Saturday night at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney – a party to celebrate the opening of The 80s Are Back.
1. 24 hours ago, I was DJing at the messier end of the ABC staff christmas party – I played Icehouse’s ‘Electric Blue’, and twenty people screamed and ran onto the dancefloor. Now, Iva Davies, the man who sang that song, is standing on stage in front of me. He tells a very funny story about his daughter, who’s 15 years old. She came home from school one day, dropped her bag, and made an announcement. “I love the 80s!”
Davies stared at her, baffled.
“What do you love about the 80s?”
“Everything” she replied, spreading her arms wide – a gesture which indicated her willingness to take the decade lock, stock and barrel. A gesture expansive enough to take in the 800 objects in the exhibition upstairs – Atari game consoles, Betamax video players, a Sony Watchman, Jenny Kee, Madonna, Princess Diana, Neighbours, Dynasty, John Hughes, Barbie and The Rockers, He-Man, Boy George, Bob Hawke, the AIDS quilt, a RAT party or two, Expo 88, the fall of the Berlin Wall…
2. I’m talking to a woman who works at the museum, when a colleague of hers joins us and compliments her on her 80s outfit. It hadn’t occurred to me at all that she was in fancy dress. I realise that everyone at the party is dressed for the 80s – but that their reasons for doing so fall into three categories. There are people like us, who have dressed up in an ironically exaggerated 80s way. We are more or less indistinguishable from the people who’ve just worn whatever it’s currently fashionable to wear on a saturday night out in Sydney. And if it weren’t for the obvious age difference, members of both groups could easily pass as belonging to the third – musicians, designers and scenesters who had their heyday in the 80s, and have pulled their vintage items out of the closet for the night (or maybe never stopped wearing them.) I feel as though I’m in one of those scenes from 24 Hour Party People, where young actors made up to look like Hacienda-goers of the late 80s mingle with the people they’re portraying – sometimes playing themselves, sometimes playing the bouncer who kicked their younger self out of the club 20 years ago.
“Somewhere in the past the timeline skewed into this tangent, creating a new, alternate 1985…” Guests photographed at The 80s Are Back opening night party.
3. Two years ago, the midnight juggernauts told Vijay Khurana that they liked using synthesisers because they sounded futuristic – but no longer believed in the utopia they evoked. “It’s almost like a retro-future”, Vincent mused.
Here, at the exhibition opening, I meet a musician who played in an Australian synth-pop band of the 80s. When he started playing synths in pubs, there was nothing retro about it. Retro was pub rock, playing the blues, paying your dues. He played synthesisers because they sounded like the future.
Today, he’s not particularly nostalgic for the 80s, and has none of that “things-were-better-back-then” attitude toward today’s music that so many people who grew up in the 60s or 70s seem to have. But he does tell me that he thinks the 80s might have been the last time that new music was really new, as opposed to a re-cycling of old styles. A lot of my friends say the same thing about the 90s. But will future people say this of the 00’s?