Making (New) Waves At 'Boy Division'

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Sunday March 13, 2016
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A recent sale report showed that older music still outsells new music by a wide margin. That either means that Boomers are buying more, or Millennials are appreciating classic music.

Either way, the lack of a dance night dedicated to "rather queer" 1980s hits inspired DJ Alex Westhoff (aka Xander) to create Boy Division, the new monthly LGBTQ night at CodeWord.

"There aren't really any queer dance spaces that play this kind of music," said Westhoff in a phone interview. "A lot of Castro bars play more mainstream music, pop and top 40, so the need for this was obvious, from people I know, that there was an interest."

Westhoff is also the creator of Dancing Ghosts, the Dark Wave and goth night at The Cat Club.

"There was an interest to have a space that was queer at The Cat Club," he said. "There are a lot of New Wave events out there, but they're more for straight and gay fans. I wanted to make one that was specifically a queer event. It's a nice alternative."

The obvious point, for those who remember, or who can access the hundreds of '80s music videos from the advent of MTV, is the New Wave visual and auditory queerness of the genre. While many musicians were and weren't specifically gay, homosexual or lesbians, the look and feel of "the other," spearheaded by the likes of David Bowie, The Cure, Boy George, Depeche Mode and dozens of elegantly coiffed musicians, gave way to a more openly 'queer' fashion sense, despite the oppression of the encroaching AIDS pandemic.

So it seems appropriate to have a queer-inclusive night with this genre.

Westhoff, who is 36, recognized the comparison.

"It's also somewhat of an alternative form of music, and some really good underground acts from the 80s that weren't as big as Depeche Mode, but still have similar music styles. Queer culture had been underground for some time. I know plenty of gays that were drawn to that music for a long time."

While several bars play rock or classic disco or New Wave music, few gay bars have dance nights that aren't top 40 or typical "gay vibe" circuit sounds. Westhoff's niche genre has proven popular.

The first Boy Division drew about 200 people, Westhoff said. "I was really quite pleasantly surprised. There's obviously enough interest for it, with positive vibes. We played a bit of music in both rooms, and got lots of positive comments."

Westhoff added that Brit Pop and Electro are also mixed into the classics. "We're not exclusively playing New Wave, but also a lot of artists who were big in the '80s, who were queer artists who helped define that kind of music, so we're including them; Pet Shop Boys, Marc Almond, Erasure and Bronkski Beat."

Mixed in between these artists are grooves by contemporary electro bands like The Knife, Ladytron and Goldfrapp. Expect dance remixes and original cuts as well.

Westhoff's been organizing and DJ-ing events for ten years, shortly after moving to San Francisco from Minnesota 13 years ago. His longterm event, Dancing Ghosts, celebrates its ninth anniversary this March. That event started at The Stud for its first four or five years, and moved to the Cat Club.

Boy Division, now at Codeword (917 Folsom St.), used to be named Annie's, and is run by the owner of DNA Lounge. Westhoff added that DNA pizza, which is open 24 hours a day, is next to Codeword. "Perfect for a late night snack."

With two dance floors, "Generally we're playing more of the hits in the front room and deeper cuts in the back room."

TV screens add retro cool visuals, and although a dress code isn't required, fans are welcome to dress as retro as they like.

Boy Division takes place at Codeword each fourth Saturday. The next event is March 26. 917 Folsom St. www.codeword-sf.com

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