On October 22nd, Night Club played their first Red Rocks set, touring as support for A Perfect Circle’s US tour. The dark pop duo consisting of Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks recently ended their first European tour back in August with Wednesday 13 and Combichrist.
The tour is part of a growing trend, which compels concert goers to immerse themselves in the concert experience without the crutch of technology. With bands like Metallica, the Misfits, and now A Perfect Circle restricting the use of cell phones during shows, fans must rely on their underused power of recall instead of their iPhones to reminisce about the show. For bands, “There are pros and cons,” says Emily, Night Club’s cherry redheaded lead singer. “The good thing about people recording and doing Instagram stories is that their friends are exposed to it. So that part is really cool. But there’s something cool about this, too, because [fans are] forced to pay attention instead of watching through their screen. I get very irritated when I see people in the front row texting. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves: people not watching or not paying attention. It just drives me crazy.” The Red Rocks show was only the second of the tour, so it was impossible to gauge the technology ban’s impact on the band’s social media sites, or whether the lack of social posts from fans would contribute to higher numbers of fans sharing concert reviews, interviews, and photo galleries on music sites and blogs. Regardless of the effects on publicity, Mark, the duo’s more austerely coiffed live-mixer and videographer, enjoyed playing to a phone-free audience on Night Club’s last tour, commenting, “We played a couple shows at the beginning of the [Combichrist] tour, and there wasn’t a single phone in the entire arena. I loved it.”
For audience members who drove long distances specifically for the show, the mobile ban didn’t pose a dilemma. Joe, a photographer from Salt Lake City, drove nine hours “to be in the moment. I wasn’t going to bust out my cell phone and record. I just want to be here and enjoy it.” Rain, who drove out from Pagosa Springs, felt similarly, saying, “The last show I went to, they allowed cell phones but you could tell that everyone was on their phones the entire time, taking selfies. They weren’t totally immersed with what was going on on the stage. I think that’s a really important part of this – being centered, being here.”
Although signs were posted prominently threatening ejection from the venue for failure to abide, a large number of audience members tried to sneak a selfie or take a photos of Red Rock’s signature landscape. Security gave a stern warning for the first transgression, which was usually enough to keep most people in line. While some concert goers who were kicked out after being told repeatedly to put away their phones took their walk of shame quietly, a group of belligerent young women screamed at security as they were escorted out, “I was just taking a selfie!” Although there were some jeers and boos when announcements were made over the PA system reiterating the strict ban on photography, for the most part, the crowd obliged during the performances, permitting a view of the stage unobstructed by hundreds of LCD and OLED screens.
In Europe, such a ban would probably be met with minimal resistance, as European concert goers tend to limit cell phone use during concerts and seem to be less preoccupied with posting to social during a show. According to Emily, “People weren’t posting videos and photos to IG/FB as much [in Europe]. I remember after playing a show here, we’d get a bunch of new Instagram followers and a bunch of new Instagram activity. You go play over there, and they’re not as social media obsessed.” But what European crowds lack in social media fixation, they make up for in crowd reaction and merchandise sales. Mark explains, “In Germany, they kind of stand there [with their arms crossed and a blank expression on their face], and you think, Oh man, we’re bombing. But you get done playing, and they’re like, ‘You were amazing! I want everything.’ And they give you all their money for the merch. Then you go to Hungary or Poland and they just go bonkers.” Emily adds, “In Budapest, they went crazy; that was probably the most animated audience we saw.”
European audiences, especially Germans, scrutinize everything, which may partially explain the lack of social posts. Audience members want to be fully engaged in the concert experience, and have a complete understanding of what a band is about. Mark explains, “They’re sitting there analyzing it – what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, what the lyrics are about. They’re not just like, ‘Whooo, yeahhhh. I’m on Instagram. I’m at this cool show.’ They want to be impressed. You have to prove why you’re worth it. They want to see if you’re cool. But you know after the show if they buy merchandise.”
Night Club’s recent tour schedule is proof that the duo’s dark pop image is connecting with audiences across the globe. “We confused a lot of people [at first],” says Mark. “But I think we got it down better with our later albums. People were like, ‘Wait – are you trying to be a pop band? What are you?’ They want to put us in a box.” The band originally was given suggestions on how to look and act because of their seemingly contradictory aesthetic and sound. Emily explains, “It’s okay to have lighter sounding music with a darker image. [People would ask] ‘Are you trying to be Taylor Swift? If so, then you should try to be more friendly.’ No – we’re trying to make pop songs and not look like Taylor Swift.” Mark adds, “It’s dark pop songs. That’s what we’ve been saying the whole time. And lately, people have been getting that. But for the first few years, I think people were just confused.”
The duo’s darker image doesn’t mean that Night Club takes themselves too seriously, or that they can’t have a good time. “It’s weird, because we laugh all the time,” says Mark. “But there’s nothing worse than a smiling band. I can’t remember where I read that. I think it was Lou Reed who said not to ever smile in a photo for your band. It’s the lamest look ever.” Their electronic sound but metal-as-fuck attitude (“AC/DC but with keyboards”) caused a conundrum during Night Club’s inception as publicists expected Emily to be the smiling face of a ‘female-fronted’ band. “There’s a definite prejudice against girls,” Mark argues. “They should just be pretty and sing really nice. My favorite shit is the Divinyls, the Pretenders, and Blondie. They were killer because they weren’t that.” Mark continues, “Emily rocks harder than most guys on stage. She’s a total rocker.” He adds, jokingly, “You’d never hear ‘male-backed band.’ That’s so sexist and weird.”
Seeing the band as ‘female-fronted’ – or ‘male-backed’ – ignores the collaborative, DIY element that makes the band so unique. Emily and Mark share the entire song-writing process and are both completely involved in creating the music and writing the lyrics. Emily reiterates, “We edit each others’ lyrics all the time. Any song feels like both of us wrote it. It’s ours. I want to feel comfortable singing something. I want to relate it it, so I’ll shut it down if it doesn’t make sense.” Although Mark makes the sets and directs all of Night Club’s video’s, the video concepts are also collaborative and aren’t considered until after a song is recorded. “We decide what song we want to do for a video, then we’ll pitch each other a rough idea, and then I execute it,” says Mark. Emily adds, adamantly, “You can’t make a good video without a good song.” Mark continues, “It’s actually pretty telling. If you’re video is really boring, then your song is probably kind of boring.”