In his recent book British author Richard Weight attempted to tell the story of the 1960’s youth cult Mod, not just the story of its inception and dominance across Britain from the early to mid sixties but to wrestle with the conundrum of its enduring appeal. Whilst other youth style scenes have come and gone (and come again through revivals and cross bred mutations) none has endured like the phenomenon of Mod. In some ways critics of the scene have had it easy, taking pot shots at successive legions of mod standard bearers as being retrogressive, the joke being that they are investing time and making claims for a scene whose very existence and excitement was about nothing more than celebrating the present, the quest to be completely mod-ern, up to date with the very latest, newest sounds and looks.
For his trouble Weights 400 plus page book received from some quarters a backlash . i guess from self styled purists aghast at, the elasticity Weights survey of the cult attached to the phrase mod. Yet aside from a handful of frustrating factual errors the book did a fine job in attempting to wrestle some sense out of the continuing appeal of mod and the huge variety of musical sounds, scenes and looks that have gathered under the mod banner over the years.
It can be a confusing thing Mod but its always been that way. Hordes of youths in parkas rampaging through seaside fronts in 1964 had little in common with hipster existentialists fuelled by a mix of continental tailoring, Ivy League modernism and the latest jazz sounds from black America. Pockets of working class London based kids fired up by but quickly disillusioned with the artistic aspirations and nihilism of punk revived the look of 64 for their version of mod yet in the main opted for a sound that excluded any discenrable influence from black music or the latest merging musical trends. In the 80s pivotal mod enthusiast and songwriter Paul Weller launched a new band The Style Council through which to explore and expand original mod influences and ideals, elements of jazz and their soul funk inspired sound incorporating the the latest street and club sounds and fashions of the day irked many of the mod faithful of the time.
That Mod has endured in various guises through a mix of subtle deviations and huge leaps of thought on what it could be is without doubt. Contributing to this are the wide range of looks, sounds that now gather under the Mod banner. It provides some credence to the origins of mod that the scene has moved forwards (and more commonly sideways) with the times and whilst a handful of elitists still adhere to strict diet of boundary defining codes regarding what is and isn’t allowed over recent decades mod has embraced a wider sonic palette of influences from across the sixties music scene. Psyche and freakbeat now make the grade alongside power pop punk from the 80s revival and the terrace appeal Oasis pedalled through their early career.
Filmed across the final weekend of June at The 2013 Glasgow mod weekender a newly released short film ‘Faces In The Crowd’ offers a brilliant encapsulation of the spirit, camaraderie and commitment found amongst a variety of takes on mod from the present day mod scene.
Emma-Rosa Dias’s short takes in the scenes, sounds and stylish cast the weekender attracted and the interviews that make up this film perfectly capture the strength and breadth of mod in 2013 in all its guises. The film kicks off with first hand reminisces from original mod Peter Ballantyne and his personal accounts of stalking the Soho streets, discovering jazz and the mod rock scene of the sixties thus firing up a life long obssesion with the world of mod. The details will be familiar to most from printed recollections of the times but the film somehow makes them all the more effective when we can see and feel the guys enthusiasm on screen, his steadfast belief and commitment to the mod lifestyle intact after all these years. Naturally, Peter still looks as sharp as ever.
The other interviews are just as laid back and informative with djs, band members and scenesters all revealing their own entry routes and devotion to the mod subculture. Best of all is a section with Sandra Hutchinson where she reveals her path on to the scene, beginning with her dads blues records and then finding her own way through the mod revival. There’s a great bit when she reveals her past annoyance – some fine, arch mod snobbery – over the Brit-pop era but goes on to laugh it off – because she’s the real deal she ultimately knows its about personal style and obsessing over your own look, whatever anyone else wants to do is up to them. Sandra represents mod at its purest, she oozes years of commitment and obsession to the mod lifestyle. To say she’s smartly turned out is an understatement.
Punctuated throughout the interviews are scenes from the weekenders dance floors and stages, bar-takeovers and scooter comps. Clearly mods wide range of influences were all represented across the different events the weekend offered. Above all the film ‘Faces In The Crowd’ serves as a visual celebration of the fluidity and continued potential of the modernist scene of the current day. The whole things impressively shot and edited, night time dance floor mayhem are cut with daytime street gatherings outside bars and scooter ride outs, all echoing a sense of kinship and camaraderie the weekend clearly encouraged.
Subbaculture caught up with Emma via email and she kindly answered a bunch of questions we had about the making of the film.
How did the film come about?
As a kid I was fascinated in the Mod scene. I would watch them in my mum’s record shop (1978 – 1984) where I spent 3 hours everyday after school. I thought they were so cool. My older step-sister Tara used to hang out with a group of Mods from South Belfast and some of them had scooters. I just wanted to be her! While she was taking hours to get ready I would talk to them and get a wee spin on the back of their scooters.
What made you choose to focus on the current mod scene?
