 1981. It could be Kanye West’s 2004 debut, The College Dropout. Or, I’m told by a reliable authority, 1995’s Bombscare by rave outfit 2 Bad Mice. Personally, my old school is hip-hop in New York in the early to mid 1980s; kids photographed by Jamel Shabazz wearing Adidas tracksuits, Kangol hats, Cazal shades and Farrah Fawcett waves on subway trains covered in graffiti; records like The Message by Grandmaster Flash,Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock and Run DMC’s My Adidas.
It’s this look, feeling and sound that’s currently enjoying a bit of a revival. Adidas’s successful relaunch of the Stan Smith tennis shoe has paved the way for the return of the Superstar – the shell-toe trainer to which rappers Run DMC once paid homage. Vans’ Old Skool sneaker, the one with the squiggle down the side, is also back in vogue, along with the bucket hat – popularised by rapper LL Cool J in the 80s and currently modelled by Rihanna.
Away from hip-hop, dance music’s old school is also going strong. The term is applied to everything from rave culture to drum’n’bass and garage, typically partnered with graphics utilising the kind of smiley face that predates the emoji keyboard. Anyone who lives in a large British city will be familiar with the cardboard signs strapped to traffic lights advertising old-school warehouse parties “going back” to years including 1995, 1998 and 2000. In mid-April, Throwback: Old Skool Anthems, a Ministry of Sound compilation of garage from the turn of the century, was No 1 in the dance chart, leapfrogging the Prodigy. The opening track? Re-Rewind by the Artful Dodger, aptly enough.