Presentation Introduction Outline

It is the introduction outline for now.

Background history

NS is a dance-based white working class youth subculture from the late 1960s – 19b0s. Every Saturday, young people from Northern England will travel hundreds of miles to attend the all-nighter club and dance until the next morning. The music played in the clubs is based on American black soul records, and the dancing style is very emotional and energetic in NS scene.

The emerge of NS scene is followed by the arrival of American soul music in Britain 1960s, during the British Mod movement, finding the rare records becomes popular among British youth, and this trend remains in Northern England in the late 60s. Later on, the establishment of the clubs like Wigan Casino and Twisted Wheel helps NS scene reach its peak in the mid-70s. Finally, the abusive use of the drug and the change of musical interest caused the decline of NS in the late-70s, clubs were shutting down by the police intervention. But still, nowadays there are some NS events taking places and people participating in NS scene, e.g. Levenna McIean

Main argument

To what extent can NS be considered a form cultural appropriation?

Opposing to cultural appropriation, NS is an example of transculturation.


Cultural Appropriation – an unauthorized adoption which a dominant culture uses elements from the other minority cultures, including tradition, language, food, music, symbols, folklore, etc.

Transculturation – a process whereby cultural forms literally move through time and space where they interact with other cultural forms and settings, influence each other, produce new forms, and change the cultural settings.


In this presentation, we will divide our research of NS into 4 sections:

3 sections of its uniqueness(the mixture with British culture creating a new cultural setting) – dance, place, and music.1 section of the main argument.

1 section of the main argument.


Gaby: the importance of place in NS movement

(i)What was the original purpose of the creation of NS Power

(ii)The idea of “pilgrimage”: the importance of travelling as a group for NS in a religious aspect, with case study of Wigan Casino

(iii)How did its affiliation with Black American soul music make NS into a global subculture.

Oliver: music(haven’t got the script yet)

Leah: further explanation of the main argument – NS as a form of transculturation rather than cultural appropriation.

From Cultural Appropriation to Transculturation

Following our difficult discussion on Thursday over the question we had originally decided on (which we deemed a little too broad and descriptive without a strong argument)  I explored an idea that I thought united all of our research together – the question of cultural appropriation.

“We were using the black industrial music of the late 1960s to say something about our white industrial lives in the 1970s.” –


Cultural appropriation is often mentioned but undertheorized in critical rhetorical and media studies.

  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2004) offers two definitions of the verb ‘‘appropriate’’ relevant to the use of the term by critical scholars: ‘‘to take exclusive possession of’’ and ‘‘to take or make use of without authority or right.’ Cultural appropriation, if one uses Twitter as a theory book, is a neoliberal concept of culture that see culture effectively as a commodity. It is only objectionable when a member of a dominant cultural group appropriates from a member of a marginalized group.
  • “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.” This can include “the unauthorised use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.” Susan Scafidi, law professor at Fordham University. 

  • “For me, the definition of appropriation originates in its inversion, cultural autonomy. Cultural autonomy signifies a right to cultural specificity, a right to one’s origins and histories as told from within the culture and not as mediated from without.” – Loretta Todd

  • Historical perspective: Dominant system owing to murder, displacement, and oppression of indigenous peoples by Western colonists, conditions which contribute to forced cultural assimilation. Therefore native people wearing jeans is not cultural appropriation but a consequence of forced assimilation.
  • Sally Haslanger explains: “In cases of structural oppression, there may not be an oppressor, in the sense of an agent responsible for the oppression.” Haslanger’s focus here is on how to assign moral responsibility to agents who are privileged within an oppressive system
  • According to Kristie Dotson, “epistemic violence is a failure of an audience to communicatively reciprocate, either intentionally or unintentionally, in linguistic exchanges owning to pernicious ignorance.”


  • (Mis)representation, assimilation, and loss of economic opportunity might be among the harms of cultural appropriation.
  • Dominating systems so as to silence and speak for individuals who are already socially marginalized.
  • Members of dominant cultures, in virtue of their social status, already tend to have what Fricker calls a “credibility excess”: their credibility is inflated beyond what is epistemically warranted.36
  • Appropriation can harm by interacting with preexisting social injustices to compromise and distort the communicative ability and social credibility of members of marginalized groups

Loretta Todd – “Appropriation also occurs when someone else becomes the expert on your experience and is deemed more knowledgeable about who you are than yourself.”


