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Wonders never cease
The last place you’d expect to find windmills in Allston

It’s a Friday night, a little before 11 pm, and we’re in a basement in Allston. A pair of DJs are spinning a shit-hot mix of ’80s proto dance punk (Dinosaur L), ’70s Afrobeat disco stomp (Bohannon), and house (Tiefschwarz), with the odd PJ Harvey re-edit and Rolling Stones remix thrown in. There’s a dude spinning on his head, plus another half-dozen or so b-boys and one b-girl engaged in an acrobatic breakdance cipher under a disco ball in the middle of the floor. Your correspondent is drunk, though not drunk enough to forget where she’s at. Still, one more time: where the hell are we? Even after the location has been double-checked, it’s still a little unbelievable: this, dear reader, is Wonderbar.

You heard right. The Harvard Ave joint known for its over-cleavaged clientele and management-douchebag-in-training dress code is . . . bumping? Yup. It’s not Bunratty’s or Local 186 — the rock dives Wonderbar replaced back in the ’90s — but "Thunderbar," a free, weekly, Friday-night jumpoff in Wonderbar’s downstairs room, has been popping since July thanks to residents DJ Caseroc and DJ Scotty Bliss, a/k/a Scott Richards, who has taken over as the club’s "entertainment and marketing liaison." And he’s about to do for Wonderbar what indie-rockers did for Great Scott, with one crucial difference: he’s a missionary out to convert schlumpy rock nerds and lost ravers into true believers in the elements of classic dance music.

So, at least for tonight, is San Serac, the Providence one-man-band wonder. In the right light he looks like a cross between "Dancing on the Ceiling"–era Lionel Richie and some normal person you wouldn’t recognize at all. Jumping among synths, keys, samplers, a drum machine, a live electric drum pad, and, of course, the motherfucking microphone, he fashions a set of DIY electropop that mixes neo-’80s beats and shoulder-padded ’70s R&B, like a cross between the Neptunes and some wedding band you wouldn’t remember the name of. "This song is by some English guy," he notes at the end of his half-hour set, and then — to the delight of everyone — plays a cover of Peter Gabriel’s "Big Time."

Live music is a recent addition to the "Thunderbar" proceedings, and it seems to be working: Richards says the place usually reaches capacity by midnight. So maybe convincing Allstonians that not all disco sucks isn’t impossible. "It’s sort of like redefining what dance music is to people. The rave scene is dead. People are looking for other things, and reattaching to the roots of dance music." Richards is also intent on hipping up the rest of Wonderbar’s weekend: the ’80s night on Thursdays, "Dorsia," takes its name from American Psycho, and on Sundays, the "Boogie Down Brunch" boasts eight hours of food, eight DJs, and five featured artists each week. Next up: San Francisco tribal-house legend John Howard drops by "Thunderbar" on December 2.

Tia Carioli can be reached at tiacarioli@yahoo.com

Issue Date: November 18 - 24, 2005
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