by Joshua B. Hoe I started loving the AMC show Halt and Catch Fire because it had an 80's tech theme (accurately depict geeks in the 80’s and I am in), but I also loved it both because there are some great performances and because of the spot on use and placement of 80's music.
I am pretty used to lots of mainstream shows putting out an 80s episode and including a Duran Duran, Culture Club, Billy Idol, or non-ironically placed Devo track (which of course Devo is fine with...It was, after all their plan for world domination)...Not many show-runners ever did anything more than try to find some song from a quick Google search of 80’s pop charts that would back up the stilted and often uncomfortable placement of their characters in day-glo or skinny ties.
Whenever I see one of these movies or television shows, my initial reaction is always the same:
THAT WAS NOT MY 1980’s!
But, maybe for the first time, someone finally got it right with Halt and Catch Fire. The 80’s feels like the 80’s, the music is right, the fashion is right, the people are right. Dallas feels like Dallas. This cannot be easy...Kudos.
Even better, this week - they reached a level of music accuracy I have never seen before in any show. They played the exact right music in a real location (and it looked like the real location) and the people acted in much the way people would have acted in that location (The Starck Club in Dallas).
The episode I am referring to, if you want to download or watch it, is called ‘Limbo’ (Season 2 Episode 8).
A Nostalgia Engine
For me, the 1980’s was an incredible time of experimentation in music. There were always songs that sounded unique and different...You had punk, post-punk, rock, new romanticism, new wave, electronic dance music, ska, the Athens sound, hip-hop,….It was very different from the non-stop prog rock mixed with the Beatles and Stones that you would hear on mainstream radio and for the first time, you started to hear artists that were not typical rock and roll players on radio...and of course on MTV which, back then, went out of the way to push new sounds (yes, they actually used to play music on MTV)..
Most important, outside of radio, for anyone diving stacks in record stores, it was like a new world of music every month. (I remember my record budget and my wish list were as far apart as Christina Aguilera and phrasing or vocal restraint...sorry, cheap shot).
Anyway, Halt and Catch Fire’s show-runners actually paid attention to the details and put the right songs with the right characters at the right time….The songs that would play in Cameron dominated scenes (Mackenzie Davis) were different than the songs that would play in Joe dominated scenes (Lee Pace) etc. And the songs were always appropriate for the exact time and place of the show. I know this because I was in college in Dallas at almost the exact time the show happens (I was there from summer 85 until about summer 87).
I started to watch the show almost as much to see what songs would be played as I did to see what happened on the plot (I have never really had that experience before - maybe with the Sopranos and sometimes Mad Men occasionally?)
During the first season great artists from Gary Newman to X-Ray Specs made the soundtrack. I started to look forward to every new episode just to find out what songs they had curated (RIP Poly Styrene). For me the show became kind of a nostalgia engine. I knew people who looked like these people. I have been to the places these people were going. I listened to the music at least some of these people were listening to (Team Cameron Soundtrack).
The Starck Club
Last night two of HACF’s main characters (Joe and his fiance ne’ wife) decided to take an MDMA-fueled trip to the famous Starck Club in Dallas Texas (co-owned by many famous investors like Stevie Nicks if I remember correctly).
I myself spent many weekend nights at the Starck Club at exactly the time portrayed on the show, and their depiction of the club and of the music blew me away. Not only did they get most of the details of the club exactly right, they also did a really good job with the music.
And the Starck club was a really important place for club culture in Dallas at that time. It was one of THE places to be seen and to hang out and everyone from punk rock club kids like me and my friends to major stars hung out and danced there every weekend. The magazines covered what happened there and it was one of the hip places to be.
If you saw last night's episode, they got most of the details of the Starck Club right. It was much larger in reality than it appeared on television (although who knows they might have been able to use the actual venue)...But, the club was totally separated out into areas with kind of like a Cabana feel (where there were long flowing white curtains separating everything just like on the show). You always had access to a dance floor area (kind of in the middle and recessed) but you also generally hung out with your friends in kind of little comfortable cabana areas separated by long curtains. The show looked and felt exactly right...which is shocking for a show that cannot have a huge budget.
