FlashBack: The Mod Subculture
“We are the Mods, we are the Mods, we are we are we are the Mods”, as the chant familiar to those who have watched Quadrophenia (or Peep Show) goes. But who were the Mods? This edition of Flashback will look at one of the most talked about, written about and imitated subcultures in Britain. While music played a huge part in the Mod movement, other things such as fashion and scooters.
The name ‘Mod’ is short for ‘Modernist’, and began as a term referencing ‘modern’ jazz, fans, as opposed to ‘traditional’ jazz fans, which is where the movements origins lie. The movement went on to evolve, attaching several distinctive behaviours to the Mod Subculture. Trends embraced by the Mod's included being dedicated followers of fashion, usually wearing tailored suits, or ‘Parkas’ and polos. Other defining things became part of the movement, such as late night clubs, scooters and amphetamines. One source of inspiration for the new movements fashion and music was the arrival of immigrants to Britain in the postwar era, particularly from the Caribbean.
The movement sought in some respects to shake off the shackles of the 1950s, such as the morals and gender roles expected of them by previous generations. They did this with the help of increased disposable income, as the economy grew after the war. This also meant that more young women were employed, and wanted to break out of their societal constrictions, many of whom saw the Mod movement as a way of doing this, inspired by the likes of Lulu.
Music was central to the Mod subculture, with a variety of styles combining to create the Mod sound. Although beginning as a Jazz movement, African-American Rhythm & Blues and British Garage Rock were the two main ingredients. Uptempo, soulful rhythms were accompanied by powerful guitars and drums. The most famous bands associated with the Mod movement were The Kinks, The Who and Small Faces. However, all three of these bands moved away from the Mod style of music in the late 60s and 70s, with The Kinks taking on elements of the psychedelic movement, The Who becoming more Rock influenced and Small Faces becoming Faces, bringing in Rod Stewart after Steve Marriott’s departure.
Bands like The Creation and The Action were other Mod bands that were popular at the time. Due to the different elements of Mod music many Mods also listened to artists from other genres. These included Motown artists such as Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, and Ska artists like The Ethiopians.
Any discussion of the Mods would be incomplete without talking about their infamous rivalry with the ‘Rockers’, which culminated in pitched battles on South Coast beaches. One element of this conflict was national. Rockers stemmed from ‘Teddy-Boys’, both groups looking to America for their cultural inspiration, with leather jackets, quiffed haircuts and big motorbikes. In contrast, Mods wore mainly British clothing, with brands such as Fred Perry and Ben Sherman, and rode mainly Italian scooters, namely Lambrettas and Vespas. There was also a gendered conflict, with the Rockers seeing the Mods as effeminate due to their focus on fashion, a perceived work-shyness and smaller bikes. These clashes caused panic in the national press, particularly after the events in the likes of Hastings and Margate in Spring 1964, and most famously on Brighton beach. Although the rivalry died down relatively quickly, and in hindsight was never as violent or dangerous as the media at the time suggested, it was immortalised by things such as the concept album and film Quadrophenia.
There were also divisions within the Mod movement themselves, stemming sometimes from small things in some cases, such as the choice of Vespa or Lambretta, with most Mods sticking with whichever they chose, with Vespas being seen as more reliable and customisable, whereas Lambrettas were more moder and faster. However, there were larger divisions, such as the class divide between original mods and newcomers. The mainly working class original mods moved on to other subcultures, as they believed that the movement had gone against its original aims.
As with almost every subculture, its demise came about mainly due to commercialisation. As echoed by later movements, such as the Punk subculture, its growing popularity meant that its ideals, of individuality particularly, became compromised. At the same time, new subcultures sprang up, such as the hippies, which the new youth became interested. Whereas, as shown by Ace Face in Quadrophenia, even Mods needed normal lives. The original Mods had grown up and got jobs and families, which was another thing that was not exclusive to the demise of the Mod movement.
Blur were one of several Britpop bands who were influenced by the mod movement.
Mod culture had a revival in the late 70s and early 80s, led by the likes of Paul Weller and soundtracked by the likes of his band The Jam, The Purple Hearts and Secret Affair, who were influenced heavily by the likes of The Kinks and The Who. There was also a revival of violence on South Coast beaches by rival subcultures, in 1979 and 1980. Its influence continued into the Britpop era, as seen in the music and appearance of the likes of The Verve and Oasis, with Quadrophenia star Phil Daniels appearing in Blur’s ‘Parklife’ song and music video. Even today it can still be seen, in brands such as Pretty Green (which takes its name from a song by mod revivalists The Jam and is owned by Parka-fan Liam Gallagher) and Fred Perry, and musically with the likes of Jake Bugg and Miles Kane, who’s music and images have been greatly inspired by the Mod subculture.