There’s a crowd lingering on the sidewalk in Somerville’s Union Square.
Here’s “Ziggy Stardust”-era David Bowie smoking cigarettes with “Aladdin Sane” Bowie. There’s a girl with a feathered and fluorescent up-do wearing a leotard; and nearby, “Labyrinth” Bowie is queuing up to get inside the club.
This isn’t just a recurring dream I’ve been having lately, it’s the scene outside Radio for a David Bowie party thrown by Videodrome Discothèque earlier this month. Inside it’s even more colorful. The bar is crammed with revelers tossing back sugary-sweet cocktails with names like “Up the Hill Backwards” and “Blue Jean.” Dancers in costumes are swaying arm-in-arm on a stage beneath the flickering visage of Bowie himself, while “Panic in Detroit” plays. Overseeing it all from the DJ booth is Craig MacNeil.
MacNeil and his partner Blythe Russo, herself roaming through the crowd snapping pictures and acting as the party’s hostess, have been throwing events like this for three years now. The popular party — which launched at the Common Ground bar and restaurant in Allston, then migrated to various clubs like Great Scott and the Foundation Room before settling in Somerville at Radio — will celebrate its anniversary on June 23.
The multimedia dance night faithfully focuses on the music of the late ’70s and early ’80s, touching on forgotten gems and cult favorites of New Wave, rock, disco, and pop, with the occasional nod toward contemporary artists that fit the theme, like the Scissor Sisters. Previous incarnations have focused entirely on the music of Madonna or Prince, for which the crowd were also appropriately dressed in costume.
“We try to bring a mixture of styles that all have a through-line,” explains MacNeil, who works by day in video production, and edits together the video collages for the party. “There’s commonalities between rock and disco and other stuff that you can dance to.”
That means you might hear Videodrome staples like Olivia Newton John’s “Xanadu” blended with the Ritchie Family’s “I Feel Disco Good” and the Village People’s “Sex Over the Phone.”
It all might sound a bit steeped in camp, but there’s a genuine love for this type of pop disco, MacNeil says. “It’s definitely the stuff that some people might call ‘guilty pleasures,’ but there’s nothing to feel guilty about when enjoying music. There’s not so much an overly serious vibe to it, it’s fun to play stuff that people get familiar with at the night that they haven’t heard out a lot.”
That approach has also made it a popular go-to night for the gay community.
“We have a mixed crowd of all types, ages, and interests. We’re thankful for such a vibrant and diverse audience,” says Russo, who does promotions and graphic design for the night. “We like to create an atmosphere of togetherness and joy by sharing what we’re passionate about, and we’re fortunate to have an audience that has such a commitment to feeling ‘disco good.’ ”
Aside from the music, the video component adds an extra layer of fun and rediscovery for the crowd. MacNeil cuts together old clips of the acts he’s playing and mixes them up with vintage commercials and other theme appropriate clips. “I’ve been collecting movies and videos since I was a kid, so it’s a way for me to share the stuff I’m passionate about with other people,” he says. “The videos selected complement the music that's being played. It sets a sort of specific aesthetic as well.” The musical genres they play come from a “very visual time for music,” from the golden age of videos as an art form.
“I think the reason it works and that people keep coming back for more is that it’s really like visual music archeology,” explains one regular, James Dwyer, an indie filmmaker from Boston. “You can discover and rediscover some great pop culture. There’s far more going on than just playing old records and quirky videos. It’s an event, the posters, the custom drinks, it’s a total package, and you can dance to it as well as talk about it. That’s a perfect social situation.”
Most of the dance nights in the area are broken down along strict genre lines, fans of Videodrome often point out. Not so here, says another regular, Dylan Smith of Somerville. “Videodrome is an overall experience. A retro and glam extravaganza. I can’t think of any other place where you’ll find yourself covered in glitter and confetti while eating cake and listening to Hall & Oates or the Scissor Sisters.”
The open, welcoming atmosphere is a refreshing change too, Dwyer adds. “The crowd is probably the friendliest and most diverse you’ll find in the Boston area. Craig’s passion for throwing an all-inclusive good time is also very evident and infectious.”
“Videodrome reminds me of myself,” explains Frieda Fries, a self-described “pantsuit-wearing, roller-skating, hairspray-using, pink-lipped, long-nailed, hairy-chested drag queen in search of crisp dollar bills” who’ll be doing a drag performance at the anniversary party. “It’s a little trashy, a lot of glam, a spilled drink or two, with new people always coming in.”
It’s drawing power to bring people from throughout the city is impressive too, Fries points out. “There aren't many nights that I can think of that can get JP-ers all the way to Union Square.”
That’s because there’s a little something for everyone, no matter your taste, or what you’re wearing, on an average Videodrome night.
“We like to have that Marlo Thomas ‘Free to Be . . . You and Me’ element,’’ MacNeil says. “Everyone likes to be themselves, sometimes part of that is dressing up for things.”
Boston’s Soren Jahan, one half of the production duo B-Tracks, will release his debut full-length “Pechorin” this month under the name René Audiard on Supply Records, the label he runs with partner John Barera. The seven tracks of the vinyl-only release (which you can sample at www.soundcloud.com/supply-records) split the difference between deep house and pensively built ambient. . . . The third installment of the Good Life bar’s “In the Mix” series dropped earlier this month with “Sweat & Low” from Mr. McNeill of CreateSpace Collab, which throws the Sweet Shop party every second Saturday. “To me, dance music should be fun and most of all make you want to dance. I really think that comes through pretty blatantly on this mix,” McNeill says of the mix on the Good Life SoundCloud page. The high-energy but chilled disco party mix runs the gamut from Loaded Dice and Mark Broom, to local talent like UK transplant GMGN, whose originals, like the trippy disco onslaught of “Lofted,” and his washed-out remix of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” you can check out at www.soundcloud.com/gmgndjs. . . . Andre Lira, the Boston producer Doctor Jeep, will perform in support of Machinedrum, the New York-based glitch and hip-hop producer on July 18 at T.T. the Bear’s. Lira has a remix of fellow local producer Wheez-ie’s track “Big Gulp” coming out this week (www.soundcloud.com/drjeep), as well his own “Turok” EP in late July on the Freshmore label. The latter is a dirty bass blast of chopped up hip-hop samples set to propulsive filtered percussion.
Luke O’Neil can be reached at lukeoneil47@
gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @lukeoneil47.