Night Life

So Retro

Mike Snow feels like an old fart on Wednesdays. That's the night that the 38-year-old veteran local DJ (this month marks his 18th year in the record-rotating business) pulls his car full of record crates up to Spy (112 Travis) and serves as the main spinner for the club's '80s night, affectionately referred to as "Pop Muzik."

"I played all this music when it came out," he says. "It was brand-new, 'cuz I'm so fuckin' old." Now these records are older than most of today's pop stars.

For Snow, being a resident expert on '80s music couldn't be more chuckle-inducing. At the beginning of the last decade, Snow couldn't catch a break thanks to his love for mixing '80s tunes from Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Art of Noise and the Cure into his sets. Playing Reagan-era jams at such long-gone clubs as 6400 and Network soon gave him a rep as one of those "retro DJs." But nostalgia always ends up being trendy, so Snow now finds himself in demand. He's been Spy's go-to guy for all things '80s for four years. He started back when the spot's '80s night was known as "Breakfast Club," and later moved over to Rehab (711 Franklin) to drop obscure '80s tunes at a Wednesday-night residency called "Metro." But Spy's demand for '80s music soon brought Snow back to anchor "Pop" in the downstairs room.

"Eighties has always been a big deal in this city because '80s was just so big when it happened here in this city," explains Snow. "It's funny how I see people in the club -- they're 19 or 20, and they know all the words to every single song. I mean, the Cure songs, not just the pop ones that are on 96.5 The Mix or whatever."

It's not just downtown where folks are calling out for Duran Duran megamixes. Two of the city's most popular '80s nights can be found outside the NoDo area. Montrose haunt Numbers (300 Westheimer) was the first to indulge in its own fuzzy memories with "Classic Numbers," which is still running on Friday nights. And southwest Houston funhouse the Roxy (5351 West Alabama) offers up "Retro Revival" on Sundays.

But sometimes the prospect of hearing favorite oldies from the Michael J. Fox decade isn't enough to bring in a good crowd. Last May, noted decknician/ promoter Kung Fu Pimp joined forces with Lotus Lounge (412 Main) for an all-'80s evening called "Glam," where Pimp and assorted DJs played mixes while patrons cavorted around in leg warmers, polo shirts, Jordache jeans and other '80s fashion remnants. But stormy weather prevented all but a handful of people from taking in the kitschiness. "I liked it," remembers Lotus hostess Crystal Lee. "I got all dressed up myself."

And of course there's no accounting for club management wanting to change direction. That's what happened to the '80s ambience at the new-and-improved Gatsby Social Club. The excruciatingly classy spot was gaining a reputation as an '80s revival joint (see "Party Like It's 1982," by George Alexander, December 13, 2001), thanks in part to the weekly grooves laid down by former regular DJ Pedro, who spun an eclectic '80s night on Tuesdays. But now, general manager Lui (pronounced "Louie") explains, the spot is looking to pick up the clientele that boarded-up-but-definitely-not-forgotten Prague used to virtually monopolize. (The Gatsby has even snagged Prague dancing queen Yvette Perez, who will slap on the glitter and go-go dance on Thursday and Saturday nights.) Management's other reason for discontinuing the night a month and a half ago was to give the staff a breather.

"To be honest," says Lui, "we switched our industry night to Monday and -- instead of opening up another Tuesday and going Monday through Saturday -- we wanted a day off." But Lui hopes new-wave lovers won't find a new home just yet. "We're looking for, you know, everything to take its place with the format that we have right now, make sure that everything's running itself," he says. "And at that point we'll pick up the Tuesdays again and go for that '80s."

But make no mistake that when you venture out to any of these nights, you're getting more than Michael and Madonna and Prince or campy, dated chart- toppers from such one-hit wonders as Nu Shooz, Sly Fox and, everybody's favorite, Bananarama. For Mike Snow and the other turntable pros who serve as '80s musical directors, it's about playing the best music that came from that decade. "I don't mind playing '80s as long as I don't have to play the Go-Go's and Toni Basil's 'Mickey' and all that crap all night long," declares Snow. "I don't mind playing a song like that here and there. As long as I get to play an obscure Siouxsie cut or an obscure Cure song or The The or the Smiths or something, I'm fine with playing '80s."

Last Call

Well, it's grave-digging time again. Club Space, the mazelike, techno-heavy, teenager-filled venue that was supposed to give juvenile dance hall Hyperia (2001 Commerce) a run for its money, is no more. And boy, are we shocked! The location has already housed only three failed clubs (including a botched earlier incarnation of Club Space) in the past two years. But don't worry about the club's weekly residencies. "Karma," Kung Fu Pimp's Friday-night dance party that migrated from CONXTION 2000 (800 Almeda Mall) to become the club's top attraction, has once again moved, this time to nearby Club Vision (2117 Chenevert). And what about that Friday-night drum-and-bass room hosted by jungle brothers G-Wizz and SDF.3? That too has moved -- to Hyperia!

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey