Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mod For Sale

Yes, Mod culture has reached that level again when it's part of the collective consciousness. When advertisers start showing Mods to sell you stuff, you know that the scene is emerging from the shadows of the subculture underworld. Not too long ago, social media went ablaze when a commercial from a UK based insurance company started circulating, depicting a Mod couple. The Mod Male blog wrote a great post about it.

The debate was on. Do we want Mod exposed to the masses? Some make compelling arguments that we shouldn't. Many believe that once advertisers put their hands on a movement, it is doomed to suffer a slow death. I can see why some people feel that way.

At each of the movement's reincarnations, Mod imagery has been used to boost profits. It doesn't take a PHD in Wellerism to understand why. Mod = cool and cool sells. The concept is not new. Since the mid-sixties, when Swinging London took over the world, Mod became a commodity. That's when some of the die-hard Mods simply jumped ship. It had lost its appeal and the cool factor had evaporated. I think that's a valid point.

Non-smoking ad campaign seen in many youth magazines in the 60s.
Things in the 21st century haven't changed much, now that Mod has resurfaced. Clothing, beauty products and fashion accessories are obvious products to be branded with the Mod seal.

The 2013 Mad For Mod campaign for Banana Republic
Avon perfume

This brings me to Parka Avenue's foray into the advertising world. Yes, I have sold my Soul to the corporate gods! Before you crucify me in the town square, let me put you in context. I was asked, a few months back, to be part of an ad campaign for the new MasterCard World credit card. Six different individuals would be depicted, one each week, surrounded by their favorite things. I was going to be the first.

I wasn't chosen because I was going to play a part in a commercial. I am not an actor. In fact, if they wanted to chose a generic model to portray a Mod, they would have chosen a much better looking guy than this old mug. I was picked because they wanted "me". And what they found fascinating is that I am a Mod. What I liked about the concept is that it was to be presented more as a newspaper article / interview than an ad. The title (translated from the French) reads: Patrick Foisy - A real modern "Mod".

Subscribers to the online version of Montreal's daily newspaper La Presse, would also get additional content, like a video of me touring my loft and have access to a list of my favorite addresses in the city. 

I was very protective of my image. I made it very clear that they had to take me as I am. I didn't want it to turn into a corporation's vision of what Mod is. Fortunately, I was surrounded by an extremely professional team. The client, Banque Nationale, was also very supportive. The whole experience was entirely positive. In fact, when you have a team of sixteen talented individuals tending to you, it's hard the keep your ego in check. I felt like a Rock star!

When they said that I was going to work with a stylist, I was hesitant at first. A Mod doesn't need a stylist! A Mod IS a stylist! Do they really think that they're going to tell ME how to dress? They can introduce him to me but it would just be a waste of time and money. Once I got over myself, I met with Jay. What a great team we made! To be honest, I was looking forward to have a different perspective on my wardrobe.

He came out with very pertinent suggestions and I ended up being very grateful he was there. The connection was natural. We are both passionate about clothes. He also made me the best compliment I could hope for: "Pat, you're one of the rare ones I don't need to go shop for. You have everything and you know exactly what you want.You make my job real easy." We finally settled for my Gibson stripped boating blazer, a 60s pin-through club collar shirt with subtle blue stripes and French cuffs, a marine vintage knitted tie, red and blue paisley silk handkerchief, flannel grey trousers and black Loake chelsea boots.

Next was make-up. The make-up artist was also very sweet and wasn't looking to transform me into something I am not. She had been involved in the Burlesque / Rockabilly scene herself so she was already schooled on what Mod was.

No black eye-liner for me.
So there I stood, in the middle of my favorite things. They packed half of my loft into a van but they obviously had to make a selection. My '65 Lambretta TV175 series 3 was going to be centre stage. Everything else had a portable theme to it. Everything you need for the Mod on the go: portable bar, portable turntable, hand held AM radios and plenty of 45s. They even asked if we could use my vintage parking meter to pair it up with the scooter.

Three series of shots were taken. The first was of me casually sitting on my Lammy with my elbow resting on my helmet. The second was the one picked for the ad and the last one was, in my mind, a real contender. I was at the helm of my scooter with an industrial fan blowing in my face. I looked like I was doing 150 km/h! They even had fishing wire going through my tie with a production assistant waving it around at the end of a pole. 

