They whitened their faces and wore blood red lipstick. They donned paisley dresses with tights and wore Doc Martens. They listened to Bauhaus on tape decks, sat in graveyards and lit candles. They were spectacularly romantic and deliciously different.

Coiffured towers of hair, makeup applied like kabuki masks, the Goths of 1980s Auckland were a tribe that provoked fascination and fear in equal measure. Their mystique was magnified into a moral panic by evangelical Christians who derided them about from pulpits - satanic, dangerous, a sign that the end was nigh.

Those enmeshed in the subculture saw things very differently. Pennie Blair (aka Pennie Black, ex bFM programme manager and Auckland music doyenne) embraced the music, fashion and ethos of Gothism from age 13. She found camaraderie and identity within its strong-but-icy embrace.

"It felt like you were part of a family of likeminded people," she says. "You identified new people by the way they dressed. You could tell they were part of your tribe. We were different in the first place because we liked music, art, literature and weren't sports-minded, obsessed with rugby or anything."

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Goths, punks, metallers, surfers, skaters, boy racers, bogans. The 80s and 90s were dripping with youth tribes and it took a nanosecond to tell who belonged where. The boat shoe-wearing wannabe yuppies, the pimply kid with the mohawk and tartan pants. Box them up, give them a label, and off you go.

Before social media, teen identity was played out through fierce musical allegiances and fashion. But fast-forward a few decades and normal is the new norm. At bFM (a station known for its nonconformist attitude) Blair witnessed this first hand.

"I think the new kids on the block are visually subdued," she says. "But they are more openly vocal in their ideals and more accepting of people who are different."

Max Oldfield, 27, is a former breakfast host at bFM and producer for Vice TV's Noisey show.

He's had his finger on the pulse of youth culture for years, being on the front line in both these roles, and also working as a manager for hip-hop crews around Auckland. He agrees that young people don't delineate themselves around musical tastes as much as they used to.

"Lines aren't drawn around the types of culture you consume anymore," he says.

Oldfield says that when it comes to fashion, the 1990s reign supreme. Kids growing up in the era of Seinfeld and Everyone Loves Raymond are taking their fashion from stars that dressed like middle-aged suburban dads.

In Oldfield's opinion, its all to do about nostalgia.

"You take your style cues from the culture you grew up in," he says. "Kids who grew up in the 90s hit their stride in 2000s. They have brought the styles they saw in their childhoods with them."

Sociologist Ron Kramer, from the University of Auckland, says that all subcultures have fractured with the development of the digital universe. Running alongside this is the dearth of real-world environments, in which "spectacular" subcultures like punks and goths could congregate.

"With these subcultures engagement in the aesthetics of the tribe was essential," he says.

Back in the 80s and 90s, the acquisition of music was almost ritualistic. Record stores like Real Groovy in Auckland were places of pilgrimage where lost youth acquired the relics of their religion. Rare vinyl, new CDs, and music magazines were purchased and devoured for days.

The digital age has changed the way in which we consume music ... and everything else. Kids have the world at their fingertips (literally) and a smorgasbord of musical delights to pick and choose from at will.

Music venues have become an endangered species as gentrification drives up the operating costs of such venues. And if there is nowhere to gather, there is nowhere to be seen.

"Music subcultures were defined by consumption," he says. "If there is nowhere to consume the music they love, people have to go online to find it."

The "spectacular" tribes may have disappeared from the streets, but according to Oldfield there are still some music-based youth tribes who are happy to wear their cultural affiliations with pride.

"Metallers are one of the strongest and most committed subcultures," he says. "I'm not talking about the Metallica sort of metal; more the black metal and death metal from Norway."

Hip-hop is also alive and kicking. Oldfield says that hip-hop crews are very common Auckland, with rappers and producers creating scenes around different Auckland locales.

"You get crews like SWIDT in Onehunga, and the Omnipotent crew who are based in Blockhouse Bay."

Many of the hip-hop tribes are drawing their inspiration from the 1990s. Ti-Maya Dorcil (19) from hip-hop crew OmniPotent, says his heroes are straight from the 1990s (the likes of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur) and his style is influenced by them.

"I work at the Recycle Boutique and I love vintage clothes."

Classic sport brands and street wear also play a major role in his wardrobe.

"I am lucky 'cos my mum runs a modelling agency and when I was a kid she'd bring me back new Nikes, Supreme and Bape clothes before I even knew anything about them."

Musically affiliated subcultures may be less visible than they were a few decades ago (whatever happened to emos?) but Kramer says that he sees another sort of youth tribe out the window of his inner-city apartment every weekend.

"Sometimes there are hundreds of cars full of boy racers driving around central city in the weekends," he says.

