This is an article I wrote for BreakThru Radio originally published 1/10/12.
When Nick and Norah’s Infnite Playlist came out, suddenly it seemed like everyone was hosting secret concerts with undisclosed locations, set times, and other typically important details. Maybe it’s because they’re secret in the first place that these last-minute events are seemingly back in style, but in 2011, they were popping up all over the place in L.A. with Justin Bieber and Nick Jonas treating their screaming fans, even Sum 41 (who knew they were still playing?) threw their bid in the pile.
These underground events are rarely planned very far in advance, and sometimes the details aren’t released until just before start time. Twitter has definitely made this process easier, and in some cases, the show might be available exclusively to Twitter users. Myspace has sort of exploited the idea of secret shows by making a business out of it (see the irony?), going as far as to create an application for their secret show network. But in the Nick and Norah, pre-social networking days , they managed to find these unannounced concerts anyway and it was largely thanks to the physical network behind the band, the secret fan club.
Everyone knows about Beliebers, Claymates, Slipknot’s Maggots, and other super-fan groups that use a pun or play on words to describe their passion. What they don’t know about is the tight web of fans that make these concerts possible. The Deadheads, Phisheads, Parrotheads, heads of all shapes and sizes, stay relatively underground when their band isn’t touring. They do their best to keep tabs on each other during the off seasons, and keep all the die-hards in the know about important goings-on.
The Internet has obviously made this process way easier, and has likely resulted in even bigger, yet even closer-knit, communities of dedicated fans who share every last bit of information the minute it becomes available. And when there’s no news to speak of, they still talk about the music. But these groups are largely secret, and fairly exclusive. Not that there’s a test for admittance or a requirement to join, but obsession is an essential prerequisite for the typical fan involved in these secret groups, and the level of passion is reflective of involvement with the group.
The Hold Steady has an underground group of followers who call themselves The Unified Scene. They have a wildly active forum with several hundred threads regarding anything from trading tickets to rides to best shows to rumors and side projects. The banter among members of the forum is friendly but gets heated at times as any opinion-based discussion would. When the group takes it offline, they can been seen together at shows and at meet-ups before and after. Any Hold Steady fan is free to join them and should feel welcomed by their unified presence. After all, it was the numerous lyrical references to the need for this kind of solidified crew that they draw their name from. A look back through The Unified Scene’s archive (membership needed) will reveal extensive discussions on the secret show they performed in 2008, all the postings of which occurred within a day of the show.
Animal Collective has a self-sustaining fanatical group as well called Collected Animals. Their site is more oriented towards band information, discography, and photos, but also has a community section for users to post and connect. On this platform, the discussions run along similar lines as those that the Unified Scene did, and that most fan groups would, but with slightly less frequency and persistence. Maybe it’s the nature of the fans or it could be strength in numbers, but this network of Collected Animals is as connected as the rest. These fans in particular also discuss other favorite bands and albums, songs, etc, more so than other groups, but certainly not more than they talk about their idols. Unlike the Unified Scene, the Collected Animals forum is place not only to revel in the band, but to explore new artists and similar projects that Animal Collective fans would be interested in.
The Green Day Authority is, surprise surprise, a fan club for Green Day that has been in operation the longest of these three groups, celebrating their 10th anniversary last year. Fully fan-operated, and jam-packed with information on several pages and sub-tabs, this website is a mecca for Green Day enthusiasts, over 40,000 of whom have registered with GDA and who contribute to the 3,500,000+ posts. It’s overwhelming how much content there is on the page, but for a Green Day fanatic, it’s got to be the most fascinating thing on earth. Green Day themselves have been performing a number of secret shows over the past few years, and thanks to resources like GDA, the most hardcore fans can be at these spontaneous events.
From a personal standpoint, I am part of several online Phish phan groups that are either hidden from general search or one of those entities that you wouldn’t know about unless told. It feels good to be part of such a tight knit community and when those interactions happen in person, the connection is even stronger. The love comes from the shared experience we have with the band and the music, and creates a community fans that are so infatuated with it, we create our own secret societies.
All of these followings aren’t necessarily secrets in themselves, and even the label might be recognized by the mainstream, but the secret comes in the bond, the power of the community that they gain through the music to create these little worlds for themselves. When that involves rewards like exclusive performances, it’s only the greatest reward a band could give their dedicated following.