Luke Jenner, singer-guitarist for the Rapture, looks serious in a cramped dressing room downstairs at Pure nightclub. Music bleats through the walls. "Here, nobody knows the history of disco," he explains. "I mean, Saturday Night Fever is fucking awesome, but there's a lot more to it than that."
It's Friday night, and in two hours, the band will take the stage at Making Time, the monthly Philly dance-stravaganza organized by local promoter Dave P. They were a late addition to an exciting bill, which included British rockers Hot Chip and DJ Justice. Jenner and drummer Vito Roccoforte, if a little nervous, seem genuinely enthused. "This party tonight is cool because it's about who we are. We could have played a bigger show, but we wanted to play this because it seemed like more fun." It's a party, not a performance: the distinction speaks volumes about what makes this New York band tick.
Jenner and Roccoforte founded the Rapture in 1998. After some years in obscurity, they found recognition in 2002 with the breakout single "House of Jealous Lovers." The cowbell-fueled freakout spun in clubs worldwide and catapulted the band to a major label deal for their second record, Echoes. Three years later, the quartet is back on tour behind the more playful Pieces of the People We Love.
Now the band, with fresh perspective on their meteoric rise (and a little wiser for the wear), has an unequivocal mission: "To be the band that actually gets dance music recognized in America."
For their gospel of ass-shaking, the Rapture couldn't have picked a better pulpit. Pure's almost-makeshift stage, no more than ten-by-twenty feet, sits only a step above the dance floor. Around 500 people poured into the main room and balcony level before their set began, leaving no corner unfilled. The hipster throngs were already bubbling over with frenetic energy thanks to the Making Time DJs, who rounded off their propulsive playlist with a remix of "Bizarre Love Triangle."
It was fitting, in the end, that the band took the stage to the sound of New Order, a group that thrived on bridging the gap between punk and dance in 1980s. The Rapture are on a similar quest. As Roccoforte put it, "We weren't really trying to be a rock band with a little bit of dance music. We were trying to make house music the best we could with our instruments."
The obsession with dance reads a bit strangely on paper; the Rapture, with their scratchy guitar riffs and live percussion, seem a far cry from the often saccharine sound of disco and electronica. But as soon as Jenner's pick hits the guitar on opener "Heaven," all confusion is resolved. The crowd surges forward, caught up in the feverish performance. For an hour, the band whips the dance floor into a frenzy with their best material (of which "House of Jealous Lovers" still steals the show). Jenner smirks all the while. The normally austere, synth-heavy "Olio" closed the set, sounding remarkably fresh and upbeat.
It was far from the typical club show paradigm - a sea of head-nodders with a few rabid fans up front. Tonight, the Rapture and their fans are on the same page: dance until you can't. And it wasn't luck. Their Halloween CMJ show in New York (where they took the stage dressed as skeletons) met with rave reviews; in Montreal, fans rushed up and joined them onstage. Still, they played what may have been the Philly concert of the year.
Seeing the tracks from Pieces. live helps make sense of the sleek production (care of Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse, among others) that seemed so off-putting on first listen. This is a band steadily working towards a sound best-suited for the club. And further refinement is sure to come. Asked about their legacy when all is said and done, Jenner wryly counters: "You mean when we're dead?"
Back upstairs, the crowd has three more hours of hip-shaking ahead. Jenner eventually appears in the DJ booth above the stage and, scanning the audience, looks proud to have set this Friday night frenzy in motion.