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Spellbound: Simon Price Chooses Songs From The 80s For Our Spotify List
Simon Price , April 10th, 2009 06:18

On the eve of opening his new club Spellbound, Quietus scribe Price Lord points out the problems with launching an 80s night that isn't rubbish.

The idea of putting on an 80s night is, I’ll admit before we start, not exactly original.

Every large-ish town has one of those ghastly Reflex chain bars (or something similar) aimed at hen nights and mums on the razz, and every city with a population of students and/or real-life Nathan Barleys has a knowing, revisionist version in which you can’t move for ironic twats in Thundercat T-shirts braying about how The Goonies is the greatest film ever made and “Sussudio“ by Phil Collins is dope. Brighton, the bohemian seaside republic which has been my home since 2007, is no exception.

The problem is that, as anyone who lived through the 1980s will know, and as any younger person who’s scratched beneath the shiny shoulder-padded surface will at least suspect, it wasn’t like that.

The official line on the 1980s now is that it was about Porsche-driving yuppies shouting “Buy! Buy! Sell!“ into brick-sized mobile phones, hair metal bands with bouffant mullets, Ronald Reagan waving his nukes at the Commies, Stock Aitken Waterman puppets in stonewashed denim, Howard’s Way, Joan Collins, Knight Rider, Michael J Fox, Rambo, Chesney Hawkes and Top Gun.

Most of that stuff really came to the fore in the latter half of the decade anyway, when the forces of conservatism cracked down and eccentricity and dissent were banished. There’s a different 1980s, which will be completely alien and unrecognisable to anyone who’s been reared on the E4/BBC3 clip show version, but was no less real. Far realer, if anything.

My 1980s was the 1980s of resistance. Margaret Thatcher may have tyrannised the decade, aided by the silent assent of the lower-middle classes and the quirks of an electoral system which allows a party to cling to power with a minority of votes, but her reign - features of which included nuclear escalation, military adventurism in the South Atlantic, attacks on union rights and a callous disregard for a dole queue which had reached 3 million - inspired a vibrant counter-culture.

It was the decade of mass CND membership, a year-long Miners’ Strike which came closer than anyone realises to achieving a full revolution, the advent of alternative comedy, the uprisings in Brixton, Toxteth and Handsworth, The Young Ones and The Comic Strip, Red Wedge, The Boys From The Blackstuff, the Anti-Apartheid campaign, Brookside and the radicalised early days of Channel 4, and so on.

In music, too, it was a time when insurrectionary spirits, eccentrics, cross-dressers, outsiders, paranoiacs and weirdos - many of them refugees from punk, or disenchanted Bowie fans, or art school dropouts, or working class autodidacts, and largely from the Midlands and the North - seized the mainstream: a time when, to paraphrase the words of Fun Boy Three, the lunatics took over the asylum.

I’m talking about characters like Phil Oakey, Kevin Rowland, Marc Almond, Jerry Dammers, Adam Ant, Morrissey, Pete Burns, Martin Fry and Boy George. These people were centre stage, Smash Hits cover stars, Top Of The Pops regulars and chart-toppers. And yet you never hear them at 80s nights, apart from a token blast of “Don’t You Want Me” or “Tainted Love” crammed in among all the Lionel Richie, Bros, Tiffany and Billy Ocean. Why not? What’s going on?

This is why I, along with my DJ partner (and fiancee) Jenna, aka Cherry Foxxx, have decided to do something about it. Our aim is nothing less than to restore the reputation of an entire decade. Now, the power of a monthly 120-capacity club night in a seaside resort to achieve this may seem minimal, but the C.R.E. (Campaign for Real Eighties) starts here.

Spellbound - named after the Siouxsie And The Banshees classic and subtitled ‘The 80s Night For People Who HATE 80s Nights’ - launches at the Studio Bar of Komedia on Easter Saturday, returns again on Saturday 23rd May, and thereafter settles into a Third Saturday Of The Month slot.

It’s based on the passionately-held belief that the greatest music ever made came out of Britain between Tubeway Army's "Are 'Friends' Electric?" appearing on Top Of The Pops in June 1979 and the Live Aid concerts in July 1985. Those are the bookends of the most fascinating, vibrant, diverse, flamboyant, exuberant, colourful and inventive time in pop history. (We'll allow a couple of years' leeway either side for anything particularly brilliant, but that was the start and end of the Golden Age, we reckon).

