Snapshot of a subculture: Northern Soul in photos

Despite being a child of the 1970s, Northern Soul is alive and kicking, as younger generations are filling the dance floors and flying the flag for this TikTok-trendy subculture

Pic: Jeanie Jean
The Moth Club is a former working men’s club that has been claimed by London’s live music scene. In recent years it has become a haven for the capital’s Northern Soulers, as well as a favourite setting for music videos and films beneath the sparkling silver ceiling. Pic: Harry Merrell
Deptford Northern Soul Club is run by mates Will Foot and Lewis Henderson. They have been putting on Northern Soul nights since 2016, when they convinced the owner of Deptford’s Bunker to let them play some of their fathers’ records. Since the sell-out opening night, the pair have emerged as the faces of the scene, appearing at the likes of Glastonbury and Green Man Festival – and inspiring a renewed appreciation for the old songs. Pic: Pius Bentgens
Northern Soul originated from US soul records hitting the UK’s shores. The main characteristics include the classic black American soul sound and a fast tempo (at least 100bpm). The records were exported on labels such as Tamla Motown, Brunswick and Atlantic. 7-inch records from Jackie Wilson, Smokey Robinson and The Newsbeats were spun, swapped and traded at all-nighters in the north of England. Venues such as the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, the Wigan Casino in Wigan and Stoke-on-Trent’s Golden Torch were the places to go. Pic: Jeanie Jean
The Northern Soul scene also has a lot to thank the Mods for. It took inspiration from their Fred Perry polo-shirts, tailored and shrink-to-fit Levi jeans, tassel loafers and weekender bags. The two scenes also share similarities in the origins of their musical palettes. Both subcultures were drawn to soul and blue beat music by the driving beat. Is it any wonder these two subcultures have thousands flocking to bank holiday weekenders each year? Pic: Jeanie Jean
Northern Soul has seen a resurgence not just in the clubs, but also in popular culture. Artists such as John Newman have been inspired by the scene, with his track Love Me Again paying homage to the movement. More recently, artists such as Aaron Frazer, Papa Bear & His Cubs and Jalen Ngonda have been reimagining modern soul, selling out shows in the UK and the US. In 2014, the subculture was immortalised on the silver screen by the film Northern Soul that won over critics with its superb screenplay and sing-along soundtrack. Pic: Jeanie Jean
Just like the up-tempo music, the dance moves were (and are) incredibly energetic. High kicks, spins, knee drops and the legendary flip were all skilled moves that Northern Soulers aspire to pull off. For the less gifted groovers, the reliable shuffle and bop was the ideal accompaniment to a sweaty evening filled with soulful serotonin. Pic: Jeanie Jean
Attending a Northern Soul night might be an intimidating prospect for those who don’t know how to do the “proper dancing”. But fear not – enjoying yourself is all that really matters. It can also help if your mate lets you hop on their shoulders and swing around a top hat (NB: we do not condone climbing on other dancers, and will not be responsible when you inevitably get kicked out or receive a royal telling off). Pic: Pius Bentgens
Northern Soul wasn’t just a northern secret. Although the scene was born in the cities of Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and Wigan, it spread back to the music’s origin on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1978, the American music magazine Billboard named the Wigan Casino club as “The Best Disco in the World” ahead of New York’s legendary Studio 54. Unfortunately, 40 years later, this iconic venue is merely a Pandora jewellery store. The only note to its fabled past is a recently erected blue plaque outside. Pic: Jeanie Jean
Any Northern Soul dance floor will without fail be packed with hundreds of enthusiastic visitors – and probably sold out. It is easy to understand why, when you consider that Deptford Northern Soul was named the best club night in the country by Time Out magazine in 2023. Thanks to regular Northern Soul all-nighters, and a wave of TikTok influencers donning their dancing loafers, the genre has realised serious popularity amongst Gen Z. Pic: Lucy George
But don’t just take our word for it. At a recent Deptford Northern Soul night Sarah, 23, from Manchester, said: “It’s great to see young people at this sort of event; normally people our age would be in pop clubs or at raves. It’s really nice to see people dance, like actually dancing and enjoying the music. Clubs can be so shit and the music can mean nothing to the people there, but Northern Soul is different. It’s refreshing to watch and be a part of.” Pic: Pius Bentgens
Grace, 20, from Surrey, says: “I’ve been into the Northern Soul/Funk-Soul scene for years, but where I’m from there wasn’t much of a scene, so it’s amazing to come down to the London and the Moth Club and meet a bunch of young people who are really into it. I think the precedent is that the scene is sheltered by older people from the original scene but it’s amazing to come here and see a younger generation dressing in the style, learning the dance moves and generally just having a good time.” Pic: Pius Bentgens
As someone who likes “soul-infused music”, Lucy, 22, from Manchester, is “really drawn to the faster pace rhythm that Northern Soul music provides.” She says: “It creates such an uplifting, positive mood, which is hard not to dance to. Deptford Northern Soul Club provides a sense of community for likeminded people that just want to dance to upbeat music. A night in which you are usually guaranteed spins, kicks and shuffling around on the dancefloor.” Pic: Harry Merrell
“There is no Northern Scene in Ireland, and I found out about it through a guest speaker at my university,” says Roisin, 22, from Dublin. “It was a really eye-opening experience for me. I started watching loads of clips on YouTube of the dancing, and although I haven’t mastered the dance moves yet, I was able to convince my friends to come along. I come for the dancing, and my friends are just here for the general vibe, but it’s just good student fun that anyone can enjoy.” Pic: Pius Bentgens
For Ben, 25, from Hackney, Northern Soul has always been the best music to his ears. “I love Northern Soul; it’s fantastic. I have had it in my playlists for a few years, but I never thought of going to a club that plays just that type of music. Usually, I like to go to techno events but this is a great genre to explore. Inside the club there is a very wholesome vibe, no one is sitting down everyone is dancing, it’s mental. If I was to describe the scene in three words it would simply be: everyone just dances. I love it.” Pic: Lucy George
Ernie, 20, from New Cross, says: “There are people death-dropping on the floor, doing the splits and the kicks. It’s amazing they can do it, but it’s even more impressive the fact they can do it in such a busy club – it’s absolutely packed inside. It’s brilliant to watch and it’s even better to be a part of. It’s so worth the money, the only shame is how rare the nights are. We want more.” Pic: Jeanie Jean
Northern Soul isn’t just about the dancing, but also the collecting of the records themselves. A piece of plastic, if you know what you are looking for, could help you to put a deposit down on a house. Record labels such as Tamla Motown can be picked up at record stores for a few quid, but the really collectable stuff is on original American pressings. Labels such as Shout, Revilot Records and Awake Records are the stuff of the dreams for soul collectors. The record rumoured to be the most valuable is Frankie Wilson’s Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) on Soul records. A copy will set you back at least £35,000, making it the most valuable 7″ single of all time. Best start saving now. Pic: Jeanie Jean
The Moth Club hosts Deptford Northern Soul Club every third Friday. The duo are scheduled to play the venue next on Friday April 19 and Friday 17 May 2024. Pic: Jeanie Jean

Images by Jeanie Jean can be purchased from the British Culture Archive here.

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