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May 2003
Jeff Noon on The Modernists
Mod style
Suited and booted: The Modernists wouldn't have been seen in a parka.

Think Mod: think parkas, scooters and fighting on Brighton beach. Or maybe not.

Cult author Jeff Noon tells Oonagh Jaquest why he's bringing the real Modernists to the stage in Sheffield.

audio Jeff Noon on the Modernists' surprising influences(28k)
audio Jeff Noon on Marc Bolan's dandy past (28k)
audio Jeff Noon on how his punk days inspired The Modernists(28k)
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The Modernists is part of the Sheffield First season of new writing at the Crucible and Crucible Studio.

The Modernists is showing at the Crucible from Wednesday 11 June to Saturday 21 June 2003.

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We all know about the Mods, don't we? They wore parkas, rode their scooters to the seaside and launched a thousand britpop retro fantasies.

That's what Jeff Noon thought - until he stumbled across a highly individualistic and creative culture that was hijacked by fashion.

Jeff Noon
Jeff Noon's futuristic cyberpunk novels have made him a cult author. So why is he fascinated by the Mods?

In his new play The Modernists at Sheffield Crucible, Noon sets out to reveal the men who were more dandy than thug, in all their eccentric glory.

Novels like Vurt, Automated Alice and Nymphomation have earned Noon a reputation for cutting edge cyberpunk.

Find out why a 1960s youth culture fired his fertile imagination. And why the dedicated leaders of fashion wouldn't have been seen dead in a parka.

So Jeff, what inspired you to write The Modernists?

It's kind of a discovery I made recently when I moved to Brighton. It's about the Mods. My knowledge about the Mods was quite basic, much the same as most people's I imagine.

I was brought up in the 60s and as a kid I didn't really connect to the music and I didn't know about The Who and stuff like that.

But when I came to Brighton there's a bit more history available here because of the town's connection. I learned that Mods actually stands for Modernists.

I was astonished by this. What does it mean, why the Modernists? I started to look into that and there's a fascinating hidden history about the genesis of the Mods, as I guess you'd call it.

Basically in the late 50s in north London a group of working class or lower middle class men started to dress and act in a certain way.

Another name they had for themselves was The Individualists and they were very flamboyant - working class dandies would be a good way to describe them.

You can imagine in the late 50s it would be so dark and grim in Britain then, they would be just like a splash of technicolour.

quoteYou can imagine in the late 50s it would be so dark and grim in Britain then, they would be like a splash of technicolour quote
Jeff Noon
audioJeff Noon on the Modernists' surprising influences

They were very influenced by European culture, by French and Italian films - that whole style and coolness, the beautiful mask of films by Jean Paul Belmondo and Marcel Mastriani, people like that.

And also by modern jazz they used to listen to, Charlie Parker and bebop and Miles Davies. That's where they got the name The Modernists from.

And I was just fascinated by this and I just thought "Oh right". So a few years later this becomes a fashion on the streets and a massive story in the press about the riots in Brighton and so on.

And I just wanted to have a look at that - this idea of a group of people creating something that was incredibly personal to them and was about being totally in love with their way of life.

And how they would feel when that became just something you could buy in a shop.

So is it the exclusivity of the youth movement that you're looking at?

Yes, so it was really about the whole individual thing. They didn't buy stuff, they changed their clothes themselves, y'know?

They'd put extra buttons on and lengthen the vents and they would change this stuff week by week.

And slowly over the years this hierarchy came into place, where you would get this local face, the kind of 'King Mod' who would be giving out instructions about how long the vent would have to be this week and so on. So orders are being sent down.

Noon's teenage punk rebellion gave him an insight into the Modernist world.
audioJeff Noon on how his punk days inspired The Modernists

The play's looking at this idea of people who desperately want to be individualistic and escape from normality, but at the same time they're in this incredibly tightly knit group.

And really it goes back to me in my punk days because that was my big teenage thing.

It goes back to that idea that we're all individuals, but we're all dressed the same. And that idea of the sadness you feel when it becomes just a story in the paper.

And they were living by a kind of code of behaviour, it's really weird this. So they had rules, y'know.

What sort of rules?

About how you could walk and talk and what you could say to people, and how you could be with people. In the play I've exaggerated it, but basically there's a kernel of truth there.

I just thought, so what if these young men are creating a beautiful mask for themselves, what happens when you fall out of love with your mask? And that's really what the play's about.

Speed, scooters and the Marc Bolan connection. More>>

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