Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Mod and his Loft - Parka Avenue featured in Elle Magazine

I have a mental wish list of things I would like to happen in my life. I must say that I’m very fortunate to have checked off many of them off my list. Some we’re big and more significant, like marrying a beautiful and kind lady and some were more superficial and figured at the bottom of the list, like owning a vintage Vespa. This blog, for instance, is the realisation of one of those dreams that, through hard work, became a reality.

I’m happy to say that one more of my goals have been attained this month. (Now, if I could only have the opportunity to DJ at the Euro Ye-Ye or the Beat Bespoké, the list would be shorten yet again. So if Rob Bailey or any of the good folks from the New Untouchables read this blog and have a free spot, please get in touch!) 
I’ve always secretly desired to be featured in a major lifestyle magazine. In September 2010, the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil did an article about my place but it wasn’t Mod related. Read about the article in this post.

I must admit that having a piece done about you in a major magazine is a purely ego driven dream. But aren’t Mods known to have egos that are proportionate to their wardrobe? Even if I’m far from being a Daniel Craig or a Brad Pitt, I was honored to have been asked to be part of November’s  issue of Elle magazine, the Quebec edition. In this month’s edition, it’s all about Men’s fashion and style.

Since the Olympics closing ceremonies and Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, Mods hit the mainstream consciousness once again. The problem is that when journalists take a hold of our cherished scene, clichés, generalisations and misconceptions slip in. Do I need to remind anyone of how Mods were being perceived in the newspapers during the battles between the Mods and Rockers on the beaches of Brighton, Margate and Clacton in May 1964?

So when I was asked to be part of this 5 page magazine spread about how I live as a Mod in the 21st century, how could I refuse? Might as well come from the horse’s mouth, right? But before you pass judgement, let me be perfectly clear yet again. This is my own personal vision of how it is to be a Mod in the here and now.

The article titled “Un Mod et son Loft" (A Mod and his loft) focuses mainly on my humble abode. When the editor contacted me to schedule the photo shoot, she mentioned that a stylist would be present. A stylist? What for? She was going to bring a few accessories to tie the look together and to make it presentable for the magazine.

Truth be told, I wasn’t very comfortable with a stranger coming in and rearranging my decor. The fear of being portrayed as something that I’m not made me uneasy. As soon as the team arrived, I voiced my concern to the editor, stylist and photographer present. As true professionals, they reassured me that they did not intend on changing the esthetics and that they wouldn’t do anything without my approval. 

The team discussing my beauty shot.
In fact, all of the suggestions we discussed made perfect sense. Here’s the result.

The interview part was conducted by a very nice lady named Myriam. Again, you never know if a journalist will interpret what you say correctly or if you’ll be misquoted or not. Well, I’m very pleased with the result. The whole team did a fantastic job. I had totally forgotten that I had said the following quote: "I wanted to create an ambiance where Peter Sellers in the film The Party would feel right at home."

When she asked what attracted me to the Mod lifestyle, I simply answered that aside from the music and the cool clothes, I was always fascinated by the fact that Mods were essentially rebels that blended effortlessly into society.

Oups! I guess the secret is out now...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Search for Rare Soul in Allentown, Pennsylvania: Day 2

Just in case Day 1 wasn’t overwhelming enough, we got up bright and early to attack the Allentown record fair with a vengeance. What awaited us was 9000 square feet packed with only 45s. It’s the biggest convention of its kind in North America. I’m not a big coffee drinker but I exceptionally had one that morning just for the extra boost I needed to face such a daunting task.

We got in line for the early bird entrance and got to chat with a nice man who has been a regular for years. His recollection of the past years only got us more amped. This is it! This is why we drove 7 hours for!

Whoa! What a sight! Where to begin? Mayday! Mayday! Sensory overload! Without being over dramatic, it's a bit intimidating at first to walk into the place. But like any true crate digger, you take a deep breath, roll up your sleeves and dive in. The trick is not to buy the first thing you come accross. I had to be selective or I would have blown my budget in the first five minutes.

I was very happy to see that, just like the previous night, the vast majority of what was for sale was music by black artists. Soul was the main style represented with Doo-Wop or “groups”, as many dealers advertised it, coming in at a close second. For all you Garage and Psychedelic fans out there, do not despair, there was enough to keep you busy for hours. Since I had limited funds and only a few hours to go through countless records, I focused my digging efforts around Soul 45s that would find a home in my DJ box.

One thing needs to be explained to me. If you're going to pay extra for the early bird entrance, how come half the dealers aren't open or have sheets over their merchandise? Feels like a ripe-off to me! 

Since I'm on the complaint bandwagon, let me address another problem. Where do these dealers get their prices from? Record convention shouldn't equal retail + 20%. The prices were insane! Some dealers weren't even open to negotiations. Some stalls had 50% off boxes which amounted to retail price. I'm starting to think that eBay remains one the best places to buy records. And for all you dealers out there, if a record has a "buy it now" price of $250 on eBay, it doesn't mean that's what it's worth.