Even crazier the three songs that they played in the background during the different were (mostly) appropriate. Technically, the show started in 1983 and the second season seems to be happening about a year later (I think).
The first song they played was ‘Tell Me Why” by Bronski Beat which came out in 1984. It was a song that was both likely to be played on any night at the Starck Club and also entirely time appropriate. I remember losing several pounds dancing to Bronski Beat at the Starck club and at many other clubs around Dallas.
The second song was “Cccan't You See” by Vicious Pink which was a classic dance club song also released in 1984...The use of Vicious Pink here was not only appropriate but perfect. Vicious Pink ruled alternative dance club music at this time...They were responsible for a string of club hits that were not only likely to be played at the Starck Club but at every single straight or gay dance club in America (8:15 to Nowhere, Cccan’t You See, Take Me Now, Great Balls of Fire, J’taime).. New Order's Blue Monday might be a better known song, but Vicious Pink;s music ruled the clubs for the rest of the decade.
The third song, “Boy” by Book of Love, was famous and a huge club hit but I think it was just a bit wrong for the date. My memory is that Boy came out later...but I could be wrong (nope just looked it up - came out in 1986 - HACF boo boo).
Still, it was period appropriate and all three of those songs were certainly played in dance clubs near the time portrayed on the show. And the club they showed was actually dolled up to look pretty much like the Starck Club. That is impressive attention to detail for a show that is not exactly setting the world on fire (sadly).
The Incredible Excesses of Dallas
Nostalgic feelings from the episode aside, my memory of Vicious Pink and Dallas was more tied to a club called Mistral than to the Starck club. The Starck club was pretty nice, but Mistral was insane.
Mistral was the perfect embodiment of everything you have ever heard of Dallas the conspicuous excess of Texas. The dance floor had so many lights that when you were dancing (and this was a huge place) you felt like some of the seemingly millions of lights were specifically just on you. The video screens were monstrous. When you walked upstairs, you would pass over a large piece of plexiglass flooring and you could look down through the floor and see what they at least said was the world's largest crystal. They had a light coming up through the bottom of the crystal so when you looked down into the plexiglass you got the refracted light. Why? Who knows….That was Dallas in the 80’s.
I am not sure I can fully do the place justice, but of all the clubs that I have ever visited, Mistral was the most over the top. Don’t get me wrong, they all had all the bells and whistles from limo service to bottle service….But, I was a poor club kid and it made me feel like I had gotten a ticket to the ball.
So What Was I Doing There
Good question...I was a punk rock kid and a college student (although at this time not a very good one). But my girlfriend was one of the best known club kids in Dallas and we were, therefore, on the guest list at every club. Why? Because in order for these clubs to maintain the feel that they were cool and authentic they needed people who looked right for an alternative club. So, all the coolest looking club kids were on the guest lists (I am not saying I was one of the coolest, but my GF was).
The really strange thing, although these clubs made their money from bringing high rollers in for nights of thousand dollar tabs...They also were really incubators for cool music. The DJ’s played cutting edge stuff...Many of the coolest and most experimental bands played at the big clubs. I remember promoting an SPK concert (stapling flyers to telephone poles)...A Chris and Cosey concert….Skinny Puppy...a Damned Reunion concert...Edward Ka Spell..I kind of remember maybe the Dead Boys?
For anyone from Dallas, one constant was Bill from Bill’s records always up front at every big show….I can still remember his Hawaiian shirts up against the stage as one of the scenes constants.
Dallas at this precise moment was a pretty amazing place to start your adult life. Last nights Halt and Catch Fire really took me back (obviously).
If you love Halt and Catch Fire, Have Starck Club experiences, or just want to talk about the music in this post, we would love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave a comment.