There is little in the music world that polarizes a room quite like a discussion about the merits of music originating from the 1980s. You either love it or you hate it and if you say something like, "I dunno. It's OK, I guess," you'll be outed as the fence-sitter that you are.
Davina LaRondelle loves '80s music, which is why on most Friday nights in Portland she's known as VJ Kittyvox and is the DJ (and VJ... remember that term?) behind the increasingly popular '80s Video Dance Attack. Now 34, LaRondelle spent her youth in the late '80s glued to MTV for hours at a time, then later waited for the perfect video to arrive so she could hit record on the VCR and include it on one of her homemade compilation tapes. Collecting music videos wouldn't be a career path for most, but LaRondelle has managed to turn her obsession into a full-time job and is bringing her Video Dance Attack to the Domino Room, equipped with two massive screens to show videos while hits from the Reagan years bounce off the club's walls.
LaRondelle knows there are plenty of '80s music fans who come to her shows for the neon-soaked irony, but for her, she's genuinely enamored with the sounds of the decade and all the cheesiness that so often accompanied it.
"There's something special about that era. It's a really unique thing," she says, "The videos are so cheesy, but in a good way. Everybody in videos now has to be beautiful and thin, but in the '80s it wasn't like that. I mean, look at Huey Lewis. People weren't that hot then."
For the past year and a half, LaRondelle has been hosting the Video Dance Attack at Portland's Crystal Ballroom every Friday night, sometimes in the smaller Lola's Room and at other times in the main ballroom. A few weeks ago, the dance party drew more than 1,200 people, filling the venue nearly to capacity. Most come to dance - some in their finest '80s clothing (or, for the younger revelers, their best interpretation of what people dressed like back then) - but others come to relish in the nostalgia LaRondelle creates by way of the videos she displays on the screens behind her DJ booth. In all, she says she has more than 800 videos in her quiver, some of which probably haven't been seen since they originally aired on MTV... you know, back when MTV was more about music videos and less into the travails of pregnant teens and orange-skinned alcoholics.
"For some people, it's an opportunity to come and just have a beer and watch the videos. It's like watching a piece of history. And you don't have to dance," says LaRondelle, adding that oftentimes people start cheering at the beginning of a video - before the sound has even begun.
A sizable slice of her audience, those just over bar admittance age, have no real connection to Prince or Men at Work or any of the other bands that get heavy play at Video Dance Attack, but they're often the ones getting down... even though they're too young to have ever started a day with a bowl of Mr. T cereal.
"There's a big faction of people who are in their 20s who are discovering this era," says LaRondelle, "I think there is a genuine love for the era and the music."
She figures that maybe it has something to do with mainstream music becoming so homogenized these days that some of these younger revelers are looking for something different to dance to. But she knows others are just there to "dork out" in an environment where no one is going to make fun of their stone washed jeans - and all for a cheap cover price, too.
One question LaRondelle gets a lot - not surprisingly - is this: Are you sick of '80s music yet?
"All I have to do is see people out in the crowd jumping up and down enjoying it; that renews my love for the '80s every week. But are there certain songs I could stand to never hear again? Yeah."
'80s Video Dance Attack
9pm doors, 10pm show. Saturday, January 29. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $5. 21 and up.