Purple mullets and hightops: the ‘80s craze continues

By Andrea MacDonald

It is only 10 p.m. and the line outside Barrymore’s Music Hall on Bank Street stretches two blocks long.

At the end is a young man who does not seem bothered that it might be hours before he gets inside. When asked why he doesn’t go elsewhere, Andrew Demers stares out from under his purple mullet wig.

“Where else would I go? Everyone is here.”

The hottest place to be in Ottawa since 1999 has not been a hip hop club, or a martini lounge, but Barrymore’s Retro ‘80s night.

Like the swing craze of the late ‘90s, ‘80s music gives people the chance to do something different. Instead of going to a regular dance club and being laughed at if they don’t look good, or hit on if they do, retro nights allow people to throw on a pink headband and a pair of hightops and just have fun.

Babylon nightclub, Barrymores’ neighbour, decided in August that if you can’t beat them, why not play Tainted Love even louder?

Babylon owner Adam Kronick has made an exception to the rule by starting ‘80s night.

“It’s an anomaly to start a dance club night here without live entertainment. We generally book shows.”

Kronick says Babylon’s crowd has grown each week since ‘80s night began.

“I love it because it brings me back to my childhood,” says 22-year-old Daniel Mackinnon, who attends ‘80s nights whenever he can. “Back to the days of big hair and Degrassi Junior High.”

Babylon is the latest in a string of clubs that have started retro nights, from Oliver’s Pub and Patio at Carleton University to Minglewood’s in the Market.

But ‘80s fever does not stop in the clubs. Last spring, people started bringing it into their homes.

Bob FM, a radio station that plays primarily ‘80s music, replaced Kool FM, which played top 40 hits, in May. According to a ratings survey by the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement, the station is already third in the overall ratings and number one among people ages 25 to 54.

Chum Radio Network, which has also established Bob stations in London, Brockville and Winnipeg, says this type of programming is the fastest growing format in Canadian radio.

Many other radio stations, such as the Bear, have a retro hour or two during the day.

It’s easy to understand why ‘60s or ‘70s music still have a following. Songs like John Lennon’s Imagine can speak to any generation with its beautiful lyrics. But songs from the ‘80s like the Bangles’ Walk Like an Egyptian are not exactly lyrical masterpieces.

“There aren’t many political messages coming out of that era of music,” says Kronick. “[People don’t get] a deeper philosophical understanding of the music on ‘80s nights.”

So why can’t people get enough of it?

“I think it’s the fact that people remember those songs from their youth,” Kronick says. “They’re coming out because they want to hear the songs over again and relive their fun times. It’s a great celebration of the music of that era.”

“I don’t personally remember the ‘80s,” says 19-year-old Demers, two hours into his wait in line. “I missed it the first time around but I’m definitely enjoying it now!”