When you think of D.C.’s major cultural exports, punk and go-go come to mind. But over the past decade, a new contender has emerged: ’90s nostalgia.
Before you scoff, consider this: The No Scrubs: ’90s Dance Party, which launched in D.C. in 2003, has gone on to pack venues in Atlanta; Birmingham, Ala.; Charlottesville and Baltimore, according to co-founder and DJ Will Eastman. D.C.-based ’90s cover band White Ford Bronco has risen to monster success since forming in 2008, recently playing to a crowd of 1,200 in New York. Peach Pit, a ’90s dance night at DC9, is taking the party to Minneapolis for the event’s 10th anniversary. And a new R&B-focused event, Nostalgia: The 90s Experience, may soon pop up in L.A. after its inaugural edition here, according to organizer Fred Barnes, 50.
“The interest in the ’90s is going strong everywhere, but it’s really strong in the DMV,” Barnes says.
One likely reason D.C. is a ’90s nostalgia hotbed is the region’s great concentration of millennials, who are getting misty-eyed for their youth as they take on grown-up responsibilities. But ’90s love is turning out to be a bigger phenomenon than the usual, 10-year nostalgia cycle. Starting just a few years after the turn of the 21st century, it’s since become a major force in fashion (scrunchies!), music (MC Hammer’s on tour) and screens both large (“The Lion King”) and small (“BH90210”).
Another factor that may be driving ’90s madness is our current dumpster fire of a century, which ignited on Sept. 11, 2001, blazed on with the Great Recession and continues to cough up fresh nightmares on an almost daily basis, says Jacob Juhl, a nostalgia researcher at the University of Southampton in England.
“People become nostalgic in response to adversity or psychologically negative states,” Juhl says. “Nostalgia helps restore people to a psychological equilibrium.”
Scientists have induced nostalgia in the lab by prompting people to contemplate the vast and random universe as well as by simply pumping up the air conditioning and making people feel uncomfortably cold, Juhl says. Researchers have also found that nostalgia comforts us by making us feel connected to one another and to a shared past, he adds.
Since the ’90s were the last moment before the internet splintered mass culture, the decade is particularly good nostalgia fodder, says Peach Pit DJ and founder Matt Bailer, 42.
“In the ’90s, everyone listened to the same one or two radio stations in their city that played all the Top 40 hits, spanning all kinds of genres,” he says. “After that, people started having their own ways of accessing and acquiring and listening to the music they chose to listen to, so there wasn’t such a general pool of commonality.”
Without those shared cultural touchstones, the current decade may prove difficult to reminisce about down the road, says David Newman, a nostalgia researcher at the University of Southern California.
“Since everything seems to be more individualistic now and people are all having different experiences, we might have fewer of these collectivistic nostalgic experiences overall,” Newman says.
Mass culture in the 21st century feels more like a grab bag of random events than a coherent narrative, notes Nick Gatewood, 40, an Ohio-based rapper who goes by the name Vice Souletric and tours the country with his nostalgia event, the Nu 90s Experience, which returned to D.C. this past weekend.
“Everything moves too fast now. By the time you’ve heard about something, there’s already a backlash,” he says. “No one is going to have a deep, personal connection to Pizza Rat.”
Another factor driving ’90s nostalgia is how the internet has made the past more accessible than ever before, says White Ford Bronco singer-guitarist Diego Valencia, 37. In the ’90s, you had to wait for your favorite song to play on the radio or buy a CD, so music felt more precious back then. Now you can watch or listen to anything you want, from any era, on demand — and that seems to have made people more interested in rehashing and remixing the past rather than creating new, original things.
“If you listen to contemporary music now, a lot of songs sound like something that we’ve already heard before. If you look at, say, ‘Uptown Funk’ or ‘Blurred Lines,’ they sound so much like other songs,” Valencia says. “Or there’s DJ Khaled, who has made a career out of taking other people’s ideas and adding his name to it.”
While Valencia suspects our extended ’90s obsession marks the end of reminiscing as we know it, Eastman, 50, sees a future in nostalgia. In fact, he’s banked on it with two more parties, Hot in Herre: 2000s Dance Party and Can’t Feel My Face: 2010s Dance Party.
“I personally love the Hot in Herre party the most, because those are the songs I played when I first got into DJing,” he says.
But while Eastman’s ’00s party is gaining momentum, it seems unlikely that aughts nostalgia will burn as brightly or for as long as ’90s nostalgia has.
“Most parties are done in a couple years,” he says. “It’s a real exception to have an event that lasts a decade — and at this point, No Scrubs the party has lasted longer than the ’90s itself.”
You oughta go
Put your Tamagotchi to bed and head to one of these upcoming ’90s-themed events.
- ‘Jurassic Park’ Hapless humans flee fearsome dinosaurs in this CGI-pioneering thriller from 1993, when Spielberg movies could still be fun. North lawn of Jefferson Building, Library of Congress, 10 First St. SE; Thu., 8:30 p.m., free.
- Peach Pit 90’s Dance Party DJ Matt Bailer will spin danceable hits, from Sugar Ray to Green Day. DC9, 1940 Ninth St. NW; Sat., 10:30 p.m., $5-$8.
- All That 90s Party DJ Marco will remix ’90s tunes from a variety of genres, including pop, grunge and R&B. Union Stage, 740 Water St. SW; Sat., 10 p.m., $10-$15.
- The Smashing Pumpkins & Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Founding Pumpkins Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin are back on the road after last year’s reunion tour. Noel Gallagher, formerly of Oasis, will open with his newish band. Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md.; Sat., 7 p.m., $29.50-$129.50.
- Nostalgia: The ’90s Experience Leave your scrunchie at home — no costumes allowed at this classy event, which will feature a mix of ’90s hip-hop and R&B. Saint Yves, 1220 Connecticut Ave. NW; Aug. 22, 7-11 p.m., $15-$40.
- Grunge Fest Four tribute bands will play songs by Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and other flannel-clad rockers. The Fillmore, 8656 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; Aug. 23, 8 p.m., $15.50.
- Boyz II Men This harmonizing group will prove how hard it is to say goodbye to yesterday by performing its ’90s hits as well as new cuts. The Theater at MGM National Harbor, 101 MGM National Ave., Oxon Hill, Md.; Aug. 24, 8 p.m., $53-$253.
- White Ford Bronco D.C.’s wildly popular ’90s cover band will perform lively renditions from the era’s songbook. Gypsy Sally’s, 3401 K St. NW; Aug. 24, 9 p.m., $25.
- No Scrubs: ’90s Dance Party DJ Will Eastman and friends spin rump-shaking hits from the likes of Bell Biv DeVoe, TLC, C+C Music Factory and 2Pac. 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Aug. 30, 9 p.m., $16.
Correction: The print version of this story gave the wrong last name for Nostalgia: The 90s Experience organizer Fred Barnes. It has been corrected.