Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Profiles Of The Best 60s / Mod DJs in North America: Special Edition - East Coast Classic Rally

From June 3rd to the 5th, the East Coast Classic Scooter Rally will be held in Asbury Park, New Jersey. I was lucky enough to be asked to DJ the event and when I saw who I was sharing the decks with, that's when I started to really get excited. 

But that's not all! The bands are worth the trip all to themselves. 

So in the Parka Avenue tradition, I asked my estime fellow DJs to answer a few questions for posterity.

Your name / DJ

Sheila Burgel / Sheila B. (Cha Cha Charming, WFMU)


New York, NY

How would you describe your musical style? 

I’ve inadvertently created a lil’ niche for myself as a DJ, collector and champion of 60s girl-centric Pop, Soul, R&B, Freakbeat, Rock n’ Roll and Garage. So the majority of my collection consists of female-fronted 45s from 1960s Japan, France, England and the US. But I’ve got a whole lotta love for music from all decades, genres and locations. Some of my all-time favorite artists are the Ronettes, Megadeth, Alan Parsons Project, Blake Babies, Shangri Las and Saint Etienne. My musical style is pretty much all over the place.

What is your “go to” track? The one you will likely never get tired of spinning?

I’ve got a couple of signature 45s that never leave my DJ box: Jun Mayuzumi - Black Room, Barbara Lynn - I Don’t Want A Playboy,  Bonny St. Claire - I Surrender and my latest addition, Jasper Woods - Hully Gully Papa.

Regardless of price, name THE record that is missing from your collection.

My friend Jason Thornton in Boston hipped me to the mind-blowing Irma Routen - I Will Sacrifice on MGM. Please dear spirit above let me find that record PRONTO!

Where can we see you spin on a regular basis? Tell us about the night or an event you would like to promote. 

I host a sexy 60s Rock n’ Roll party called Sh-Boom at Our Wicked Lady in Brooklyn every third Friday of the month. We’ve got 60s erotic cult-film projections, New York’s sassiest go-go girl, Anna Copa Cabanna and local and international DJs spinning all-vinyl sets of 60s Japanese pop, French Yé-Yé, girl groups, Garage, British Freakbeat, Northern Soul, Glam, soundtracks, R&B and Exotica. And can I mention a few of the excellent Soul parties I’ve spun at over the years—Big Shake! in Helsinki, Finland, Soulelujah in Boston, and Save Your Soul in Baltimore? And I’m looking forward to spinning with Parka Pat at the East Coast Classic weekender on June 3rd-5th!

Is vinyl the only acceptable format for playing your style of music?

Tough question! There is a lot of work, money, time and research that I put into collecting original records, so it would bum me out to see a DJ playing the songs on their laptop that I spent years tracking down. Laptop DJing is a different animal. With all the tools available, I think anyone who knows how to use a computer can basically DJ with a laptop. But a lot more is required of a vinyl DJ and I like that not everyone can do it. I’ve used a laptop on a few occasions to play tracks that only exist as MP3s but I find it really boring to DJ from a computer. It doesn’t require the same kind of physicality and engagement, which is what I really love about playing vinyl. A record spinning on a turntable looks and sounds great and I don’t think anyone can argue with that. 

What is your favorite place to buy records?

The Allentown 45 & 78 Record Show in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Josey Records in Dallas, TX from my favorite dealers (like Barry Soltz) and from friends and fellow DJs from around the world. 


Make sure to check out Sheila's blog, Cha Cha Charming, about 60s girl-pop groups.

While reading the blog, tune in to Sophisticated Boom Boom, her successful radio show on WFMU.

Your name / DJ

Kurtis Powers


Brooklyn / NYC

How would you describe your musical style?

Quite broad and diverse. We do a BritPop / Mod /Indie night called Loaded, but I also do The Face Radio which is Soul, Funk, Jazz, Jazz-Funk, Crossover, etc. I believe I’m certainly a Modernist. Always looking for the new with the old. Always looking to expand those boundaries, if not for others, at least for myself. For my sins, I’ve been known to enjoy some early Disco, Soulful House and Boogie. I’ve always been a fan of Soul in all its forms. That’s not to say there isn’t more bad than good in some of those areas. I’ve tried to get a few of our own Soul / Mod nights in NYC that never really took off. People like Mikey Post and Phast Freddie do great nights here, and its a hard town to get things really happening, even when you have some of the best records like these guys. So for all its worth, I’d rather go enjoy theirs!

What is your “go to” track? The one you will likely never get tired of spinning?

Larry Williams & Johnny Watson - Too Late. Always love this tune. 2nd would be Dean Parrish - Skate. I always play this. Such a TUNE! Almost anything from Bobby Patterson…

 Regardless of price, name THE record that is missing from your collection.