These theories argue against essentialist concern surrounding current debate around cultural appropriation:

  • Adam Schutz “acts of radical sympathy and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines”
  • Writing for The Daily Beast, John McWhorter specifically defended white appropriation of African-American music as “cross-fertilization”, and something which is usually done out of admiration of the cultures being imitated, with no intent to harm them
    • Rogers offers an alternative model of “transculturation” – a reconceptualization of culture as dialogic or conjectural:

“Transculturation posits culture as a relational phenomenon constituted by acts of appropriation, not an entity that merely participates in appropriation. Tensions exist between the need to challenge essentialism and the use of essentialist notions such as ownership and degradation to criticize the exploitation of colonized cultures.” – Rogers

  • Lull (2000) describes transculturation as ‘‘a process whereby cultural forms literally move through time and space where they interact with other cultural forms and settings, influence each other, produce new forms, and change the cultural settings’’ (p. 242).
  • cultural elements created from and/or by multiple cultures, such that identification of a single originating culture is problematic, for example, multiple cultural appropriations structured in the dynamics of globalization and transnational capitalism creating hybrid forms.

    Lull adds the dynamic of indigenization, in which ‘‘imported cultural elements take on local features as the cultural hybrids develop’’ (p. 244).


This research was beneficial to thinking about ways we could formulate an argument against Northern Soul as a form of Cultural Appropriation. Although certain factors do exist that are problematic particularly in the loss of economic opportunity as will be mentioned by Oli in his study of white-labelling, owing to its historical and geographical specificity and its affinity with the lived experiences of African Americans through music, as well as its hybrid fusion of dance, music and fashion it can be argued that Northern Soul can be considered potentially as a form of transculturation as explained by Rogers. I found Lull’s statement on how imported cultural elements take on local features as the cultural hybrids develop particularly relevant when thinking about how Northern Soul has been received internationally and further exemplified by Pharrell stating that Northern Soul is “English Culture.” 

Deptford Northern Soul Club

A club dedicated to Northern Soul opened in September 2016 in Deptford, in South East London. Advertized through social medias such as Instagram or Facebook, it’s been a year and a half since two lifelong friends, William J. Foot and Lewis J. Henderson (see picture below) since they decided to reecreate a “gimmick and fancy dress free Northern Soul night in the cultural centre of the world, Deptford” After their first night was sold out in 2016, Northern Soul Nights are happening on a monthly basis “bringing the sounds of Northern Soul to the next generation.”. However, which generation ? It is true that Deptford is a new “regenerating” area, which seems to follow the steps of the Peckham district in London. However, because it is still in London, the cultural hub of the UK, it can be considered as not being an authentic Northern Soul night. Even though the music and atmosphere might be the same, what made the Northern Soul so atypic was that they were happening in the North. The people attending those northern soul nights will probably not be Northerners, but potentially snobbish Southerners that try to transform something that was considered as unfashionable back in the 1980s into something “in” for London, just as many contemporary subcultural attempts.


Instagram : DeptfordNorthernSoulClub

Facebook page: Deptford Northern Soul Club


Ollie’s ‘Music’ Plan:

TAD Script Plan:

Need to be very concise if I am going to include everything I want to.

