Mod Mock Goth

The following is a draft version. If anybody has any additional information to improve this piece, pass it along! :-)

I’m not the only person who has noticed a cultural link, even similarities between the Goth and Mod subcultures. There’s not a lot of evidence to support a conclusive and direct link, but there are enough Goths who become Mods (this has even been noted in literature, albeit of a humorous nature, in Field Guide to the Urban Hipster) and enough Mods and Mod-friendly bands and musos who entertain “darker” themes in music, clothing, aesthetic, and interests to at least suggest a clear alliance between the two subcultures.

Origins of the Link:
This is hard to pinpoint. If the commonly-assumed origin of Mods as originating as a sort of UK interpretation of the US Beats (certainly a reasonable assumption, considering the shared love of Modern Jazz, Sartre, and coffee bars), there is no shortage of darkly-themed material to build a link from. Looking at the Ready! Steady! Go! wave of Mod’s first generation, it’s easy to pick out songs by The Who (“Boris the Spider”), The Rolling Stones (“Paint It Black”), The Animals (“House of the Rising Sun”) and even more widely commercial groups, including The Beatles (“Eleanor Rigby”) that entertain dark or melancholy themes or even a sort of black humour. Returning to the Beats, Stateside The Doors clearly were more of a Beat band than Hippies (Jim Morrisson fancied himself among the Beat poets he idolised and thought the Flower Power thing was a bit of a joke), as were The velvet Underground, and Nico’s second album, The Marble Index, has been described by some as possibly the first Gothic rock record —complete with a black-haired Nico on the cover, minimal make-up and eyes done vaguely resembling the famous lashes of Twiggy. While Nico, The Velvet Underground, and The Doors were less clearly associated with the then-waning Mod scene in the UK, but it’s hard to imagine that that those who did or formerly-identified themselves as Mods, especially those who clearly were smartly-dressed, evolved forms of Beatniks, would have been unfamiliar with these musicians and their work.

It Came From the Garage!
There was certainly a period where the Mod subculture, suffering media burnout, waned considerably, factioned, and re-invented itself. At first the factions were Dandies and Hard Mods, and the former begat Glam Rock and UK psychedelics while the latter begat Soul boys, Skinheads and Suedes. Hard Mods tended to stick with soul music and eventually embraced Ska, Bluebeat, and (according to some sources) Funk and the more “rock-oriented” Glam Rock such as Slade and Sweet. Dandies and the subcultures that grew from them, were a bit more open-minded, musically, and embraced “freakbeat”, US Garage, psychedelic music, and the more pop and poetic school of Glam that included David Bowie and Marc Bolan —from the Dandy faction, we can see a clearer genealogy to the Goth subculture.

Australian Swamp: The Missing Link?
I don’t know if I’m being presumptuous here, but in the last couple years, I’ve been fascinated and almost desperate to learn more about a unique Australian subculture known as the Swampies. I was introduced to the idea of this subculture by one of my best friends, a young woman from Brisbane, QLD, who described the Swampie scene as sort of a proto-Goth, similar to US Deathrock.

The Deathrock scene is typically traced to California, especially Los Angeles, and the 1978-81 hardcore punk scene. Don Bolles, The Germs’ longest-held drummer, formed 45 Grave. Rikk Agnew, formerly of Social Distortion and The Adolescents, soon became one of the founding members of Christian Death. These are just the most famous examples. On the other hand, it’s also easily arguable that UK bands like Rubella Ballet, originally an anarcho-punk band, formed a simultaneous UK Deathrock scene, or at least influenced the eventual emergence of a New York Deathrock scene on the East Coast.

Looking at some of the bands that I’ve since learned were considered essential to the Swampie scene (which, at one time in 1980s Australia, was considered clearly separate from Goth) have a more-clearly Mod and Garage-influenced history. The Scientists started life as a Power Pop band. “Last Night”, an original song from The Scientists’ early years, is something of a staple on Power Pop collections, and the earliest photos of the band include “mop top” haircuts.

