Quadrophenia: noun. 1. A personality split into four separate facets. 2. An advanced state of schizophrenia, twice the normally accepted medical condition. 3. Inability to control which facet is foremost at any one time. …Quadrophenic. An extremely volatile state of mind.
The mod subculture sprung to life in the late 1950s, when angst-ridden young Londoners found catharsis in suits and ties, R&B and soul music, Italian scooters, and brawls with rival rocker groups. In 1979, The Who released the “Quadrophenia” rock opera and accompanying film, chronicling a young man’s often puerile existence of frequenting coffee bars, attending all-night dance parties, doing drugs, and becoming involved in riots and gang wars that attracted the attention of police.
Minus the rioting, I identify a lot with “Quadrophenia.” The mid-00s were a time of emotional upheaval. Many of the people I knew were struggling with depression and other issues. Starting in 2004, we could be found spending the majority of Sundays at Babylon’s Mod night, a club revival of time and place with partner clubs located across Canada.
The Mod Club in Toronto is the Mecca of these locations. I recall an ecstatic night spent at Mod Club that opened with the UK national anthem followed shortly by Blur’s “Song 2,” projected on giant video screens. But Toronto’s Mod Club has always had a posher flavour than Ottawa’s. The Mod Club took modest root here in 2003, becoming a Bank Street fixture after a brief stint at the Mercury Lounge. In the early days, it was common to see a vacant dance floor until after 12 AM. Directly next door to Barrymore’s popular ’80s night, Babylon didn’t have so much as a sign to indicate its existence.
DJs Gaz and Emmett took rotating shifts on stage. Emmett was living with a mutual friend at the time, so a few of the nights ended up at his place into the wee hours. I often made the trip out from Nepean and found a couch to crash on when I didn’t have school to consider. In 2006, I moved into an apartment five minutes away on foot. Pre-Mod parties and after parties became the status quo. I asked for Monday mornings off from work so that I could make the most of Sunday nights. My week revolved around Mod.
What for? It was the people, the music, the dancing, the abandon. A perfect equation. My friends and I made Mod night into such a ritual that our presence was expected in an area of the club that Gaz called the “VIP section,” but that we jokingly called the “throne room.” Around midnight, after the first pitcher of $12 Keith’s was finished, we’d hit the floor and stay there until lights up, taking the occasional break for a cigarette out front.
On the floor, Emmett served up a reliable collection of old soul music, British anthems and indie rock. The Beatles, Billy Stewart, the Who. We knew those songs inside and out. I never, ever minded the repetition. That’s what Gaz was for, taking risks, playing tunes that he knew had significance to the subculture but that people in the club wouldn’t necessarily be aware of. Discussions with Gaz over smokes revealed a person more obsessed with music than anyone I’ve met.
We’d dance in a circle, pile on hands, and dust shoulders. We shared in-joke expressions, brought the mosh, never understanding our lives. Gaz would make his trademark observation: “This part is awesome.” Becoming drunker and drunker, we’d make questionable decisions and give ourselves over to the fever of the environment. When there was a solid turnout, the crowd would pulse with energy, singing and flailing, making requests for that perfect song that would pull things to the next level, sweat forming on our brows and necks.
Dancing. It was so simple, freeing in a receptive crowd that took joy in seeing you move and moved along with you. It was love, perhaps. How we were connected. And all thanks to silly little songs that we’d heard a hundred times before and would come to forever associate with those nights spent grinning and laughing, high as kites, straining against social propriety. Booker T. & the M.G.’s’ “Green Onions” would sweep things clean. Each transition perfect, the lights flashing red and blue, everyone feeling a part of something. Emmett would announce that he was proud of every single one of us.
It ended, more or less, for the various expected reasons. I understand why, but I’ve never taken it lightly. The Mod Club has become incredibly successful. Gaz and Emmett still do their thing for ever-increasing crowds. But the people aren’t the same. They don’t know the history, the attitude, the fashion. They spill over from Barrymore’s, taking advantage of the free cover. And they’re younger, of course. Funny how quickly our 20s pass and make way for the 20s of others.
It felt like a second home. Though I’m convinced I put far more stock into it than most, I’m truly grateful for that time. Socially, I’ve never felt as though I belonged as much anywhere as much as I belonged in that building on those nights. All of our insecurities and indecision melted away under the heat of those lights and Nancy Sinatra’s sultry declarations that her boots were made for walkin’. We had no idea who we were, and it didn’t matter. We were moving. That was enough.