Northern soul is a music and dance movement that emerged, initially in Northern England in the late 1960s, from the British mod scene. Northern soul mainly consists of a particular style of black American soul music based on the heavy beat and fast tempo of the mid-1960s Tamla Motown sound. The northern soul movement, however, generally eschews Motown or Motown-influenced music that has met with significant mainstream success. The recordings most prized by enthusiasts of the genre are usually by lesser-known artists, and were initially released only in limited numbers, often by small regional United States labels. This meant that the movement was sustained (and "new" recordings added to playlists) by prominent DJs discovering rare and previously overlooked records.
Northern soul is also associated with particular dance styles and fashions that grew out of the underground rhythm & soul scene of the late 1960s. As the favoured beat became more uptempo and frantic, by the early 1970s, northern soul dancing became more athletic, somewhat resembling the later dance styles of disco and break dancing. Featuring spins, flips, karate kicks and backdrops, club dancing styles were often inspired by the stage performances of touring American soul acts.
Extraordinary dance moves were no the only peculiarity of Northern Soul devotees; they also introduced a fashion of comparable extreme - created with equal measure of form and function. The earlier mod-style of Sta-Prest trousers, Ben Sherman shirts and multi-buttoned blazers gave way to skinny-fitting vests, shirts and tank tops worn over high-waisted, loose-fitting Oxford bags - the latter of which not only offered ventilation and freedom of movement, but also cut a dramatic dash mid-pirouette.
Sports vests were often adorned with sew-on patches, representing affiliation to the movement and/or membership of various soul clubs. The design of these badges was often formed around the image of a clenched black fist, a symbol associated with the Black Power salute. On his visit to the Twisted Wheel in 1971, Dave Godin recalled that "...very many young fellows wore black "right on now" racing gloves ... between records one would hear the occasional cry of "Right on now!" or see a clenched gloved fist rise over the tops of the heads of the dancers!"
The northern soul movement is cited by many as being a significant step towards the creation of contemporary club culture and of the superstar DJ culture of the 2000s.