The Boys Next Door, Nick Cave’s first band that would later absorb Rowland S Howard into their personnel and after a single album become The Birthday Party, was little more than a Power Pop and Garage Rock cover band until Howard joined. After The Boys Next Door morphed into The Birthday Party, the garage/proto-punk elements remained, but became rawer, and went deeper into the roots of Garage and Rhythm & Blues, pulling in influences from straight up blues of the 1930s and free jazz, among other highly varied influences (some songs showing a clear rockabilly-influenced sound).

Even prototypical Australian punk band, The Saints (formed 1974), begat Laughing Clowns, another example of taking much of what was learned in Ed Kuepper’s previous band, including the influences of garage and proto-punk, and infusing it with some of the heaviest free jazz influence I’ve ever personally heard; Laughing Clowns also (possibly even unbeknowest to them) return to the Beat influences with lyrics often addressing basic existentialist themes.

The typical Swampy look seemed a mix of charity shop paisley shirts, some essential back items (slacks, jeans, suit jackets, boots), haphazardly back-combed hair, and a smear of eyeliner (appropriate for ladies or gents). The Usenet posts suggest a stereotyping of dyed black hair, but some clearly did not. Not being apparently the most widespread or longest-lived subcultures, and with very little information currently available about it, it’s harder to note the variations of personal expression that are relatively well-known in the bigger and more successful subcultures.

The link between the Swampie subculture and Australian Goths is undeniable. This thus creates a more-direct path between Mod and Goth than the Dandy model establishes. Unfortunately, Oz has never really been a cultural hub of the Anglosphere, so this shortcut between the subcultures is far more limited, and indeed finding information on Swampies at all is very difficult; among the few sources I was able to track down, mostly threads from the Usenet archives of alt.gothic, there’s somewhat of a divide over whether Swampies were a distinct subculture at all, or merely “more-disheveled Goths who hung out at coffee bars,” a quote that re-establishes the Beat similarities. It should, though, be noted that most of these threads were happening onwards from 1995, and many people remarked that it had been maybe a decade since seeing any-one who considered themselves a Swampie, but this newsclip from 1988 establishes that, at least in the mid-1980s in Brisbane, Swampies were often considered distinct from Goths:

The origin of the name “Swampie” also seems uncertain. It may have evolved from The Scientists’ “Swampland”. Or Nick Cave’s fascination with his own murky imaginings of the American South. Or just simply likening their dishevelled dandy-influenced appearance to “something that just crawled out of the swamps”. I’m really finding it impossible to figure out where the name of the subculture came from.

Widespread Recognition?
There are two bands that easily come to mind with modest mainstream popularity whose signature sound blends elements of early Gothic and/or “general post-punk” music into a late-1960s Garage or Rhythm & Blues style: The Horrors and The Black Belles. Other bands doing essentially the same sort of thing with varying signature sounds have existed since the mid-1990s: Neils Children, The Flaming Stars (whose singer, Max Décharné, previously was drummer for Gallon Drunk, an English band described as “swamp rock”), The Gore Gore Girls, and The Love-Me-Nots all easily come to mind as being bands that have created some variant of this sort of sound. Rowland S Howard’s band These Immortal Souls tends toward bluesier sounds, but adequately fills in the gap between The Birthday Party and England’s Gallon Drunk and The Flaming Stars, the latter of which is certainly “softer” in sound than the others, sounding more as a somewhat Garage-tinged Shoegaze than the rest, where the dominant musical “genes” are the heavier garage sounds.

And Speaking of Shoegaze….
I’ve noticed for a while that a lot of Mods love —be it proudly or guiltily— at least some Shoegaze music. Indeed, a lot of Shoegaze bands take some nods from classic 1960s sounds, including English Baroque and Psychedelic Folk and the idiosyncratic neo-folk prototypes of The Velvet Underground and Leonard Cohen. Talking to other Mods at clubs, events, and on-line —and from all over the glode— reveals significant numbers of people who enjoy the sounds of not only Velvets and Cohen, but also The Smiths and Morrissey solo, The Cure (especially their first two records), Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, and The Go-Betweens, all certainly among the most accessible Shoegaze-associated bands.

