Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lessons in Soul Music - Teaching the Next Generation of Mods?

For those who are not aware, I'm an elementary school teacher. I teach 5th grade in a French speaking school in Montreal. For a number of years now, every Monday morning, I've been conducting a short "musical discovery" session where I introduce my students to different musical styles. Over the past few months, we've explored such diverse genres as Trance, Salsa, Gregorian chants, Quebec folk, Reggae, Blues and Barber Shop Quartets.

One of the most memorable moments this year was when we discussed covers and the widespread use of samples in today's songs. I had them listen to Rihanna's SOS sampling of Soft Cell's Tainted Love. Their response was priceless when they compared it to the 1981 hit. But that was nothing if you look at how they reacted when they first heard Gloria Jones' original 1964 version. They looked stunned.

Lesson learnt: Before you critique another generation's music, be advised, you might be derogating the original version of one of your favorite songs.

Just before the summer holidays, it was time for them to learn about the ancient art of playing vinyl records. May I remind you that all of my students were born in this century? 45s are as foreign to them as getting up to change channels on the television or phones attached to the wall. So what better way of introducing them to those curious little black discs, with a huge hole in the middle, then to have them listen to sweet Soul music?

I gave a quick history lesson on the huge contribution of Motown and Stax to popular culture and the influence of cities like New York, Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago. Soul music is not necessarily at the top of their iPod playlist but when I told them about a young black kid about their age and four of his brothers recording their first record at Hitsville USA, faces started lighting up.

My visit to Motown in August 2010
Stax - Memphis - March 2011

I then pulled out my mysterious little carrying case. "Is that your lunchbox?" one asked. As they started pulling out the 45s, you could tell some of them had never held one. They didn't even have the reflex of pulling them out of their sleeves. This is one of the reasons why I love my job. Children will sometimes have that sparkle in their eye when they experience something new. It's clearly visible in the following video.

When I asked how many songs could fit on a 7", Tristan answered without hesitation that it was 45. He had seen it on the label. They were also intrigued by the fact that you had a song on both sides of the record. Jessie thought that you had the English version on one side and the French on the other.

The most surprising moment was when I asked what we call the machine that plays records. No one had a clue. Out of 30 students, no one could come up with "record player" or "turntable". I did receive a slew of interesting and imaginative answers.  "Spin-O-Rama", "Vinylophone" are some of the most creative examples.

When came time to play the records, I was fascinated at how their intuition guided their logic. For one, the concept of putting the needle at the beginning of the record didn't occur to them. With MP3s nowadays, you simply have to push a button. When we got the turntable going, no sound came out. I had purposely hidden the speakers from them to see how they would react. The miniaturization of technology has also affected this generation's perception.

Another captivating moment for me was when I asked what the "33" button was for. Again, I couldn't have predicted some of the answers I got. Joey thought it was so we could hear the lyrics more clearly.  After a short demonstration, we quickly put that theory aside. Rainiel on the other hand thought it had to do with the type of music we listened to. Yasine came up with the most interesting answer: "It so we can dance slower."

I chose 2 classics to introduce them to soul music, Booker T and the MG's Green Onions and Stevie Wonder's Uptight (Everything's Alright). They were quite amused by the title of the first and happy to learn that Stevie Wonder had started his career at the same age they had. I invite you to view the entire video even if you don't understand French. Some of the reactions of my students are priceless. Who knows, maybe you are witnessing the birth of a new generation of Mods?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Go-Go Dresses, Paisley Shirts and Vinyls: A weekend spent at MODchicago

It’s already been a month since MODchicago’s Our Way of Thinking 9 weekender. It took this long to write about my experience as a DJ in vibrant Chitown for two reasons. One, I just went through the throws of finishing the school year as a 5th grade elementary school teacher and second, I just couldn’t find the appropriate words to express how much I had enjoyed myself. A week after I had come back, I was still on a high.

