This article first appeared in Gnarly Magazine Issue #1
Dear Kustom Kulture, Allow Me To Introduce Your Dear Cousin... Raggare
By Emelia Lakso
Photos by P. Tuominen / www.nurkkaus.net
With the fifth year of Helsinki’s own Kustom Kulture show recently flying by, it’s an apt time to draw some attention to the way that America’s Kustom Kulture has bled into the rest of the world, and how the rest of the world has twisted and infused that gift with its own flavour. Case study: Finland.
If you thought Raggare has way too many consonants to be a Finnish word, you’re right. Raggare is originally Swedish, and the word comes from “Ragga”, or, to pick up girls. In our European eyes, that’s what you greased up hot rod Americans do, and we wanted a piece of the action.
In most ways, there's a lot of similarities. Raggare is an interpretation of what Kustom Kulture is all about: a culture-mash of the 50s, 60s, and 70s styles, music, cars, bikes, having a good time, and seizing your right to show off your own definition of “cool”.
In Sweden, for the sake of being as counter-cultured as you can, the interpretation has largely included influence from American Southern culture. Should you ever attend the annual Meet in Västerås, called the Power Big Meet (one of the biggest meet-ups for American muscle cars in the entire world), you’re bound to find numerous customizations, accessories, and apparel items saturated by the Confederate flag. To Swedes, the Confederate flag is simply a symbol of rebellion.
Due to early roots of being a violent subgroup of society and causing numerous notable clashes with other subgroups, mainly a fiery feud between punks and raggare, raggare are still branded negatively by Swedish society. Raggare are usually thought of as idiots, drunkards, and are depicted in media as being a menace to society. There was even a TV show that featured this exact behaviour called Ronny & Ragge.
Finland has done a number to distance itself from the Swedish interpretation of Kustom Kulture and has stayed much truer to the original culture than the Swedish depiction. Despite still being classified largely as raggare culture, Finns are dedicated to the Kustom Kulture aspects that create its namesake: customizing. This is mostly true for cars and personal style, but if the Kustom Kulture show is any example of what Finns believe of customization, there are no limitations.
One of many of Finland’s Kustom Kulture-approved artists that attend the big Helsinki show is Anssi Juvonen of Ape’s Metal Shop (apesmetalshop.fi). Anssi gives Ape’s the look and feel of a down-to-earth, competent, and extremely skillful shop. At this year’s Helsinki Kustom Kulture event, Anssi invited people to stop by and hang out, have a chat, or share a coffee – they even donated a piece for a charity auction. While the bulk of Ape’s Metal Shop seems to focus on industrial subcontracting, their website and customer reviews show that they also do a ton of individual custom work – especially for cars. Their portfolio covers everything from the flat faced machine part to intricate engraving work. Ape’s is a great example of the cool, collected, pave your own path nature of the Kustom Kulture crowd.
Another Helsinki show artist worth mentioning that stood out to me, though there are many and it’s not easy to choose who to spotlight, is Akseli Simonen of kustomworkstattoo.com. Even Akseli’s Instagram image sports a bright orange hot rod with low rider suspension – between that and his business name, the guy’s clearly committed. Akseli is a gifted tattoo artist who’s designs incorporate delicate line work and detailed shading to create statement pieces. Looking through his portfolio, his work is simultaneously striking with dark images such as the grim reaper and various skulls but retains a deep level of beauty that makes you want to endlessly see more.
Anssi and Akseli are stark examples of the contrast between the stereotype of raggare and its reality as it is in Finland. Talent, dedication, and kindness radiate through Finland’s Kustom Kulture scene. Don’t let the greased hair, tattoos, and completely misguided stereotypes fool you for a second, there’s nothing to fear here.
Finland’s own brand of raggare/Kustom Kulture comes with the same traits that make Finns, themselves, unique. Finland’s people are known worldwide for their esteemed quietness, introversion, and fondness for personal space and alcohol. While these traits are ever present on any town’s streets and can be evidenced at every bus stop, when looking on to a group of what seemed to me to be Kustom Kulture fans, a guess mostly attributed to the presence of slicked hair and denim jackets (and I guess the fact that it was at an AC/DC tribute concert had something to do with it), it’s as if the stereotype is completely misplaced. When with their people, these Finns are a completely different breed of Finns. Loud, social, and… smiling? Who knew?
Finland, Sweden, and the rest of Europe alike take great influence from American Kustom Kulture culture, though they do have their own unique brand of it called raggare. The differences between the actuality of European Kustom Kulture and its negative stereotype are huge. Raggare people are known to be idiotic, drunkards, chaotic, unpleasant people. But coming and seeing what the culture actually has to offer, those adjectives would never cross your mind. The similarities between Americans and Finns in this regard are strong, so strong that it’s evident that Americans would certainly find a home here with their Finnish Kustom Kulture cousins.
The Helsinki Kustom Kulture show typically occurs in February on an annual basis. Their website is available in Finnish and in English at www.kustomkultureshow.com.
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