I've never been a member of a music-based subculture, so I don’t know what it feels to define oneself as a member of an in-group based on clothes and music. That’s what this film is about, though. The main character is a slightly geeky, introverted boy whose parents bully him into trying the local youth club, and who – by taking sides in a fight on the spur of the moment – finds himself fallen in among soul boys. He becomes an enthusiastic participant and thereby finds shape and meaning for his life. There are lots of amphetamines, some of them dodgy.
The film is dark and dirty-looking, and the sound is sometimes a bit muffled – funny for a film about music. There is no sense that the palaces of Northern Soul were wonderlands for the people who went to them; they look dismal. The dancing about which so much has been said is energetic but graceless and not at all beautiful. It’s a sort of male competitive display, the boys dancing to impress each other. They certainly don’t seem very interested in the girls, who bob up and down discreetly in the background.
It did remind me a bit about how awful it was being a teenager in the 1970s, even though my suburban London Grammar School wasn’t even close to this world. Fountain pens and ink bottles, uncomfortable school uniforms, the underlying threat of violence between boys, the sarcastic teachers, the horrible dangerous cars…
Funny to recall a time when any kind of recorded music was a rare and precious commodity that you had to seek out, and where finding and owning the right recordings was worth both money and cudos.