That being said, I did manage to cross off a few records off my wish list for a fair price. Two Northern Soul classics were added to my collection: Chuck Wood's Seven Days Is Too Long and Bonnie & Lee's The Way I Feel About You. These are the type of songs that you hardly get tired of and that gets a dance floor going every time. 

The others I picked up were new to me. This is the best kind of find. You buy something that you stumble upon and that you never knew you really wanted. Some acts I was familiar with, like The Exciters and The Ohio Players, but my handy Soundburger made me discover some new tunes.

Will this become an annual pilgrimage? Probably not. The prices are too high for my taste and everything I found can be bought at a click of a mouse. Do I regret going? Not at all. This was a record buying experience I will not soon forget.

This dealer from Virginia is probably the funniest and nicest dealer I've met in a while. Here he is enjoying Montreal's Papa Bill Records.

I can't guarantee that this will become a regular occurrence but here's the second installment of the Parka Avenue Podcast. All the selections come from what I brought back from Allentown. The last two tracks are some of Papa Bill's favorite purchases.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Search for Rare Soul in Allentown, Pennsylvania: Day 1

I had only heard of the Allentown, Pennsylvania Record Fair once before. It’s dedicated exclusively to the sale of 45rpm records, with the odd 78 thrown in there. Although it’s one of the biggest of its kind on the continent, it doesn’t have any real website promoting it. Its reputation is due mainly to word of mouth. Held twice a year for the past 27 years, it’s the domain of the diehard collector and the seasoned DJ with some serious disposable income. This is why you see so many Brits and Japanese roaming around.

My partner in crime, DJ Papa Bill, a fellow collector/dealer named Nick and I decided to make the 7 hour journey into the heart of Pennsylvania to go see what the fuss was all about. Nothing had prepared us for what was going to be a very intense 48 hours.

We left very early on Friday morning so that we could stop along the way to do some record digging. Our only stop was in the little college town of New Paultz, New York. 

On the main street, there were 2 record shops that we wanted to investigate. First was Rhino Records. It had a decent collection of LPs but no 45 section that was worth our while. A lot of the albums were reissues so we quickly moved on.

Across the street was Jack's Rythms. Again, the 45 section was practically non-existent but Nick managed to buy 2 albums that were reasonably priced.

A small antique store/vintage clothing shop a few doors down had caught my attention. So instead of going through row of common albums, I tried my luck at the antique store. I ended up leaving New Paultz with a fantastic vintage green slim tie instead of some wax.

We arrived in Allentown around 3pm. After setting up in our cheap motel, we set out to find some dealers. We heard that some vendors arrive and set up in motel rooms a week before the convention starts to do some wheeling and dealing. After contacting the organizers, the rumor was confirmed. The motel in question was just a few blocks away. When we touched base, it was a sight to behold.

People were gathering in the parking lot, portable turntable in hand, around opened car trunks. Everyone had one purpose in mind, finding a gem that was overlooked by the others. What was encouraging was that the majority of the 45s being sold were sweet Soul. A YouTube celebrity was even in attendance! Ben recognized the one and only Osaka Twist and Shout and went to talk to him!


My first experience of trunk digging wasn't very fruitful. After almost an hour, all I managed to come up with were 2 measly records. This is my favorite of the two. I discovered Chet "Poison" Ivey a few months back on a great compilation and I was happy to add Shake A Poo Poo to my collection. The rest of the records that were for sale were, do I dare say it, poo poo.


It was time to move to the rooms. Well... I didn't get to visit many because the one I ended up in had everything I hoped for. This one dealer from Cincinnati had bought the entire content of a defunct record shop. He purchased an impressive 150 000 records and the ones in front of me, most of them Soul records, were all new old stock. The prices were very attractive but there was a catch. You had to buy multiple copies of every record. For the 45s listed under 5$, you had to buy 3 copies and the ones that were 6$ and up, you needed to buy 2. The seller wasn't open to any negotiations. Buying a single copy wasn't even up for discussion. I have nothing against dealers that are there to make money. No shame in that. Just don't start bragging that you got the collection for dirt cheap (I'll leave out the actual figure) and that you already tripled your initial investment, just as you are about to make a big purchase.

Buying multiple copies isn't very practical when you are not a record shop owner or an eBay seller. Luckily, I was travelling with my DJ friend that happens to share very similar taste in Soul music. This is when Ben and I sat down with my trusty Soundburger and spent a couple of hours going through every single wholesale box and listening to everything that looked remotely interesting. When do you get the chance of buying a stack of 60s Soul 45s that have never been played before? The opportunity was too good to let slip by. If we both started bobbing our heads to a track, it went in the "buy" pile.

I ended up with such great stuff, a few of them that were on my extended wish list Monkey See - Monkey Do by The Five Du Tones and You Got Soul by Bill Johnson were amongst them. I can't believe I got pristine copies too! The only downside to this whole ordeal is that Ben and I will have to fight over who gets to spin some of them when we DJ together. 

So instead of posting YouTube videos like I usually do, I decided it was time that Parka Avenue ventured in the podcasting universe. So here you have it Soul lovers, the first official Parka Avenue  Podcast on Mixcloud.

This selection is from most of the records that I bought on that first day. Enjoy. In  the meantime, feast your eyes on those great looking 60s record labels!