Fearless Vampire Killers are a band from Beccles, a little market town in Suffolk. They're made up of a pilot, a thief, a mechanist, a vigilante and a prince, all of whom are from a city called Grandomina in the world of Convonia, a fantastical, fictional Medieval planet devised by Laurence Beveridge, the band's black-fringed lead singer.
Aside from being their conceptual home, Grandomina is also the main inspiration for the band's music – which falls somewhere between Muse's poppy stuff and the more recent My Chemical Romance releases – as well as the subject of a number of band-related novels and comics.
Fearless Vampire Killers (FVK) have been around for seven years; they were the first band to be invited to London's Comicon; they have over 100,000 Likes on Facebook; they sell out shows throughout the UK and overseas; they've got their own record label, Goremount Records (named after a district in Grandomina); and they created an entire online social network, The Obsidian Bond (OB), exclusively for their fans.
However, chances are you've never heard of FVK, unless you're getting them confused with some imaginary Blade spin-off. Not that this really matters, of course; the bond between the band and their hordes of faithful followers is almost unprecedented, creating a self-sufficient world that doesn't have to rely on mainstream attention.
Laurence conceived Grandomina before the band was founded, mapping out a 1,000-year timeline in his bedroom in East Anglia.
"I visited York as a kid and fell in love with the place," he told me. "When I left, I created an idea of it in my head as some magical place. Then, when I went back as a 17-year-old, it wasn't as big and grand as I'd remembered, so I created this fictional world around my memories and imaginations as a child."
Laurence's two books – Ruple & Evelyn and Militia of the Lost – have sold out every time they've been restocked, with fans presumably enthused that the singer decided to write the band members into the stories. "I took their personalities and worked them into the characters within the world," he told me. "On our first EP, we all wrote a song each about our character."
What struck me about all this was that bands often wait until their third or fourth album – until they have a solid fan-base who aren't going to be weirded out by "punk rock operas" about the Iraq war – before they go conceptual. However, FVK went for it straight out the gates, releasing their first EP, In Grandomina..., as a package deal with the first novel, Ruple & Evelyn.
What was it that attracted all these diehard fans to a band that was complicated and abstract from the get-go? And how have they managed to build such a sprawling, committed fan-base under the nose of the British mainstream?
"We moved to London thinking it would be easy, but it really wasn't. We were playing two shitty gigs a week to barely anyone and not getting anywhere," said Laurence, adding that the unforgiving nature of London's music scene – the thousands of bands doing very similar things in very similar venues – eventually drove them to rethink their approach.
"Growing up, the closest place we could go and watch a gig was a place called Lowestoft," he said. "Some good hardcore bands pass through, like Your Demise and This Is Colour, and we'd love it as kids, because not much else happened there. So we dug into our savings, bought an old LDV Convoy and decided to go to smaller towns, youth clubs, anywhere that would have us. Basingstoke, Caterham, Brentwood... then we picked up fans that were really into it. We were signing T-shirts and getting photos outside gigs in Stevenage five years ago. It was like we were famous, but nobody knew who we were [laughs]."
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This slogging around the country, reaching kids who – like the band members in their youth – didn't have the best access to the kind of music they were actually into, went on for months. A recruitment tour, if you like, bringing the FVK world to teenagers who had previously been looking for an escape, and not finding it in what was offered to them locally.
On their return to London, the disciples they had picked up around the country flocked in their droves to the band's homecoming gig at the Camden Barfly. The venue was nearly at capacity, and with every member of the audience singing every lyric, Kerrang! magazine gave them a full page review in its following issue.
The band's theatrical and gothic leanings – from their dress sense to the prose in Laurence's novels – are clearly part of the appeal to FVK devotees. The fans I met at a recent gig may belong more to the Monster Energy brand of goth, as opposed to the types who spend their free time taking solemn walks alone in graveyards, but they all clearly had an infatuation with the darker elements of life and art.
Another driving force behind the band's popularity, I realised, is the fact they provide a ready-made escape network. Fans can express themselves through not just the love of FVK's music, but also the stories, art and community that come part and parcel with the band. "We wanted a place where our fans could go and not feel embarrassed," Laurence explained. "Some would be apprehensive about sending us pictures they'd drawn, or things they'd written, on Twitter or Facebook in case they got the piss taken out of them. Now, they can share them with each other and with us on OB."
A basic membership to The Obsidian Bond is £2.99 a month, followed by a "Gold" membership at £14.99 for six months and an "Obsidian" membership at £29.99 a year. While the fee awards you freebies and "heaps of exclusive content", I wondered whether this wasn't a little avaricious – a calculated money-earner on the band's part. So I put my thoughts to Kier Kemp, guitarist and second vocalist.
The video for "Maeby"
"We were all super-fans of certain books, films and bands growing up – we still are – so we understand our core fan-base," he said. "We massively appreciate them because, at times, when we've been really broke, they literally kept us alive by buying stuff and supporting us. When you realise the power of your fan-base, you make sure you nurture it."
To see what £2.99 a month got me, I set up my own account and was instantly blown away by the acceptance and love I was shown. Fan clubs, from my own personal experience, can veer towards slightly exclusive and catty, but in this case I was sent a barrage of friend requests and daily messages asking how I was.
"Everyone on this site makes it a wonderful place to be, and to be who you are without fear of judgement," wrote one user. "The thing I love about FVK fans is they never make you feel inferior. There's no competition," wrote another.
Away from Lawrence's mythical world of Grandomina, the fans have developed a mythical world of their own; the world of the fandom that they inhabit, a safe haven from the judgemental eyes of the general public. It's a place where they can be fearlessly and entirely themselves, exposing their eccentricities and vulnerabilities. It's something to be admired and envied, especially when I think back to how it was for similar types from my generation and older, who – pre-internet, or even during the advent of sites like Myspace – only really had a couple of likeminded mates to lean on, not a huge central database of people just like them.
The community around FVK is a demonstration of music at its most powerful, when fans are swallowed whole by the alternate universe a band or artist can create. A universe where they can be who they want to be without fear of someone shouting "grebo" at them, or an older kid with a Disclosure haircut laughing at their nail polish; where they can be artists, poets, an ancient queen from Grandomina or simply just a happy person with a network of friends.
In 2015, where burgeoning subcultures are crushed by over-exposure online before they can really develop into something tangible, FVK fans have managed to create a subculture entirely their own with the help of the internet. And while the music and the dress sense might not be to your tastes, you've at least got to commend them for that.
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