In 2008, Calvin Harris paid a visit to triple j. The occasion was Zan Rowe’s weekly co-host, the brief was for Harris to play ‘Five songs that would have been acceptable in the 80s’. By his own admission, he did a terrible job. “I know hardly anything about 80s music”, Harris confessed. “I know Prince and David Bowie, and that’s about it”. So his list of five songs that would have been acceptable in the 80s became a list of five songs that would have been acceptable in any era because they were good songs – which meant that it was just a list of five songs.
I don’t blame Harris – he was born in 1984, which means he doesn’t really remember the decade that well. But something about his failure to answer Zan’s brief got me wondering if I could. If I had to pick five songs from today that would have been acceptable in the 80s, what would they be? What was acceptable in the 80s, and what was not? I sat down and started writing a list. That was 18 months ago – I’m still writing it.
Six months ago, my work on this list gained a new sense of purpose and momentum. Peter Cox from The Powerhouse Museum approached me about an exhibition he was planning – The 80s Are Back – and asked if I’d be interested in curating a room documenting the current 80s revival.
I said yes, but worried privately if the timing was wrong. Would there still be an 80s revival in December when the show opened? Surely the fad would have exhausted itself by then. Everybody I knew seemed convinced that it would.
I needn’t have worried. The 80s revival has, if anything, moved into a higher gear over the last 6 months. It used to be something you had to look for – now it finds you wherever you are. As 2009 ticks over into 2010, we will celebrate not only the start of a new decade but, ten years of ever-more ambitious attempts to re-create an old one. Ten years! The original 80s didn’t really get going until 1981, and barely made it to 1989 – the 80s revival seems to be a more durable idea.
Acceptable in the 80s (abbreviated)
2000: Peaches – The Teaches of Peaches
2001: Fischerspooner – ‘Emerge’
2002: Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
2003: Spod – Taste the Radness
2004: Cut Copy – Bright Like Neon Love
2005: Mylo – ‘In My Arms’, The Bravery – ‘An Honest Mistake’
2006: The Killers – ‘Read my Mind’
2007: Calvin Harris – ‘Acceptable in the 80s’
2008: Midnight Juggernauts – ‘Into the Galaxy’
2009: TZU, ‘Computer Love’, La Roux – ‘Bulletproof”