What Is Mod Music?

modWhen I run through some of the bands that mean a lot to me – The Jam/Paul Weller, the whole Britpop thing, 60s soul and funk – I realise that many of them slot into the “mod” category. But what is mod music? Even when I listen to some of my favourite podcasts – like Mr. Suave’s Mod Mod World – or check out sites like Punks In Parkas, I hear lots of music that doesn’t fall into my standard definition of mod, but obviously are mod enough for these curators to bring them into the fold. And they are songs I love. So, again, what is mod music? And am I a mod?!

I understand that the mod subculture first emerged in London in the late 1950s and peaked in the early to mid-1960s. At that point, according to Wikipedia, “…Significant elements of the mod subculture include fashion (often tailor-made suits); music, including African-American soul, Jamaican ska, British beat music and R&B; and motor scooters. The original mod scene was also associated with speed-fuelled all-night dancing at clubs.From the mid-to-late 1960s and onwards, the mass media often used the term mod in a wider sense to describe anything that was believed to be popular, fashionable, or modern.”

It’s that last sentence that I find most interesting: anything that was believed to be popular, fashionable, or modern. When the mod-revival kicked in around the late 70s with bands like The Jam and, indeed, a fair chunk of the whole new wave scene, I guess it was a “modern” and new take on what had been happening, but why wasn’t punk more embraced at the time? And while scooters came back in, despite the fact it was bringing back something from the past, it was a “new” phenomena. Everything old is new again I guess.

Another point from Wikipedia, from graphic design experts Paul Jobling and David Crowley, is that the concept of mod can be difficult to pin down, because throughout the subculture’s original era, it was “prone to continuous reinvention”. So now we are getting somewhere: mod is about what is popular, fashionable, or indeed modern, but also something that is continually evolving. And if continuous evolution means being open to embracing elements of the past as well as invention of the new, then suddenly mod starts to be a pretty broad concept – and one that makes me feel more and more at home.

The other day I posted a track from British band The Spitfires, with their new track Tell Me – that sounds as mod as anything I feel in love with in 1979, and I’m discovering more and more tracks like this at the moment that truly seem to reflect a modern mod approach to music!

I like labels that are broad enough to encompass lots of attitudes and approaches, and while the original mods were seen as a subculture, the current definition of mod takes in a vast cross section of society. It’s an appreciation for the past (retro is as cool as ever), a strong sense of style, and a desire for “continuous reinvention”. That sounds like a label worth embracing.

One Comment on “What Is Mod Music?

  1. For me “Mod” (skinny suits aside) is all about the vocal style.

    Musically, ‘Tell Me’ by The Spitfires isn’t too far removed from the Clash track ‘Remote Control’ – but it is sung very, very differently. I think of Mod vocals as more Art School-ish, silver-spoon-y (affected or not) while punk – particulary the pre-Sex Pistols-cartoon stuff – is more council estate-y, market-‘barrow-ish (affected or not).

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