I’ve always thought of fans as a sub-set of humanity, in a corner with people who get bum implants, or who surround themselves with exclusively pink things.
Self-esteem issues canabalising IQ points. An inability to distinguish passion from obsession. That whiff of intense energy lasered into something erroneous, or unworthy of the ardour. Kathy Bates.
Flip a nucleotide in their DNA and they’d be serial killers, I thought.
On Saturday I met a bonafide one, and I might be changing my mind.
Chk chk chk (!!!) are a niche-ish dance punk band with funky electro indie soul bits.
Actually, I have no idea how to describe them, and if you go to a show you too will know less afterwards than when you arrived.
They’re a paradox, because you can’t feel their wired vibe unless you see them, but the nuances of their layered sound only reveal themselves when worming directly through a thin tube into your inner ear.
They make your head feel like a bee hive, with an instrument doing its own thing in each of the little hexagons. (There are quite a few of them, and on this occasion they’d collected a new female singer because they liked the cut of her jib.)
The effect is more soundscape than music, and manages to be self-consciously ridiculous at the same time- so it’s strangely funny too.
The lead singer’s a minor- maybe a major- legend.
He’s almost rubbish at singing: you can’t hear a lyric unless he invites a sing-back, in which case you might catch it gratefully from your neighbour.
He looks like a muppet from Sacramento who gets off stratospherically on freaking out in a garage with loads of jamming musicians and some choice recreationals… which is sort of what he is.
He’s got untamed curly hair that gets so sweaty he has to drape a hand towel around his neck for most of the gig, like an 80s tennis player.
He wears old t-shirts and shorts, has a hilarious faux camp dance style, and is plugged into the national grid in a way you suspect he takes off stage.
He swears like you’re supposed to swear; like it’s going to explode right out of his fucking face into your shitty ugly one that he doesn’t give a fuck about.
He’s all performance, and no performance. He thinks he’s the audience, and the audience is him: an all-out authentic bonkers dude wigging out to his own tunes, believing 100% you’re on board with the party.
So here’s this band playing an eclectic mix of new material to a small Hackney crowd of 300, and a few of us push through to get closer to the stage.
And we end up standing in front of a balding older guy with a buttoned-up check shirt and a salt-and-pepper cropped beard, who’s clearly in the throes of having a bumper evening.
And as the songs ramp up it turns out he’s vocal in his enthusiasm too, rich Northern vowels audible in some belter phrases: ‘Go on, bloody well ‘ave it’, and ‘That’s right- raise the BOLLOCKS off it’, and ‘Say you can see it- ‘e’s sooch a fookin’ geezer!’
Every now and then he turns to seek support from some slightly bemused-looking chums who aren’t giving it anywhere near as heavy duty as he wants it. But then he gets excited that we’re excited, which cranks him up even more.
The set is short. Soon it’s over and our new friend’s spilling over about how these relatively unknown guys rock his world.
He first saw them 3 years ago in the States and thought, ‘What the hell is this?’ But by the end of the gig he was having ‘a near religious experience’, and his Chk Chk Chk love’s been growing and growing ever since until… BAM! up shoots his arm, and there’s a whopping great 3-D ‘!!!’ tattoo under his bicep.
Since then, he’s been catching them whenever he can, he says, this time enticing the bemused mates to drive down with him from Manchester in a day, for this one hour of musical bliss.
They thought he was off his rocker for suggesting it, and don’t seem to have modified their opinion too much in light of the experience.
So there you have it: a lone wolf in his late fifties overflowing with joy and admiration for a man 15 years his junior from the other side of the world, and in no conceivable respect his peer.
And yet, not really admiration for the man, but for his talent, and for the way he pulls it off.
Because here’s the thing. True fanship can lead to hysteria, but that’s because great love breeds great passion. At its core is a monumental generosity of spirit.
There’s an openness and a capacity for wonder less to do with subjugation of the self, more about setting the self aside to make space for awe.
It’s not blind worship, but one person honouring the gifts of another with no vested interest- and what’s that but the very definition of love with a capital ‘l’?
Weakness now seems like surrender; fanaticism, like deep and humble appreciation.
With a throbbing heart in its chest, and a juicy fat smile on its face…
When’s Bieber coming to town?