The last time I went to Rockin’ Rollers was for a Gluey Brothers show in 1997. The roller-skating rink on Agua Fría was decorated with an alien theme, and that long-ago night it was packed with locals dressed like the band: in brightly colored polyester bell bottoms and platform shoes. No one actually did any skating. I remember it as one of the last nights I spent with a group of my college friends before everyone moved away. Eighteen years later, my editor asked me to skip my busy Saturday night of watching Netflix with my husband to go back to the roller rink for Apply Yourself, a party and fundraiser on March 28 that celebrated the start of the application cycle for participating in the After Hours Alliance Festival of Progressive Arts. Better known as the AHA Festival, the event is planned for September in the Railyard and features music, performance, and multimedia interactive installations.
It was an all-ages event and the skate-rental counter was open for business. The alien kitsch was more pronounced than ever, and vintage video footage of roller-derby races was projected on the walls. DJ Prairie Dog was spinning bands I’d started listening to when I was fourteen — the Cure, the Pixies, and punk, surf, and rockabilly tunes. I was transported to my high-school days in Chicago, when I wore my head shaved, except for long bangs, and clomped around in combat boots. As people laced up their beige roller skates, it was obvious many of them hadn’t skated in years. “This feels terrible,” said a woman in her early thirties who was rocking back and forth, trying to find her balance. A man told a little boy that it was just like ice-skating, except that to stop you were supposed to crash into a wall. The boy whimpered objections to the entire activity, but his forty-something mother took off with grace. I was surprised by the crowd’s general enthusiasm and willingness to skate, and even more surprised that even though alcohol was for sale to those over twenty-one, skating inebriated didn’t seem to be the collective goal. I was reveling in comfortable nostalgia when my new and somewhat younger friend Tantri arrived and declared the roller-skating party Hipster Central. I experience hipsters mostly via the internet, so I was thrilled for insight into the live Santa Fe version.
A local punk band called the Sex Headaches played as I learned about hipster subcultures, including the punk- and pin-up-inspired Suicide Girls, who cross over with tough-looking roller-derby girls — a group that showed up in force in short shorts, fishnet stockings, and hot-pink skates. There were people with “undercuts,” the current terminology for shaving part of your head (this used to be called “shaving part of your head”), and lots of skinny jeans (which used to be called “jeans”). There were messy-haired women in vintage party dresses and men in sloppy, ill-fitting jeans and T-shirts. When I defended the more punklike looks on behalf of my teenage rebellion, Tantri reminded me that no one we were looking at was in high school, which led me to wonder what — since they live in Santa Fe and it’s not the Reagan Era anymore — they’re rebelling against by shaving their heads. Is it just fashion? Why, Tantri asked, must everyone dress as though they are part of a band? The answers to these questions got more convoluted when I brought up ’90s fashions like grunge and the mysterious and more recent nontrend normcore, both of which prioritize looking like you slept in your clothes. Full disclosure: It’s a look I favor.
For more insight into current Santa Fe nightlife denizens, I called Andy Primm, a musician who grew up in Santa Fe and has been playing music in town since the late 1980s. He teaches at the Candyman Summer Rock Camp and plays with Chongo, a party-rock band, and Moby Dick, a Led Zeppelin cover band. He’s also the former drummer for the Gluey Brothers. We reminisced about Club West and Luna, and how venues used to do major advertising that doesn’t happen now. People don’t go out as much, he said. Packed dance floors in downtown bars seem to be a thing of the past. These days, would-be partyers often pay more attention to their cellphones than to the live music. More successful gigs tend nowadays to combine music with some kind of performance or art installation. That should be good news to the organizers of the AHA Festival, who want to expand Santa Fe’s art scene beyond the tourist-oriented gallery economy and into the lives of locals who make and appreciate art. All artists accepted into the festival are paid modest stipends funded by donations from local small businesses and city departments.
Primm, who favors the styles and cuts of the ’80s over the drab shapelessness of the ’90s, pinpoints the early ’90s as the end of the era when musicians could “make it.” “The model that existed since probably the 1950s, where you release albums and have promo photos, make your video, and focus on your college airplay — that’s over. When the internet came, everything changed,” he said. Then I realized that in a roller rink, dozens of people skating in a circle can’t all be looking at their cellphones. Maybe the sense of everyone being in one place for one purpose, without the blue glow of tiny screens, made the AHA party as enjoyable for the attendees as my affection for the music and everyone’s partially shaved heads made it for me.
For information about submissions to the AHA Festival of Progressive Arts, visit www.ahafestival.com. Drop by soon, though: The application deadline is April 30.