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Eshay or Lad is an Australian criminal youth subculture.
It originated from Inner-Sydney’s graffiti scene in the 1980s, with an established familiar uniform of Ralph Lauren and Nike Air Max, but began to be influenced by working class culture in Sydney’s numerous Housing Commission Estates throughout the 1990s, with older criminals wearing Nike TNs and other designer brands setting standards, encouraging younger disenfranchised youth to begin making money illegally. The subculture was heavily prominent in the underground scene in the 2000s, with the style of Nike TNs, Nautica clothing and Bumbags widespread across Sydney regardless of heavy stigma from the general public looking down on people in the clothing style, contributing to the style and subculture becoming widespread and appropriated across the country, eventually influencing fashion, language and music, eventually changing the direction of Australia’s modern urban youth culture.
The subculture traces its roots to predominantly young men from low socioeconomic backgrounds, initially drawing inspiration from Southern Beats, British Casual/Chav clothing, and Dutch Gabber dancing/style, eventually creating a distinctly Australian style/culture with similarities, but completely different. Eventually in 2019, UK Drill culture heavily influenced the direction of the subculture,  as Mount Druitt rap group Onefour’s drill tracks became viral, drawing similarities between the two. Key distinct lad activities include widespread criminal activity, such as Shoplifting, Vandalism, Assault, Robbery, and often Burglary and Drug dealing.
These keys are off the chain!
Etymology and usage
The origins of Eshay as a term is hotly debated, however there is some consensus that it is derived from a bastardised form of pig Latin, which is a common lexicon employed within the subculture. Lads from Housing Commission in Sydney’s Inner-City suburbs in the 1990s first began using pig Latin to speak in a way others (especially police) would not understand, but has eventually made its way into slang around some of these areas and the subculture. One explanation contends the term derives from Eshay Adlay which is pig Latin for He’s Lad, this is in reference to the term Lad which is often interchangeable with Eshay. Others suggest the word is related to sesh, a term commonly used to describe a prolonged period of drug-consumption. The use of Eshay is versatile, and may be employed as an interjection or statement of agreement. Similarly, it can be used as a replacement for “yes”, “cool” or “excellent”.
The distinctive style is the result of a culture of shoplifting and crime endemic to the environments where older criminals living around were making money off of high-earning burglary, bank robbery or drug dealing, if not stealing most of their clothes anyway, encouraging young boys around the low-socioeconomic areas to steal luxury sportswear to complement their otherwise wardrobes of old dirty clothes in their dysfunctional homes, reflected in Australian Hip-Hop, this spread along with the culture around the country. The result is said to have led to a disrupt in society’s expectation of who should be wearing highbrow brands, and enforcing a heavy stigma on some, as clothing brands from Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste and notably Nautica, began to be adored in Sydney’s working class suburbs in the Inner-South and the West,  complemented with Sportswear brands such as Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Ellesse. Lads are often considered hypermasculine, associated with criminality,  in Their local area,  generally hang out in packs, wear sportswear and engage in intimidatory and anti-social behaviour.
A major component of the subculture, fashion plays an important role in denoting one’s involvement in the Eshay scene. Distinctive outfits trace their early origins to the emerging late-1990s to 2000s street style scene, where cuffed track-suit pants, windbreaker jackets, popped-collar Polos and bent-brim dad hats or Nike dri-fit caps balanced precariously on the crowns of one’s head began to gain popularity. By the 2000s, the influence of gabber and hardstyle was evident, as music festivals such as DEFQON1 and Stereosonic became popular in Sydney with people in the lad clothing style, as bum-bags became critical to the emerging uniform. While the aesthetic associated with Eshays has changed over time, the 2000s aesthetic very-much followed a uniform of: striped polo shirts with popped-collars, high-waisted sports shorts, Nike TN sneakers and bumbags slung over one shoulder.
Considered to be the defining element of Eshay fashion was the introduction of the Nike TN, an expensive sneaker adorned with eye-catching colours. Sportswear stores in Western Sydney have consistently recorded the highest sales of TNs in Australia, though the shoe was divisive, largely stigmatised by the mainstream who associated it with criminality. The wearing of Nike TN’s, as well as Tailwinds (commonly referred to as Jailwinds) denote street-credibility and esteem within the prison-system respectively, as both shoes require the wearer to defend them should another group of “Lads” seek to rob them.
