Night Club – Scary World – music review

Night Club is one of the most exciting and interesting of smaller industrial projects, a dark fusion of dreamy sounds with bright electronic edges and frenetic beats. Composed of Emily Kavanaugh and Mark Brooks, the duo make infectiously catchy industrial songs that sound like a dark funeral for pop music. It’s as though the catchy electronic beats leave pop lost somewhere in a 21st century coffin while Emily hails Satan on the microphone with Mark hammering away at his keyboard and samples. They represent true underground club sounds without any compromise as they have worked independently for nearly a decade, improving themselves through self releases, small venue shows, and important opening spots. One of the more intelligent and original bands around, they have a unique presence as truly original outsiders following their own intuitions.

They began with three EP’s that are provocative shorter works. They don’t have the layered sophistication of the two albums that followed, but they are industrial punk style punches with a clarity that belied what was to come from them. Their debut as album length artists came with the excellent Requiem for Romance, an album that I just could not turn off and that plays like a dark soliloquy for the death of love, or at least the death of romantic optimism. That brought them frequent touring as an opening band, most notably for Combichrist, but that album has now been followed by the even more ambitious Scary World and their first headline tour. 2019 was a big year for Night Club, and there is good reason to be excited about what this band is contributing and to hope that they develop much further.

Scary World is a stunning and diverse album with a sharp range compressed into a tight running time. Both albums are around 30 minutes and seem to echo punk with the ability to do a lot in a short time by being very to the point, but they have a layered sophistication that borrows from many styles of music, and the themes on the album are broad. As the title implies, it examines the world of today from a variety of perspectives, and while the result resembles a horror movie, finding out the world is scary never becomes one singular theme, because so many perspectives are shown. There are many facets to reality, and Night Club simplifies that world far less than do a lot of gothic bands, making their insights more engaging and diverse in tone than some of the more frequent tirades.

The tour with Combichrist showed an exciting band developing and provided one of the most energetic openers I’ve seen. Night Club got to use intricate and dramatic lighting thanks to Combichrist, and Emily got to dance across somewhat larger stages than they would play on their own. The band’s presentation has Emily in front with the mic dancing to place emphasis on parts of their songs while Mark seems comparatively sedate in the back on keys and mixing with his black leather jacket. The ideal venue for that sort of presentation is a mid size stage. It gives Emily room to move around but is not too big to limit audience interaction or to drown out having only two people on stage. A huge stage might make it hard to put enough emphasis on the way she brings the songs to life as one person traveling the entire area, and Mark is meant to be noticed in the back. One of the running jokes I have had with Night Club fans is that most of us would fall over after 10 minutes of trying to move like Emily. It’s a performance of serious athleticism, and it’s important, because industrial duos are very pressured to find a way to make their performances engaging. Night Club manage this brilliantly with a very distinct aesthetic that can easily turn into cult adoration for the band. This is made better by Mark being the director of the band’s videos, featuring such original oddities as giant evil rabbits and a straightjacketed singer blasting lyrics about insanity. So while he is relatively still in the back of the stage, and Emily is bouncing all over the place, there likely was some directing and blocking involved in building the show. It’s performance art on the cheap, but the raw purity of that is one of the best ways to experience music as a distilled art form. 

Their headline tour of last year pummeled smaller clubs with one hour shows with a very direct attack but much more happiness and optimism than the band typically conveys. They were clearly excited to be headliners, and the sense of accomplishment is much deserved. Night Club has risen to be a unique independent band with a direction and a voice that are entirely their own and that doesn’t seek to replicate anything else in any sense. Like with Blaqk Audio, the band is very diverse in its electronic range and does not seem limited only to industrial sounds. They love the dark 80s sensibilities of their genre and the ability to draw on synth pop and new wave, but they clearly are much broader and have a vision far beyond present sounds, enough that it makes their genre hard to classify even though it is most obviously industrial.

After their three very interesting and deeply underground EP’s, they worked on a soft and haunting soundtrack for Moonbeam City, an animated television show for which they constructed a beautiful range of happy songs with an ironic dark edge. The album is a testament to beautiful sounds with dark edges. This is provocative for fitting the history of art so well. Well before pop came along with its candy coated message of nonsense and medicated delusional happiness, beauty and horror were more traditionally mixed together. Some of Rembrandt’s best canvases show beauty of shadow and light against horrifying violence, and before that medieval painting offered dark but beautifully constructed depictions of human brutality. The Moonbeam City soundtrack seems like it landed from those much older artistic traditions mixed with modern musical technique. Subtle and light sounds mesh delicately against one another as though they are commenting on the happier parts of life through irony and bits of haunting sadness, and there is an undeniable jazz influence on the album which makes the range of the band far more impressive. The series the soundtrack was for did not survive long, but the music deserves its own chance and does not sound like any other soundtrack.

Requiem for Romance moved them forward from that very unique soundtrack with searing and complex songs about, as the title says, romance dying in the face of reality having become a harsh world, as though the 21st century has the descendants of The Beatles with their catchy songs about love transmuted into the postindustrial technological apocalypse of Blade Runner with its cold surfaces. The album motif of a dagger seems to signify both the killing of love and a ferocious response to a dark world. It is one of the best post 80s motifs I can find, showing a world where expectations are more dour, but where this can bring real fire in making one’s own statement amidst that. Dear Enemy and Psychosuperlover are standouts for this. Both songs depict disappointing people and personal interactions, but there is a clear sense of finding oneself in the process and of rising above a hollow superficiality that seems to have infected postmodern life with its selfish inclinations.

Scary World then arrives as an enormous achievement that brings together everything from their previous work and leaves enough open avenues that it is easy to be excited both for the album and for how the band is continually developing. Night Club is one of the best examples of the great things that can happen when resources are limited but inspiration and talent are high, a focused brilliance of distinct song writing and execution. The new album is a large statement with lots of variation between songs happening in an intense blur of only 30 minutes. While Requiem for Romance showed accomplished writing and diverse sounds along a common theme, Scary World expands this into a much larger and varied concept, offering a wide range of commentary on civilization within its compressed running time. It would not be surprising if their short album lengths are related to the difficulty of completing an album independently, but what is unique is that they use that time so expertly. The result is 30 minutes of music that is more pleasant to listen to dozens of times to unpack the sounds and ideas than to laboriously go through a common overly long album only a few times. Other bands could learn from the clarity and efficiency they achieve.

Emily’s voice is at its best yet while Mark manages to make his instrumentation take on remarkable subtlety. A shift towards subtle mid tempo sounds mixed in against their faster beats is made apparent immediately with Scary World. The songs are often slower than the previous album but with a deep sense of foreboding. Like a twisted fairy tale, Emily warns people to beware the world around them, filled with predators, liars, and warped desires. The album then seems a bit like a nocturnal descent, but with bright edges built around warped psychology. With songs like Schizophrenic, Candy Coated Suicide, and Therapy all touching on mental illness, a jagged self is portrayed but with irony and humor. Blood on Your Blade shows someone being used, but the irony of the song is that Emily sings about it like she doesn’t care, because she has learned that other people’s flaws of being abusive are not her own. The world is scary, and we learn to be cautious enough to laugh at the absurdity. The song Vampires makes this much clearer as much of the world turns to be like this familiar gothic trope. Indeed, most of America is filled with people who prey on us for money while politicians and business people act like it’s fine. The best thing one can do about is to head out into a good night club, have fun, and not care about the surrounding obscenity of such a scary world. The album is one the best things that came out in 2019.

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