Push aside the heavy plastic flaps acting as a door to Saturn Bar (think entrance to a meat locker) on the right Saturday every month, and you’ll find a gaggle of what looks like Mad Men’s beatniks, old man rhythm in everyone’s shoes. In a monthly 11 p.m. to 5 or 6 a.m. blur, the Saturn Bar explodes into one of the more popular places in the city. So popular, the bouncer starts refusing to check IDs: “Fuck that, man. Suddenly everyone just goes to Saturn Bar.” The night is a veritable firestorm of drunken dancing. “It gets chaotic,” says DJ Matty. “But that’s what they’re there for. It’s a war, and [sometimes] there are casualties of war.”
Welcome to Mod Dance Party, the free monthly dance party full of ’60s nostalgia, from the music played to the medium played on to the floral pattern dresses and fitted jeans that abound.
The ironic part is the 70 or so people mulling about outside the door, sharing cigarettes and drinking Miller High Life, and most of the few hundred more inside didn’t start breathing until the ’80s, the ’70s at best. Few if any were alive when their wardrobes were first in style, yet the nostalgia for a time never seen is palpable as DJ Kristen and DJ Matty—real names: Kristen Zoller, barista/student by day, and Jonathan Uhlman, New Orleans Opera prop master by day—spin actual records in a quest for authenticity.
It’s this love not only of all things vintage but of all things authentic that bring people to Mod Dance Party and keep the DJs spinning. They refuse to use anything but vinyl records because “there’s something really warm about the way a record sounds,” Zoller says. They’ve played some scratched records for so long that long-time fans are often surprised when they hear the music played elsewhere without the skips.
This quest for authenticity isn’t limited to music. Much of the clothing found at Mod Dance Party and comparable nights such as DJ Soul Sister’s Saturday nights of funk music at Mimi’s in the Marigny is vintage and dates back to the ’60s.
“People these days really admire the style of the ’60s,” Funky Monkey owner Mike Mayfield says. Lili Vintage Boutique’s owner Laura Hourguettes agrees, and thinks quality plays into the look’s appeal as well. “People with their own sense of style as well as people looking for quality [appreciate it],” she says.
The decade, Mayfield and Hourguettes agree, is a more sustainable period than its neighboring decades, and creates the perfect fit for nostalgic dancing shoes. The clothing remains in fashion, and “people embrace the fact that they are different,” Mayfield says. It ties in with the music as well. Zoller says she once visited Funky Monkey and found a dress labeled “for Mod Dance Party,” leaving her astounded. “I didn’t know I was a fashion subculture,” and she genuinely seems shocked.
Trends come in waves, Mayfield says. He sees ’60s clothing as more stylish and not as ironic as that of the ’70s and ’80s, but this could be because the remnants from decades actually lived easily become kitchy with age. J.R. Fields, co-owner of the vintage store Truck Stop, thinks the appeal has more to do with curiosity for a time never experienced. As a child of the ’90s, he grew up with much older siblings who were raised in the ’70s, and he was always drawn to a culture he saw through others’ eyes. “There’s always a sense of nostalgia for what you missed [out] on,” Fields says.
The Mod Dance Party has been around long enough to inspire some nostalgia of its own. It began at Circle Bar 10 years ago, but Zoller says soon enough, “we had outgrown the place.” The frequency and the night remain consistent, but its weekend is not. Zoller and Uhlman tend to decide at the last minute which Saturday to play each month, then post it via Facebook and let word-of-mouth advertising do the rest. And it works, probably because the two truly love what they do. “I’m less of a collector and more of a user,” Zoller says. “My records are bought to be played for people.” Uhlman quickly agrees.
Inside the Saturn Bar, the night bleeds late as a group of people who grew up with the Internet bask in sweat and memories of a time they never knew, twisting the night away.