Thursday, May 13, 2021

The O.N. Klub - Mods in L.A.

We'd sit under the bridge and knock down a case of Mickey's Big Mouth; rich kids from the Valley out of place in East L.A. 1982. The L.A. mod scene, based on the popularity of 2-Tone in England and L.A.'s own Untouchables, had invaded a rough and ramshackle beer bar that hadn't served anyone but locals for twenty years, and few of them. Suddenly it was hundreds of L.A. mods, kids with scooters, kids there to fight, sex in the bathroom, dirty walls - call it what it you will, but it was alive. It was Motown and Gordy; it was The Who; it was The Jam; it was The Untouchables. The Oriental Nights was now the ON Klub.

Several years ago I came across an article by Kevin Long (The Untouchables). Here's an abbreviated repost:


Epicenter of a Scene
By Kevin Long


In the early 1980s, on a less than glittering strip of Sunset Boulevard, was a tiny and unremarkable dive called the O.N. Klub. The O.N. Klub, or simply “the ON” to its habitues, was located at 3037 W. Sunset in Silver Lake, then a down-at-the-heel commercial and residential area located just east of Hollywood.


It was at the O.N. Klub that the spark of a brief, but magical, alternative music scene first caught fire in 1980. The scene was an odd amalgamation of sorts, combining the sound and style of 1960’s swinging London with the music of original and second-wave Jamaican and English ska, the dance-able grooves of American Sixties soul and R&B, while tapping into the DIY spirit and independence of late Seventies punk rock.

Unlike punk rock, however, this scene made no claims of political or social upheaval; revolution was not on the agenda. Nevertheless, it was not entirely apolitical either, for if this music scene had a manifesto it was simply one of inclusion, where African-American kids dressed as sharply as their Latino brethren, where Asian-American girls were as coolly detached as their white sisters, where kids from South Central and La Cãnada amicably (and endlessly) debated the merits of Vespa v. Lambretta, not unlike white English boys did half-a-world away and a generation earlier.This was the colorful and wildly popular L.A. mod scene, circa 1980-1984. It all began at a dingy little club in a once dingy corner of the city.

The pivotal moment in the rise of the L.A. punk scene occurred in 1977 when the legendary Masque club first opened its doors. In L.A., bands such as X, the Dickies, the Germs, the Weirdos, the Go-Go’s and others found a home at the Masque, and the local punk scene was underway.

In L.A., the mod scene developed with the ’79 release of “Quadrophenia” kick-starting mod awareness, though it would take another year before mods began to have even minimal presence in local clubs. L.A. mods wore suits in tribute to the early ‘60s American soul stars they idolized. But a suit also looked sharp on the dance floor, and that never hurt when looking to meet someone. Ask any scooter-less, suit-wearing mod what it was like, for example, to board a bus in L.A. in 1980, and he would likely equate it to being viewed as a visitor from a distant galaxy. RTD bus driver to self: “Three old ladies sitting up front? Check. Leather-clad punk with purple Mohawk and bike chain? Check. Pimply-faced metal dude with big hair and small brain? Check. Clean cut teenager wearing ‘60s suit and tie? Che…what the…? Not on my watch, mister!” And in a cloud of diesel, clang, clang, go the RTD doors. Strange days, indeed.

By 1981, the ON Klub had survived its first year. The next influential step occurred when [The O.N. Klub] booked on a regular basis the Boxboys, the first genuinely homegrown L.A. ska band. 
The Boxboys were the DIY bridge that spanned that vast and mythical chasm between dance floor and stage for L.A.’s first mod band, the Untouchables. The Boxboys influence on the Untouchables exceeded that of the far-removed English Two-Tone and mod sets the group admired; whereas the English bands gave shape to the dream, the Boxboys embodied it.

The Untouchables were mods who made no apologies for their love of Sixties American soul and British power pop in an era where, at least on the L.A. alternative scene, hardcore punk (i.e., testosterone-driven SST bands) was all the rage. It wasn’t just that the Untouchables played a mix of music inspired by black and white artists, but rather that the band itself was racially diverse. 



It didn’t take long for word to get out about the band or the club. Soon the Untouchables’ several Vespas and Lambrettas parked out front were joined by dozens of others. All corners of the city were represented on the dance floor in a crazy quilt of culture, color and style.

Before long the mod scene at the ON Klub took on a life of its own. Scooters were regularly lined up nearly the length of the block in front of the club, which got the attention of the cops, which, in turn, got the attention of the local media. Suddenly, mod was an L.A. buzzword. By 1984 the scene had swelled to over 5,000 kids. It grew to include a dozen or more bands in and around L.A. and Orange counties, and many clubs adopted a “mod night” to cater to the ever expanding mod army, while other mod events flourished across the city. No longer an underground scene, the mod phenomenon soon stretched the breadth of California to exceed in numbers any other mod scene in America before or since.


My glasses aren't as rosy colored as Kevin's. I remember skinheads ambushing mods in back alleys. I remember gang activity that didn't necessarily embrace the perceived effete mod style sense. But I remember a scene that was alive and ours, exciting, a little dangerous, and unforgettable.