  1. Old American Music- songs were not new, there was an emphasis on the past in terms of the type of things being played. Go on to explain how these types of records were stockpiled in American cities in huge warehouses. The most successful Northern Soul DJs travelled to places such as Detroit and came back with thousands of records. Use Ian Levine as a case study here.
  2. Cover-up culture- DJs would cover up the name of vinyl records with white labels- elitism and rarity firmly grounded in NS. In a pre-digital era, rare records were exceptionally valuable. There is an example of this in Constantine’s film, and could also talk about the example I have of someone paying over 150 pounds for an original pressing, only for a repress to come out the next week for 65p. The fact he wasn’t even upset points to the vinyl fetishism that was entrenched in the movement.
  3. Type of music being played- who/what type of music was actually being played? How was NS music different to what was going on in the rest of the UK? Talk about how funk (e.g. James Brown) that was popular in London at the time was too slow for the amphetamine-fuelled parties- opportunity to bring in the drugs aspects of movement. Because places like Wigan Casino had no alcohol license, and the fact the events were all-nighters, meant that people needed drugs and specifically fast music (‘stompers’) to energetically dance to.
  4. Racial Aspect- Predominately African-American music, so what did this mean for racial harmony within society/NS events in general? Given this clearly links to Leah’s section, I need to ensure I am not repeating anything she will be saying. Perhaps this could be used merely as an introduction to the final part of my section…
  5. Lyrical Analysis- as Angel suggested within previous comments a lyrical analysis of a NS track would be interesting, and also play to my strengths as an English lit student. I would like to tie this section in with criticism/theory regarding the importance of music and song to African and African-American culture. Using the reading I have already done, I have a fairly firm idea of what the quintessential NS tracks are, so will pick the most appropriate one.


Thursday 15th March Group Meeting (Leah, Gaby, Ollie)

Last week we managed to separate the presentation into manageable chunks for each of us- our jobs had been to go away and read more into our specialist areas. We reconvened on 15th March with new ideas and material, and have decided on a final structure, one fortnight before the presentation.


We have altered the structure of the presentation slightly so that it runs as follows:

-Introduction, Chang

-Place, Gaby

-Music, Ollie

-People, Leah with input from Chang and others

-Modern-Day, everyone thinking about how NS has adapted into the modern day in their respective area. For exampleà Gaby would be thinking about where exactly the NS nights are these days.


One question we had for Angel regarded the structure of the presentation itself. At the moment we have a relatively linear structure; we begin at the inception of NS, moving through its heyday and then plan to talk briefly about the modern day features of the subculture. Would it be better if after each individual component, we each spoke about how NS has transformed in our area? So for example; Ollie talks about the kind of music that was being played at the 1970s night, offers an analysis of a significant song within the movement (preferably whilst drawing on theory concerning the significance of song and music in African/American culture) and then proceeds to talk finally about the music that is being played at the events these daysà the emphasis on looking backwards as a subculture means that modern-day punters are following the same processes as their ancestors, but just looking back 40/50 years as opposed to ten. Do you think this thematic option is better than a straight linear method Angel? The three of us were leaning towards linear as it allows for clear progression but we were not completely decided.


We also have a fairly definite working title/argument. As Ollie will be looking through song lyrics for his analysis section, we will use a famous NS song quote to shape our argument. We want a lyric about peace/love/harmony and will say something like:

‘Music for everyone, music for the people’

To what extent was the Northern Soul subculture an inclusive environment?


The word inclusive is deliberately vague; it allows for racial/class/gender analysis with regard to the ‘People’ section (which will be the largest hence why we are all contributing). Whilst Gabby, and to some extent Ollie, are somewhat setting the scene with their sections for the layman, they can obviously still argue that it was/was not inclusive. The type of music being played is obviously vital here, whilst even Wigan’s excellent rail network links could be a factor when considering how easy it was to get to.


Action Plan:


  1. We agreed that we would each individually post on the blog with more detailed plans for our sections- not scripts as such but more where we are getting our information from and the kind of things we will be saying.


  1. The three of us agreed that by the time we meet next week we should have drafts of our scripts to run through with one another. We can then spend the session editing.


  1. Leah was talking about using Google slides so that we can remotely prepare our PowerPoint which seemed like a fantastic idea.

Northern Soul Today

Levenna McIean a.k.a Northern Soul Girl

Over the past two weeks I have been doing some research into Northern Soul today and happened across Levenna McIean a.k.a Northern Soul Girl on YouTube, who became somewhat of an overnight sensation by posting videos of herself dancing to Northern Soul tracks online two years ago. She has recently signed a deal with Universal Music to be the new face of Northern Soul and represent the company’s forthcoming compilation ‘Move On Up – The Very Best Of Northern Soul’ which is released 16th March.

