Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Spending a Weekend With Warren Peace, The Man Behind The We Are The Mods Empire – Part I

DJ Warren Peace. I couldn't think of a more polarizing figure to have hit the Mod Scene in the last few years. To say that he's controversial might be an understatement. The host of the very popular We Are The Mods radio show thrives on conflict and will challenge you to a debate at the drop of a pork pie hat. His on air persona is loud and in your “Face”. He pushes buttons and doesn't back down from a fight. He's not satisfied with the current Status Quo of the Mod world and he's here to rattle a few cages.

Some love him, some despise him, some of us respect him but one thing is certain, a LOT of people listen to his radio show. Our styles of tackling the issues may differ radically but I think we might be more alike than different. Maybe it's because we are both so passionate about this Mod thing we have been involved in for such a long time.

The thing is, I get him. I know why he does what he does. I'm able to read between the lines and go past the surface. We actually share a lot of the same core principles.

- The Mod movement is now an international phenomena. You don't have to be British to be a Mod.

- Everyone has it's own vision of what Mod is. Let's stop being so critical of each other and embrace our differences. Through this blog, I've always tried to inspire people instead of preaching to them.

- The Mod movement has always had its roots in youth culture. Us aging Mods should welcome the next generation with open arms instead of thumbing our noses at them. We should be accepting of them breathing new life into the movement.

- Style over fashion. If there's one thing I've been desperately trying to do in the last 3 years with this blog is to show people that you should forge your own style and stop being a slave to the so called Mod labels. That doesn't mean you shouldn't wear a Fred Perry or a Ben Sherman. Just don't feel like you have too. Be creative, be bold and don't be afraid to push the envelope.

- Mods should be held to a higher standard. When it comes down to the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, our mode of transportation or the way we decorate our flats, we should always look for the best of what we can afford. Being a Mod shouldn't be easy.

- Being a Mod is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week commitment. You are a Mod or you're not. There's no such thing as a part-time Mod. This does not mean you shouldn't be open to other styles of music. Plus, you're not required to cook, play tennis or garden in a 3-button suit and you don't have to sleep in Union Jack bed sheets every night.

- Stop hiding behind a computer screen and get involved in your local Mod scene. Go to a concert, invade a dance floor, organize a scooter ride, be seen, be proud!

We have another thing in common. We have the courage (or we're simply idiots , depending on who you ask) to speak out and put our ideas out there. Right or wrong, at least we try. Like my compadre, I like being pro-active instead of being on the sidelines complaining. I've failed more times then I've succeeded but you have to give us credit for attempting to do things, even if it ruffles a few feathers along the way. This is the essence of what “keeping the faith” means.

Now, this doesn't mean I subscribe to everything Mr Peace says. In fact, I strongly disagree with some of his views. But they're mainly secondary issues and they don't deter from the fact that I respect the man and really enjoy his show. Take these following points as examples.

- We don't see eye to eye on one fundamental aspect. I don't share his basic definition of what Modernism is. In my view, Modernism, when it relates to Mod culture, doesn't directly refer to Modern / New / Now. Historically, Modernists were fans of Modern Jazz. They wanted to separate themselves form the Traditional Jazz enthusiast. Of course, Modern Jazz was the hip new thing but I don't think we should take it as literally as the name suggest. What has always superseded the “modern” aspect of the movement is the search for cool. For me, cool is what came out of the 60s. Today, what seems to be trendy is 60s inspired or came from the classic mid-century “modern” look. Yes, this blog is called “Parka Avenue – Living as a Mod in 21st Century” but you won't see me ridding a 2013 Vespa anytime soon.

- Along the same lines, as a DJ, vinyl is my preferred medium of choice. Warren, on the other hand, embraces the era of the MP3. You'll probably never see me DJ using my iPod, CDs or my computer. I won't rehash the old argument of the sound quality of records over the digital format. That's been done. Quite frankly, sometimes when using a poor sound system, you're better off with MP3s, even if the music has been compressed to death. My point is, if you're a Soul or Mod DJ and you use anything but 45s, you won't be taken seriously by your peers. It might be fine for your local pub but you'll never be invited to an international event.

