When two skanks are grinding on each other in the front row, and the audience cares not at all because they can't take their eyes off the band on stage, that's a good show. VNV Nation is an act that has been fermenting a strange and heady vintage of electronica since 1990, only recently adding Houston to their hectic tour schedule. "There was a time when Texas was known in our genre as the synth-pop capitol of the United States, and Depeche Mode's home state," said vocalist Ronan Harris. "The response here is amazing." The band sat down backstage with Rocks Off while local artists Bret and Rachel Harmeyer upped the ante on concert visuals from simple pictures to live sketching. Before taking the stage, VNV Nation also agreed to a set of formal portraits while we chit-chatted.
The abbreviation portion of the duo's name, VNV, stands for "Victory, not vengeance," and is a battle cry for the inspirational approach that Harris and drummer Mark Jackson take to their music. "The music we write is very personal. I see it as a picture, a happening, of something that relates to me," said Harris. "And our inbox is full of people pouring their hearts out about how what we've written has related to their lives, and helped them identify and move past their own bad experiences." "The fact that what you've written about your own lives relates so well to the lives of your fans, are you surprised?" we asked. "Not surprised," said Harris. "Humbled."
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VNV Nation is currently on a somewhat belated tour promoting last year's release, Of Faith, Power, and Glory, which easily ranks in the Top 10 electronic albums of all time. The album's orchestral overture began resounding throughout the darkened club once the show began. Pressed against Wired Live's front rail, the audience was shocked in to delight by the latest addition to VNV's touring show, five LED displays which sparked into life with the words "Faith", "Power" and "Glory." It was getting late on a Sunday night, but the crowd seemed not to feel it in the slightest, and was utterly oblivious to the certain consequences of the next day in the sheer ecstasy of VNV's act. With the screens projecting a set of ever-expanding concentric red circles, Harris stalked in front of the bank of electronics leading his congregation in a fist-pumping frenzy. "Mark is the energy," Harris had said backstage. "What he's doing on the drums calls to some primitive warrior part of the brain that makes you want to mimic and replicate it." True prophet, the black-clad masses undulated in perfect rhythm to Jackson's e-percussion.
As the concert progressed, a strange sensation made itself known. It seemed as if the club was not so much watching a band onstage, but falling headlong into them. Somewhere far below, VNV was calling, cajoling, and comforting Houston as each one of us tumbled towards them. It was a frightening, beautiful sensation, with the spell broken only by the end of each song and the audience insisting on two solid minutes of chanting of "VNV! VNV! VNV!" The set was a perfect mixture. The band let out several songs which had not been part of their normal tour set, as well as their massive club hits "Standing" and Of Faith's "Great Divide." Backstage, Harris said said that their music was meant to be a rallying cry, a call to arms to people to become more aware. "My analogy," he said, "Is this. When Mariah Carey has a single that goes to No. 1, it's not because one person bought it. Its millions of people doing one stupid thing together. Hopefully, we do our part in helping people ask, 'Is this the world you want to live in?'" Rocks Off would like to thank Alex Virlios of CTRL, who came down from Austin for the show and was kind enough to let Rocks Off use his back as a clipboard to write notes diuring the concert.