He says subcultures based on "performance" continue to thrive. "Skateboarding remains a strong subculture. And street artists are another 'tribe' that is very visible in New Zealand."

While they may not look as daring, Blair says the kids these days are actually a lot more sophisticated and open in their tastes and attitudes than the mohawked teens of the 1980s.

"They are quite conservative in a normcore kind of way in their dress sense, but their music is way more out there, and they have the internet to educate themselves," she says.

"They are learning a lot of different ideas and it opens them up to a lot more weirdness in a way."

The Alties

She loves Joy Division and Talking Heads, art and live bands. Lucia Taylor (17) doesn't consider herself "alternative" but others do.

"I had a friend over and she looked at my posters and my vinyl collections and said 'you're so altie!' It's weird, as I don't really see myself in that way."

The college student from Ponsonby has parents who lead the way in the subculture stakes. Her dad hosts an Americana-themed radio show and her mum "used to be a punk".

She's seen pictures of the Goths, punks, and new wavers of the 70s and 80s. And while she agrees that today's subcultures aren't as visible, they certainly exist.

"There are the club kids who are really into dancing to the chart music, the 'nerds' who are focused on their schoolwork. Then there are the kids like me, who are fully into music and art."

She says that the fashion differences between today's tribes are "very subtle". For the initiated, the style of jeans and T-shirt you wear speaks volumes. Taylor recently shaved her head (which has been "quite the statement") but chooses to wear basic clothes - baggy jeans with a belt, T-shirts, Doc boots.

For Taylor, the need to stand out has visually has been eroded by the developing of a society that is more accepting of difference. She thinks the extreme style tribes of the past were a reaction to a more conformist and restrictive society. As we've become more open and accepting, the need for such rebellion has lessened.

"Most parents aren't judgmental and we don't have to prove anything. I think people are more confident with their identities and don't have the need to be so obviously different."

The performers

Mia Tayler has been singing since she was 4. While she still loves music, acting is her first love now.

Mia Tayler.
Mia Tayler.

She has a mighty singing voice, musical talent to burn, and loves trying on new personas in front of an audience.

"I'd do acting every day if I could," says the 15-year-old. "I really love it."

When Canvas caught up with her she was in the middle of rehearsals for a new play (called Welcome to Hell), penned by senior students at Long Bay College.

"I'm a sub-lead called Lil. I have a monologue about being an ant," she laughs.

When Tayler started Long Bay College, she instantly gravitated to other actors. They are a tribe that's not restricted by age and she soon found friends among the older students.

"I was a shy Year 9 student. When I tried out for the production I met some older kids who were also actors, so I'd spend my lunches in the acting studio with them."

While many of her contemporaries are attracted to the idea of theatre, her dream is to perform on screen in comic roles. She loves Mike Myers and the Austin Powers films.

"I have created a YouTube channel with my friend. We film ourselves playing a lot of different roles, and I can really relate to how Mike Myers plays such a wide range of characters.

She also loves Taika Waititi. "What We Do in the Shadows is such a great movie," she enthuses. "I can really see a lot of his type of humour in what we do on YouTube."

The Gamers

Graphic design student, tattoo-artist-in-development, and musician Harrison Gerrard has been gaming since his dad bought him his first X-Box when he was 5.

Harrison Gerrard.
Harrison Gerrard.

Harrison Gerrard (19) has always loved gaming for the sense of escape it offers, the way in which it can transport you away from the daily grind.

"When I was about 16 I used to come home from school and game for about six hours at a time. It was an amazing escape from stuff that was happening in my life at the time."

He moved on from his early X-Box to a MacBook ... which always overheated and crashed halfway through games.

So a few years back he picked up the components for a bespoke PC and created a dream machine that allowed to him to play uninterrupted.

"People spend thousands of dollars making their own gaming PCs - I spent about $1100, which wasn't too bad. It runs really smoothly."

Every tribe has its pariahs; in the PC gaming world they are PlayStation and X-Box users.

"It's called the console wars. There's a subreddit called PC Master Race," says Gerrard.

"I go on there and have a laugh, but some people take it very seriously, which is ridiculous."

Then there's the stereotypes. Gerrard says that players of games such as Skyrim (an open-world action role playing game) attracts the "typical nerds" - Lord of the Rings fans, the people who would have been drawn to Dungeons and Dragons.

League of Legends players (a multiplayer battle game) would be typified as "young Asian guys who never see the sun and Counter Strike (which Gerrard plays) is filled with "regular white males, aged from mid-teens to early 20s".

He says he's always surprised at how many people game - it's no longer the preserve of geeks and shut-ins.

"There are a lot more people than I expect. I'm often surprised by the people I meet who are really into it."