Since its humble inception at the Halfway Inn (lovingly known as The Halfass) at Ann Arbor's East Quad in 2001, The Bang! has been a wildly fun gonzo dance party/pop culture celebration without peer. Graduating to the Blind Pig in 2002, the mostly monthly event has been known for its eye-popping promotional posters, over-the-top sets, outlandishly costumed attendees, off-the-wall video mixes, live bands – and, perhaps craziest of all, its genre-spanning cassette mixtapes.
But The Bang!'s organizers have decided that on Oct. 26, The Bang! must die.
Created by Milan-based painter/podcaster Jason Gibner and Ann Arbor-based graphic artist Jeremy Wheeler, The Bang! has always been a group effort involving a crew of kindred spirits. After throwing monthly dance parties for almost 15 years, The Bang! pared down to a few parties per year in 2015. Not only was The Bang! crew getting older, but the music scene in Ann Arbor had changed as well. In fitting fashion, Wheeler and Gibner are letting the world know The Bang! is really coming to an end by titling their final party "The Bang! Must Die!"
In advance of the final Bang!, we looked back at 18 years of madcap fun with Gibner and Wheeler via email interview.
Q: Why must The Bang! die?
JW: Eighteen years is enough! We just checked and we’re past the expiration date.
JG: We always knew it had to die eventually and we just wanted to be the ones that drive it into that Greased Lightning car into the clouds.
Q: Why mixtapes?
JW: It carries on a tradition of parties where people would bring tapes to play in a dark basement with a crummy disco light. Mixtapes are the equalizer. If you can dig up hot tracks and make a tape then you can be a DJ.
JG: It first started with a birthday party of mine at the late great Pirate House in Ann Arbor. I wanted to play music we liked for friends to dance to but I knew NOTHING about how to actually DJ or anything like that. So we said, “Let's just make mixtapes, hook up a stereo to a PA, and we are good!”
Q: What's changed about The Bang! and its audience over time?
JW: It went from smoky indie posturing to electro-clash pruning to sexy aerobic gyrating to basically feel-good grad students. The audience has gotten a lot less sexual, but so has culture.
JG: There’s always been a healthy combo of people either confused by what is happening at a Bang! and people that just walk in and immediately get our brand of ultra dance party ridiculousness. We’ve always just done what feels right to us but the crowd’s expectations have changed a lot over time.
Q: What are some of your favorite Bang!s?
JW: The Gameshow Bang! 2007 NYE, for sure! We made people do dirty deeds for slices of cold pizza! I think a dude licked a urinal cake from the 8-Ball. He’s prolly dead now.
JG: Definitely the Gameshow Bang! where we had almost no plans for what the game show part of the evening was until one hour before we did it. We had a poor student prank call her mom on stage on NYE. Classic stuff! Also there was one where the A/C at the Pig wasn’t working at the end of July. We named it the Sweat Bang! afterwards. It was disgusting and amazing.
Q: Who are some of your favorite musical artists/bands who've played at The Bang!?
JW: Saturday Looks Good To Me. We forever love Fred Thomas. Anytime Charles Trees guest DJ’ed we would have a blast. Love that kid! Part of The Bang! Family, fer sure.
JG: Hard Lessons always killed it and I have great memories of when Esquire played NYE once. I have no idea what was happening with people sitting on stage with him but it was brilliant.
Q: What are some of your craziest memories from The Bang!?
JG: A naked woman tried to get in on NYE during a blizzard, an entire wedding party showed up once at around 1:30 a.m., and the one time the Royal Shakespeare Company came to a Halloween Bang! all drunk.
JW: So many various stage setups! The Boombox! The Barn! The Shark! The Runway! The Dance Cages! The Rollerskate! The Spinning Glam Shamrock! The Spinning Tape! The Volcano! The Ark! The Tiki Heads! The Ninjas! The Monster Mouth! Castle Greyskull! The Light-Up Bang! Sign! Also various eating contests! Pizza! Taco Bell! PIPING HOT Dogs! And Make-Out Contests on the Make-Out Bed!!
JG: One classic moment was when we were setting up and a random guy wandered into the Pig, looked around, and asked what was going on there that night as people are hammering nails in wood and using electric drills. After someone tried to explain what The Bang! was he stood there and said, “All this work for a dance party?!?”
Q: I feel like there was a philosophy/vision behind The Bang! Could you articulate that?
JW: Hot fun stupid?
JG: Weird loud sweaty dance mania?
Q: What will you miss about The Bang!?
JW: Singing Squeeze’s "Bang Bang" with the crowd at the end of the night, no doubt.
JG: Seeing all our crew and The Bang! faithful all the time. We’ve been doing it for 18 years and we’ve literally seen people and friends grow up as we’ve done this crazy thing. It was always a great monthly opportunity to catch up with folks we care about.
Q: Do you feel like the spirit of The Bang! lives on in other local parties?
JW: I’ve never seen anything like The Bang! Obviously people have amazing parties – people we love! But the mix of visuals, sets, humor, participation, DIY fuck-it-ude, and sheer longevity, that’ll be buried after the 26th.
JG: I hope so! Just as we were inspired by dance nights at The Loop in Windsor and countless others, I hope a little bit of Bang! DNA lives on somehow somewhere.
Q: How has The Bang! changed your life personally?
JW: It preserved me. I’ve been pickled by The Bang!
JG: Since we started we’ve all been through every major life event you can think of. The Bang! has been a great way for us to still all see each other and it’s just a great feeling that something silly we thought of has meant so much to so many people. We’ve heard so often, especially lately, how couples met at The Bang! and are now married, have kids, whatever. That’s a really great feeling and I know we’re proud that this dance party has such awesome memories for people.
Q: Advice for throwing a good party?
JW: Enlist your friends. Don’t take it too serious. Start small. Grow big. If it doesn’t work, KEEP DOING IT … just maybe not for 18 years.
JG: Make your definition of fun a reality. Chances are there’s a lot of other weirdos out there looking for that brand of fun too.
The Bang! Must Die will take place at The Blind Pig at 9:30 p.m. October 26.
Doug Coombe is Concentrate's managing photographer. His favorite memory of The Bang! is meeting his wife there on New Year's Eve.