It’s also noteworthy that while Mods will tend to segregate these bands as “Shoegaze music”, Goths (in my experiences) are typically less genre-obsessed and with rare exceptions will just lump any band widely appreciated amongst Goths, such as Joy Division, as being “gothic”. Of course, Shoegaze music isn’t the only example of genre nit-pickery amongst Mods and discussions, even heated arguments, about where Rhythm & Blues, Freakbeat, Garage, or Hard Psych end and the rest begin —even when there are few, if any, clear distinctions shown by a certain band or another— are not hard to come by.

There is clearly a musical genealogy connecting Mods and Goths, and many amongst both scenes clearly share at least some musical tastes in common. It’s not hard at all to connect the two scenes, musically, and both scenes share similar ideals of pride in one’s appearance, dancing the night away, an individualised sense of status, and (at the origins of each scene) intellectualism rooted in existentialist and other modern philosophies. The Goth scene’s open-mindedness toward variances in personal aesthetics, and not to mention a love of a band named after the seminal German school of minimalist Modern design, makes it very easy to be a minimalist and sleek-lined Goth whilst still being eagerly accepted by others in that subculture, even though the stereotype is for fluffy back-combed hair, garish make-up, and Neo-Baroque clothing.

Considering the above, it’s far harder to be a flamboyant Mod considering the far from unspoken preference amongst Mods for some semblance of Minimalist aesthetics. Clearly the general mindset amongst Goths owes more to the Dandies and Psychedelic off-shoots than the Hard Mod factions, but this has been explained. This is not to say that everyone with a Hard Mod personal aesthetic is therefore unaccepting of anybody in the dandy faction, they just tend to be far quieter.

This all said, I’m still at a loss of how to categorise The Fall’s genre.

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  • CauêT

    Don’t forget that Kevin Shields from MBV played in Paul Weller’s band at least one year…and their new record (M B V) is very 60’s inspired.
    I dunno…maybe Television Personalities could be one great missing too….Dan Treacy had a time obsessed with the 60’s. The Painted World and “don’t the kids just love it” flirts with post-punk, velvet underground and some the-jam-like guitars…besides those two records they have a single called “I was a Mod Before you were a mod”.

    • Ruadhán J McElroy

      I do enjoy Television Personalities and MBV. :-)

      I’ve noticed a HUGE cross-over of Mods into “shoegaze” bands, and even recently on Tumblr, saw some-one posting Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and tagging it as “Mod Revival”, when as far as I know, when Joy Division were together, they had nothing to do with the Mod scene.

      • CaueT

        This guy was very important in the brazilian mod scene in the 90’s….and last year he released this single (practically
        a smiths tribute) and the it’s interesting coz’ he’s doing exactly this discussion through this

        • Ruadhán J McElroy

          Oh, wow, thanks for introducing me to his music –unfortunately, I’ll have to wait to hear the whole thing, cos I’m on a borrowed laptop right now, and it doesn’t seem to process videos that well.

          I see what you mean in joking that it’s practically a tribute to The Smiths; the guitars are pretty reminiscent of Johnny Marr and he does the Morrissey voice almost perfectly (different regional accent, but if I were a more casual fan of The Smiths than I am, I might confuse him for Morrissey, if not for the Brazilian accent).

          • CaueT

            I dunno here in Brazil, Jupiter Apple is somekind of a underground godlike genius…Gothic Love (look at the name) it’s clearly a tribute…his discography is far more rich, with influences of brazilian bossa nova, stereolab, krautrock, syd barret so on and so on.

          • Ruadhán J McElroy

            I hate to admit this, but even if the singer performs beautifully in the English language, a lot of the subcultures in the Anglosphere tend to ignore what’s happening in most other countries, save for whatever country might be somewhat “trendy” for a time. I totally believe that Jupiter Apple is a pretty big deal in Brazil, but this is the first I’ve heard, and I agree that he’s wonderful. I’m definitely going to check out more of his work –thanks so much.

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