In an interview with Soul and Jazz and Funk she speaks about her introduction to the Northern Soul scene. She was first recommended Northern Soul Music by her mother who saw her interest in British modern soul music such as Amy Winehouse. At first she wasn’t interested in attending Northern Soul events (her mum would still go occasionally) but after watching youtube outtakes of Wigan casino in the This is England documentary she begged her mum to take her to any soul night. She took her to Stoke:

 “I remember walking in, Didi Sharpe ‘What Kind of lady was playing’ – I felt like I’d stepped right into one of those youtube videos I’d been watching.”

Levanna describes that it was the friendly atmosphere and welcoming people that most attracted her at first. She also loved the non-judgemental atmosphere and how there’s an indescribable feeling of freedom when you’re out on the floor dancing. For her Northern Soul is not about the fashion but the feeling, “for me the style is simply being who you are.”

Born in Bristol, Levanna has had to travel a lot to attend the nights that she loves the most. Of the scene today she says:
“There is an absolute mixture of people on the scene and it depends on where you go. Up north probably the majority of the people are going to be older, people who went to Wigan in the ’70s, and who want to relive their youth I would guess. They’re still regular goers, but if you move down south to the London scene, there’s a really hip, trendy, crowd on the Northern Soul scene at places like the 100 Club and there’s a place called Crossfire, which is another all-nighter and there are loads of different small nights which barely go on to 2 AM.”
Her decision to turn her passion for Northern Soul music into a form of entertainment was completely unplanned:
‘It was a spontaneous moment on holiday when my mum was filming my brother who is a skateboarder, and I was dancing on a slippy surface and so she turned to film me instead. We loved the clip a lot so we put it up and that was how the first video was born. The response to it was so overwhelming, that we repeated it again and things have just grown from there. Now we just love coming up with an idea, choosing a great record, filming it and bringing it to life. I love choosing tracks which are so special sounding to me but also tracks which may have been underplayed or just should be out there more. The videos are a great way to promote northern soul and it’s my way to show my love to those artists who made such beautiful songs.’

Her Youtube videos have led to not only musical collaborations but also fashion – she featured in a short fashion film for an esteemed company ShowStudio (Nick Knight) and she has also performed on stage at the Brits in 2014 with Pharrel, who saw her Northern stye dancing to a remix of his song ‘Happy’.  As well as dancing, Levanna is also a DJ and has performed in festivals and various club nights all over Britain and Europe.
Pharrell mentions backstage at the BRITs the reason why he brought Levanna on stage:
“We wanted to bring some of the English culture into the performance because we’re in England we are on your soil.”

Levanna is a great example of how Northern Soul has been appropriated by the younger generation in new and distinct ways. Whilst she seems to be the only one in her lane, her use of social media and the popularity she has gained exposes how by remaining authentic to herself – an attitude promoted by Northern Soul, she has managed to carve out her own career and become a success. She is simultaneously paying homage to an older generation while inspiring a younger generation as well.

Furthermore, I think Pharrell’s statement as well as the fact that Levanna got into Northern Soul due to her mother’s recommendation shows how Northern Soul is a truly British cultural movement disassociated from its soul roots – as even Pharrell did not acknowledge its Afro-American heritage.


Dave Godin defined the Northern Soul as Northern because it referred to something taking place to the North of the definer’s map of meanings’. “Northern” is an adjective referring to the North of England, a region also including Midlands. As the name of the subculture itself includes a spatial adjective, it is important to reconsider the connexion between music, identity and geography within Northern Soul. This is what I am going to focus my analysis on. During my research, I first looked at emblematic places that geographically defined the movement. However, I ended up being more interested in analyzing the importance of place through a sociological perspective. An article was very useful for my research, that Leah already mentioned but I find it worth to mention again. It is called “Welcome to Dreamsville: a history and geography of Northern Soul.” ((Hollows, Joanne, and Katie Milestone, 1998). The article defines place in relation to Soul lyrics and the people of the Northern Soul. I have decided to focus on two aspects : the regional rejection of the South and the importance of traveling and pilgrimage that appeared to have a religious stance. Furthermore, I found it interesting to also focus on some sociological theories of the relationship between communities, identity and place. For instance, Places on the Margin: Alternative Geographies of Modernity, by R. Shields defined well the context of the North/South division becoming a “space-myth”, enhancing how the surrounding areas of a capital city are always considered as central politically, spiritually and culturally. Moreover, Revill in Place and the Politics of Identity defines how locality and community are always related.