Friday night at the Liar's Club
A Mod weekender in North America might not compare with an Isle of Wight rally or a Northern Soul night in Madrid in terms of attendance but I would bet my hard earned meager teacher’s salary that it measures up in terms of heart and soul. For one, the quality of DJs that I had the privilege of sharing the decks with is second to none. 

The most unique DJ I ever met. Dante from Italy cues his records with a monocle sized pocket magnifying glass. He doesn't use headphones! He's incredible!

The DJs were a passionate bunch who knew a thing or two about 60s music. I had been in contact with a few of them through trusty Facebook before, but I couldn’t imagine that by the end of the weekend I would actually come to consider all of them as friends.

That goes for the dedicated crowd in attendance as well, impeccable followers of fashion with active feet and smiling faces. Everybody was just so nice! 

Saturday night at the Late Bar
I take exception with the guy who doesn’t own a bar of soap. His body odor was so strong that he had half of the dance floor to himself. You would've thought that he would've taken a shower the next day. No such luck! I thought of throwing a bit of baby powder his way at one point.

Bad hygiene aside, what was also inspiring is that all the DJs felt free to play the most obscure tracks they had on hand and you knew that the dance floor would be packed. You felt confident that everyone would embark on your musical journey.

There’s one thing I didn’t expect at all. I couldn’t believe how 60s French Canadian artists were so popular. I had to scratch a few tunes off my set list because a couple of DJs had played them before me. What?! Really? You should've seen my face when I heard my mate Brian aka The Midnite Cowbwoy play this amazing track by Freddy et Les Chomeurs. Most of my friends don't know anything about this group so I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that this guy from North Carolina had it on 45!

I got hints of how Quebec 60s and early 70s music was sought after when I brought a bunch of 45s at the Saturday afternoon swap meet. Not a lot of people showed up but all the DJs, fitting the previous night’s hangover, were all eager to trade. I didn’t leave with anything particularly rare but I did get to swap half of my stack for some quality stuff. A term that was abundantly used that weekend was “titty shaker” and that best describes the records that I left with.

I have to thank Sir Eric Collin for the flawless organization of the weekend. His positive vibe made these few days, ones that I will cherish for a long, long time.

The Maestro and I
So in the tradition of my fellow DJs, here is the set list of what I played during the Saturday night event.

Ooh Poo Pah Do - Skip Easterling - Instant
Walk That Walk - David Clayton Thomas - Red Leaf
Hung Up On You - Thee Deuces - Sir John A.
Low Man - Don Norman And The Other Four - Sir John A.
You Come On Too Strong - The Rabble - Trans World
Nothin' - The Ugly Ducklings - Arc
1-2-5 - The Haunted - Quality
Who Dat? - The Jury - Port 
Respect - The Vagrants - Atco
Boum! Boum! - Les Mykels - Select
Batman - Les Hou-Lops - Apex
J'ai Cru A Mon Reve - Les Tallmud - RCA Victor
Ça Ne Tient Pas Debout - Les Dinn's - Riviera
7 Heures Du Matin - Jacqueline Taieb - Impact
Les Jeunes Tigres - Les Safari - CBS
Stop Il Faut Arreter - Pierre Perpall - Citation
Jimmy Mack - Les Coquettes - Sabre
Satisfaction - Pierre Perpall - Teledisc
Soul A Go-Go - The Vibrations - OKeh
Give Me One More Chance - Wilmer And The Dukes - Apex
The New Breed - Jimmy Holiday - Diplomacy
Higher And Higher - Jackie Wilson - Brunswick
Nitty Gritty - Marie Claire - Citation
Loosen Up - The Short Kuts - Pepper
Back In The U.S.S.R. - Chubby Checker - Buddah
Without A Warning - The Amazers - Thomas
Le Sens De l'Amitie - Le Clan 91 - Franco Elite
Les Cactus - Jacques Dutronc - Vogue
Biff, Bang, Pow - The Creation - Hit-ton
I'm Moving On - Matt Lucas - Smash

Here's a little taste of the action around 3:30 am. A great Northern Soul rendition of The Rolling Stone's Satisfaction by Quebec artist Pierre Perpall. Enjoy!