The upcoming Poseurs club reunion set for Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Rock and Roll Hotel got me thinking that it’s a pretty good time around DC for dance parties featuring 80s music.
As a diehard new waver, I actually dislike the term “80s music,” because my genre is a growing one that started up around 1976 and continues to see new bands and innovations until this day. (New wave is indeed enjoying a major renaissance now.) Thaaaaaaaat said, everyone knows what I mean when I use the term and these parties build their set lists based on the idea that you know what they mean when *they* use it as well.
So without further ado, here is a brief tour of the major 80s parties going on in the District right now with an emphasis on what you can catch next.
Party: Kids in America
The Scene: Bill Mallison named his irregular bi-monthly party Kids in America at Dahlak (1771 U St NW), the boxlike Eritrean restaurant at 18th and U Sts. NW, after the popular Kim Wilde tune. The party name however really serves as more of a rallying cry than an indication of what you’ll hear there, as Mallison loves pure electronic dance music and harbors affection for the New Romantics that rivals my own. His personal favorites tend toward obscure groups like Play, the November Group, and Lori and the Chameleons. But Kids in America features plenty of favorites from the Human League, the Clash, Duran Duran, David Bowie, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, and more. As Mallison himself might say, “Expect to hear all of the tunes that hit #23 in Belgium in 1982 plus a few you might actually know!”
Drawbacks: Dahlak is in an extremely convenient location in Adams Morgan but the beer selection is quite limited and the acoustics leave a bit to be desired.
A personal favorite song I’m likely to hear: “Working with Fire and Steel,” China Crisis
Your next chance to go: Saturday, May 19, at 10pm. Although KIA usually occurs on a Friday, it’s on a Saturday this month with a tribute to synthmaster Vince Clarke from Depeche Mode to Yazoo to Erasure and beyond.
Party: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
The Scene: A few years back, industrial hostess Lori Beth attempted to put up a party every night everywhere in a bid for total domination of the DC nightlife scene! (The forces of good barely stopped the darkwave onslaught.) Seriously though, in addition to longstanding fixture Spellbound on Saturdays, one of the parties that stuck and stuck well was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar (1104 H St. NE) on Wednesdays. KKBB, named for a glammy goth song by UK band Specimen, specializes mostly in post-punk crowd-pleasers like the Psychedelic Furs, Modern English, Echo and the Bunnymen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and of course The Cure. Regular DJs The Machine and Devolutionary perhaps have the most consistently good taste in music in the entire DC metropolitan area. They make a straight-up appeal to folks of a certain age by describing their night as “Propaganda Magazine meets 120 Minutes” and inviting people to recall clubs that existed “once upon a time” like Poseurs, Cagney’s, and Back Alley Café.
Drawbacks: KKBB can sometimes feel like someone’s private living room party, particularly when the DJs go off script and play crap like John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
A personal favorite song I’m likely to hear: “Friend or Foe” by Adam Ant
Your next chance to go: Wednesday, May 23, at 9pm. KKBB happens every month on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. Free admission.
Party: 80s Dance Party
The Scene: Not too long after the actual 1980s were over, a couple of gents in a New Romantic band called Romania started up the unfortunately named 80s Dance Party at Club Heaven and Hell in Adams Morgan. The party was ably supported and eventually DJ’ed by the hardworking and talented Neal Keller (aka The Angel or DJ Neal), a great friend and a damn good person all around. The party celebrated its last night at the “old location” some years ago, but Keller kept the party going at Chief Ike’s Mambo Room (1725 Columbia Rd. NW) every Thursday. 80s Dance Party consistently remains a crowd-pleaser, spinning anything and everything from Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, A-ha, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Berlin, and even Rick Astley. Keller has stepped away from the DJ deck for the most part except for special occasions, leaving dancefloor duties to gothy gal London Shadows, who has a surprising affinity for radio-friendly hits by everyone from REM to Whitney Houston.
Drawbacks: The long-standing Chief Ike’s is the local pub for a very specific neighborhood, which turns out largely because it’s their local watering hole and not for 80s music specifically. This makes for a hit-or-miss crowd. Plus, the party’s generic name leaves many people with no clue that it’s technically the same very long-running party that started up in the mid-1990s, perhaps *technically* making it the city’s longest running dance night.
