Back to the future again

New York Diary
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The Independent Culture
"AT THE real Eighties clubs, there were real stars rather than these fake ones," says Colette, who introduces herself as "a multimedia artist and trend-setter" and as the co-founder of a real Eighties club, Danceteria. She's standing next to Madonna and Michael Jackson imitators, the stars' 1984 versions, as they mug for a digital camera. It's opening night of the 10,000-ft Eighties SoHo theme club Culture Club.

"At Danceteria, normal people tried to look like stars, not like nothings," Colette sniffs, casting her kohl-lined eyes on the petite, black-clad youngsters tapping their feet to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. A brief survey indicated that most are journalists. "This club is like kids wearing Mommy's dress-up," she says. She's wearing a self-made French accent and two young blond men.

At Culture Club, Michael Jackson isn't the only one wanting to be starting something. The whole place is revving up for the final stage of Eighties revivalism; Eighties retro is already moondancing to its demise, and Nineties retro is a wink away.

According to the club's logic, they expect a wide swathe of New York who want to dance beneath oversized Rubik's cubes, lines of pink neon, glow-in-the-dark MTV logos, Pac Man insignia and a Back To the Future sign.

While there are plenty of Eighties retro nights at other New York boites, the scale of this club makes it far more stupefying. Its owners already deprecated the Sixties at their chain of happy-face-ridden, bead-curtained restaurants, Polly Ester's. Now, they are niche-marketing an era that they claim they really did live through, replete with guest-listed young men in suits, high on the stock market, reminiscing about arcade games in loud voices.

That's not to say that visiting Culture Club is a depthless experience, Sheila E withstanding. The silk-screened, wholesome portraits of period stars, among them Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and Madonna, seem almost profound in their cheery falsity. It's tempting to read Sheedy's chirrupy Breakfast Club portrait for its suffering underside - the actress has since declared her similarity to her role as a scarred junkie and Eighties survivor in the 1998 film High Art. Ringwald, once sex fantasy material for Young Republicans, has since Francophiled herself, and now embodies abused heroines in feminist plays. You can catch her wandering around the West Village, a regular flaneuse. We all know what happened to Madonna. Now, stripped of the Material Girl lingerie of internalised sexism, she's seen at yoga classes, standing on a head full of ambient music and prana.

Despite myself, Culture Club acts upon me. Egged on by the ceaseless wail of bygone divas, I remember when these songs seemed to contain the secrets of adulthood. What if this club could simply become a club that had Eighties nightclubs as its theme, a three-floor take-off on clubs such as Xenon, MK, Area and the Mudd Club? A revival club with special floors for self-creation and self-destruction, where, as Colette says, normal people might dress as stars and you could call yourself a night- club multimedia artist without embarrassment?

I leave the night's dark theme park, just as another Jellybean Benitez mix hits the speakers, and stagger into a hailstorm for a cab. Back to the future, indeed.