Being a DJ on the Mod scene, like any other aspect of Mod, you have to be totally dedicated. You have to put as much effort into finding great records as you would buying your clothes or finding a vintage scooter. The Ace Face is the one that rides the Vespa GS, wears the bespoke mohair suit and has the best records. He's not the one that goes for the cheap suit from Merc, rides a twist & go and downloads his music from the Internet. The problem is, nowadays, every kid off the street calls himself a DJ. Give him an Internet connection and there you go! Poof! I'm a Mod DJ! There's more to it then that. Collecting original 45s takes time, effort, patience, a good ear and above all, passion.

You can't build a good record collection over night. It just doesn't happen. It's an endless pursuit to find the 7” masterpiece that nobody has ever heard of and will make a dance floor go wild. It's also rediscovering a lost classic that has been forgotten to the hands of time. It's not uncommon that I'll play stuff that hasn't been on a compilation or can't be found on YouTube. How else would you know about this group from a small city like Reading, Pennsylvania if it wasn't for that small piece of plastic you hold in your hands?

So vinyl trumps MP3s, unless you're jogging, in your car or walking the dog. Warren often makes the argument that he can carry 10 000 songs on his iPhone. So why would you go to all the trouble of carrying boxes of records? For the same reason I would't ride a plastic Japanese scooter. It's not all about convenience. Yes, I could technically wear a tank top to a Northern Soul allnighter like those Soul Boys and avoid dying from heat exhaustion. No, I wear my bespoke suit proudly and make sure that I'm dancing directly under a fan. 

Now this doesn't mean that I won't listen to any new band. They don't need to have released their album on vinyl for me to enjoy them. One thing is certain, if they're in town, you can bet I'll go see them live.

- Finally, Warren thinks that watches are obsolete. What? When I heard him say that on the Punks in Parkas radio show, I gasped. Not part of the Modern Age? According to my friend Warren, everybody owns a cell and has no need for a timepiece. To a watch fanatic like me, this is an outrage! For one, believe it or not, I don't own a cell.

I think he has simply missed the point on that one. A watch is not just a functional tool, it's one of the only acceptable pieces of jewellery a man can wear proudly. To many it's a status symbol. To others, it's considered a piece of art. The same goes for the ticket pocket on a suit jacket. When was the last time you actually put a ticket in there? It doesn't really serve a purpose but it sure looks good. The same goes for tie pins, cufflinks or a chrome NOS Vigano bumper on your Lambretta SX200. They're accessories, nothing else. When I think of the “attention to detail” credo, this is what I have in mind.

Oh... Wait just a second. I get it. Man he's good! I actually fell for his antics. He got me all riled up over a stupid watch! A watch of all things! That was masterfully played sir! Bravo! I bow down to the master. But now, you've been exposed! Right here on Parka Avenue! This is all part of your masterful plan to get us fired up about all things Mod. I see it now. *standing ovation*

Aside from of couple of appearances on his radio show, Warren and I have been exchanging emails and a few pleasantries on Facebook for a while now. I was honoured when I got the official title of We Are The Mods Musical Consultant a few months ago. As he puts it, it's his way of acknowledging the fact that he steals music from my blog or my Mixcloud podcast.

So we thought it would be a good idea to finally meet in person. At first, I suggested meeting up in New York since I was approached about doing a DJ gig in the Big Apple. Unfortunately that fell through. So I invited him to my hometown of Montreal and he gracefully accepted.

We all know that behind every great man is a great woman. In this case it couldn't be more true. Our very own Canadian sweetheart, DJ Penny Lane was going to fly in from Winnipeg to join us. I was finally going to meet two Mod radio heavy hitters, right here on my home turf. I had a whole list of activities and surprises planed and I was ready to roll out the red carpet for my two VIP guests.

DJ Penny Lane and I, admiring the Montreal skyline

I had no worries about meeting Penny. Everybody knows she's a darling. Warren, on the other hand, I had different expectations. I was looking forward to meeting the man, not the personality behind the microphone. We all know that first impressions are key and I had a feeling that the first 10 seconds were going to determine the tone of the weekend to come.

I was waiting, all suited up of course, in the lobby of the St-Paul boutique hotel in Old Montreal for them to walk out of the elevator. (Wow, they really chose one of the best looking hotels in the city. I can already confirm that they travel in style and have great taste!)

What was the first 10 seconds like? A strong hug, huge smiles and thundering laughter. What was the first words that came out of Warren's month? “I'm finally meeting the legend!” Damn you Warren! You stole my line!

