What is Northern Soul?

 Northern Soul is not a music style in a usual way. So you can't declare a set of musical characteristics, which classify a song unequivocal as belonging to Northern Soul. Hence other authors as well get difficulties giving definitions. The Problem is caused by the fact, that the attachment of a song to the category Northern Soul actually is made by the community of fans (a funny parallel to the Kuhnian theory of the construction of truth by the scientific community). Therefore this classification varies from fan to fan. Additionally Northern Soul shows flowing transitions to almost all popular music styles like Country, R&B, Rn'R, Beat, Rock, Salsa, Reggae etc.. But what is then Northern Soul?  Northern Soul is the music and the name of an english subculture. It's origin lays back in the 6ties. At that time some DJs in the northern England decided not to play the popular Soul music usually played in the London clubs any longer. Instead they played rare Soul records from small independent labels with a stronger more original sound. This "Rare Soul" attracted more and more people so that in 1970 a journalist reported on this subculture and named it "Northern Soul". In the beginning, there was played only 6ties Soul on the allnighters, the dancing venues of this scene. But later a group of fans of rare Modern Soul get apparent. They were forced to arrange their venues seperately, but finally they get integrated. The classic allnighter starts after midnight and lasts till 8am. The visitors don't dress uniform. Their dressing depends on their belonging to special groups like mods, for instance. There are two dance styles: a more or less fixed step combination, and the combination of these steps with acrobatic figures, generally known from Breakdance. In Continental Europe, especially in Germany, France, Austria, and Italy, Northern Soul got popular in the 8ties. But in contrary to the homeland where the popularity decreased only slightly, Northern Soul survived only in small stalgart communities of fans. Other differences between England and the rest of Europe are: While in England only singles get played, here, due to the bad opportunity to get singles, also LPs are used. The dressing is usually more 6ties style, there is a bigger variety of dance styles and, of course, there are other favourite songs, so it could happen that the reaction on an english "floorpacker" will be yawning.

See also the explanation of Glen

For further reading:

Clara Drechsler und Gerald Hüntgen: Northern Soul. Englands längste Nacht, in: Spex Nr.9, Köln September 1984, S.14-19

Dean: What is Northern Soul?, in: Shades Of Soul, Issue 24,  Bradford September 1994 S.16-21 (Transcription of a lecture held at the Institute Of  Popular Culture, Metropolitan University Manchester)

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