When it comes to the club scene, Anchorage might not be the most glamorous or diverse place. The variety of venues can be sparse, with many of the hot spots playing the kind of Top 40 music that melts into the background when you're out for drinks with your friends.
Happily, The Anchor Pub on Fourth Avenue is host to something different. Once a month, the bar is home to Dead Disko -- part dance party, part light show, part theatrical production.
Dead Disko started about five years ago as the personal project of Colin Bonfield. Also known as DJ Clint Samples, Bonfield played at The Anchor a few nights a week. It was his first established residency as a DJ, and as such The Anchor let him play whatever tracks he wanted on slower nights, as long as it brought in people. Bonfield collaborated on various projects with some friends -- including Alex Ede (known as Alex the Lion) and others, and gradually started doing more complex events.
"I worked a lot with Alex the Lion and a couple other buddies, and we started our own company," Bonfield said. "We threw parties for a few years -- rec center-sized stuff, 350 to 400 people -- and then that kind of stopped, I think because we all turned 21, and it evolved into the bar thing."
Bonfield said that the monthly undead-themed party started gaining momentum about eight months ago. He and a few other collaborators formed The Northern Light Collective, which boosted the production value of the Dead Disko shows. The collective includes dancers, DJs, artists and designers, and they're mostly volunteers. Everyone in the collective has a day job or attends school. They added video mapping and lighting designs, building sets and stages for the dancers and DJs.
The dancers sport skull face paint reminiscent of La Dia de Los Muertos sugar skulls and wield Future Hoops, hula hoops with motion-sensitive LEDs that create a morphing light show when swung to the beat of a song.
"I wanted to expose people to more than just some music on a night in a place with alcohol," Bonfield said. The collective wanted to produce "a little bit of a show," because, he said, it's difficult to sell electronic dance music in Anchorage, a lot of which can get lost in the bar crowd.
"We wanted to bring more than just a dude behind some turntables," Bonfield said.
The set design for Dead Disko is also remarkable. Designed primarily by Bonfield and his friend Ryan Marlow of Apex Live Sound Reinforcement, the main set piece is a large geodesic structure made of triangular facets, which serves as a giant projector screen for the video and light mapping.
"Once I figured out what we could do with the projection mapping, I just started going crazy with construction because it's actually simple," Bonfield said. "You can create visual effects that are just mind-boggling."
This past December, in collaboration with local promoter A Dose of Know-How, The Northern Light Collective helped produce At World's End, a huge electronic dance music event at the Dena'ina Center. For the show, the collective built an enormous pyramid, about 30 feet tall and 40 feet wide, made of aluminum trussing and staging and covered with a light fabric for video projections. The structure spanned from the floor to the ceiling and had platforms for the dancers and the DJ booth. A large Mayan calendar hung over the pyramid.
Bonfield said these big productions are made with only a small group of people working, a lot of them fellow DJs and performers. He does many of the designs himself and is largely self-taught. He also plays a major part in the lighting and video design -- he and Mike Mason (of A Dose of Know-How) collaborated on the video production for At World's End to create a coherent plot in the visuals and lighting paired with the music.
"It's about coming together to create a whole atmosphere," Bonfield said. "We're not coming out to showcase ourselves, but to showcase the art form. No one else here is doing anything on this scale visually."
Others have been tapping into the electronic dance music scene as well. A Dose of Know-How has been bringing big-name acts to town for parties like the one at Dena'ina Center and several at H2Oasis. Then there's Alex the Lion and Andy Spindel's, aka Mostly Ghostly's, similarly named Mobile Disko, which takes place at the Avenue Bar on Friday.
"Mostly Ghostly and I tend to cater to a semi-different crowd, but there is big crossover from the crowds, and both events share similar tastes when it comes to production and attendance," Ede wrote in an email. Mobile Disko also ventures further outside the realm of electronic music, though Ede stressed the importance of reading the crowd.
"If I'm playing some songs back to back and I receive a thunderous response on the dance floor, I will continue to play similar songs that complement one another," said Ede. "If I see dance-goers wavering to the groove of a totally experimental song in the mix, I will try to pull them back in a song that sets the pace back in action."
Ede is also collaborating with the Northern Light Collective for a two-day day event at the Sitzmark Bar & Grill in Girdwood, Feb. 22 and 23. But before that, Dead Disko will continue Saturday, featuring EDM heavyweight Treavor Moontribe, famous for his large outdoor events in California.
"The collective is not a private club. It's for people who want to be a part of the electronic scene here and involved in keeping it good," Bonfield said. "People need to dance."