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Electric Callboy Is The World’s Heaviest And Greatest Boy Band

All photos by me!

SILVER SPRING, Md. — It’s impossible for me to overstate how much I despised New Kids On The Block as a middle schooler. The '80s had a surfeit of true villains: Reagan, Gaddafi, the Night Stalker. But as far as I was concerned, this boy band that was packing malls and causing girls my age to throw up their voice boxes was the REAL enemy.

If someone played an NKOTB song on the radio, I made a big show of rolling my eyes and telling everyone how badly they sucked. I found a New Kids On The Chopping Block t-shirt—featuring all of the band members being decapitated—for sale in the classifieds of Rolling Stone and instantly bought it, wearing it proudly to school as often as I could. This was a lame band. An affront to masculinity. Not genuine rebels like the bands I listened to, which included the likes of, uh, Poison. I hated New Kids and everything they stood for, because I was convinced that I was the only person in history who’d had to endure a teeny bopper phenomenon. New Kids, Debbie Gibson, Tiffany: all of them needed to be decapitated, and not just on a $25 novelty t-shirt.

All of them were spared the guillotine. I’d live through successive generations of boy-band crazes, and all of them made my dick itch. Backstreet. N*SYNC. Hanson. 1D. For decades, I built my identity around protecting “real” rock and roll (angry, male, unmistakably heterosexual) from creatures such as this. Meanwhile, I still needed all of the bands I loved to provide with hummable choruses. I was a closeted poptimist (hate that word), and didn’t even realize it.

Until one day, when a Defector reader sent me the following video…

That’s Electric Callboy. They’re from Germany, if the synths and Devo wigs weren’t enough of a clue for you. Stick with the above song past the 30-second mark and you’ll hear it transition from hardcore thrash to boy-band harmonies, and then back to thrash. At first blush, this came off like a novelty. A one-off. Real Right Said Fred shit. Yet I couldn’t stop listening. I dove into the rest of Electric Callboy’s back catalog (including songs they recorded under their original name of Eskimo Callboy, which they changed for obvious reasons) and discovered a band that was giving me what I had secretly always wanted: heavy rock that embraces its pop sensibilities in full. Because what were all of my favorite bands growing up but pop bands? Def Leppard was a pop band at its core, and I fucking worshipped them. How different were they, really, from Donnie Don and NKOTB? Electric Callboy made that answer evident.

So I had to go see them. If I had to do it alone, so be it. A fat gummy could be my date; she never stands me up.

We go to the Fillmore, in Silver Spring, Maryland. This show sold out months ago, so I have to get there a solid hour-plus early to stake out my place in the crowd. Already the place is packed, and not with my usual crowd. Whenever I go to a show, everyone looks too much like me: male, middle aged, white as bathroom tile. Not this time. There are actual women at this show! And young people! And big fucking burly dudes who look like they flew here straight from Dusseldorf! And couples dressed in matching Electric Callboy tracksuits, complete with pastel rainbow patterns! I ask one couple where they got theirs from. They tell me that the band sells them on their website for $100 (good price!) but they’re sold out now (dagger!).

I load up on merch, check it, and then buy a Diet Coke that costs $11. I head out onto the main floor watch the opening band, which is named Bury Tomorrow. I know this because they play in front of a screen that has the words BURY TOMORROW in big letters. They’re from England, and they have nearly the same setup as Electric Callboy does: six members, with two singers: one who growls the rapping/hardcore screaming, and another doing the sweet melodies. It’s like Linkin Park, if I didn’t hate Linkin Park.

A girl, no older than 13, goes up in the air behind me and starts crowdsurfing toward the stage. Lead singer Daniel Winter-Bates asks the crowd, “How many of you never heard of us before coming here tonight?” Most of us raise our hands. Daniel is undaunted. He exhorts us to start dancing. “Don’t fucking let me down!” he barks. We don’t. The girl makes it to the front row and Daniel assures us, “We don’t know this person, we didn’t set that up.” And I believe him, because now the crowdsurfers are coming in waves, including a dude on crutches who will make the trip to the front multiple times.

I do not crowdsurf, because I don’t wanna fall and hit my head. Again. Instead, I reconnoiter the floor. The crowd is still loose pudding that has yet to set, so I can get closer to the stage if I’m wily. And I need to, because there’s a tall dude blocking my view. This is ironic, given that I’m usually the tall guy blocking some other poor schmuck’s line of vision. For real though, that might be Donovan Clingan standing in front of me, and I can’t have that. So I weasel my way to a better spot. I muscle past a guy who clearly knows what I’m trying to do and holds belligerently firm as I move past him. He probably hates me, but he’ll get over it.

