Constructing Northern Soul Fandom in the Absence of an Artist: Issues of Identity, Originality, Ownership and Locality

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Northern Soul is a British music culture primarily located in the Midlands and north of England. The scene originated in the late 1960s, reaching its heyday in the 1970s and continuing to the present day. The music of choice was, and still is, 1960s black American soul. The 45rpm vinyl records that are fanatically collected and passionately dance to are predominantly rare, non-chart hits from often unknown artists and minor record labels. Via the direct acquisition of these vinyl records from the USA, northern English fans have created a scene unique to them and beyond the original USA intentions for that music. With a notably absent artist (Smith, 2009) the Northern Soul scene sits in awe of DJs and dancers who act as tastemakers, performers and connoisseurs. Dance is used by participants on the scene as a method of displaying fandom to peers on the scene and expressing the originality of Northern Soul to those outside of the scene. This paper will discuss the construction and performance of fandom on the Northern Soul scene, drawing particularly upon the relevance of the absent artist as a route to fan ownership and control of cultural practice, (de)constructions of the relevance of space, place and authenticity, and the altered significance of fan culture artefacts which move into – and are re-marked within – an ‘alien’ locality.

Dr Nicola Smith, University of Wales Institute Cardiff