Quadrophenia rides again for Sussex symposium on mods, The Who and scooters
Quadrophenia, the iconic album by The Who that also became the title of a cult film depicting the mods and rockers clashing on Brighton beach 50 years ago, is the subject of a University of Sussex symposium this summer.
‘Here by the Sea and Sand’ will explore what the album and the film say about masculinity, crowds, Englishness, violence and nostalgia as well as being a celebration of the music, the fashion, and scooters.
There will also be a special showing of the 1979 film with an introduction by its director, Franc Roddam, a keynote address by the New Yorker’s literary critic and devotee of The Who, James Wood, and a proposed (if unlikely to be accomplished) ‘rumble on the beach’ to round off the conference on 11 July.
Organiser Dr Pam Thurschwell, co-director of the University’s Centre for Modernist Studies and an avid fan of both the album and the film, says: “I felt that by constantly focusing on Joyce, Pound, and Woolf we weren’t taking full advantage of the “Mod” in Modernist Studies. Quadrophenia is such a rich text, musically, culturally, visually, cinematically, and historically.
“This is also the perfect moment to do this. The Who turn 50 this year, and on 18-19 May it will be exactly 50 years since the bank holiday battle between mods and rockers on Brighton beach, as immortalised in Quadrophenia.”
The conference is already attracting wide interest among academics and beyond. Sussex speakers include Andy Medhurst, who is talking about “From Soho down to Brighton: Capital, Coast and Quadrophenia”, and Tom Wright, who will be delivering thoughts on “5:15: Mods, Mobility and the Brighton Train”.
The Who’s guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend has sent a supporting email, although is unlikely to be able to attend. The last time members of the band were on campus was for the Freshers’ Ball in Falmer House in 1970, when they performed on refectory tables tied together with ropes.
While nostalgia will be playing a central part, Dr Thurschwell expects the debate to widen to the current state of youth culture. “There has been a lot of discussion in the British press recently about the ways in which subcultural identity and youth rebellion has changed in the age of the internet, and thinking back through a distinctive youth movement like mod is both fascinating and educational.
“The album is a classic work about adolescent alienation—the desire to be safely ensconced in a crowd, cut through by the fear of having one’s shaky identity sucked away.”
She adds: “The rumble on the beach will probably have to be done as a performance art piece, considering the fact that most of our speakers are long past our rumbling days - and I’m not certain how many of us have scooters.”
Notes for editors
- For more information about ‘Here by the Sea and Sand: a Symposium on Quadrophenia’, click here
- A special showing of the 1979 film Quadrophenia, with an introduction by its director Franc Roddam and story consultant Alan Fletcher, takes place at the Duke of York’s Cinema in Brighton on 10 July.
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