It's Thursday night at Rich's, just shy of midnight, and the Hillcrest club is more packed than it's been in years.
Girls with jet black or platinum blond asymmetrical haircuts and tons of eyeliner don off-the-shoulder, striped t-shirts, short skirts and pointy heels with socks over fishnets. Boys with spiky hair wear muscle shirts, skinny ties and tight pants. There's definitely a sense of "see and be seen," but there's also a frenetic energy coursing through the club. These kids are here to dance.
Once a week, DJs Barry Weaver and Lester Dizon-aka Uneasy and Grease Jones-host Electroluxe, spinning a non-stop mix of '80s new wave, punk rock, post-punk, Italodisco, techno and more. It's a pastiche approach to DJ-ing of the sort that blew up overnight in Brooklyn and Berlin a few years ago.
New York DJ and promoter Larry Tee coined and trademarked (yes, trademarked) "electroclash" to describe the burgeoning fashion and music scene surrounding performance-savvy acts such as Fischerspooner, Peaches and Chicks on Speed.
The term electroclash¢-almost always uttered ironically, with fingers curled into quotation marks-is now bantered about by music writers a little too freely. These days, practically anything with synthesizers or even a whiff of '80s influence is lumped in the category.
Weaver and Dizon are wary of describing their music as such. At its core, their mix is definitely a re-vamping and re-camping of '80s electro, but it goes beyond that.
"We're more about the clash than the electro," explains Dizon, clarifying that the "clash" comes from mixing up a bunch of different types of music with a healthy sense of irony and attitude. "It's a "fuck you' approach to music."
The two DJs stick with the more generic "alternative" when describing their music. Whatever the label, it's a mix that gives the finger to the vapid, heavily-produced house beats that dominated the club scene in the '90s. Such "music" was more suitable for slick car commercials than getting down-hot, sweaty and at least momentarily in love.
Before discovering the electro revolution, Weaver and Dizon, like many weary San Diego clubbers, had more or less given up on the local dance scene. Weaver, a DJ veteran of 18 years (anyone who's been to a rave in San Diego knows his name), hadn't promoted a club since 1997. Dizon had sold his mixer. All that changed when electroclash¢ exploded onto the scene.
The rave culture, which in its prime attracted an incredible mix of people who simply wanted to dance for hours, had long since died. In New York, however, Weaver says electroclash¢ had "re-ignited and re-excited the dance scene. People who'd stopped going out were suddenly going out again."
Weaver and Dizon debuted Electroluxe on July 4, 2002, at the Pirates Den on Kettner Boulevard. Word spread quickly, and the club soon outgrew the small bar. A few months ago, Rich's offered them a Thursday night slot and complete creative control. They jumped at the chance.
Though there's always an '80s undertone to their mix, Weaver and Dizon spin everything from DMX Krew to Alien Sex Fiend, tossing in hokey, retro samples and techno for a fluid, danceable beat.
"I want to let people know that it's fun," Weaver stresses. "We approach the music with a sense of light-heartedness."
Each week, some 400 kids pack into Rich's, dressed to the nines and ready to party down. The dance floor becomes a haven, a place to let loose and not give a fleeting thought to shit like exorbitant rent, impending war or deadly microbes.
Some old-school clubbers might take in the '80s styles and nostalgic beats and dismiss it all with a cynical "been there, done that" shrug. But they'd be missing the big picture. The best dance scenes have always been about guilt-free, open-minded fun, about the DJs working the crowd into a hedonistic frenzy.
In San Diego, Electroluxe has finally put fun back in fashion.