Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Bang! Must Die: the History of the Sweatiest Dance Party in Town

The Bang! is a semi-regular to occasional dance party hosted at the Blind Pig. It is the sweatiest dance party in town. Known for its creative themes and overthetop costumes, The Bang! is coming to an end after 18 years. The Bang! Must Die is this Saturday Night at the Blind Pig. In honor of the occasion, I reached out to several people who had been involved with the Bang! In various ways over the years. They were kind enough to share their memories with me. Big thanks to Jeremy Wheeler and Jason Gibner who co-founded The Bang! as well as all the other members of Team Bang! who shared their memories with me.

On a personal note, the Bang! featured heavily in my early adult life in Ann Arbor. I moved back for grad school in 2009. I lived in a house on 3rd at Liberty with several of the other Damn Arbor founders. Being just around the corner from the Blind Pig, we went to almost every Bang! from 2009 to 2011.

The Early Years

Jeremy Wheeler: We were hangin’ around a bunch of indie kids at house shows at the time (at The Pirate House, a house venue on William and Thompson, in particular). Jason Gibner and I had moved to Ann Arbor the year before and *the* thing to do on the weekends was hit the nightclub The Loop in Windsor. Cool stylish kids from all over would go there. So many babes! So many tight-shirted indie dudes! They’d play everything from Bowie to Pulp to hot indie pop bands like The Push Kings. It was always a fun sweaty, sexy mess but it all ended when 9/11 happened. Suddenly you couldn’t cross the Canadian border. It was shut down. Obviously tragic, but you know, we still wanted to dance! A bunch of our pals were part of the EQMC (East Quad Music Co-Op) who booked the Halfway Inn (lovingly known as the Halfass), so we took the occasional basement parties we were doing at the Pirate House and adapted them there, mixtapes and all. We came up with The Bang! name and Gibner hyped it up on the Michigan Indie List as the biggest craziest night ever and it just took off from there. As for who was involved in that first one… mostly me and Gibner, but dear pals like Emily Linn (later of City Bird fame) were there to help, among a motley crew of others. First one’s kind of a blur. It definitely helped that our buddy Will Calcutt (Ghostly Int.) photographed it. Those photos definitely helped get us Detroit’s attention (even if there wasn’t a bar at the Halfass, much to the dismay of some Motor City rockers who made the trip).

Jason Gibner: Jeremy and I were roommates at the time we started The Bang! I remember we had no idea what to expect for the first one and we were nervous as hell. Would anyone show up? Would it be a total flop? remember walking from my job at Borders Bookstore to the Halfway Inn and my stomach just doing flips. Once friends and random people started showing up there were way more people than I expected. EVERYONE was dancing and all my nerves went away. I remember Jeremy and I ended that night on a real high. We felt great and we couldn’t wait to do more. But if someone told me I’d be talking about this 18 years later I’d say they were nuts!

Lauren Hill: I think what made the bang special for me-was that I had a bit of context within my experience of attending. I used to work with Jeremy and Jason at Harmony House on State St. I really got to know them from having quite a bit of downtime in a slow moving record store. Lots of inside jokes, drawing on computer paper, BS-ing about movies and talking about shows, house parties ect. I got to know their sense of humor pretty well, so when The Bang first started- all of those elements came to life. There was a real need to party and have a platform that encompassed the art of a mixtape, no wall flowers, the constraints and creativity of having a theme. The formula was that really there was no formula, except to have fun-which was really quiet freeing.

Dustin Krcatovitch: I first went to The Bang! in the late spring of 2005, and immediately loved it. I had been Jason Gibner's coworker at the downtown Borders Books & Music (RIP), and had known about it since almost the beginning (it started a couple months before I moved back to A2 from Kalamazoo), but didn't go the first couple years because I was a grump.

Anyway, in the spring of 2005, I'd just gone through an unnecessarily rough breakup and, in trying to cheer me up, Gibner said "how about you come to The Bang? I'll get ya in for free." He'd said the magic word; the rest is history. I became part of Team Bang a couple months later, and worked alongside all those beautiful weirdos for years. I've attended dozens of Bang!s, and often plan trips home around them.

Jeremy: We quickly outgrew the Halfass. The cops busted up the third and final one there. People were dropping 40oz bottles of Mickey’s and scattering like roaches when the lights went up! Jason Berry from the Blind Pig had already reached out to us saying they’d love to try it out at the Pig so we pretty smoothly just moved it there and then basically never stopped. Berry deserves a lotta credit for taking a chance on us and then sticking with us all these years.

Jason Berry: It was in the dead of August, I think 2002. Jeremy Wheeler had hit me up to do it at the Pig because it had grown too big for the Half Ass. Our default would have been to say no, because at that time "dance parties" made us think "Necto." But it was August, so fuck it. Little did we know that we were a part of perhaps the most perfect event/venue match in all of human history. Chocolate and peanut butter from day one.

