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Why Ann Arbor's longstanding The Bang! dance party must die

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Jason Gibner and Jeremy Wheeler. - DOUG COOMBE
  • Doug Coombe
  • Jason Gibner and Jeremy Wheeler.

When artists Jeremy Wheeler and Jason Gibner first started their cassette tape-fueled dance party, The Bang!, nearly 20 years ago, Wheeler says it was more about convenience than trying to be retro or cool.

The two had just moved to Ann Arbor from Grand Rapids, and quickly took to the city's house party scene. "We didn't know how to DJ, but we knew how to make mixtapes, and we made real good ones," Wheeler says. "So when we started The Bang!, we were just like, 'Oh, let's just do that. That's real easy.'"

What is now known as The Bang! was first held in November 2001 at the Half-way Inn, a student-run music venue in the basement of a dorm at U-M. "It was just like an indie rock, indie pop dance night with a bunch of our friends that quickly kind of grew out of there," Wheeler says. The party soon moved to the larger Blind Pig, where it has existed in some form ever since.

Until now, that is. On Saturday, Wheeler and Gibner will throw their last Bang!

"We always wondered like, is there going to be another one?" Wheeler says. "Like each year we're just like, 'Oh, is there going to be another one?'" In recent years, the party had been pared down from a monthly to just one or two a year.

"This year, it's like, hey, we're at 18," Wheeler says. "It's time for the Bang! to move out of the house and get a job."

Wheeler's child analogy doesn't hold up for very long, though.

"It felt like the natural right time to kill it," he says.

The final Bang! is the Halloween-themed The Bang! Must Die. Ending on a Halloween party was a bit of a no-brainer, as The Bang! developed into a costume party known for its outlandish themes over the years.

Wheeler says it started out as a simple rock 'n' roll party, with tracks from artists like Bowie, Pulp, the Rolling Stones, and James Brown. The costume aspect, he says, happened organically.

"I had designed all the posters and put The Dukes of Hazzard on a poster and people just showed up in Daisy Dukes," Wheeler says. "And we were just like, 'Oh, okay, maybe it's time for themes, I guess.' And then we just kinda ran with that and we been getting stupid with it for years."

That includes the popular Physical Bang!, "where we could buy shitty exercise bikes and put them on the stage, and people would come in, you know, with leg-warmers and thongs and shit," Wheeler says. Other themes were fairly obvious, like the Valentine's Day-themed Love Bang!, Space Bang!, and the Vault of Midnight-sponsored superhero Super Bang!

Some ideas were perhaps a bit more esoteric.

"We did a 'Hot Leather Magic Bang!" Wheeler says. "We were reaching for that one. We were thinking like, wizards on motorcycles and shit."

"There's so many I can't even remember," he says.

The parties have hosted multiple generations of U-M students at this point, thanks to its 18+ age limit. While the spirit of The Bang! has lived on through the years, Wheeler admits that the younger attendees don't always understand the mixtape element of it. "People come up with their phones and they try to request stuff and we're just like, 'It's all planned,'" he says. "'We made these tapes days ago!'"

Wheeler and Gibner make two tapes each, and alternating between a Gibner side and a Wheeler side and so on, all night long. Sure, it's a primitive setup — there's a moment of silence between sides — but it works.

"It's just like a way [to] kind of just press play and then you go dancing or do whatever," he says. "As long as like every half hour that tape flips, then you're all good."

Over the years, Wheeler says some aspects of the playlist have stayed the same, but some have changed. "We've gone through different revolutions throughout the 18 years," he says. "We definitely had a dance punk era, that was a big thing for a little while. But we still keep those, like, classics, like the Ramones — you know, you can't have a dance party without the Ramones. We still play Oasis. We still play these things that, like, make us happy." A staple is Squeeze's "Bang Bang," typically played as the closing song of the night with a call-and-response singalong.

Wheeler says he feels bittersweet about bidding farewell to The Bang!

"It feels real good, but you know, there's a hint of sadness," he says. "It's been with us for a very long time. We've gone through a whole lot of crazy stuff, you know, life-wise during all of this."

He says he expects to see plenty of the friends and volunteers who helped build sets and props for the party's elaborate themes over the years. He heard that some people are even flying in for a reunion.

Still, with death comes life.

"People have met at The Bang!" Wheeler says. "People have gotten married because of The Bang!, and had kids because of The Bang! And that is just a mind fuck. What do you do with that?"

"I can hardly remember half the things we did — never mind, like, being responsible for life in this world," he says.

Doors at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26; The Blind Pig; 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734-996-8555; blindpigmusic.com. Cover is $8, or $11 for those under 21.

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