I could tell right away, this was going to be a memorable weekend...

Warren Peace posing with my wife Nikki
Don't miss part 2! You'll get all the behind the scenes banter, the gossip and the chit-chat. And I promise a shocking revelation about the one and only DJ Warren Peace that will make your jaw drop!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Digging for Soul Records in Philadelphia

Philly is one of those cities, like New York, Detroit, Memphis and New Orleans that had a thriving Soul scene in the 60s. Some great Soul tracks came out on homegrown record labels like Arctic, Gamble and Philly Groove. They were all responsible in forging what is now known as the "Philly Sound". Hell, the city even inspired dances like the Philly Dog, the Philly Barracuda and the Philly Jerk!

Philly native, Jerry Ragovoy was an influential record producer, songwriter and arranger. He was best-known for writing Time Is On My Side made popular by the Rolling Stones. He was a power house when it came to the East Coast Soul scene of the 60s, working with artists like Howard Tate, Garnett Mimms and Erma Franklin.

To me, his best song is one of my all-time favorite dance floor scorchers, the underrated Ain't That Terrible performed by Roy Edmond. I NEVER get tired of spinning that one!

So my hopes were high when I planned on doing some serious record diggin' in the City of Brotherly Love. I did a quick search on the Internet to see if there were record shops that were worth visiting on our way there.

About an hour West of Philadelphia is The Record Connection in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. On their website, they mention having over 60 000 45s for sale. I had to go see for myself.

I'm sure glad I did because that was the spot where I found the most records during the whole trip. I can vouch for the place. It does have an impressive amount of records.

If you're looking for some rare grooves, always check the display case.

I probably needed more then an hour to go through the 2$ to 4$ section.

Nonetheless, I'm happy with the handful of rarities I left with. Take this little up-tempo number for example. It was recorded in Reading, Pennsylvania, just a 30 minute drive from the record shop.

The city of Philadelphia has a fair amount of record shops but it wasn't the gold mine I was expecting. My personal favorite has to be Molly's Books & Records. For one, it's in the middle of the 9th Street Italian Market and that's a destination in itself. The owners are very nice, welcoming and will make your record hunting a pleasant experience. Joe is one of us. He's a collector too!

The find of the trip was made in this small and unassuming place. I got an ultra clean copy of I Don't Want to Lose You by The Charades for a decent price.

If all that record diggin' gets you hungry, then you're not to far from the birthplace of the Philly Cheesesteak. And with a name like Pat's King of Steaks, really, how can you go wrong? It's like that place was made for me!

In a 5 mile radius you can find all the following record shops. Unless you're into 80s Punk or alternative/indie stuff, you might want to skip these places. I didn't even drop a dime in any of them.

Beautiful World Syndicate would probably be the last name I would pick for a record shop but who am I to judge? Name of the shop aside, the place has slim pickings. Unless you want to hear some blaring hardcore punk and meet the half-awake, aloof young kid with an attitude who opened the shop 30 minutes late, you might want to skip this one.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Repo Records, on South Street, needs to repo a better selection because I didn't manage to find a single 45 there. Maybe they should spend more time looking after their inventory instead of drinking beer on the job. (Yes they were!)

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can find gems in these places. Not this time!
Fancy some obscure 80s punk? A Jam album is missing from your collection? You might want to try Long In the Tooth.

A short drive away from the downtown core are two shops, not too far from each other, that are worth checking out. First is the Milkcrate Cafe. This place has the best of both worlds, tasty food and a good selection of records.

Hard to resist a joint that serves an Ike & Tina Tuna sandwich

45 record boxes are a great place to store your sugar
It's the ideal spot to bring the girlfriend. She can grab a book with a hot cup of joe while you go browsing for some wax in the basement. I didn't leave with much but it was certainly the type of place where I would like to hang out.

Last stop is the Philadelphia Record Exchange. If you're looking for your classic 60s Soul hits on 45 at rock bottom prices, then do not pass Go, do not collect 200 and head directly to the Exchange. I left with some James Brown, The Capitols and few others for next to nothing.

Itching for some Sweet Soul music? I suggest you have a listen at the latest Parka Avenue Podcast on Mixcloud. You'll  find some of my Philly finds and a selection of what I dug up during the summer.