Overall, these theories made me realize that the importance of place is inherently linked to the study of the people themselves.









We want to put the audience into a time machine and take them back to the 1970s, and to the North of England to experience an underground subculture- Northern Soul. Using one or two clubs (Wigan Casino or Blackpool Mecca for eg) we want to examine where NS was popular (and why these locations in particular), the music being played, the type of people who went to these nights and how the movement has developed into the modern day. All these subsections are fairly arbitrary as they all relate to and inform each other, but it is helpful to have some structure at this point


  1. PLACE (Gaby)


The Importance of Place within the Northern Soul

When it moved to London, referred to “something taking place to the North of the definer’s map of meanings’

Manchester Wheelers’ book (by “Dave”)

« It seemed depressing; it looked like it was ‘Grim Up North’, but it was far from that. The soul of the city was the underground Mod Soul scene, ironically with its black American music. Soul was black ­– well, mainly black; our city was black, and so was the music that the clubs blared out in dark underground cellars. However, the music and ‘our’ scene gave us a set of colourful, bright and enthusiastic reasons for Mod Mancunians to get excited about their city. »

Twisted Wheel described as a Beat Club

Places that were dark because of the industrial revolution that were lighted up thanks to the club life

Last Night a DJ Saved My life : The Story of disc Jockey – Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton p 84-117

« in this city of what looked like perpetual night “there was an oasis known as The Wheel. It was as if all the life energy of the great city was channelled into this spot and hidden away under the ground for fear of disturbing the “respectable” citizenry, because looking out of the cab windows on this dank and murky night, Manchester looked like a ghost town. »

Examples of important clubs/cities in the Northern Soul scene

  • Twisted Wheel in Manchester
    • Became the “first rare oasis” for this rare music people where looking for
    •    “Part of the enjoyment was actually travelling there” remembers Carl Woodroffe, one pioneer DJ



  • The Catacombs and Farmer Carl
  • The Torch and The Birth of Northern Soul
  • Tunstall : less and less famous towns
  • It’s where Northern Soul was polished and gleamed
  • « The Wheel and The Catacombs created a fad, The Torch turned it into a fetish. »
  • One of the most important event happened at The Torch => Major Lance live at The Torch



Soul Wards : Wigan’s Casino VS Blackpool Mecca

–       Soul’s Scene Golden Era centred on those two clubs

Wigan, Lancashire cotton town,

“Thousand of kids criss crossed the country to hear their resident DJs throw down”

Places that embody the peak of northern soul

Wigan declared best discothèque by Billboard in 1978

1973-1981 : Wigan = the biggest and most representative club  for Northern Soul

Emblematic of a regional scene

–       Most popular rather than the best because it’s the one that had the most people in (here compared to Ministry of Sound)

–       Nicknamed “The Heart of Soul”

–       “If the Casino was the punters’ choice, the Blackpool Mecca was the connoisseurs’.”

–       Difference of crowds between the two clubs : emphasizing how northern soul was slowly becoming a bit more mainstream and attracted more people are the crowds started to split into connoisseurs and the others

–       “If you were a serious collector, the only place you could conceive going to was the Mecca’

–       Casino evolved into The Emp which became better than Blackpool Mecca by 1973



–       Colin and Mary Chapman from Scunthorpe found a venue on the faded east coast resrt

–       Local people DJing

–       Amalgam of the Casino and Meccq

“Northern Soul was the revenge of the small town

“Its fabled clubs formed a map of geographical unfashoniability: Tunstall, Wigan, Blackpool, Cleethorpes. Despite its near complete isolation from London and for established music industry, its influence was impressive.”