Little Tommy - I’m Hurt / Baby Can’t You See on Sound of Soul from Richmond Virginia. I love that record. Though I’m not one of those people to buy a rare record for rare sake, unless it was silly not to. I’ve never been a fan of the competition / pissing contest of rare records. I love to get stuff and I likely buy records everyday of my life, but at the end of the day, someone having more money to spend on a record, doesn’t make them any cooler in my eyes. Also, I believe in playing what is great. I don’t necessarily want to play all the same tracks as everyone else, but a good song is a good song. I’m happy to play a song that gets everyone dancing even if it's common. Why roll your eyes at that. I like good music and as long as it's good, enjoy it!

Where can we see you spin on a regular basis? Tell us about the night or an event you would like to promote.

I do Loaded every first Thursday at The Vig Bar in Manhattan and The Face Radio weekly, on a number of stations. I do Northern Soul, Classic Soul, Funk, Jazz-Funk and more. You can find The Face Radio on Twitter here.

Is vinyl the only acceptable format for playing your style of music?

As I play a lot of different styles, I wouldn’t say that, though it is my preferred format. I have digital music at home. I’ve done a wedding or a party that required lots of different things and I’ve gone Serato. On my show, if I play new music of emerging artists, they’ll send me digital promos and I’ll play them on the show, as it's digital radio, it doesn’t matter either way.

That said, anything from Soul, Funk, Mod, 60s, even the BritPop night I do, is all exclusively vinyl. In person it sounds better. Even in non-scene nights, when you spin vinyl, people just become so mesmerized by it.

What is your favorite place to buy records?

My two favourite shops are both in Manchester England. Sadly Beatin’ Rhythm Records has shut. They used to have this amazing shop and then moved into a smaller shop. They’ve recently shut, which is sad, as you could find so much and they were also an education. They weren’t pretentious. You could tell them sounds or even tempos and styles you would be looking for. You could see their love for the music as they would just go through lists, asking if you’ve heard this or that. Was always a great experience.

My other favorite is in Chorlton, an area in Manchester and it's called King Bee. Great selection, very diverse. I like buying 60s, Mod, Funk, Soul, Crossover, Jazz-Funk and more. You can always walk away with a good handful of records.

Your name / DJ 

Ryan W. Thomas / Lord Thomas


Portsmouth, Virginia

How would you describe your musical style?

SOFTMOD with a downtown feel!

What is your “go to” track? The one you will likely never get tired of spinning?

Funky Virginia - Sir Guy - D.P.G. Records

Regardless of price, name THE record that is missing from your collection.

Sugar Pie De Santo - Go Go Power - Checker

Where can we see you spin on a regular basis? Tell us about the night or an event you would like to promote.

Once a month, HotButtered - Soul- Reggae - Boogaloo @ Toast in Norfolk Virginia.

PressureDrop - Big Boss Reggae @ Continental Divide in Richmond Virginia.

Is vinyl the only acceptable format for playing your style of music?

100% YES!!!!!!

What is your favorite place to buy records?

Steady Sounds in Richmond Virginia. Very well curated record store! Very fair prices!

What type of Scooter do you own?

A juiced up 1977 Vespa P200E

You want a little tease of the night to come mixed by yours truly? Something to put you in a party mood? Head over to the Parka Avenue Podcast here now!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Shoes Are Not Your Thing? Are Your Sure You're A Mod?

Shoes are such an integral and important part of the Mod wardrobe that some are known by the Mod band that wore them. Yes, I'm refering to you Jam shoes! I don't know of any other subculture that obsesses as much about their footwear. We can maybe make a case about how the Skinheads are particular about their Docs but having a wide array of taste is not what they're known for.

When it comes to Mods and their shoes, certain styles have been associated with them since the very start. The Chukka boot, in particular the desert boot, is a prime exemple. The very first Mod I ever came accross in high school wore a pair of suede crepe-soled Clarks. It had a lasting impression on me.

Clarks were not the only brand that had the Mod stamp of approval but Hush Puppies were also popular.

For those that are addicted to fashion
The Bass Weejuns, also known as the penny loafer, adopted by the American Ivy League students of the late 50s were soon embraced by the Mod contingent. They're the perfect type of footwear to dress up a casual outfit or to give a more relax look to a formal ensemble.

I remember back in the 80s, I had bought a pair of black Dr. Martens tassled loafers. Say what you will about some of the current fashion choices of the company but that pair lasted me a good 15 years. And they still looked good!

The Chelsea boot is a personal favotite of mine.

Loake Petworth Chelsea boots

60s vintage pair
Easy to put on, simple to maintain, versatile and above all very confortable, it's easy to understand why so many Mods stroll around in them.

A pair of hand stitched leather shoes for $14? Yes please!
Every Mod should aspire to owning a nice pair of brogues. Classic, timeless and elegant are all words that come to mind when images of brogues are evoked. Some good quality brogues can cost a pretty penny. But just like any other pair of shoes, you usually get what you pay for. A well maintained pair of well-made brogues can last you decades.

