Written by Sarah Williams.
It’s likely that by now you’ll have heard of Knife Club. Their distinctive switchblade graphics and their provocative ‘#WhoAreKnifeClub?’ hashtag have been spread across social media since August 2019.
They have been announced to play enviable slots on big name festivals like Manchester Punk Fest and Rebellion, plus a smattering of club gigs, beginning with a spot high up the bill at April’s edition of Garlic Bread Club at Manchester’s Retro Bar.
How is it possible for a band to exist, get bookings, tease an album recording and create so much controversy… without anyone knowing who they are?
Hype marketing is the answer. In order to be heard in an increasingly over-saturated music market, you have to stand out from the rest. In 2020 information is accessible and abundant, except in the case of Knife Club, where all the key facts are lacking.
This absence of information gives Knife Club power. They have woven a mysterious narrative from a violent (yet inclusive) moniker, and bold, minimalist graphic design. This has led to a wide range of reactions: confused shrugs; antagonistic outbursts in Facebook comment threads; indignation over the band’s name and their high-bill bookings.
One can only assume that the purpose of Knife Club’s secrecy is to create controversy. They are poking fun at the competitive, entitled reactions often seen in the insular UK scene. A musical community should be collaborative rather than competitive, but a “my band’s worked hard than your band” mentality rears its head too often. If not to cause controversy, then the band are at least taking the frustrating ‘announcement of an announcement’ (where a band posts on their socials warning of news due in a few days time) to the extreme.
The indignation of some responses show that Knife Club’s campaign is working. Any reaction is better than the online damp squib that many new bands and releases garner. It’s impossibly hard to promote new record in battle with Zuckerberg’s algorithm, but Knife Club has gained a reputation on nothing at all.
After scouring the internet for further signs of Knife Club, we stumbled upon an interview on an unheard of site (The Blind Man Magazine), buried on the fourth page of a Google search. The Blind Man Magazine spoke to Knife Club in December 2019 (read the interview here). Inside, the band have said “We wanted to remove our identity in an attempt to cut though the ‘me, me, me’ culture we see everywhere.”
They also explain that their band name is a reference to Hannah Höch’s photomontage Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands (Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany)”… one of the most pretentious explanations I’ve heard for something so simple (which is also clearly a reference to Fight Club). Further evidence that Knife Club are taking the piss.
I sent a message to Knife Club’s Facebook page to see whether they’d consider an interview with me as well. They declined, but when I asked why they won’t reveal their identities, I got this mysterious response:
“We thought it was funny, so we did it. Now we have to stick with it. I think everyone hates us.”
That suggests that Knife Club are indeed poking fun at the music industry and community’s culture, taking a dumb idea and carrying it to its furthest point.
However unplanned its inception may have been, you have to admire the way the band are carrying it through. Being brave enough to market your act through mystery is a move only experienced (or stupid) musicians could make…. And getting booked on both Rebellion and Manchester Punk Fest shows they’re not foolish.
The absence of identity is hardly a new marketing technique, but it’s rarely been applied on a small, DIY scale. Authors say the best way to hook an audience is to create suspense, which Knife Club have done, and then some. Gorillaz existed solely as animated avatars for the beginning of their career. Slipknot famously hid behind masks to allow the music to speak for itself, without the interference of personality or ego. More recently, bands like Black Midi achieved some serious ruckus by dropping a video out of nowhere. Real Friends disappeared off the face of the internet by deleting their socials recently – either a sign of a release about to drop or a kiddy fiddling scandal. Who knows.
The real questions is if and when Knife Club will reveal their identities. Will we see them at their first gig? Will they share their names beforehand? Will they go on stage in balaclavas, Masked Intruder style? Will they have photos with their faces covered, like Daft Punk or deadmau5?
Perhaps the big reveal will be that we are all Knife Club. We’re each involved in a big art experiment to see how far a joke can go. Or perhaps it’s a punk rock karaoke – we’ll all be rotating in and out of this revolving-door group.
Personally, I applaud any band who are willing to try something this inventive. Whether it’s clever, pretentious or frustrating, it’s fun to experiment with identity and band politics as Knife Club are.
Whatever the outcome, I’m keen to see how it pans out. Who are Knife Club?
Written by Sarah Williams.