Nationwide network

It is important to see how “unfashionable” the cities that were famous were, because it exemplifies how Northern Soul work : the more obscure music seeking was getting, the more obscure the places were true Soul fans had to go. It was like having to prove how connoisseur you became if you travelled miles to not miss an all-nighter. : increased how “underground” the movement was

<> )


Wigan considered as a true club for dancers, not connoisseurs

“Following in the all-night traditions of Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club of the late ’60s, Northern Soul had been bereft of a spiritual home since the closure of the Golden Torch in Stoke six months earlier. »

–    The Heart of Soul

–    Northerners came up to London for football and that’s where the notion of Northern soul arrived in London when they were coming to buy records that were not representative of what Southerners would buy : division of the country culturally : differences in what was listened to from South to North

–    Where you came from defined your music tastes.

–    « f you’ve got customers from the north, don’t waste time playing them records currently in the US black chart, just play them what they like – ‘Northern Soul’.”


Dave Godin

Wigan considered as the first bigger club of northern soul. Bigger than the Twisted Wheel, allowed more space for dancing

« The drug culture and the size of the venue made the tempo of the records extremely fast,” explains original Wigan DJ Kev Roberts. “Therefore the Casino created its own records, a wider variety of Northern Soul than you’d hear elsewhere. Northern Soul has never been just about ‘soul’, it means much more than that.” : more authenticity in this club rather than seeking for rarity.


  1. MUSIC (Ollie)


Despite being a subculture based in the North of England, the music itself came from far away; old soul records (made predominately by African Americans) were being played at the events. These songs had been completely forgotten about and were stockpiled in American cities such as Detroit- they were reinvigorated by the Northern Soul movement.


Interesting that music had the power to bridge a gap across the Atlantic between white working class people in the North and the African-American musicians/singers/artists responsible for the music. Lyrically, the songs held messages that the English working class could relate to- themes of love and loss, this was an outlet for the people listening to the music. Escapism from their boring week jobs. V important that this is black music- did this have an impact upon the way minority racial groups were considered in the UK? (great article in ‘The Other Special Relationship’ about how Otis Redding received in UK in 1960s, and the impact of this on British race relations). Angel suggested talking about post-Windrush so could do that here if it fits


Would also like to talk a little about the ‘cover up’ aspect of vinyl culture. DJs would cover up the name of the track with white labels- elitism of music was firmly grounded in the movement. In a pre digital era, rare records could be exceptionally valuable.


Linked to class, English DJs that could afford to fly to America in the 1970s invariably had better/more valuable records. DJs would bring back thousands of records and build a career. What are the problems with this? Perhaps the polarity between the original artists, and English DJs making a living out of their unpaid work.


Furthermore, DJs had to have enough capital to be able to fly to America in the first place- NS as a subculture had classist elements. Also something of a self-perpetuating circle existing- DJ buys records, plays records, makes money and builds career, buys more records etc etc.


Sources→ interviews with original NS DJs in multiple BBC documentaries, ‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life’, could also try to find records of the royalty systems during this time (so how much were the original artists actually paid?), ‘The Other Special Relationship’


  1. CLASS (Chang)


From my recent research, the Northern soul is used to “define what it means to be black, adapting it to distinctively British experience and meanings” in Afro-British communities in 1960s. This form of the cultural politics seek for: re-frame the value of Afro-Caribbean identities, fight against British hierarchy, and defend for multicultural spaces by producing their own brand.


Desmond’s Hip City: a crucial record store in Brixton, it gives both young men and women a social place to interact with each other outside of school, since the other record stores are homosocial and masculine. However it often associates with criminals and political activists.


BPM(Black Panther Movement) and BASH(Black Against State Harassment)

  • BPM is formed to fight against police brutality by questing Soul Power in London by a powerful black woman Althea Jones.
  • BASH is related organisation with BPM, states that the attack on black is not only because the race, but also because of the hatred of their cultural identity (e.g. Soul music).


Adornment of Soul Power is a significant sign of the black community.