Loake brogue boots
Vintage pair of brogue slip-ons.
Let's not forget the winklepicker, the shoe worn by people that have toes shaped like a pointy triangle. A lot more confortable then they seem, they have graced many Modernist's closets. Some more extreme than others, they still look good.

Scan from 1968 Eaton's catalog
Salut Les Copains magazine - 1968

Most of you are not surprised or shocked by any of the choices presented up to this point. We covered the basics. This is when it starts getting exciting. From now on, feast you eyes on scans from 60s catalogs I've acumulated over the years.

This is when you start saying: "Oh! If only I could go back in time and buy every pair at those prices!" If that crosses your mind, welcome to the club. You're a true Mod.

Of course, some Mod favorites were left out but between you and me, when was the last time you wore a pair of bowling shoes?

Trainers were not mentioned in this post. That doesn't mean Mods don't wear them. Just don't expect to see me wearing them on the dance floor.

For all your Mod shoe needs, stroll over to my mate Andy's website at and tell him Parka Avenue sent you.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Where does a Mod live?

Where does a Mod live? I've often asked myself that question. There's certainly more existential, meaningful and important questions that I could be asking myself but the readers of this blog are probably not looking at me for spiritual guidance.

Back to the question at hand. Where does a Mod live? The short answer: somewhere cool. I always thought that every aspect of what Mod is, relates to what is cool. The music, the clothes, the symbols, the scooter, the art. All cool and timeless. Why should his or her residence be any different?

When I look at photos of the first pads of the members of the Rolling Stones, I immediately think that there's some inspiration that can be derived from them.

Mick Jagger's London flat
Brian Jones
Bill Wayman
Exactly 5 years ago, I wrote a post called Do I Live in a Mod Pad? In retrospect, that was the wrong question to ask. That question is open to interpretation and personal taste. Over the years, I was honoured to have my former loft featured in a few magazines and newspapers. You can read about it here and here. I look back at the first loft I owned in a former cookie factory with fond memories. 

When I was asked to participate to the Quebec version of the American reality TV show called Four Houses, I didn't hesitate one second. This should be fun, I thought. Honestly, I had a blast. You can read about the experience here. Plus, I had the added bonus of winning the show.

So when they approached me again last summer to be part of an All-Stars episode to kick off season 4, I was ready for a second round. There were a few criteria you had to meet to be part of the All-Stars episode. One, you needed to live in a new place or you had to have significantly changed your decor. Who wants to see the same place on TV twice, right? Luckily, I had just bought a new loft the previous year. And second, you had to be a memorable guest. According to a survey they did, I scored big on that second one. The producers appealed to my ego and it worked.

So? Did I prevail again this time? I'm afraid not. Not only did I did not win but I came in last place. Was I disappointed? Not for a second. Did Stephane's contemporary penthouse condo deserve to win? Without a doubt. Did I regret my dismal showing? Absolutely not. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!

I came in this second round with basically the same attitude I had the first time. I simply felt honoured and grateful to be asked. My strategy was not to win but to have fun and make it entertaining for the people watching at home. When they screen tested me, the producers asked me why I wanted to be part of the show for a second time. I told them that they had cut half of my dumb jokes the first time and that I still had plenty more asinine comments to make.

What my other competitors might not have grasped is that what you leave as an impression on camera is way more important than winning. They were all focused on putting their hands on the silly $1000 prize. I wasn't. They were taking themselves way too seriously. One participant was an interior designer so you can imagine how determined he was being portrayed. How far a chair should be positioned as opposed to a dinning table and where pocket doors are suitable in a house were the least of my concerns. I was there to have fun. You'll have to trust me on this but it showed on camera.

Even if my competitors monopolized most of the conversations on camera, I didn't let that phase me. I knew that most of their monologues would eventually be cut during editing. I was patient. Better to come up with a few punchy zingers than go on and on filling up moments of silence. My instinct served me right. I ended up with most of the air time.

Now that you have been put into context, is my place suited to everyone's taste? Certainly not. Unique? Hell yes! Cool? Well... I hope so! Do I wish to be a source of inspiration? That's the whole point of this post. Do you picture a Mod living here? That is the question.

For those who are not familiar with the Four Houses concept (Ma Maison Bien-Aimée in Canada), it's pretty simple. You have four contestants that visit each others houses without the proprietor being present and then you give a score out of ten. Highest score wins. 

I was hosting the first visit. So I got a maximum of a minute to greet my fellow contestants before I opened the door and let them visit. It's hard to make a significant first impression in front of cameras when you're meeting people for the first time and you have a total of 60 seconds or so. I believe that was a disadvantage. They had no idea who I was. But that's no excuse. I lost fair and square.

