For many years, the toast of Adams Morgan was a video dance party playing music generally from the 1980s at Heaven and Hell on Thursday nights. The 80s Dance Party eventually came under the management of DJ Neal Keller, calling himself “The Angel,” and promoter Steve Donahoe, who kept it going strong for all that time.
For various reasons, that team eventually parted ways with the club and pursued different nightlife opportunities. But now, they have reunited to bring back the 80s Dance Party as a monthly party on Saturday nights to Black Whiskey on 14th St. NW near Logan Circle. The event debuts this Saturday, Aug. 31, at Black Whiskey, at 9pm.
I chatted with Mr. Keller, an old friend of mine after hosting me at many of his dance nights, about the expectations for the new party, the importance of good partnerships and the excitement of being in a vibrant, albeit different, neighborhood.
Mickey: Let’s get down to what’s important! What are people going to hear at the new 80s Dance Party?
Neal Keller: 80s Dance Party has always put an emphasis on the New Wave, Post Punk, Synthpop, Underground and New Romantic artists from the era. That means New Order, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Duran Duran, Yazoo, The Clash, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Love and Rockets, Flock of Seagulls, Blancmange, Heaven 17, Clan of Xymox, Simple Minds, Visage, Psychedelic Furs, Talking Heads, Joy Division and similar artists.
I think the change of scenery over to the 14th Street area will allow us the opportunity to focus more on the alternative and underground sounds of the 80s, and to back away slightly from the mainstream pop and cheesy stuff. During much of the history of the event, we were catering to a more touristy crowd in Adams Morgan, and so we became known for the Top 40 music from the 80s. But even back then there was a strong contingent of DC’s night people, replete with thick eyeliner and Manic Panic, who exerted a strong pull toward the more obscure material. You may remember, they pretty much annexed the seating to the left of the DJ booth, near the projector screen.
At the new location, Black Whiskey, there’s an edgier feel, and we hope that will attract more discerning New Wave enthusiasts. In fact, the look of the place is a lot closer to the kind of places that first got me out clubbing back in the 80s. I’m hoping the atmosphere will be reminiscent of the humble beginnings of the event, when you were about ten times more likely to hear an Echo and The Bunnymen track than you were to hear Loverboy.
Having said that, I still want to honor guilty pleasures like “The Safety Dance” and “Love Is A Battlefield” — with the video. You’d be amazed how many alternative people request When In Rome. And I reserve the right to play some Prince — maybe more “Controversy” era, though.
MM: No offense to our other DJ friends, but over the years, you’ve really seized the initiative to become the top guy for producing a total dance club package with sound and lights. What can people expect when they turn up at Black Whiskey Saturday? Music videos? Lights? New stuff?
NK: Definitely. There will be a big emphasis on music video. This is very important to promoter Steve Donahoe, and it’s important to me as well. Music video was an emerging genre in its own right back in the 80s, and, as such, we feel that it is essential to a comprehensive 80s revue. The original videos, with the songs, not just a collage.
Video was a big element back at the old place, and it has carried over into subsequent 80s Dance Party events. It was in our blood back then, and it still is today. It’s worth noting that Steve is a founding member of Video Killers, which includes the very innovative VJ John Bowen. So Steve has been deeply involved in events that combine video with music in the club environment.
For my own part, I have been working over the past couple of years to improve the depth of my video collection, including some current Now Wave material, the quality of the mixing, and the video gear available for presentation. We expect to have three projectors going on Saturday.
Expanding my light show has also been a priority, especially for the mobile events and private parties I’ve been doing. I plan to put on a dazzling light show for Saturday’s event. Moving heads, uplighting, disco ball, the works. I know a lot of the DJs who hail more from the indie side of the scene tend to eschew such spectacle, perhaps to avoid being seen as pretentious. But I come at it from a different angle. I like being immersed in the club environment. Lights and music are on my mind! I don’t think that stuff should be left exclusively to the rave crowd; we’re entitled to some flashiness as well.
MM: I personally am very enthusiastic that your party is taking place in the city, and that it hasn’t been banished to the ‘burbs. I’m even more excited that it’s happening in an area of the city that’s really bubbled up as a hot spot, much like Adams Morgan 20 years ago. What are your thoughts on taking the party to the Logan Circle area generally and Black Whiskey particularly?
NK: I remember way back in the 80s, driving from Burke [Virginia] all the way into DC in order to go to a club that was playing Eurythmics and Cabaret Voltaire. I understand that it’s possible to do that in reverse nowadays. I also remember driving up 14th Street to get to the old 9:30 Club and Dante’s back then. So to observe that the Logan Circle area has gone through a transformation into an exciting area for nightlife definitely resonates with me. There’s a lot of foot traffic, a lot of energetic party people looking for places to hang, and a lot of vitality. People will be able to dance at Black Whiskey, which is kind of important to our event. I would suggest that the “Dance Party” part has always been just as important that the “80s” part — maybe more so. This kind of music belongs on a club style sound system, with flashing lights and video screens! I would like to see our event represent to a new crop of party people what the 9:30 Club, Poseurs, Back Alley and The Roxy represented for me: a place where you can dress like it’s Halloween, and shake a leg on the dance floor without having to push tables out of the way.
MM: So 80s Dance Party@Black Whiskey is a monthly event? Are you planning anything else in the future that we should know?
NK: We had to work around some prior bookings to find a date for the debut and for the events that will follow. So it looks like, after opening night, we will work out a regular monthly schedule. And in fact, I’d like to use the October installment to celebrate our 20th anniversary. Following that, I really really want to revive the Synthpop night — maybe call it “80s Dance Party Presents: Secret Circuits” if the name isn’t already taken.
Other fun events from days gone by that could return: “Ladies of the 80s,” “Manchester Night,” the many holiday parties we did. ‘Course, now that it’s on a Saturday, you won’t have to wish you had the day off on Friday in order to stay late! I would consider doing the Cold War Night again, but only if I had a signed petition with dozens of people demanding that I did so. Yes, it was one of the coolest looking events. [Check out the pix on Facebook and see for yourself.] It was a neat concept, but it always suffered attendance wise. Maybe people were worried they wouldn’t be able to reenter the American Sector when it was done!
80s Dance Party
Saturday, Aug. 31
Doors @ 9pm