I'm working the shit out of this antiquated exercise bike. Peddling to the beat of ESG's "Dance" blasting from a cassette tape. Behind me, a massive handcrafted faux "turntable stereo" of plywood and 2-by-4s forms the stage's backdrop. A panel of circular windows like headlights flash fluorescent pulses, mimicking the device's electronics and bathing the crowd in hypnotic colored light. On stage around me, hordes of kids writhe in sweaty euphoria and tear into the air, moving with staggering intensity.
At the head of the stage, girls in black-and-magenta leotards strut to step aerobics as if on speed. Workout videos from the 1980s are projected on screens at either end of the dance floor a beefcake instructor wearing only a singlet demonstrates leg lifts to ladies with crimped perms. Along another wall, a neon sign with the silhouette of a diva in sunglasses heralds, in huge, iconic yellow letters, "The Bang!"
Once a month, Ann Arbor's Blind Pig ventures out of its normal rock club role into "deadly dance madness," with parties known simply as "The Bang!" They're the brainchild of Jeremy Wheeler and Jason Gibner, two hilarious and spirited mixtape DJs. The Bang! began six years ago, immediately growing out of its original location at U-M's basement venue, lovingly dubbed "the Halfass." Now with the help of the Bang! engineer, printer, carpenters and decorating "squad," Gibner tells me, "we're trying to push the envelope as far as decorations, sets, visuals and other ridiculous ideas that we can cook up."
For each Bang! event, the crew dreams up clever themes with feasible costume prospects and a killer set list. Past hits have included ninjas, pirates and superheroes. At the cherished "Beach Blanket Jaws Bang!" the crew constructed a giant shark head for the stage. This evening's "Physical Bang!" exemplifies a great party premise because it lends itself to both doable threads and danceable tracks.
As rumored, Gibner and Wheeler have cast this month's (July) mythical set list onto a cassette tape before the show. With the tunes selected in advance, our hosts are free to kick back and relax, or, more accurately, kick it on the black-and-white checkered dance floor. I was pleased to find Wheeler onstage front and center, rocking it with distinctive Bang! ebullience.
Gibner and Wheeler hurl their audience into a whirlwind rapture of dance music. They tell me the Bang! set-list guidelines are this: "Nonstop. High energy a-go-go ... The stuff that makes the crowd explode." Sets surge from '60s rock 'n' roll bands the Kinks and the Creation to the quintessential Bowie and the Ramones, all peppered with plenty of '80s pop like Prince, Vanity 6, Toni Basil and the Romantics. They also keep the kids guessing with lesser-played tracks like Green Velvet's "Shake and Pop" as well as a healthy stream of electronic from Peaches and the Presets.
Equally impressive is the seemingly intuitive nature of the Bang! regulars. I watch in bemusement as the sparsely populated Pig erupts into a full-throttle dance party in 15 minutes. Is there an unspoken accord about exactly when to show up? Because the themes found on the Bang! Web site (thebang.net) are quite broad, one would expect the group could tap infinite fashion options. Yet the crowd shows up wearing primarily '80s workout gear. I know the '80s are back in "style" in certain ironic circles, yet how does the multitude manage to synchronize club attire?
Indeed, tonight's outfits complement each other as if the regulars got ready in one giant pre-Bang! dressing room. Spandex and side ponies and sweatbands, oh my.
"I like to be able to wear this headband and not look like a fucker," explains adorable Adam Lewis, one of myriad dancers rocking a sweatband, headband, or bandana. Adam is also wearing themed Bang! gear tonight a tight tank top, tall striped sport socks, and teensy red jogging shorts. And as for the latter, the brighter the piping on the hem, the better.
Though many clubbers polish their chains for a big night, the Bang! kids hang an equally amusing array of sports medals, stop watches, and whistles around their necks. And it wouldn't be '80s without fanny packs loads of 'em. I do a double take at Nick Ten's sagging, triangular fanny pack. He has it situated over his shiny silver tights so that at quick glance, Mr. Ten looks pretty hung.
The Bang! diehards are in their finest tonight. One guy shows up in lifeguard garb, running amok with his whistle and even sporting a gunk of sunscreen on his nose. My favorite is Phil Attee, wearing ribbed, plum-colored spandex tights and tank. They barely cover his hairy chest and belly, adding a bestial allure. Attee dashes around vivaciously behind aviators, always with a drink in both hands. His accessories include a leather fanny pack and matching head- and armbands. Around his neck hangs one of those wretched red-white-and-blue jump ropes I remember from gym class as a kid.
Another Bang! enthusiast is a bit more traditional; he's aesthetically mono in an all-white tennis outfit and matching visor. He completes the look by turning up collars of his alligator polo.
Surprisingly, I detect zero hints of hipster exclusivity one might expect from such an acutely coordinated crowd. Forget it the core Bang! kids are here to dance. Making good use of those headbands, they swing shamelessly to '80s pop serum till they nearly collapse. The final prom scene in Pretty in Pink comes to mind as zealous dancers indulge in outlandish full-bodied moves.
The Bang! is a young, handsome gaggle of skinny boys and chicks who sport leotards and leggings. Amid the campus' limitless frat parties, I find solace with this tolerant, laid-back bunch. Adam calls the evening polysexual in that sexual lines are blurred. He looks up from tying his Kelly-green Chuck Taylors and adds "with all these gorgeous guys in short shorts, you can't detect straight from gay."
The evening's climax hits around one o'clock; after that the Bang! vibe becomes diluted with the arrival of drunk kids in dull outfits. No doubt they heard about the dance party and came running, but they lack the charm and vitality of the original crowd. With this in mind, show up early in your grass skirt for August's "Tiki Bang!" which Gibner expects to be a night of "volcanoes, killer spiders, plane crashes, curses, Vincent Price living in a cave ..."
The King of Pop's "Pretty Young Thing" is playing while, on the screen overhead, a woman in a thonged leotard does calisthenics for a camera placed in close proximity to her well-toned ass. In another instant, a scantily-clad Jane Fonda and friends are replaced with old-school superhero cartoons. I love the polyrhythmic frenzy of the manically projected images and dance tunes, and I'm still marveling that there are stationary bikes onstage. We howl along as Attee jump ropes in a drunken purple blur. My dance partner turns to me and yells, "Ann Arbor has never been so cool."
The next BANG!: Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Blind Pig, 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734 -996-8555. Doors at 9:30 p.m.; 18 and older.
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