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November 7, 2013 12:09 AM   Subscribe

"I might be the only person who’s experienced both Wigan and, say the Taksim Square occupation in Istanbul this year, so this is hard to verify: but I think these very different atmospheres shared something in common. There was something overtly rebellious and subconsciously political about Wigan. Like with a riot, or an occupation, you could tell immediately, through eye contact, who was feeling the buzz.
What we were doing, back then, was rewriting the rules of being white and working class. We knew exactly what it meant to dance to black music in the era of the National Front and the racist standup comedian. Ours was a rebellion against pub culture, shit music and leery sexist nightclubs. Our weapon was obscure vinyl, made by black kids nobody had ever heard of.
" -- Paul Mason describes the importance of Northern Soul.

This article is a companion to the Northern Soul - Keep the Faith documentary Paul Mason also did for the BBC's culture show, in which he revealed himself to be a northern soul fan of long standing, having regularly gone to the Wigan Casino (previously) back in the day.

Northern soul is currently undergoing yet another revival, much helped by a new Elaine Constantine feature film about the scene, which features lots of lovingly shot dance scenes.
posted by MartinWisse (24 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
In 2011 125 Magazine commissioned Dean Chalkley to make a short film on Northern Soul, which was released as Young Souls. I challenge anyone to watch it and not have a little love for Northern Soul.

As they mention in the magazine and the FPP says, Northern Soul is quietly coming back into fashion. Well, for lots of people it probably never went out of fashion.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:09 AM on November 7, 2013


Step step
steppy step step
split bounce split
and spinnnn
posted by pracowity at 1:14 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the latest Northern Soul revival has something to do with the success of John Newman (see here, here and here).
posted by rory at 1:24 AM on November 7, 2013


Northern Soul has also found considerable success in San Francisco's LGBT dance scene over the last few years...
posted by markkraft at 2:22 AM on November 7, 2013


Good to see some yong'uns sweating cobs out on the floor as the Lord intended. And to see Paul's splendid 1977 beige kegs.
posted by Abiezer at 2:24 AM on November 7, 2013


Ian Levine is arguably a big part of the reason why Northern Soul has, in many circles, become a part of the gay club scene.
posted by markkraft at 2:32 AM on November 7, 2013


There was something overtly rebellious and subconsciously political about Wigan

This is true of almost any party scene to some extent.
posted by empath at 2:56 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good to see some yong'uns sweating cobs out on the floor as the Lord intended. And to see Paul's splendid 1977 beige kegs.

It's pretty obvious that the next linguistic step for the bloke who wrote this was to learn Chinese.

If the reader requires a facetious comment on their own sociolect, I can be reached at wwonka@yahoo.cn.

The really embarrassing bit for me was missing the North Korea joke there. Moderately subtle.
posted by Wolof at 5:05 AM on November 7, 2013


I'm basically pulling this out of thin air, but I wonder if part of Northern Soul's political importance is that it's not obviously didactic music. It has a beat and you can dance to it. The lyrics were about relatable things, and they could often be retrofitted to be about other relatable things: see Soft Cell's cover of "Tainted Love", and then Coil's cover of "Tainted Love", which made it explicitly about AIDS, and then, hell, even Marilyn Manson's cover of "Tainted Love", which made it about wearing rabbit heads while sitting in a hot tub.

I'm reminded of how the Plastic People of the Universe were such a revolutionary presence in Czechoslovakia, despite the fact - or because of the fact! - that they did not consider themselves to be activists. The PPU were not here to politically reeducate you. They were here to be awesome and have fun and to rock.

It's also telling that there is cultural borrowing in both examples. It was important that the music had to come from somewhere. Northern Soul used the African-American Motown sound to speak to largely white mods and working-class Britain. PPotU brought the Velvet Underground's influence to Czechoslovakia - they actually hired a Canadian to translate lyrics into English, for the full anglophone flavor!
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:46 AM on November 7, 2013


This is so embarrassing it could only be published in vice. The idea that these two groups of people can be compared in such a way - when the reality of their existence is so divergent and the oppression they faced so incomparable is just mind-blowing.

How can someone talk about a world where men outnumber women 4:1 and then make the claim that returning to that would be a liberation from oppression. Is it passive ignorance of the culture he is looking back on? perhaps - but the whole thing reads like a half-memorised tone poem. Passive ignorance cannot be divorced from reality so easily. Real change requires real struggle not just the nostalgia of a bad kid turned establishment playboy.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 5:47 AM on November 7, 2013


I don't know about the political comparisons but if this gets more people to listen to the first Dexys Midnight Runners LP I'm all for it.
posted by escabeche at 6:03 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dexys were such poseurs...
posted by MartinWisse at 6:15 AM on November 7, 2013


Then I'm all for posing.
posted by escabeche at 6:24 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


What has Dexys Midnight Runners got to do with Northern Soul?
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:29 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Real change requires real struggle ...
This was a social moment of real change and it's far more embarrassing for you that you can't see it than it is for Paul Mason to be getting a bit dewy-eyed.
posted by Abiezer at 6:29 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't see it, sorry. "Northern Soul" is laughable as a "social moment of real change". Pick an area affected by this social moment- give me some real info on how that area changed and I might care - but - northern soul was an ephemeral idea in the minds of some rich white boys - who happen to have disproportionate influence now because a few of them have done good/are influential in Dr Who fandom and therefore the internet.

You can't just say something brought "real change" - you need to disprove the null hypothesis!!
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 6:57 AM on November 7, 2013


Oh, I'm not claiming it was the precursor to the Wigan Commune or anything so grand, but I grew up in the area in the subsequent generation and it certainly wasn't just the preserve of rich white boys - I think it genuinely both fostered and expressed empathy and solidarity. So I say real change because that's how the lasting stuff comes to my mind - organically and from below.
posted by Abiezer at 7:04 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The shocking truth about Northern Soul.
posted by isopraxis at 7:06 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


northern soul was an ephemeral idea in the minds of some rich white boys

This is not even wrong. All the rich kids were into glam and punk; northern soul was for working class lads.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:56 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Looks like a good time...regardless.
posted by black8 at 8:47 AM on November 7, 2013


Some things are universal:

Dudes looking to attract the attention of the ladies: LEARN TO DANCE.

This is a learnable skill.

Fascinating docu. After researching Mods for the Quadrophenia FPP seeing this cultural evolution is really fucking cool.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:22 AM on November 7, 2013


- northern soul was an ephemeral idea in the minds of some rich white boys -

Oh come on. I'm an American and even I know better.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:39 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fantastic post.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:27 PM on November 7, 2013


As someone who lives in Oakland, CA, it's kinda trippy to see that Northern Soul adopted the raised Black Power fist as one of their emblems.

But I"m a Black Sabbath fan, so I've always associated the North of England with working class, socially marginalized outsiders beyond the borders of civilized London. So it makes a fair bit of sense how the Wigan kids could feel that affinity.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:24 PM on November 8, 2013


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