When the whole weekend of taping was done and the final score had been revealed, Anne-Marie, the only women in the group came up to me to apologize for giving me a low score of 5 out of ten. 

- Why do you feel that way? I asked.
- To be honest, while I was visiting your place, I thought a crazy person was living there.
- Anne-Marie... You have no idea how happy that makes me feel to hear you say that.

Needless to say, I took what she said as a compliment. In my warped sense of accomplishment, I had won. At least, I wasn't like the others. I was different. Isn't that what a Mod is all about? Even if my views were skewed by the results and it was hard for me to be completely objective, the other 3 contestants all had a very similar contemporary modern style. For me, they were interchangeable.

When you awarded a score to your fellow competitors, you also had to give feedback in form of a few positive points and a few negative ones too. "Original" was a recuring theme associated with my place. The thing that seemed to have unanimously turned off my guests was the fact that I had too much stuff. That's a fair assesment. If they only knew how much stuff I got rid of when my wife and I moved to our new home. And the place is larger!

The score being put aside, my main objective had been attained. I made the crew and the producers laugh and smile for two days. I knew that if that was happening, the people at home would feel the same. During my last appearance on camera, I did something I had planned to do weeks before. I knew I wasn't going to win. So when I pulled Anne-Marie's score card with a large 5 on it, I got up, tore the score card in two, threw a major fit and left the camera frame just to come back a few seconds later with a big smile on my face. The whole crew was stunned and speechless before bursting out laughing. After wrapping up the segment, I asked the assistant-director: "In the four seasons of taping, has something like this ever happen?" "Not even close!" was her answer. I was happy and content.

So what is the moral of this story? Is my humble abode the type of place where a Mod would live? Obviously, I think so. But who am I to say? First off, I live in a century old sewing machine factory. How much more Mod can that be?

You'll find evident by the photos in this post, that my vision of a Mod pad doesn't include having roundels everywhere and having a Union Jack in every room. It's more subtle than that.

Choosing furniture for your home is like buying a suit. You can buy the cheap, mass produced, off-the-rack item or you can go for a high quality product. And just like clothes, you will always pay more for a piece made by a well-known designer.

Of course, if you have a limited budget and you can't afford some expensive designer piece, go vintage. Scoure those flea markets, garage sales and junk shops and you'll eventually score. Patience is the operative word. Take this mid-century modern lamp for instance. It took me 8 years to find a pair that I like to put on my nightstands. Finding a nice single lamp is not a problem but finding an identical pair is a tour de force.

This 50s chrome cash register is another example. It took me about 10 years to find one to put in my kitchen. You might find me obsessed but it's worth it just to see the expression on a friend's face when they open the drawer for the first time.

That's why, for me, decorating a home doesn't take a few months but it takes 20 years. I started buying vintage pieces while I was in college.  Luckilly my parents were very understanding when I stored this large Coke button in their garage before moving into my first apartment.

Mid-century modern furniture is prevalent in my place and I think it suits the Mod aesthetics flawlessly.

My basement on the other hand is more late 60s plastic Space Age. My inspiration was the Word Fair that was held in my city of Montreal in 1967.

Plenty to do while in the basement washroom

Even if my inspiration stems form Expo 67, it doesn't mean that relics from the 80s haven't made their way into the basement.

I apply the same principle to buying art as I do about my furniture. All the art I own is original. Since I can't afford gallery prices, I always buy direct from the artist. Everytime my wife and I travel, we always try to bring back a piece of art from the place we visited. Buying local is always a winning strategy. Some might be reluctant at buying art over the Internet. I have no such qualms. Some of my favorite pieces were bought over the computer for remarquably low prices.

And yes, attention to detail is as important in home decor as it is in dressing up for a night on the town.

One of four screen used 007 Top Secret files seen in James Bond's The World Is Not Enough.
Repurposing and giving new life to old objects is a hobby of mine. How about transforming an obsolete TV into an aquarium?

When I saw this old Canadian postal box in an antique shop, I immediately thought: dirty clothes hamper!

The New York fire hydrant has no use whatsoever.

Have you noticed the pendant lighting? They were made from vintage metal clarinets.

I also had a cymbal retrofitted as a lamp and a snare drum as an end table.

Need a reading lamp? An old dentist tower will do the trick. You can use the tray to hold shot glasses and a bottle.

It took me a while to find a 50s X-ray viewer but I thought it would be perfect to show off a wedding photo that I had printed on acetate paper.

This now useless dictaphone has found a new life as a bottle rack.

So here's what I hope you get out of this post. Next time you think of redecorating your home, be whimsical, daring and fun. Think outside the box. Come to think about it, just be a Mod.

All the stunning photos were taken by the talented Simon Laroche. Make sure to visit the Simon Laroche Photographie Facebook page here.