It's difficult to say exactly what "mod" means in 2012. Even when the movement reached its zenith in London in the early '60s, the definition wasn't clear: not quite hippie, not quite punk, not quite English, yet not quite American, either. Inventing a sort of bohemian dandy aesthetic, the mods wore pork-pie hats, listened to jazz records, gobbled down amphetamines like pac-man and rode Vespa scooters through London, on their way to fights with "the rockers." Ah, but some would say that's not quite right, either. In its evolutions from the Quadrophenia/mod-punk revival of the late '70s to the Britpop aesthetics of the mid-90s, what's considered mod has gone through many changes and titles -- yet, like the Supreme Courts definition of pornography, you know it when you see it.
Here in Denver, the mod lifestyle of high fashion, scooters and record-collecting has been growing, due in part to groups like the Denver Vintage Reggae Society, whose events allow people to get dressed up in mod (or skinhead, ska, northern soul, etc.) gear and dance to records made before most of them were even born. And this Friday, May 18, you can check out these bohemian dandies yourself at the Mods Mayday 2012 event at the Skylark Lounge, featuring DJs spinning ska and northern soul, as well as live music by The Manxx and The Sonic Archers.
Westword reached out to Mods Mayday 2012 event organizer Steve Antonio to discuss scooters, music and shopping for mod clothes in Denver.
Westword: You've said that the mod scene in Denver is growing -- how so?
Steven Antonio: The mod/ska/soul scene has waxed and waned over the years. Based on what I have seen with on-going monthly events like Denver Vintage Reggae Society and Mile High Soul club, there is certainly a revival going on. Simply put, there are things to do so people with like interests can meet regularly and have a good time together. Is there a contemporary mod scene with new bands and changing fashion, or is it mostly rooted in the mod scenes of early '60s and late '70s England?
That is an interesting question. There is a huge up-swing in the mod scene in Europe and Japan going on right now. As for fashion, there are some evolving trends that are heavily influenced by the '60s. Let's face it, the style of the '60s is hard to beat. In as much as music is concerned, there are numerous new bands and artists coming into their own that are flat-out mod like The Moons and Miles Kane, for example. In Denver, the mod scene has quite a way to go, but we are hoping for a big lift up from events like this.
What drives people to replicate a style from a bygone era? Is it a costume, or a legitimate way of life?
I believe that it is a legitimate way of life. It is just a matter of how far you want to go and what part of it works for you. Speaking for myself, I go all the way. I live in a mid-century modern, period-furnished home, ride a classic scooter and dress the part every day. For others, I think there is an attraction to things that are well designed like clothing, furniture and architecture. It is a clean, simple, unobstructed style that remains classic no matter how many times we wander away from it. Look at the popularity of a show like Mad Men. While not mod, per se, it reminds us of how good certain things looked before the '70s came along and screwed it all up. How did you first get into the mod culture? What bands, films or people turned you on to it?
I would have to say that it all started with The Kinks and Stones for me; then on to The Who and then The Jam and Quadrophenia just sealed the deal. As my interest grew, I began listening to Small Faces and exploring the wonderful world of soul music. There is a world of great period films out there as well, must see pictures like Blow Up and Wonderwall.
Mod fashion requires a significant amount of work and maintenance -- yet it briefly overlapped with the filthy, low-brow aesthetic of punk; are the two at odds? It's all a matter of who you ask. In my opinion, a proper mod always tries to look his or her best. In a more universal sense, it's whatever makes you feel good. It is VERY difficult to shop for mod fashion in Denver. You have to get good at figuring out European sizing and roll the dice.
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The Mods Mayday event begins at 9 p.m. May 18 at the Skylark Lounge, 140 South Broadway; admission is $5.