“Their attire largely consisted of Afros and cornrows, bell bottoms or drainpipe trousers (closely tapered pants), miniskirts, African print head wraps, Black Power T-shirts, and tote bags with Black Power patches stitched on them.”

This sartorial language of Soul culture reclaims a sense of pride and identity, sometime cause interracial problems.


Soul Power is central for the development of Black British identity

  1. It provides a language they could use to combat oppression.
  2. Black women can use it to create a woman-centred discourse which can speak for their dual oppression.


  1. RACE (Leah)


We were using the black industrial music of the late 1960s to say something about our white industrial lives in the 1970s.”   ( )


The relationship between the scene’s participants and African American culture is not direct, it is much more conditional. African American music on record relates more to the cultural possibilities it offers for a British alternative identity, than to any consistent support for the liberation struggle taking place in the US at the time. Although it is a scene where history and tradition are central values, similar to the soul music of African Americans, it is clear that this music held a different cultural significance for the white working class – whether that be in how they related to the lyrics or their attitudes towards race relations at the time.  


A key point that we would like to analyse in our presentation is for whom was this scene for? Did it honour African-American culture in the same way as it appreciated their music? In order to answer this we will compare and contrast the conflicting accounts of racial harmony within the scene – some, such as Fran Franklin (a mixed-race woman) mention how northern soul acted as an oasis of harmony against the post-Windrush racialized society that existed in Britain. Comparatively, documentary footage from the time shows two neo-nazi lads speaking on the rise of the National Party in Blackburn, while one of them wears a jumper with the black-fist symbol on it (a clear marker that he was part of the northern soul scene).


“ I’ve always been perplexed by how the whole Northern Soul thing has become so over-inflated in time. It’s an interesting throwback subculture is all, and the real heroes are the people who made the records – not old Kev at school with a crap ‘tache, leather coat and blue eyes.”




Important to mention how the fact that this was the ‘first youth subculture focused on the past’ (<>) means that it is able to survive on in a more authentic way. Because the movement from the start was concerned with old music, NS fans today are still looking backwards- just looking back 40+ years instead of 5 or so.

Today you would call northern soul an act of curation. By the time we danced to it, the music was already old: songs recorded in small studios by black singers, mostly between 1963 and 1971.< >


Presentation Outline

Draft of the topic: “The music for the people, but what people?”

Today we come up with a general outline of how are we going to do the presentation. The presentation will be divided into 6 parts: context, place, music, class, race, and modern day. In the beginning, we will trace back to 1970s Northern England and introduce one of the subculture Northern Soul. Each part will be assigned to different people in order to provide a clear picture of what is Northern Soul about, where and how it became popular, and who participates in this movement. Also, we will come back and give modern-day perspectives about Soul music.

Context – everyone

Place(Gabby) – the geography of the Northern Soul, mapping NS by dividing into different places/with specific examples. e.g. Twisted Wheel, Wigan Casino, etc.

Music(Ollie) – DJ culture

Class(Chang) – some sorts of identity which NS creates in certain classes, from how people dress and adorn themselves.

Race(Leah) – One example of the focusing questions: To what extent of the soul music promotes a racial harmony?

Modern-day – everyone


Some sources: Subculture theory, by Gary Clarke

and Olive Morris’s case in The Other Special Relationship: Race, Rights, and Riots in Britain and the United States

‘Welcome to Dreamsville: A History and Geography of Northern Soul’

‘Welcome to Dreamsville: A History and Geography of Northern Soul’ by Joanne Hollows and Katie Milestone

Through its examination of the relationship between local musical scenes and global musical cultures this text was really helpful as it defined and expanded upon the thematic concerns within Northern Soul that our group was already interested in. Rather than Northern Soul being a community in which a sense of belonging is based on ascriptive social relations, geographical proximity and tradition,  Hollows and Milestone apply Schmalenbach’s concept of Bund to conclude that the social relations present in Northern sol are elective and based on sentiment, and are maintained through “a code of practices and symbols whihc serve as the basis for identification.” The text also highlights the insubstantial cultural analysis that exists on northern soul due in part to the limitations of subcultural theory which disregards subcultures with such longevity such as Northern soul as well as the fact that it is centred on music from a bygone era and thus does not fit the criteria of authenticity and the “innovatory moment” as fixed by subcultural theorists (Gary Clarke). Interrelation of travel, place and identity.