The team discussing the final shot.
I was very happy with the final result. You might not approve of the way the Mod movement is being exposed to the masses but I have absolutely no regrets. You might even think that my choice of wardrobe or the objects represented are not indicative of what a Mod is. Frankly, I don't care. And let's be honest, Mods are relentless consumers. We like the finer things in life. I figured that if a Mod was going to be exhibited in an ad, I would rather it would be from a  real dedicated Mod that lives and breathes it everyday. And that's exactly what you have in front of you. You'll have to give me "credit" for that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mod On The Road: I Left My Soul In Washington, DC

Who would have thought that a Latin American restaurant named Haydee's would be the place to go to dance to some steamy 60s Soul, gritty RnB and hot early Reggae in the Nation's capital? I'm always amazed that the most unlikely of places can pack a dance floor and bring a lively crowd into a frenzy. That's what the monthly TNT night will do to you.

And it's not like the place is in the middle of a busy neighbourhood bustling with activity, tourist attractions, other bars and restaurants. Somehow, my mates Michael and Manolo, turned this corner restaurant into one of the most exciting places I ever had the pleasure of spinning. 

Not only is the crowd sizzling and fiery but the food is too! I regretted having had a bite to eat before showing up to DJ because the menu was so tantalizing. "Don't worry Patrick" said Manolo, "we all grab some food at the end of night. You can have anything you want. It's on us." He didn't have to tell me twice! This is the only place where I got to DJ to a wonderful and receptive crowd and eat a mouth watering chicken quesadillas at the same time. And don't get me started on the sangria!

I also had the pleasure to share the decks with Alyssa aka Baby Alcatraz. She sure knows how to keep feet moving! I found that we had quite similar musical tastes. In fact, there were a few tunes I had to strike from my own set because she beat me to the punch!

This goes for my host Manolo too! His early reggae, ska and boogaloo set was a welcomed change of pace.

Manolo doing his thing.

I'm still baffled at how you can play a complete set of your rarest grooves to a packed place where  there's Friends playing on a giant screen, the Christmas tree is still up but the crowd is there to party.

I also had the distinct pleasure to meet my mate David, a long time reader of this very blog. We had  been corresponding for a while and it was great to finally put a face to a name. If any of you ever wonder why I write this blog. This is it. I get to meet some classy, friendly people because of it.

I wish there was a secret formula to how to make a 60s night successful. If there is, Michael and Manolo have found it. If they will have me again, I won't hesitate a second to jump in my car and make the 10 hour drive all over.

For a sample of my set, click here for Episode 15 of the Parka Avenue Podcast.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Mod's shopping guide to Baltimore

In part I, you heard all about my first impressions of Baltimore and the wonderful night I had the pleasure of DJing. Although I only had a few hours before my departure for Washington, I packed has much browsing and shopping I could muster. But that was cut short because of an unexpected surprise.

The few hours of rest I had wasn't going to stop me from exploring the hip neighbourhood of Hampden  before hitting the road to go to DC. Rob, my DJ partner the previous night, was kind enough to let me use his spare bedroom. The great thing about staying with a Baltimore native is that he knows the best spots. Rob and his lovely girlfriend Sommer brought me to the Golden West Cafe, only a few blocks away from Rob's pad. 

Nothing prepares you to take on the day like a hearty and spicy Mexican brunch. The picante Bloody Mary has the reputation to be the perfect hangover cure.

On the way there we passed in front of the Cafe Hon.  A couple of years ago it was featured in Gordon Ramsey's television show, Kitchen Nightmares. Inside, I saw a table full of ladies dressed in late 50s, early 60s garments with big bouffants that would make Marge Simpson jealous. I was later schooled on Baltimore's unique Hon culture. Hon, from the abbreviation "honey", is a term of endearment often used by women dressed in brightly coloured dresses, impressive beehives and vintages glasses. 

After a copious meal, Rob brought me to Avenue Antiques where an impressive 60 dealers are spread over 3 stories. 

I managed to find a nice golden vintage tie for 8$. As I was going to pay, I cross paths with the Hons. Bobbie Jo approached me and struck up a conversation: "Hey hon, I love what you wear! Very sixties!" After some friendly banter, I learned that these lovely ladies were there to shoot a reality TV show that should air next season on Bravo. It made sense as I had seen some equipment and lighting spread across the first floor.

Bobbie Jo struttin' around
I eventually chatted with the director and he asked me if I wanted to be part of the next scene. What? Me? In front of a camera? Since when do I crave that type of attention? In all seriousness, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. They needed someone that was there to buy records. Again, am I ever wanting to buy records?