The size of the challenge we’ve given ourselves is becoming clearer as the launch approaches. Had we kept to a quite narrow musical palette - a simple trad goth night, for example - it would have been easy: identify the 100 crucial songs, give the smoke machine a couple of blasts, sit back and hit ‘shuffle’.

Instead, we’re banking on the open-mindedness of our clientele, young and old, and hoping we can unite some disparate tastes. We’ll try to ease the jolt between genres with some crafty sequencing, but if we do end up going straight from The Sisters Of Mercy to The Special AKA, we hope the dancefloor will go with us on that.

We’re hoping to strike a chord with an as-yet-untapped demographic, namely people who know that there are Dexys songs other than "Come On Eileen", people who know that there are Human League songs other than "Don't You Want Me", people who know that there are Soft Cell songs other than "Tainted Love" and people who know that there are Department S songs other than... (OK, fair enough, we'll let you off with just the one Department S song).

About half of our playlist is stuff that already chimes with the 21st century zeitgeist and has been thoroughly assimilated and rehabilitated now, whether through being plagiarised by bands, namechecked by hipsters, dropped into DJ sets, or all three. We don’t expect a medal for playing Talking Heads or The Cramps.

The other half, though, is stuff that has tumbled from the discourse completely. There are songs, we imagine - maybe “See Those Eyes” by Altered Images, maybe “Do You Believe In The Westworld” by Theatre Of Hate, or maybe “A Solid Bond In Your Heart” by The Style Council - that will have punters of a certain age welling up with tears because you just don’t hear this stuff in clubs any more.

Despite our missionary zeal and our hatred of kitsch, we’re not above period touches (a nostalgic pint of Snakebite & Black at £2.50, for example), and we’re not averse to fun (eg The Underpants Song, a drinking game involving John Foxxx and 15 pairs of Y-fronts). Indeed, if it wasn’t guaranteed to be an absolute blast, we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. All the theorising and polemicising above would be worthless if we weren’t dead set on providing Brighton (and its many visitors) with a bloody good Saturday night out, without being forced to rub shoulders with wacky students in wigs, or lairy seafront/West St wankers in oversized school uniforms.

Spellbound is a celebration of the really good stuff from the 1980s, not the zillionth regurgitation of the same old overplayed rubbish from a CD with a Rubik‘s Cube on the front. We’re all about the music you genuinely love, not music you pretend to be into for a cheap laugh. Which means you'll hear no Jacko, no Jovi, no Wham!, no Bros, no Madonna, no Astley...

...but loads of new wave, blitz kids, goth, new romantic, post-punk, 2 tone ska, synthpop, early indie, electro, alternative rock, new pop, mod revival, soulcialism, rockabilly rebels, effeminate futurists, oddballs and one-hit wonders.

You want names? Siouxsie, Specials, Smiths, Sisters, Soft Cell, Stray Cats, Scritti, Spandau, Squeeze, Sputnik, Style Council, Strawberry Switchblade... and that's just the eSSes. And we'll be playing it on the original crackly old vinyl whenever possible, cos it sounds better that way.

For a random but representative cross-section of the Spellbound sounds, have a listen to our Spotify playlist. Time’s up for the smirking 'guilty pleasures' mentality. The 80s deserve better than that. We all deserve better than that.

From the cradle bars comes a beckoning voice... it sends you spinning... you have no choice...

Siouxsie And The Banshees - “Spellbound”
The Very Things - “The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes”
The Fall - “Cruiser’s Creek”
Soft Cell - “Down In The Subway”
ABC - “Tears Are Not Enough”
Pete Shelley - “Homosapien”
Thomas Dolby - “She Blinded Me With Science”
Flying Lizards - “Money”
The B-52’s - “Planet Claire”
Altered Images - “See Those Eyes”
Dexys Midnight Runners - “There There My Dear”
The Ruts - “Staring At The Rude Boys”
Squeeze - “Slap And Tickle”
Ultravox - “Sleepwalk”
Spear Of Destiny - “Liberator”
New Model Army - “No Rest”
Adam And The Ants - “Cartrouble”
The Human League - “Empire State Human”
Visage - “The Damned Don’t Cry”
Strawberry Switchblade - “Since Yesterday”