A personal favorite song I’m likely to hear: “Into the Groove” by Madonna (when London Shadows spins); “Reap the Wild Wind” by Ultravox (when DJ Neal spins).
Your next chance to go: Thursday, May 24, at 9pm. Free admission.
Party: Synth Thursday
The Scene: A few years ago, DJ Michael Scruggs popped into the relatively new Lyon Hall (3100 N. Washington Blvd, Arlington, Va.), a French bistro in the Clarendon neighborhood, on a Sunday night and starting spinning some of his favorite tunes by bands like New Order, Depeche Mode, the Book of Love, The Damned, English Beat, Bronski Beat, Minor Threat, Fine Young Cannibals, and The Clash. Scruggs quickly moved to Thursday nights once a month and branded the resulting night, which became heavy on synthpop, as Synth Thursday. The stark white and metallic look and feel of the restaurant suit the ambiance of Scruggs’ sets well, and Lyon Hall has a damn good beer selection.
Drawbacks: Well, it’s in Arlington. Honestly, despite being only a block off the well-trafficked Wilson Blvd. corridor, Lyon Hall can feel like a very lonely place indeed at night.
A personal favorite song I’m likely to hear: “Everything’s Gone Green” by New Order
Your next chance to go: Scruggs actually is doing a special night of KLMR and SYNTH Collide on Saturday, May 19, at 10pm if you would rather check him out on a weekend. Otherwise, look for the next Thursday night announcement on Facebook. Free admission.
Party: Eighties Mayhem
The Scene: Straight-edge cool dude Steve EP brings his mega party to mainstage at the Black Cat (1811 14th NW) every six months or so. Joined by his partners in crime at FYM Productions, Steve EP is well known for such big affairs like the Depeche Mode Dance Party and Cryfest, a night of The Cure versus The Smiths. For Eighties Mayhem, Steve EP, DJ Missguided, Killa K, and Krasty McNasty aren’t afraid to throw in everything *plus* the kitchen sink in a big pot of punk, post-punk, new wave, new romantic, hi-NRG, rock, hair metal, and ska. The overall atmosphere receives a boost from Steve EP’s taste in video game aesthetics from the Atari era, which usually result in some impressive decorative stage pieces.
Drawbacks: The Black Cat is perhaps the most awesome place on Planet Earth, but they let underage kids in to dance, which makes old men like me feel even older, particularly when those kids have no idea what they are listening to.
A personal favorite song I’m likely to hear: “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure
Your next chance to go: Friday, May 25, at 9:30pm. Buy a ticket in advance because it will sell out on a Memorial Day weekend! $10 admission.
Party: Right Round
The Scene: Let me be clear: If you like a DJ who honestly mixes and beat matches like no one else, then you have no better option than DJ lil’ e, who has been running Right Round monthly for 11 years now at the Black Cat (1811 14th NW). Lil’ e is the real deal, and she’s a genuine pleasure to watch as she frenetically mixes and matches and dances to her own beat. And her beat is likely to be your beat at the monthly backstage sweatbox named after the popular song by Dead or Alive with such other groups as A-ha, The Go-Go’s, The Cars, When In Rome, Animotion, Depeche Mode, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gary Numan, Billy Idol, and more more more!
Drawbacks: Right Round is more popular than ever, which makes the tiny backstage at the Black Cat waaaaaaaaaaay too crowded to enter between 10:30pm and midnight-thirty some nights IMO unless you really want to appreciate what it feels like to be a sardine. That, and lil’ e likes the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers much too much.
A personal favorite song I’m likely to hear: “Obsession” by Animotion (or maybe even “Mickey” by Toni Basil — you know I had to go there)
Your next chance to go: Saturday, June 16, at 9:30pm. Right Round typically happens the third or fourth Saturday of every month backstage at the Black Cat. It sometimes falls on Fridays as well. (It already happened oddly early this month on Friday, May 11.) And twice a year, it goes big upstairs on the mainstage for its anniversary party and a prom-themed event. $7 admission ($10 when on mainstage).