Northern Soul exhibition launches in Birmingham

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 31 JANUARY
Chloe

An exhibition documenting the underground Northern Soul scene in Birmingham and the Midlands through a collaborative photographic and ethnographic project has gone on display at Birmingham City University's Parkside gallery.

All Because of You is a curated collection of photographs, audio, memorabilia and scene insider accounts exploring the underground Northern Soul music scene and its younger participants within Birmingham and the Midlands.

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Birmingham City University

The exhibition presents a collaborative project between Birmingham-based independent photographer Bethany Kane and Sarah Raine, a researcher for the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research. Created through ethnographic engagements with younger members of the Northern Soul scene, this exhibition draws upon photographs, memorabilia and experiences of being part of a retrospective and underground music scene.

The Birmingham Northern Soul scene has been generally underplayed within the histories of the scene, yet the Catacombs in Wolverhampton hosted one the earliest rare Soul events in the Midlands. The current scene calendar offers events across Birmingham and the West Midlands, attracting Soul enthusiasts from the UK and beyond.

The current scene remains secretive and closed, the events subject to a series of rules and expectations. Northern Soul alldayers, allnighters and ‘nites’ offer access to rare and underplayed records from 1960s America, and attract an ever increasing and passionate younger following.

Bethany Kane said, “Through being active participants of the Northern Soul scene, Sarah and I discovered we had a similar urge to develop our skills into a project about the subject we love. Sharing our knowledge about the scene and specific skills in research methods and visual documentation, we together have built this body of work through a fulfilling and enjoyable journey.” – Bethany Kane, Birmingham-based independent photographer

The Northern Soul scene has most recently burst into mainstream media through Elaine Constantine’s award-winning film Northern Soul, and the recent glimpses offered by the Shredded Wheat advert and the YouTube ‘Northern Soul Girl’. Beyond these mediations, the Northern Soul scene is fiercely protective of its underground and subcultural identity.

Membership is publically demonstrated through key scene practices, such as a scene-specific dancing style, record collecting and DJing. All events are Original Vinyl Only (OVO) and offer access to rare and underplayed records, which adhere to the ‘Northern Soul sound’. Soulies travel all over the UK and abroad to attend scene events and hear their favourite DJs.

‘Northern Soul’ music is a canon and not a genre, created through the record collecting, DJing and dancing practices of the scene, rather than the original intentions of musicians and producers. Records from across musical genres have been assimilated into Northern Soul, offering dancers an ‘up-tempo beat’, and collectors a range of limited pressings and demos.

Unlike many other multigenerational music scenes, Northern Soul is still dominated by the original generation of the 1970s who occupy many important roles within the scene and can claim original participation within the scene’s 1970s heyday. Within this exhibition we will to explore the faces, voices and experiences of the younger members of this retrospective and underground music scene.

"What I hope to explore is how they place themselves within the dominant ways of seeing the scene, and how they make their engagement meaningful as both a Northern Soulie and a young person in the Twenty-first Century.”

“We welcome contributions from those who were and are part of this musical community, as well the wider public of Birmingham and beyond. We want to know: How do your own musical interests play a role in your life? What is the value and meaning of music from previous decades, and indeed other countries? What does being part of a musical community mean to you, and how important have the places and people of Birmingham and the West Midlands been to your own experiences of music? Written and visual contributions tagged by #allbecauseofns will be included within the exhibition itself.”

All Because Of You is presented by the Parkside Gallery, in association with Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR), Birmingham City University.

The exhibition runs from Friday 27 January to Friday 24 February at Birmingham City University’s Parkside Gallery. Admission is free.

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