We don’t need your fascist ’80s retro pop thing

I went dancin’ last night at the Atomic evening at the San Francisco Bath House. Atomic is centred around music from the 1980s, but certainly not what has come to be considered ’80s Music.

That is to say, it’s not about those “retro” “classics” like “Come on Eileen” or “Venus” or “Karma Chameleon” or “I’m So Excited” or “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. Those were the kind of songs that I listened to and enjoyed when I was a child in the ’80s.

Atomic’s about the sort of music that I didn’t enjoy when I was a girl, usually because it dealt with adult themes and wasn’t cheerful and upbeat.

Case in point – New Order’s “Blue Monday” was a massive hit in New Zealand in 1983, but as an 8-year-old, I wasn’t having any of it. “I see a shit in the harbour” – is that how it went? Wot a dumb lyric. And why did “Ready to Roll” have to keep playing it all the time?

Nowadays, however, I get “Blue Monday”. “Tell me how does it feel when your heart grows cold”. Yeah, I get that.

Just as well, I reckon. I mean, it would have been somewhat weird for me, aged 5, to be enjoying “Fade To Grey” instead of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”.

But the DJ at Atomic did throw in a few of those songs I listened to in the ’80s – “Tainted Love”, “99 Luftballons”, “White Wedding” – and I couldn’t really enjoy them. It was like the music equivalent of playing with dolls or eating fairy bread. It’s something that I associate so strongly with my childhood that I can’t enjoy it as an adult.

If I’m having a kanikani on the dancefloor, I don’t want to keep being transported back to the 1980s, to primary school and awkwardness and Matangi and two TV channels and mind-numbing boredom. But I could understand that for some people, the past is infinitely preferable to the present or the future, so they would probably want to be reminded of their warm, safe childhood in the ’80s.

It’s really enjoyable exploring old music that I’ve only discovered recently. It doesn’t come with feelings of nostalgia or longing for some distant, rose-tinted memory. As cheesy as “Temptation” is, it is dealing with universal human themes (you know, being tempted) that didn’t expire in the ’80s.

The ’90s, however, oh, that’s a whole different post.

4 thoughts on “We don’t need your fascist ’80s retro pop thing”

  1. I must be at least five years older than you… all that music’s from my early high school years, with the New Order in particular especially evocative. Not that it was a great time for me apart from the music…

  2. Same for me, Alan. I love a lot of the music from that era, but not because it’s a nostalgic evocation of my wonderful teenage past, which is what it seems to be for the Electric Avenue munters. I loathed a lot of the pop music at the time, and even the early-80s synth pop that I love now took me a few years to really get into. In the early 80s I was into “purer” and slightly less poppy electronic music (Kraftwerk, JMJ, Tangerine Dream), and it wasn’t until the late 80s or early 90s that I really started to discover Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, Yazoo, New Order etc beyond the obvious singles. There’s also a lot of synth pop that was huge in the UK (Heaven 17, OMD, early Spandau Ballet) but never made such an impression here, due to the increasing American influence on Kiwi pop culture, and some of those resulted in blank faces at SFBH.

    In the context of a rare chance to dance to some of the more obscure songs of the time (three tracks from Depeche Mode’s first album!), I’m happy to carry on dancing through the odd lapse in taste (Nena, Madonna, hell even Bon fucking Jovi if I’m drunk enough). Even some of the indie/post-punk/goth stuff, that I was never into at the time and still don’t go out of my way to listen to, helps add up to a fun night. But if they ever start dropping Cyndi Lauper or Tina Turner, I’m outta there.

  3. I thought the whole point of Atomic is that it’s not what people generally think of as 80’s music? If you want that then go down Courtney or the Big Kumara or anywhere some excretable mix of [“retro” “classics” like “Come on Eileen” or “Venus” or “Karma Chameleon” or “I’m So Excited” or “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”] or ABC, Go West … ugh…is being inflicted. Atomic has been going a long time now, and was designed to appeal to those who hated that crap then and still do.

    As someone who was into the indie/post-punk/goth stuff it was damn hard to find good music to listen to in the 80’s as TV/radio were full of the rubbish above. Thank god for Radio with Pictures to broaden the envelope a bit, and showcase some gems among a torrent of rubbish music released that decade.

    I’m obviously a bit older than you too, the 80’s were college then job for me, and it dosn’t bring back happy memories; grey school uniform in a grey town full of vacant lots in a pretty damn grey country. It was great to leave and find vibrant subcultures alive elsewhere.

Leave a Reply