Bury Tomorrow exits the stage and now I get even closer. In between sets, the DJ queues up nothing but pop-rock classics: “You Give Love A Bad Name,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “I Believe In A Thing Called Love.” Everyone sings along, myself included. Thanks to The Darkness, we may all lose our voices before Electric Callboy even gets here. Drunk girls start infiltrating the mass, far less discreet in their maneuvering than I was. Two people pass by in a different set of coordinated tracksuits and a guy next to me says, “What is this Rocko’s Modern Life outfit and where do I get it?” One fan holds up their phone with the message SHOW ME DOGS in big letters. Sometimes anticipation is the best part of the concert.

Then the lights go dark. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! A spaceship flight attendant in black lipstick appears on a giant screen behind the stage and gives us our orders:

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. Electric Callboy welcomes you onboard, and wishes you a pleasant ride. We’re almost ready for takeoff, and expected to party hard in less than a minute. So please make sure that your best dance moves are available at all times. We are currently testing the energy of the crowd, so please put your hands up. And now clap, in 3… 2… 1… Go.”

I go. At age 47, I’m far too self-conscious anytime I’m at a show. Doesn’t matter if I’m high or lucid, I see myself and then nag myself. Stop crossing your arms, Drew. Make sure you have a clear path to the shitter if you need it. I wonder if I’ll be able to get an Uber in good time once the venue has cleared out. Is that guy gonna hold his phone up in front of me the entire time? It was easier for me to lose myself in a show back when I didn’t have to care about any of that shit. Now it’s more of an effort, although one made less onerous if the main act rocks my balls off.

This is exactly what Electric Callboy is about to do. They take the stage in coordinated outfits and fire up the Tekkno train. There are confetti cannons. There are thick beams of light descending on the crowd from the ceiling. There are giant hearts glowing on the screen behind the band. There are kick-ass drum solos that are more than just a chance for every other member of the band to get a water break.

And there are melodies. Soooooooo many melodies. Every song careens from guttural screaming to airy pop and then back again. Vocalists Kevin Ratajczak and Nico Sallach aren’t burdened with any of the thirsty bravado that kept me from openly loving pop as a teenager. They do costume changes. They order the crowd to make the mosh pit a dance floor. They break up a fight in the center of the crowd (“There are no fights at Electric Callboy shows!”). They tell us, in heavy German accents, how grateful they are that we know the lyrics to their songs. If you’re poisoned by irony, you might laugh at all of this. Even sneer. But all of the best supposed novelty acts have a genuine love for the thing they appear to be winking at. And Electric Callboy takes this music deadly serious. To drive that point home, they bust out the piano for a quickie cover set mid-show:

This part also includes a brief cover of “Let It Go.” If you’re a parent, you’ve heard this song more than you’d ever care to. But goddamn, my little German friends make it work. I sing along. And when they go back to their own catalog and start doing the one-hand-behind-your-back hop, I follow suit. I’ve never done the boy-band hop before. I like it.

The band asks if they can sing one of their older songs, with lyrics entirely in German. The crowd grants its approval, and now we go full Euro. I am no longer self-conscious. I don’t care if I look dumb. I don’t care that my feet are stewing in their own juices. I don’t care if I’m behaving like the 1993 discotheque equivalent of a Swiftie. And I don’t care if seventh-grade me would disapprove. I LOVE THIS SHIT! I’m sorry, New Kids On The Block! I’m sorry, Backstreet! I’m sorry, BTS! I get it now! I’m the one who couldn’t hang tough!

The show is ending, but the boys still haven’t played their biggest hit, “We Got The Moves,” yet. No chance they leave us hanging. Everyone in the crowd knows it. I’m close to screaming, “PLAY 'WE GOT THE MOVES'!!!” but the crowd has a better idea. To coax the band back out onto the stage, they start singing the callback part of that song out loud, over and over.

Duh duh-nuh-nuh-nuh, DUH duh-NUH-nuh-nuh! Duh duh-nuh-nuh-nuh, DUH duh-NUH-nuh-nuh! Duh duh-nuh-nuh-nuh, DUH duh-NUH-nuh-nuh! Duh duh-nuh-nuh-nuh, DUH duh-NUH-nuh-nuh! Duh duh-nuh-nuh-nuh, DUH duh-NUH-nuh-nuh! Duh duh-nuh-nuh-nuh, DUH duh-NUH-nuh-nuh! Duh duh-nuh-nuh-nuh, DUH duh-NUH-nuh-nuh!

The lights stay dark. We know they’re coming, and we know they’ll have the Devo wigs on when they do.

And so it comes to pass. I sing so hard I damn near blow my good ear out. When the song is over, I’m giddy. And hungry. Hungry for more dancing, more melodies, more pop music. I know who I really am, and I know what brings me true joy. This is what I love. This is what I have always loved. Believe when I say I want it that way.

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