Phil Attee: My first Bang! is surprisingly clear in my memory. It was May of 2006, Pirate Bang! I had a few friends that had been going to The Bang! for a while and had tried to explain it to me, but weren't doing a great job. The Bang! has never fit easily into any category. I was working full time and doing 18 credit hours at U of M, so I didn't have a lot of free time. Truth be told, in those years, I was not the type of guy who danced at bars or parties; so a dance party seemed like a waste of time that I already didn't have. But I loved dressing up in costumes for any reason I could find, so when they told me there was pirate-themed party coming up, I was totally into it. I went to the thrift store and put together a ridiculous pirate costume from head to toe and made a bunch of my friends do the same. When we got there, however, we discovered that it was a pirate themed party, not a pirate costume party. So most people were wearing their regular clothes, embellished with some pirate regalia, like a plastic eye patch, nautical striped shirts, or a bandana on their head. I was definitely too dressed up, but I didn't really give a shit because my friends were over the top too and the music was awesome. I was hesitant to start dancing, but then the booze kicked in and rock jams got me moving. I ended up dancing my ass off. At the end of the night, me and my sweaty friends were handed a flyer for the Physical Bang! and I got super pumped about the spandex-clad possibilities.

The Themes

Jeremy: The themes were an accident! To-tal accident. I put the Dukes of Hazzard on a poster and people showed up in daisy dukes! Thing was that we’d built this huge boombox stage set for that particular night, so that dichotomy ended up being bizarre, to say the least. From that point on, we were like, okay, people are ready for themes! Let’s get stupid! Before that, it was just cool kids in a smoky bar getting drenched in sweat and PBR. Years later, thongs would literally become the norm! Whodathunk?!

Gibner: We did some insane ones that didn’t catch on like a Wizard/Biker themed one or a fairy tale one but I think my favorite was one New Year’s Eve when we did a game show on stage at the blind pig. We had people making prank calls to their parents, eat mystery pizza and other bizarre things that we literally thought up at the last minute. No one could tell and the sold out crowd was incredible laughing through the whole thing and going right back to dancing at midnight.

Lauren: I think exercise Bang was always a fun one. I also remember when Jonny came on board. He was an engineer so there was a time where we had glam rock shamrock with a motor in the sequence covered 4 leaf clover so it spun around. That was pretty great.

Dustin: That's tough, because most of my favorite themes were the ones that were completely disastrous: Metal Bang!, New Years Game Show Bang!. We had tons of even worse ideas, which we'd laugh hysterically about for what felt like hours.

The best ever, though, was the legendary Sweat Bang!, which only received its theme after the fact. The air conditioning broke in the Pig that night, in the middle of either July or August. It didn't slow anybody down, but the photos of the soaking aftermath were truly disgusting. It was an amazing time. The next month, Wheeler had made 1" pinback buttons that said "I SURVIVED THE SWEAT BANG!".

Berry: Camp Bang! was my favorite theme. That poster is an all-time classic.

Phil: The theme that always seemed to get the best reactions was the Physical Bang!, but I have always thought that the dumbest ones were my favorites. Most people dressed up nice for New Year's Eve, no matter what the theme was, so we started thinking of totally ridiculous ideas like Taco-pocalypse (a post-apocalyptic taco party) and Hot Dog Masquerade. Also, there was always eating competitions at those ones; I'm not sure why those were so much fun, but they were.

Golden Years

Jeremy: Oh, I’d say there were a few glory years. 2009-2013-ish you’re definitely talkin’ about the American Apparel spandex years. Great times! Very sexual! Very outrageous! Years previous there was definitely more of a rock ‘n’ roll/electro-clash/dance-punk vibe that I’m pretty fond of as well.

Gibner: 2009 or so was an insane time. It’s all due to the amazing people that would dress up every single month and come out and dance for hours. A lot of those people have become lifelong friends for us too which is incredible and awesome.

Lauren: The lines around the corner were pretty wild, I think to see that constantly every month was an indicator that you were going to have a good time inside. It was a sweatbox. We were all drenched at the end of the night.

Dustin: At the risk of being crass: everyone's halcyon period for The Bang! is when it, directly or indirectly, was resulting in them making out or getting laid. It may remain amazing as one gets older, settles into a relationship, etc., but just as with one's musical tastes, you're drawn to the time period where you felt coolest.

Given that, 2005-8 is my golden Bang! time. They were playing the most 1960s stuff because it was hip then, Team Bang! was at its super-wildest, and I rarely ever paid for drinks (we ruined more than one open bar situation in Ann Arbor with our antics). Also, though, that was when it was consistently packed--usually selling out!

Berry: I think the year before it got to the Pig and the first year it was at the Pig were the golden years because it was still for “kids in the know.” When the rest of the world found out about it the Bang! just exploded, which was great, too, but in a different way.

Favorite Memories

Jeremy: The 2007 Gameshow NYE Bang!, for sure! We pulled an hour-long gameshow out of our asses (complete with a Plinko board) and against all odds, it went great! We made people do Dirty Deeds for Pizza, prank call their Mom, lick 8-Ball urinal cakes. It was the best! The eating competitions that came later holds a special place in my heart tho too! So many great band memories too! Saturday Looks Good to Me, the Hard Lessons, the Party Band, Esquire… the list goes on. So very cool to be able to make a rock show into something very different. Sets! Lights! It’s a different energy at the Bang! that I’ll definitely miss.