It wasn’t until I was presenting for a Belfast City Campaign called “Backin’ Belfast” that I realised how very much alive the Mod scene still was! I was invited down to film at Marty McAllister’s night in Voodoo called “Afterglow” and spent 3hrs there with my film crew even though I’d only scheduled in 45 minutes! The place was pumping, everyone looked immaculate, the music was superb and to top it off I got a great wee interview with Eddie Piller!
Had you visited the glasgow mod weekender previously?
What made you choose that weekender to film?
I met a few great people over from Scotland when I filmed at my first Mod Weekender in Bangor. A lot of the Northern Ireland Mods travel over for it every year and invited me along.
Did you get in touch with the interviewees prior to the weekend or turn up and pick out the most interesting characters to interview?
For the Bangor Mod Weekender I just turned up with my film crew because I only had 3 days to prep. I had a few questions prepared for The Strypes interview but that was it. For the Glasgow film, the promoters Mikey Collins and Paul Molloy were a little nervous giving me access because they had some bad experiences with the media in the past. We had a few chats and I explained that I wanted to capture a true reflection of the scene and not an outsiders view. I had about 4 weeks pre-production time. I was using a film crew from Glasgow and wanted to send them a filming brief. I got in touch with a few of the interviewees that the promoters recommended via Facebook but it was a simple introduction. I sent them the Bangor film link and I told them if they felt like having a chat with me in Glasgow it would be great. I think it’s very important to keep things casual and relaxed otherwise people get nervous on camera.
One of my favourite things about the film is the way it feels like a celebration of all things mod, particularly the way it covers original mods, the female aspect of what is often seen as a male dominated scene, 80s mod revivalists who have stuck with the scene and the impact of brit-pop on bringing a new generation to the mod scene. Did you set out to specifically cover all these areas?
No not really, I knew that I had a chance to interview Original Mods – Nicky Stewart and Peter Ballantyne and I was extremely excited about that. Also the females were a must so I was delighted when Sandra Hutchinson & Holly Calder decided to have a chat with me on the Saturday night. I was just lucky that everybody gave great interviews and I simply let them tell their stories that were so heartfelt. It was so hard to edit it down because everything they said was interesting!
What are you favourite parts/interviews in the film?
Honestly, I’m not just saying this but I loved them all because they are all different! Two things come to mind instantly and that’s when Nicky Stewart summed up what being a Mod meant to him and how much “deep joy” it’s brought to his life. I also liked when Sandra Hutchinson talked about her snobbery in the past and how she’s adapted to the changes within the Mod scene.
Were you surprised by the solidarity of the people involved in different ‘types’ of the mod subculture?
Paul “Smiler” Anderson referenced how much respect the revival mods had for each other the moment they got to the club. In Glasgow you get that sense of camaraderie and belonging even though things have changed a lot since those days.
What made you choose to ‘distribute’ the film via a paid download on vimeo? (i think its a brilliant idea by the way)
We set out to make a 15 – 20 minute film but when we finished on the Sunday evening I knew there was enough to make a 30 minute documentary. I’d read that Vimeo On Demand was a great new platform for new up and coming film makers so I thought it was worth a try. I’d self-funded everything so I thought a small download fee was acceptable. I love the way Vimeo On Demand lets you build your own page and it looks stylish and professional. It also gives you the stats of where the film has been downloaded. I couldn’t believe it when I saw countries like Iceland, Sudan, Japan, Brasil and Canada on my list! The UK and USA have the most downloads at the minute but Spain and Germany are moving up fast haha!
I know downloading isn’t for everyone and to be honest it took me about 2 weeks to figure out how to use it! I made some hard copy DVDs too that are available on eBay due to popular demand.
Is there another film regarding the mod scene or other subcultures/music and fashion scenes that you are interested in making? Do you have a new project underway?
Yes, I’ve only scratched the surface. There are a lot of key people I have yet to meet that may have different views and stories to tell. It’s all moving really fast, the Glasgow film has only been available for 2 weeks and I’ve already been invited to film the Mod scene in Moscow, Paris, London, LA and Japan! Before I start developing any more filming I need to attract some sponsorship and film funding. Once that’s sorted I hope to complete a mini-series of Mod documentaries over the next year. As for other projects Afro-Mic Productions is always open to new ideas.
Finally what are your favourite memories of making the film?
The people I met and how welcome they made me a my film crew feel. The atmosphere was amazing and to be honest I was really sad when saying goodbye to everyone at 3.30am outside the club on the Monday morning. I was lucky enough because I got to relive it again while editing the footage!
The film ‘Faces In The Crowd’ is available to download via Vimeo here and is more than worth the asking price of less than a couple of quid. Download something worth the time it took to create and support independent films. Big thanks go to Emma for taking the time to talk about the story behind the making of the film.
Emma also produced a similar film at this years Northern Ireland Mod Weekender see it for free here
There is more info on Emma’s film company, Afro Mic Productions here