There's no denying Richard Blade is the voice of '80s music, the torchbearer for a generation of loud synths and even louder clothes. So those who grew up watching him interview acts such as Morrissey on KCAL's Video One and MV3 or listening to him spin hours of Reagan-era classics as a DJ on KROQ aren't surprised to hear the man still lives and breathes the stuff. More than 20 years later, Blade keeps the sounds of Duran Duran and Kajagoogoo alive on the air via his satellite-radio station, Channel 33/First Wave, and club gigs throughout Southern California.
But he hasn't spent his life in a time capsule–although you may feel as if you're in one when you hang out with him as he hosts the Lost '80s Live show tomorrow in downtown Long Beach, touting live performances from early MTV darlings such as Wang Chung, Flock of Seagulls and Naked Eyes. We recently spoke with Blade about why '80s music will always be better than the aural garbage we're force-fed over the radio these days. We also reviewed some high points from back in the day, including a very high pair of shorts he used to wear on camera.
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OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): What's your opinion of how '80s music has been absorbed into the “classic rock” genre for a lot of radio formats these days?
Richard Blade: It's sort of become like '60s music. The '60s were an amazing decade, with bands like the Doors, the Who, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones. Even if you weren't born then, people are so aware of it. And that's what's happened to the '80s. The '70s — apart from disco — were nothing. The '90s were kind of a throwaway, depressing decade; apart from the Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam, there are no great bands that came out of it in the world of rock. And rock is in a terrible place right now. There are no new great rock bands.
The Killers came along for a bit, and then Franz Ferdinand for a second, and they're trying to come back with a new album. But there haven't been any great rock bands for the past 20 years. You ask someone what's a great rock band around at the moment, and the answer is Foo Fighters, U2 or the Rolling Stones. There's no one now, apart from maybe Cold Play, who can compete. The '80s surprisingly have become a decade that people just love–it was good music, it was fun music, and it had groups that you knew the name of every band member of. Just like you know John, Paul, George and Ringo, you know Andy, Simon, Nick, John and Roger.
There are plenty of bands that adopt a lot of '80s sounds and aesthetics these days, though. What about them?
Oh, absolutely, you could go all the way back to Interpol, who salute the '80s and have an '80s feel, but whether those bands will have any long term impact . . . In 10 years' time, will we really be talking about the Killers? Not putting them down — I like them a lot — but they're still not that big when you compare them with Foo Fighters or Duran Duran or the Who.
As someone who has been a DJ long before we started calling dance music “EDM,” what's your take on the rise of rock star DJs such as David Guetta, Skrillex and Afrojack?
I actually like it; I'm a big fan of that stuff. I spent a lot of time this past April in the dance tent at Coachella; I saw Benny Benassi and Moby and really enjoyed it. If I were a kid coming up, that's the route I'd be taking. I'd be a DJ and producer. I think it's great that so many of them make their own music as well as spin it. I think they've gone from keeping their head down in their laptops to having these great live shows. So I'm full of respect for them. There's always been an audience for it. I came out of the clubs in Europe, and I still play at least three nights a week in the clubs, and I think it's great.
What's the No. 1 thing a live DJ definitely shouldn't do during a gig?
Don't text while you're at the booth working, concentrate on the party, don't keep your head down and make sure to interact with the audience as much as possible. The No. 1 thing a DJ can do is read the audience. Don't go in with a set in your mind. Play the music for the guests; keep them focused on the floor. If you go in and say, “I wanna play the following nine songs in this order” and you don't quit that set and play what they want, then you're a crappy DJ.
Are there any interviews you've done on camera during your time at Video One that were especially daunting?
There's a couple. Sting — he's very daunting. He's a genius. Stewart Copeland will tell you that Sting can walk into an African village, pick up a homemade instrument that no one's ever seen before, and within 90 minutes, be able to play it as well as anyone in that village. So being in a room with a genius like that is daunting. The other one is Morrisey. I've interviewed him a few times, and he always brings his A game, and you can't be lazy; you can't wing it with him because if you do, he'll rip you apart. And God bless him for it. Because you should bring your A game because the artist and the audience deserve it.
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What's it been like knowing and interviewing the headliners of the Lost '80s Live event — Wang Chung and Flock of Seagulls — back in the day vs. interacting with them now that most of that celebrity B.S. is behind them?
It's really interesting; now we're a lot more like friends. Because when they first came into KROQ or Video One, they'd be very guarded because their star was rising and they had to worry about saying anything bad or trying to answer in a way that's all about the next album or the next video. Now, they're more relaxed, and we can laugh about the past, and I'm very fortunate to be a survivor just like they are. They're still around making music, I'm still around playing music, and the relationship has become a lot more friendly — you can ask almost anything.
What's your most regrettable '80s fashion faux pas?
I used to introduce a lot of bands at the Us Festival in 1983 — the Clash, Men At Work, B-52s, Berlin. . . . I walked out in striped dolphin shorts and neon socks. I looked like Richard Simmons, but without the curly hair. At the time, the girls liked it. But my wife is like, “What were you thinking?”
The shorts in question . . . That's Blade on the far left.
For more info on Lost '80s Live, happening tomorrow (including set times), click here.
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.