all know about the Mods, don't we? They wore parkas, rode their
scooters to the seaside and launched a thousand britpop retro fantasies.
what Jeff Noon thought - until he stumbled across a highly individualistic
and creative culture that was hijacked by fashion.
Noon's futuristic cyberpunk novels have made him a cult author.
So why is he fascinated by the Mods?
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
like Vurt, Automated Alice and Nymphomation have earned Noon a reputation
for cutting edge cyberpunk.
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.
Jeff, what inspired you to write The Modernists?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
name they had for themselves was The Individualists and they were
very flamboyant - working class dandies would be a good way to describe
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
how they would feel when that became just something you could buy
in a shop.
is it the exclusivity of the youth movement that you're looking
so it was really about the whole individual thing. They didn't buy
stuff, they changed their clothes themselves, y'know?
put extra buttons on and lengthen the vents and they would change
this stuff week by week.
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.
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.
really it goes back to me in my punk days because that was my big
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.
they were living by a kind of code of behaviour, it's really weird
this. So they had rules, y'know.
sort of rules?
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.
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.
scooters and the Marc Bolan connection. More>>