Touched by the hand of Mod

Inside the San Diego broad church scene

Bassist Anja Stax of the Loons at the 2014 Adams Ave Street Fair
  • Bassist Anja Stax of the Loons at the 2014 Adams Ave Street Fair
  • Image by @ReaderAndy

“Mod” has often been described as a “broad church.” Ask ten of its disciples to define it and you’ll get ten different answers, or forty. Well, a lot suffer from Quadrophenia, don’t you know.

From its incarnation in early-’60s England, it’s developed, fragmented, and emigrated in many forms, to many countries. Its influence is evident in Suedehead, Skinhead, Northern Soul, Punk, Two-Tone, the Scooter Scene, Football Casual, Acid Jazz, Madchester, Brit Pop, and more. Even Saturday Night Fever was based on Nik Cohn’s story of Mods.

The sight of a scootercade of Mods to the tune of “Pinball Wizard” at the closing ceremony of the Olympics games in London shows it isn’t going to just f-f-f-fade away, it’s always going to be a b-b-b-big sensation.

San Diego was one of the first cities in the U.S. to get hip to the Mod(ern) world. In the ’80s, Reader contributor Bart Mendoza’s band Manual Scan was at the forefront of the scene. They were recently included on the Millions Like Us Mod box set in the U.K. and still occasionally play live.

The Secret Society Scooter Club played an important part of the scene, with members from S.D. to San Francisco; they’ve been hosting scooter rallies and shows for over 30 years.

English transplant Mike Stax arrived here in ’81 and immediately began playing bass in the ’60s-inspired Crawdaddys. He also began a self-produced labor of love fanzine called Ugly Things, its name a play on his favorite band. It’s since grown to a hefty tome magazine that is read all over the world. It’s still a self-produced labor of love, but for connoisseurs of the ’60s underground, it is the Bible.

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Stax and his wife Anja are also the singer and bassist with San Diego’s the Loons. Currently preparing for a European tour to promote their fourth record, Inside Out Your Mind, which will be released on the legendary Bomp! label. While the band has a strong ’60s inspiration, their brand of garage rock and psych doesn’t pay lip service to the past. It kicks and screams now.

The Loons’ shows are often augmented by Operation Mindblow, providers of an analog psychedelic light show that turns a venue into a living lava lamp.

The new kids on the Mod block are the Bassics. They came to be by a shared love of the Who, the Jam, and Secret Affair. Their combined ages probably still add up to less than Pete Townshend’s last birthday.

While many Mods wear the traditional brands of Ben Sherman and Fred Perry, most will dig out the best from vintage and thrift stores for an individual look. Buffalo Exchange, Flashback, the Girl Can’t Help It, Frock You, and La Loupe all have the threads — just put it together in your own style. There’s no point in being a cardboard cutout, and you don’t have to spend a million dollars to feel like a million dollars. Also coming soon is Anja Stax’s clothing brand, Stax of California.

There’s no point getting all dressed up with nowhere to go. Regular shindigs include the annual “Mods v Rockers” event, the 14th installment of which you might have missed January 23–25. Scooterists and bikers hooked up to cruise the streets of San Diego by day before winding up a couple nights with live music and drinking.

Whistle Stop Bar

2236 Fern Street, South Park

“Fucking in the Bushes” is a once-monthly Brit-pop night at the Whistle Stop in South Park. A popular and packed house will be rocking to the strains of Oasis, Stone Roses, the Jam, the Smiths, Primal Scream, and many more artists from across the pond. Longtime DJ Tony the Tyger will often be slipping his discs on the decks at shows around the city.

Vinyl junkies can get their Mod wax fix at Nickelodeon, M. Theory, Taang, Off the Record, and Lou’s. Record City also provides the perfect scenery to shop, with its many Mod and ’60s artifacts adorning the store. It was a shame of a day when the nearby Thirsty Moon closed its door for the last time...

Unlike the U.K., the U.S. Mod scene has always kept its underground status and is all the better for it. It’s not a nostalgia trip; it’s taking the best of a golden age and making it contemporary. It’s not a pastime or hobby; for the devout, it’s a way of life.

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