Night Crawler

A group of sharply dressed clubsters gathers in the alleyway behind Cat's Grill & Alley Club. Looking alternately casual and eager, they wait to have their IDs checked. There is a disappointing lack of scooters, considering that Thursday nights offer "Popscene," one of the few weekly Britpop gatherings in town. Thankfully, Brad Artley, the 26-year-old drummer for Brian Jonestown Massacre, is stuck standing outside looking wonderfully foppish.

"They won't let me in," he sniffs, brushing a tortured lock of bleached-blond hair from his eye. "I don't have my ID." Artley is agitated, or, perhaps, naturally high-strung. He takes quick, frequent drags off of his cigarette while his free hand moves like a small bird trapped on a string. Still, he looks fabulous, like he stepped right out of Quadrophenia: sleek stovepipe pants, a slightly tousled mop top, an air of pouty rebellion playing around his mouth. I watch as his eyes dart from the bouncer to the club entrance and back again, and wonder if he is waiting for an opening.

"I really don't go out that often," he says, as if this is a fact of tremendous import. "I mostly stay at home." I nod and slip through the curtain that separates the club from the outside world. It is a bit like stepping into Dr. Who's time machine: Inside, it's not much different from the world you just left, but all the people are in period costumes. It's kind of cheesy, but great fun. A track by David Bowie is playing.

"This is just like being in a London nightclub in 1965," says Rodney Bingenheimer, a Britpop DJ at KROQ in Los Angeles. "It's very English, very mod." Bingenheimer is dressed in a snappy black suit with a longish black mop top -- a short Keith Richards comes to mind -- and, considering the club is an 18-and-over venue, he is easily twice the age of the youngest kid on the dance floor. "I used to own a nightclub in L.A. in the late '70s called Rodney's English Disco," reminisces Bingenheimer. "We don't have anything like this now." Bingenheimer's excitement is tangible. A fan of his radio show had given him the lowdown on the San Francisco Britpop scene, but it is still easy to say that he is slightly agog. What with the popularity of the nightspot and the immaculate dress of its patrons, this is not surprising.

A peppy little Cardigans number brings several wallflowers with pixie cuts and pencil skirts onto the dance floor. They dance with modlike asexuality -- crisp and clean, not too much hip. Two of the girls don't bother to put out their cigs. They take long, delicious drags and move their feet in careful time with the accompanying shiny pop chorus. As with most of the dancers, the girls are fairly adept at ignoring everyone else around them. They dance, completely absorbed in their own lines and the smoldering embers of their smokes. Nothing matters but appearance. At the same time there is the underlying buzz of teen-age sexuality as the new, young, and beautiful club kids explore the possibilities offered in nighttime flirtation.

"It's a good place to meet girls," says a 19-year-old student who has been coming to "Popscene" weekly for the last six months. "I like the style. I like the music. I only wish they would play more Small Faces." He moves toward the far wall where a row of girls stand as if waiting for a partner at a school dance. The 19-year-old strokes his sparse sideburns and focuses his wolfish attentions on a brunette in a sleeveless knit top and a bob. She strikes a coquettish pose and shakes her head no before excepting a light for her cigarette. Duran Duran fades out. Pulp comes up and the new couple slips onto the floor where they dance with a good amount of space between them. At the bar several men who look like they might have been jocks in high school swill beer at an alarming rate. They say "cool" a lot and are noticeably shunned by their sharper peers. Seated in the darker corners of the room, more than a few people sniff and rub their noses between cigarettes -- maybe young mods still like to "go fast."

"At this age, you can already tell whose going to go to seed," says Sean Morris who, at 25, seems a seasoned veteran. "But I dig the scene. Everyone dances. It's fresh. It has that [youthful] excitement. On Fridays I go to Kate O'Brien's. It's older, but the same music." Kate O'Brien's, with its cozy upstairs dance floor and puffy couches, caters to an actual British clientele. An interesting concept for a Britpop club. I stop a worldly looking lad just as he begins to push his way onto the dance floor for an Oasis tune.

"Ever hear of Kate O'Brien's?" I ask.
"Is it 21 and over?" he shoots back, looking anxiously at the dance floor.
"Yes, I believe so."

"That leaves me out. Just turned 20." He pushes past, his Levi's jacket and matching Sta-Prests disappearing into the fray. The 25-year-old winks at me from the bar through a cloud of smoke. There is a lightly mocking smile attached to the look.

"I thought he had facial hair," I say with a defensive shrug before ordering a soda and lighting a cigarette. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

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By Silke Tudor

 
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