On a recent Saturday night, my husband and I were at Black Cat in D.C., to dance to music we danced to when were dating two decades ago: the ‘80s-alternative music of The Cure and The Smiths. I was shocked at the number of Millennials crowding the place. When the first guitar strums of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” sounded, there were cries and a mad rush to the dance floor, kids dancing and jumping and shouting along to a song that came out in 1979, 35 years ago.
Why was I so amazed? Because I couldn’t have imagined dancing to music that was 35 years old when I was in my mid-20s. That would have been music of the 1960s, and would have sounded something like this (I’m not kidding; this was the No. 1 hit in 1960):
Eighties and '90s-retro dance nights are plentiful in the DMV and would seem like the perfect option for a fun night out for us In-Betweeners, a chance to embrace our past and dance like we did at prom. However, the popularity of these nights with the under-30 crowd has made me feel a little old and silly at them. And a little…annoyed, like the event has been co-opted by people who think we went around wearing neon all the time.
I spoke to DJ Steve EP about this phenomenon. Steve EP, known as Stephen Petix in non-DJ life, was one of the DJs for the Cure vs. Smiths Black Cat event and spins at retro-focused dance events around the area, including the very popular Eighties Mayhem nights, also at the Black Cat main stage.
Steve, who shocked me when he told me he is my age, believes that we didn’t dance to music of our parents because it was so bad. “The music sucked,” he said. “There were pockets of cool stuff – Motown and soul – but for the most part it was really lame. Popular music was terrible before rock and roll.”
The blandness of the music that preceded it is what made the birth of new wave and punk in the late-‘70s and early-‘80s so revolutionary, he said. “These people weren’t trying to be rock stars, they were breaking all the rules." Steve remembers the hardship of being a punk kid in a straight world, of being called ‘faggot’ all the time. A friend pierced her own nose because -- unlike the handy mall kiosks today -- there was no place she have it done. That angst and rebellion and even newness of that music still speaks to kids 30-plus years later.
“When I see a 12 year old wearing a Black Flag t-shirt, I think that’s awesome,” he said. “I’m not in that camp that thinks, ‘I discovered it.’” He's talking about my possesive camp.
Of course, ‘80s alternative isn’t the only thing playing at retro dance nights. Steve thinks its sacrilege to mention Madonna in the same breath as the Cure and Depeche Mode and New Order, but I liked “Oh Father,” and, in retrospect, find her stuff groundbreaking, too. When she came on the scene in her bustiers and rosary beads, nobody had displayed their sexuality like she had. Except Prince.
The concept that the music of the ‘80s was groundbreaking, and that maybe the ground has been broken so thoroughly that it has yet to be supplanted, helps me understand why its been embraced by those younger than me. Helps me elbow my way in and dance along.
Retro Dance Nights in the DMV
A list of upcoming '80s and '90s dance nights in the D.C.-metro area
(Links aren't working on iPhone 4 and higher. Squarespace says they're working on it.)
Tonight: The Legwarmers: D.C.'s Biggest '80s Retro Dance Party, The State Theatre, Falls Church, VA
Tonight: 10th Annual Pretty in Pink '80s Prom, The Ottobar, Baltimore, MD
June 28: No Scrubs: '90s Dance Party with DJs Will Eastman and Brian Billion, 9:30 Club, Washington, DC
June 28: '80s Dance Party, Tropicalia, Washington, DC
July 2 (Every 1st and 3rd Wednesday): Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Little Miss Whiskey's Golden Dollar, Washington, DC
July 25: Start Making Sense, Talking Heads Tribute w/ HMFO: a Hall and Oates Tribute, The Hamilton, Washington, DC
July 26: Purple Rain 30th Anniversary Party, Black Cat, Washington, D.C.
August 29: MJ Day 2014 - 5th Annual Michael Jackson Dance Party, 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C.