It’s analysis is structured around four main concerns:

  • The “northernness” of northern soul
In the late 1960’s to early mid-1970’s soul was generally unfashionable among white audiences. Rather than a watered-down version of whatever the cultural capital, London, was producing, Hollows and Milestone deem Northern soul as rather a “refusal of the South’s claims to legitimacy and distinction” as it was produced in the North and didn’t require London’s economic and cultural power in order to survive because it was organised around old American records. The term “northern soul” was coined by Dave Godin of Blues and Soul magazine after a visit to an all-nighter at the Twisted Wheel in 1970 to describe a distinctive soul scene that existed north of Watford.
  • Rarity, exclusivity and commodity exchange

Northern soul is based on a rejection of commercially successful records – the popular Motown sounds in favour of undiscovered and rare Detroit labels – and privileges a sense of “roots” by stressing the importance of the sociological and musical origins of northern soul records within local musical culturesIn the scene it is the DJ’s who hold the power rather than the recording artists. The DJ’s and dealers act as intellectuals within a given musical terrain and are engaged in struggles for prestige and status (Will Straw) as it is their names who are used to sell events.

One of the main ways DJ’s in the northern soul scene were able to hype up particular records would be by sticking white labels over original labels and retitling them to increase the exclusivity as well as discourage bootlegging (illegal copying of rare records) which undermined the values of authenticity and rarity. I think this point about commercialism was really interesting if we are considering the ways in which this subculture could be considered as a form of exploitation of black music. 
  • The relationships between contexts of production and consumption
“The single most important feature of Northern Soul its respect for the music of Black America.”  – Cosgrove
Northern Soul values music that is not only unpopular in the present but was often condemned to oblivion at the time it was produced. However, it is important to note that the relationship to black America is “imagined”. Northern Soul as an example of the ways in which British working-class culture has produced an “imaginary” identification with America as an “escape” from native cultural traditions and attempts to build a regionally based culture by bypassing and rejecting the limitations of the national. Also notes how the scene “tries to relive and imitate the imagery of African-American culture.” On the one hand, musically and lyrically the tracks offer a sense of history, but on the other, they make connections with, and fetishize, the history of the “Other” – I think the tension between both arguments really represents the crux of our interests.  By equating the experience of white British to black Americans – is it a fetishisation of black musical culture?

“The meaning of the music and the meaning of records as material objects are both important and interrelated because they help to sustain a sense of identity and belonging within the scene.”

Edward Said’s concept of an “interpretive community” is applicable here as the respect for history and tradition within black musics is present in northern soul’s sounds and words. Furthermore, the text also mentions the lyrical possibilities in the music of the northern soul scene that become meaningful in the context of the urban British North. For example, African-American-derived terms  such as ‘right on’, ‘keep the faith’, and ‘brothers and sisters’  are translated differently, the ‘faith’ is no longer one of liberation and a better future, but of a commitment to a community, its records and dancing.


  • Place, Pilgrimage and Identity

The Northern Soul community was not based on locality or neighbourhood but instead “produced” through travel and an attachment to the spaces that are usually considered mundane but acquire significance due to their role in the scene – sites of “social centrality” such as Wigan Casino and the Torch. Members of the northern soul scene, would and still do travel hundreds of miles to attend a particular event. Here, Northern Soul’s scene is juxtaposed with Schmalenbach’s concept of Bund as “an intense form of affectual solidarity that is inherently unstable and liable to break down very rapidly unless it is consciously maintained through symbolically mediated interactions of its members” – that being the activity of travel to these sites of “social centrality” that help maintain the dispersed community of northern soul.

The reading proved insightful in its analysis of the complexity of place in the northern soul scene. The analysis of the limitations of subcultural frameworks on Northern Soul was also useful and highlighted a different theoretical framework such as Bund that views relationships between place and identity as “an elective, unstable, effectual form of sociation”.