All Mod Cons

We're gonna dance like it's 1964

Danger: DiabolikI knew I was breaking Dance Club Rule No. 1 by going up to the DJ and requesting a song, but I did it anyway. Attending a '60s mod/soul night called "Diabolik" at the Werepad recently, I leaned over to shout at a shaggy-haired wisp of a lad named Wayne Manor.

"Can you play something French?" I bellowed.

It would have been within Mr. Manor's rights to grimace or scowl, but he did neither. Instead, he played a '60s French tune and he played it quickly. Yet I still wasn't satisfied. The song was by an artist I'd never heard before, and I was hoping for the Gaulish gallop of Jacques Dutronc or the fizzy pop of France Gall. Then I realized I was guilty of flouting Rule No. 2: Thou shalt not dance only to what thou knoweth. Many times had I complained about lemminglike clubgoers, and now I'd become one of them. (The sole exception to this mind-set shows up with house music; no matter how obscure it is, it seems to have some odd control over people, especially yuppies.)

How did this happen? I blame northern soul.

Northern soul was a strange English phenomenon that originally existed from the mid-'60s to the late '70s. The genre was named for the towns in which the records were played (northern England spots like Manchester and Blackpool) rather than where they were made (the U.S., especially the Motor City). Every weekend, working-class kids popped amphetamines and danced like mad to faux-Motown tunes such as the Carstairs' "It Really Hurts Me Girl." Oddly, the scene was based on failure: British DJs searched for tunes that hadn'tbeen hits, obsessively looking for that next great shoulda-been.

The DJs at "Diabolik" played plenty of northern soul and similarly unknown tunes, which after a while started blending together. I enjoyed dancing to the music, but I couldn't help thinking there was a reason none of these songs became hits: There wasn't a singer or a hook or a riff that really grabbed me. The experience was kind of like listening to house music, in that all the songs had a constant rhythm and interchangeable parts.

Maybe Matt Bonar has the solution. Bonar runs "1964," a new biweekly dance event held Wednesdays at the Edinburgh Castle. "I don't want to be just preaching to the converted," he says via phone from his job at Tattoo City. "I remember the excitement of getting into '60s bands I'd never even heard of before, you know, like the Pretty Things and the Downliners Sect or whatever. I just kind of want to create that feeling for other people, too."

Bonar, 24, grew up in the Central Valley, in Visalia. Around six years ago he started picking up Beatles and Rolling Stones records. "It got out of control," he recalls. Soon, all he bought was '60s music. "My friends make fun of me. I try really hard to listen to current bands, but they just don't hold up," says Bonar with the utmost sincerity. He also likes the era's visual aesthetic -- the trademark mod bull's-eye, the pop art swirls and stripes, the natty suits. "In a perfect world everyone would dress like the Beatles," he says.

It may sound like Bonar is just another '60s purist, but he believes otherwise. "I don't want to limit ["1964'] to stuff people don't know." To that end, he mixes little-heard soul, psychedelia, and Dutch garage-rock tunes with tracks by popular mod artists (the Small Faces, Spencer Davis Group), girl groups (the Supremes, the Ronettes), and Brit Invasioners (the Hollies, the Turtles). So far the night's been a success, bringing in 50 to 100 attendees. This week's event promises to be the biggest yet, as it's also a pre-party for the renowned scooter rally King's Classic. (The rally's main affair takes place Saturday, Aug. 10, at 330 Ritch, where there'll be DJs and live performances by STFU, Gentleman Jim, 78RPM, and the Vessels; call 541-9574 for info.) DJ Dennis C., from the local garage-soul group Harold Ray Live in Concert, joins Bonar on the decks. Admission is free; call 885-4074 for more details. The next "Diabolik" occurs Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Werepad (2430 Third St. at 20th Street); go to www.diabolik-sf.com.

 
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