So here I am signing a contract and getting ready to shoot my scene. Reality TV is real to an extent. You don't follow a script but the story has a direction and you need to follow certain guidelines. I'm not going to reveal any secrets but I can tell you that you might see me play myself, a Mod DJ from out-of-town looking for some rare Soul 45s.

Surrounded by Hons!
As fun as that was and as charming as the Hons were, that cut a bit in my shopping time. So dear readers, you'll have to excuse me for not reviewing as many records shops as I would have liked. The rest of The Avenue is worth exploring. You'll find plenty of antique shops that sell everything under the sun, from kitsch salt & pepper shakers to mid-century furniture.

Collectibles o' plenty at Hampden Junque.

For larger items, stop in at David's On The Avenue.

So the only record shop I could squeeze in before heading over to DC was El Suprimo Records. It was suggested to me that it was one of the top places to go digging. Like many record shops across the nation, the owners are sometimes hard to approach. This time, I seemed to be interrupting him while he was working on an old radio receiver. Once I used my French Canadian charm on him, he seemed to warm up a little.

I went through all of the "rare" stuff behind the counter and unfortunately didn't strike gold. I managed to put my hands on a 45 record box (always need those!) and this little instrumental number. Not bad for 1$.

Like all record shops, it pays to go on a regular basis and I'm sure El Suprimo is no exception. You win some, you lose some. Luckily, my girl DJ Amanda Otto had brought a bin full of 45s the previous night and I bought a small stack of records I picked without listening to them. I was happy when I got to listen to this incredible screamer by Youngblood Smith. Thanks Amanda!

Next stop, Washington, DC for the TNT night. I have a feeling this is going to be a bang!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mod On The Road: I Want More of Baltimore

Ask me to come and DJ in your city and chances are that I'll jump in my car and drive 10 hours to come and party with you. When the opportunity presented itself to spin some wax in Baltimore and Washington, DC in the same weekend, I responded with a resounding and enthousiastic "Yes!".

I had never set foot in Charm City before and I saw right away where the nickname came from. I was telling my welcoming host Rachel about my first impressions and how I liked the turn of the century architecture, the charming row houses and the industrial feel of the city. She said that her city reminded her of Brooklyn. "While it is certainly NOT Brooklyn (in fact, there's hardly a comparison to be made), we are getting a little taste of it here and there. New bars and restaurants are kind of channeling Brooklyn. But hey, everyone has to start somewhere, right? Our own little cultural renaissance isn't going to happen overnight..." I can see why she would say that.

My lovely host Rachel - photo by George Skepton

This one night only event  was held at Gallery 788 in the burgeoning neighbourhood of Hampden. It's situated at 3602 Hickory Ave, right off 36th (also dubbed "The Avenue"). Rachel had quite appropriately called the night, The Thaw - 100% Vinyl 60s Dance Party. What better way than to thaw out from the grizzly winter season and flee the snow banks of chilly Montreal than to drive 10 hours due South.

Aside from the other talented DJs that I had the honour of sharing the decks with, we were surrounded by  art from up and coming local artists. But that's not all! The space also featured a pop-up showcase of mid-century inspired furniture brought to you by the good folks who put on FURNmob. You needn’t be a design aficionado to appreciate the slick lines and smooth designs of these amazing pieces.

The hard life of a Mod DJ. And the furniture was confortable too! Photo by George Skepton
A little over a hundred attended and the wooden dance floor was flooded (no pun intended) with eager dancers. The last time I had shared the turntables with DJ Amanda Otto was a couple of years back at MODchicago. Aside from being a real sweetheart, she's known for spinning some of the best trippy, psychedelic and far-out tracks you have ever heard.

Photos by George Skepton
I had never met DJ Rob J. before and I have a feeling that this won't be the last time we will play 45s side by side. His musical taste is impeccable and his choice of tracks were right up my alley. I also had the pleasure to meet Rob Macy from the popular Save Your Soul monthly extravaganza. Jake Starr, frontman for local band Jake Starr and The Delicious Fulness was also in attendance, keeping the party going.

The suave and stylish Rob J. Photo by George Skepton

When I embarked on this 903 km road trip, I had no idea what to expect.  The night surpassed all my expectations and I would do it again in heartbeat. But that didn't prepare me for what was going to happen the next day...

Part 2, to be published very soon.

For a small sample of the tunes that were played on that night, have a listen to Episode 14 of The Parka Avenue Podcast right here.

A huge thank you to all my wonderful hosts for having me over and a special thank you to George Skepton for providing the photos.