I LOOKED REALLY, REALLY OUT OF PLACE.
Stuffed into the back of the crowded elevator, I stared down at my hands, which sported a blinding array of skull-themed, sterling silver jewelry, offsetting the pitch-black garments that draped me from head-to-toe. The massive patch on the back of my vest sported a fearsome horned skull, boasting a pair of sharp, flesh-tearing bottom canines.
As the lift ascended to the top floor of the hotel, I was acutely aware that I stood out like a sore thumb.
Improbably, I was the most normal-looking person in the lift.
The Anime Conji is San Diego’s annual convention dedicated to the Japanese animation culture and all its resplendent forms—basically any and all genres of fantasy are celebrated by thousands of anime enthusiasts from around the globe who attend lectures, screenings and concerts, nearly all in costume. My elevator compatriots included elves, aliens, samurai and one bearded Mexican gentleman dressed up as Minnie Mouse. I swear that two of the elves looked back at me and sniggered before exiting the elevator.
I wasn’t there for the animation or the fantasy—I was there to see Night Club, the L.A.-based synth pop duo whose self-titled debut had masterfully fused the energetic abandon of British postmodern pop with an utterly danceable, bass-heavy undercurrent. Featuring the ethereal vocals of Emily Kavanaugh and DJ Mark Brooks, Night Club were headlining a late night showcase to cap off the three-day Japanimation feast.
Earlier that day, Brooks led a speaker panel at the convention, imparting some of his extensive wisdom concerning the business of animation. In addition to spinning the turntables for Night Club, Brooks is a well-known writer and director for the late night, odds-defying cultural institution known as Metalocalypse—a massively-successful cartoon show featuring the exploits of the fictitious death metal band Dethklok, complete with custom music, videos and guest voiceover appearances by rock royalty such as Slash, members of Metallica and King Diamond. Galvanizing his metal pedigree, goth rock icon Glenn Danzig announced this month that his new TV special, Danzig Legacy, conceived and directed by Brooks, had completed production. Inspired by Elvis Presley’s 1968 comeback special, the Danzig show features intimate new live performances revisiting material from his solo years as well as his days in the Misfits and Samhain.
More recently it was announced that Brooks would serve as the supervising director of the new Comedy Central animated cop show, Moonbeam City, produced and voiced by Rob Lowe and featuring the additional talents of Kate Mara, Will Forte and Elizabeth Banks.
Meanwhile, Night Club continue to support the release of their follow-up, Love Casualty—a five-track continuation of the duo’s pulsating, dancefloor-friendly manifesto—playing gigs around Los Angeles and wherever else thick slabs of electro-funk are needed.
Fluent in old school punk, well-versed in a mind-blowing number of heavy metal sub-genres and having played in a number of rock bands, synth pop and electronica offer somewhat of a unique vehicle for channeling his songwriting passions. “To get inspired,” he tells us, “Emily and I will spend two and three hours at a time listening to music together and trying to stump each other with songs that the other person hasn’t heard. We’ll go back and forth and then we try and write a song. To me, I’m inspired by music to write music. It’s the most inspirational reason to make music in the first place, because music is awesome.”
So how would he describe Night Club’s sound? “People like to put us in the electronic category but really we’re just songwriters. To me, you could do our songs as rock songs. We’re all about the melody and the chords and the structure. It’s all notes, and words and feelings and these can be translated into literally any genre, so any song is influential. We could listen to anyone—the Sex Pistols, Hendrix, anyone—and it could inspire us to write something and once you do it with electronics, it becomes something else.”
Bass-heavy synth pop tends to conjure visions of crowded, sweaty clubs packed with lubed-up hip-shakers and late-night party animals, but Mark turns to this music as his steady and solitary companion in the wee hours of the morning. “As someone who suffered insomnia most of their life,” he said, “I learned to love the night. This love affair led me to dance music at an early age despite overwhelming pressure to reject it by parents, peers, punk rockers, etc. For me, dance music has always captured the restless, roaming, dark energy of the night. Years later, I still find comfort in knowing that if I’m unable to sleep there’s always a loud, pulsing dance floor that will accept me in it’s dark embrace.”
Here are three of Mark’s favorite late night insomnia-killers and what lights his fire about each of them.
“White Horse” – Laid Back
“A synth pop classic from 1981 written by Tim Stahl and John Guldberg of the Danish group Laid Back. There’s something about this song that’s so dark and cool and so 3 a.m. about it. I’ve heard this so many times in clubs where the DJ will throw it on at like two or three in the morning and the whole place goes berserk. People don’t really talk about this song, you don’t hear about this song anywhere and it’s not on the radio. It’s just one of those things that if you know that song and somebody plays it, you just lose your mind. It’s one of those strange, dark club songs and it demands volume and bass so if you can’t crank it, throw on some headphones and let it fly. It’s sort of the template for a lot of stuff since—it’s built around a repetitive hook, and it’s such a good hook that you can listen to it for the entire track. This song will help any flailing DJ pack the floor once again. Still sounds as fresh as it did in 1983.”
“Disco Science” – Mirwais
“Here’s another classic brought to you by Swiss producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï, the man behind Madonna’s Music. There were more obvious choices that I could have listed, like Daft Punk and their first Homework record, but to me, Mirwais is a more underground version of the same thing. He’s French and it’s from the same era and the same technique. That was when people first started doing filtered stuff and it was really happening in a bunch of tracks, but I thought this was the best example of a filtered track. I love the way it builds and builds and builds, and it always works in a DJ setting. So does the Daft Punk stuff, but you’ve heard that a million times. This song is based on a sample of the Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’ but the sample is so mutated that most people don’t recognize it. This song is meant to be loud but may shred speakers, so you’ve been warned.”
“Infinity” – Infinity Ink
“A new classic for sure by Luca C and Ali Love from London’s Infinity Ink. I got turned on to this maybe two years ago. Emily and I were at a gay club because we like to check out what people are playing, and those clubs play a lot of Britney Spears and real pop shit, and the DJ put on Infinity Ink and the crowd went crazy! I thought, I’ve never heard this track before. This shit is amazing! It just had this soul vibe to it and definitely a club element, but there’s something in these vocals that are haunting and kind of bluesy and I like that in a song, when the genre is kind of hard to define. Clearly from my job and what I do, I like rock and roll a lot—I love metal and I love rock, so to me the best kind of electronic bands are bands that either had that in their past or have an element of that in their sound now. Even the Eurythmics—Dave Stewart is a great guitarist; he’s a rock guy who’s doing electronics, and I think sometimes the best electronic bands have a harder feel. This song has such a mesmerizing bass line and hypnotic chorus that it can be played over and over on extended replay. This song captures the dark energy of the club in broad daylight.”
If you dig Mark’s selections above, here are some more jams for your grooving pleasure. -jd