Nostalgia and Vulgarity Dance As One
Emotron is a man who has created one of the more grotesque (and humorously so) live acts to frequent the Charlotte, NC scene. His performance at The Milestone on August 12 flooded my mind with nostalgia:
The first TV show I ever pleasured myself to was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, I’m sure this seems like an obscene start for a piece of music journalism, but stick with me. I’ve always had a thing for the strong assertive (and slightly bitchy) ladies and that’s exactly what Sarah Michelle Gellar represented in that show. Of course, I would stop the physical act whenever a vampire would show its face onscreen.
One of those vampires was Spike, brilliantly played by James Marsters. The first time I browsed through my dad’s record collection, I stumbled upon Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell and I naively thought, “Who is this dude who resembles Spike?” not realizing the actor’s aesthetic for the role came almost entirely from Billy Idol. And this album made me want to fucking dance.
Those memories washed over me as Emotron went into his second song of the night. His grotesque stage act — which involved taking swigs from a jar of something that resembled swamp water, stripping down to a thong and then lighting the dick-tip region of that thong on fire — contrasted perfectly with the sweet, shimmery-sheen of nostalgia that his music conjures up. Emotron sings over pure pop drum-machine dance-grooves that seem plucked straight out of the ‘80s. At times his vocal style reminded me of Billy Idol and also Brandon Flowers. Other times, I had no one to compare the voice to, it was 100% Emotron.
When he started his set, many people, myself included, were sitting. We were in a half-circle around him, looking up at him, but after hearing that first song, I couldn’t sit any longer. I had to get up and let my body awkwardly sway. It was the same feeling as when I first put that record on in my parents’ basement. Underneath all the weirdness of Emotron’s act, his core goal is to move you; and, perhaps in spite of his goofy appearance (the wigs, the retro clothing), there is a raw sexuality he presents in his stage act that simply cannot be denied. [Which is why I opened with my masturbation story.]
Between songs, Emotron rambled with an affectation similar to James Franco’s mouth-full-of-bling character in Spring Breakers. He mentioned how this 8-month stay in Charlotte has been the longest he has lived in the region. He always comes back. Of course, that means he always goes. And this was his farewell gig. For now.
I could go on for another goddamn page about Emotron’s performance but some behavior, such as setting your thong on fire, simply has to be seen. So let’s get into the interview I conducted with him.
Kyle Knight is the man behind Emotron. It is the musical-persona he performs under but, as he told me, he doesn’t view it as a character but rather one of many sides to his personality. Kyle and I have talked about this notion before, how we all put on masks and yet is it really a costume or is it an opportunity to show the world more of what is truly beneath the skin?
We sat on the hood of my car as we discussed this and were continually interrupted by an enthusiastic fan, raving about the three minutes of an Emotron set he caught with the band Joules at a house show.
“Sucks you only saw the last three minutes,” I said.
“No, bro,” the fan exclaimed. “That was the whole set. The fucking cops showed up and shut it down!”
“To be fair,” Kyle said, “We didn’t get started until about 1:00 am.”
“And the cops thought it was some kind of Satanic ritual.”
In keeping with the spirit of my last couple interviews I was going to ask Kyle what his top five Desert Island records would be but he was pretty excited about the cross-country drive he would soon to embark on in his old Ford Focus. So instead I asked, “Which five acts do you think you’ll listen to the most during your drive?”
He knew immediately. The following, which he rattled off without any hesitation, offer some insight into the mind behind the Emotron:
1 – The band Earth is, in Kyle’s words, “a slow western, sludgy surf band.” I had never heard anything described as “sludgy surf” and made a mental note to check them out.
2 – Windhand is a Richmond sludge metal band with a female singer. Kyle predicts he will play them a lot during his journey of self-discovery because, quite simply, they made an album that seems custom fit for a good driving experience.
3 – The band Joules, which Emotron has donned face-paint and guest vocals for 13 shows, has a live performance on Bandcamp titled “Joules/Emotron Live @ Reanimator Records.” This particular Winston-Salem show is the recording he says he will fondly listen to at some point during his trip.
He wants people to know that the goal of Joules is “to open a fifth dimensional portal and we ask you all to join us.”
4 – Kyle said he wants to check out U2’s complete discography. At first I thought he was joking but he said that they are a band he wants to give more of a chance and see how their sound evolved. Artistic evolution is clearly something which both fascinates and consumes the man. I recommended U2’s Rattle and Hum above all their others.
5 – Portishead’s 2009 LP titled Third is what Kyle refers to as an “all-terrain album.” It’s perfect for any condition to drive through.
Aside from what music he plans to take with him, there were these interesting tidbits I learned about Kyle’s life, which I scribbled into my notebook:
* Of all nights, his apartment burned down on Black Friday. Kyle claims that’s why he lit his dick on fire during his performance: The flames were a tribute to his former place of residence.
* Shortly before his apartment burned, a man told him, “Left handed people never see the results of their actions because they are writing over it.” Hearing this had a profound impact on him. It’s a quote he thinks about quite a lot.
* This year he worked on a farm for a couple months, composting horse shit. It prepared him for the heat he will face when traveling out toward the desert.
* Being part of Andy the Doorbum’s Alien Native Movement changed him as a person. Those Snug Harbor shows and street performances he did with Andy “created a new energy” for him.
* Quite the old soul, Kyle has been touring without the use of social media since 2012.
* This year, at Charlotte’s Thomas Street Tavern, Kyle (under his Emotron persona) simulated at mental breakdown during a song, crying and screaming “Why am I doing this to myself again?” He wanted people to question the authenticity of the moment and views art as a question mark. After the social experiment he triumphantly went back into the song’s chorus and was applauded. He won over the “too cool to pay attention” audience. But only to lose them again minutes later to whatever sports game was playing that night.
As the interview wrapped up, Kyle gave me a fairly weathered voice-recorder. It contains hours of audio of his grandpa, talking about his life. It was recorded days before he died. [I still haven’t had a chance to listen to it before writing this but I’m keeping the recorder in a safe place.] Kyle shook my hand then went off to sell fanny packs, paintings and VHS tapes at his merch table.
The Emotron finished his Milestone set with a ten-minute piece which he has yet to record. He moved with the intensity of a rattlesnake on cocaine and his singing went from a croon to a howl. To quote a line Billy Idol used to describe hearing a cathartic song in his autobiography, “I got caught up in the frantic buzz of its sorcery.” That’s the feeling that washed over me during Emotron’s closing number. I was sad for it to be over. And I don’t mean just the song. It was a selfish sadness, sad for this era of Kyle’s life to be over, wishing I had been to more shows.