In the beginning of 2013 the TN still mostly maintained its criminal reputation, the conservative sector of society were still terrified of the sneaker’s silhouette and the TN faithful were still wearing them with unwavering pride. But in that same year, a 15th anniversary year for the Air Max Plus, Foot Locker relaunched the original ’Tiger Orange’ and ‘Hyper Blue’ colourways. Ultimately, this pushed the Nike TN into the mainstream with its adoption by Hipsters in Melbourne and Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, while fashion publications began to appropriate Eshay aesthetics into contemporary designs.
Many Eshays have been critical of what they consider to be a fetishisation of working-class fashion, beginning with the adoption of Nike TNs by the irony-literate middle-class at the expense of those who are left out of the joke, in this case the Eshays. The ironic appropriation of sneakers once stigmatised for their associations with criminality, poverty and drug-use has become commonplace.
As a perennial counter-culture, Eshay’s adapted to the appropriation of their fashion by changing the brands they wore, ultimately moving away from Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Lacoste and adopting luxury European brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Versace. This coincided with the rise of UK Drill, with its heavy use of luxury brands. As well as a move away from the traditionally white-working class face of Eshay culture to that which incorporates the styles of the various ethnic groups that make up Australia’s working-class. Similarly, expensive outdoor wear brands such as Arc’teryx, The North Face and Helly Hansen have remained popular with some Lads, especially as a lucrative brand to rack (steal), this comes from UK influence.
Lads have often been synonymous with Australian Hip Hop in its various forms. In the early 2000s, the most closely associated variety was gutter rap or lad rap, which frequently contains lyrics depicting criminality, drug use and poverty. Gutter rap artists such as Campbelltown’s Kerser, Hurstville‘s Skeamo and Nter, and Blacktown‘s Fortay rap primarily about Australian working-class lifestyle and issues (such as crime, drug addictions and financial struggles), similar to traditional American Gangsta rap. Unlike most popular artists in the Australian hip hop scenes, which have proper mainstream presence and support, gutter rap has remained largely underground on the internet due to associating with a stigmatised style. However, some artists from the genre have gained mainstream recognition and success, an example being Kerser’s second album No Rest for the Sickest which reached No. 15 on the ARIA albums chart.
While Australian Hip-Hop and Gutter Rap were once considered a genre dominated by Australia’s urban white working class, this changed rapidly following the advent of Australian Drill in 2018/19. The prolific rise to fame of Mount Druitt outfit OneFour brought a refreshing change to the hip hop scene, with production heavily influenced by UK Drill, Afro beats, traditional Polynesian music and trap. OneFour, who often reference Eshay culture and language in their lyrics, prompted a music revolution with various groups with Polynesian, Arabic, African and Indigenous heritage coming to the forefront of Australian music.  While UK Drill echoes the Roadman subculture of the UK, in Australia the drill scene is born from the Sydney Searchers subculture, nowadays called Lads or Eshays, which has seen a massive revival in popularity. 
In Sydney, Gabber music and the Hakken dance it is accompanied by has been popular amongst Lads, as from the mid-2000s, music festivals such as Defqon1 and Stereosonic became popular places to rave and start fights. The Hakken dance is mainly referred to as gabber (noun) or gabbering (verb), named after the Gabber sub-genre of hardcore it is performed to. Despite the fact that it is called Gabber, it is usually performed to music of the hardstyle genre by most ravers in Australia. The influence of Gabber and Melbourne Bounce on Australian music is exemplified in the work of Eshay artists like Hooligan Hefs who incorporate these sounds into Australian Drill.
Important to Eshay culture is a distinct dialect of urban slang that is employed by those in the subculture. Most commonly known as a bastardised form of pig-Latin, the dialect has led to the rise of popular words within Australian English such as Eshay/Eshays (Cool, Hell Yea, run), Adlay (Lad), Eetswa (sweet, good), Redhot (suspicious, high-risk), Staunch (tough, to punk someone), Gronk (derogatory term), Illchay (Chill, relax) and Earch (burglary/theft). This pig-Latin is employed as a means of evading scrutiny by authorities, namely police or prison guards, by conversing in a ‘secret coded language’, in some Inner-City Sydney Housing Commission Estates in Glebe, Waterloo/Redfern, Woolloomooloo, Surry Hills and Newtown (widely believed to be where the culture originated), a more complex/broader pig Latin, unbeknownst to people outside the area, is often used widely by youths in the area, often combining two words to create a double-meaning.
The dialect has been heavily influenced by immigrant communities in Melbourne and Sydney, specifically the Wog accent, which is derived from a mix of Southern European Languages, Arabic, and Australian English. Similarly, Polynesian, East African, and Indigenous communities have influenced the urban dialect with the introduction of traditional words.