Gibner: There’s so many! There was the time a naked woman tried to come in during a blizzard, the time we worked inside a sound machine with goats screaming in between songs, the royal Shakespeare company came to a Halloween Bang! all drunk. But most of all, my best memories are of all the people that would come up to us and thank us for such a fun night of dancing where nobody cared about anything. We’ve had couples meet at the Bang! that have gotten married, had kids, whatever. The idea that this dance party we thought up back in 2001 so us and our friends didn’t have to drive to the Loop in Windsor has hit lots of folks lives is really cool and really wild.

Lauren: I remember waking up the next day and had this giant bruise on my thigh. I had no idea how it got there, until I remembered I was given a Tamborine. I apparently beat myself senseless trying to keep the rhythm.

Dustin: Most of my stories are either too dirty or too in-jokey. Doug Coombe first meeting his wife Annette at the aforementioned and largely disastrous game show Bang! was the most touching.

Berry: Soundcheck and setup were my favorite time of the night. It was so cool to see them transform the Blind Pig into something different every time.

Phil: Oh shit, I've been to the Bang! over 150 times. There have been so many amazing memories and milestones in my life that I remember in their proximity to which theme the Bang! was. Before I started dating my wife, I was at the Physical Bang! in 2012 and she was there on a date with another guy. I didn't think I really had a chance with her, but when I saw her I gave her a big hug and picked her up and kissed her on the cheek. We started dating a few weeks later. She told me later that was the moment she realized we had both had a crush on each other.

All Good Things

Jeremy: Oh geez, it’s just time! It’s *past* time! We should’ve died years ago! We’re basically half-dead now! People who’re mega sad that we’re stopping obviously weren’t there for a shitty Bang!. There weren’t many, but the majority of them were at the tail end of our run, which would sway wildly from super fun sellouts to really sad empty dance floors. Killing it off is a nice way to celebrate and say thanks to everyone who helped make whatever this weird, outrageous thing so special to begin with. Huge shoutout to past and present Bang! Crew members for helping Gibner and I keep this monster going. They’re the heart and soul of this thing. Talented, hilarious, and a real-deal family. So many times it was about just hanging with them and laughing our asses off the whole night. I’ll miss that too, fer sure.

Gibner: I know I’m totally proud of what we did with it and I’m glad we’re able to do one last one. We always knew it would end one day and I know we feel like the time is right. 18 years is crazy long time to throw a dance party and most of all I'm thankful for everyone that ever came to a Bang! and got to get weird and get loose. We seriously love you all!

Lauren: I am feeling sad, you know. In some ways it’s like the death of a close friend. In other ways I am so happy that I got to be a part of something that was so special. Decorating for Team Bang! over the many years that I lived in Ann Arbor was my favorite part. The preparation, opening the suitcases filled with random pieces of fabric, decorating the mezzanine- oh man, the time we had a bed for a make-out competition on Valentine’s Day... totally forgot about that until just now. It was an exciting thing to be part of. The bond that formed amongst the team was special. I will always be grateful for that. It felt like a family. Ultimately, I am so grateful to have been a part of something that offered people a release in their lives, and that implemented a lot of joy and humor. So proud of Jeremy for spearheading this throughout these years. It will forever live on in many hearts.

Dustin: I don't think there's a word for how I feel now that the Bang! Is ending. Wistful? Relieved? Old? In love? Yes, all of those, and more.

Berry: The Bang! pre-dates my two kids. Seriously I stopped taking The Bang! for granted after about three years into its run. I started treating each Bang! like it was going to be the last one; because dance nights just never lasted more than a couple of years. I didn't want to be disappointed when Jeremy inevitably said to me "nah we're done." But then they hit the five year mark. Then the 10 year mark. And it was still monstrous and kept going years after that. I will never again see anything like The Bang! in any venue I fuck with until the end of time, guaranteed. No one will. The Bang! is a thousand year dance party unicorn.

Phil: I've had so much fun over the years, but the thing I'll probably miss the most is the Bang! Crew hanging out beforehand, setting up the Blind Pig. Sometimes, it feels like The Bang! was really just an excuse for that group of friends to all hang out once a month, the party was the icing on the cake.

What can you expect this Saturday?

Jeremy: The Return of the Boom Box! Sexy vampires! Avatar cosplay! Hobbits! Demogorgons! Rodney Dangerfield back from the dead! Barack Obama on the dance floor! Live Exorcisms! Backflips! Man tits! Lady tits! Juicy butts! French kisses! French maids! Better Made Chips! Laughs! Lights! Stupid! I think that about sums it up!


The Bang! Must Die is this Saturday, October 26th at the Blind Pig. All photos are courtesy of the Bang!'s Flickr.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this recap. I'm sad I missed out on such an awesome happening for the past 18 years, it sounds fantastic.

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