By Michael Lello
With bands forming, breaking up and re-forming and venues opening and closing, it has been hard for followers to make heads or tails of the Northeastern Pennsylvania music scene in the past few years. One thing you can sent your calendar to, however, is Panked, the monthly dance party hosted by DJs Brian Langan and Conor McGuigan at The Bog in Scranton. You know it’s going to happen, you know it’s going to be fun, you know it’s going to be weird, you know they’ll only spin vinyl, and you know it’s going to happen again next month.
This Thursday, Panked will celebrate its fourth birthday, with a twist. In a move that hearkens back to the series’ origins, a band will perform to open the night when Mike Quinn and some of his musical compadres will perform before yielding the small stage to McGuigan and Langan — the latter a musician himself known for his role in The Sw!ms.
“People will get to watch us frantically try to get our entire table on the stage while they’re unplugging a bunch of gear,” McGuigan joked. He and Langan sat down with Highway 81 Revisited (which is presenting Thursday’s event) over dinner at Chicano’s to discuss the past and present of Panked.
Panked was birthed in 2007. First, McGuigan started DJing by himself at The Bog.
“People came down, Brian came down,” McGuigan said. “I only had a couple (DJ nights), maybe three or four, then Brian’s like, ‘Hey, need a partner?’ and he was talking about how it should have a name, and he’s the one that said it should be Panked, and I said that’s perfect.”
As alluded to earlier, bands were a part of early Panked bills, bands like Baltimore metal/punk outfit The Mishaps, dance/party group Sweatheart, U.S. Funk Team and the decidedly downbeat Quiet Life. The music didn’t always match the Panked mood, and it wasn’t logistically easy, either.
“We tried DJ’ing on the ground in front of the stage, but everything just skipped,” said Langan. “That was kind of a disaster. By about the seventh month we nixed it because it was so much of a hot sweat to reset (the stage) up. We tried to have like an iPod to play through the P.A. while we switched things, and plus unless the band was like funkadelic, going from dance part to rock ’n’ roll party (didn’t work).” And, McGuigan added, “We weren’t making money because we were splitting the cash with the bands.”
For the fourth anniversary Panked, attendees can expect the return of the dance contest, which was absent from the previous two Pankeds, and some songs which have become standards, or as Langan and McGuigan called them, Panked classics: “Freedom! ‘90” by George Michael and “Big Heavy” by Amanda Blank, for example.
“I’ve noticed that we started off with a lot more garage stuff, and we shied away from that,” McGuigan said. “Now we’ve gotten into anything Cameo-sounding. Our collections have grown.”
And if the night tends to slow down, the DJs will go with that, playing “slow jams,” or what Langan hilariously calls “crotch-meets-crotch jams” or “trouser jams.”
The duo promotes Panked events via Langan’s posters and McGuigan’s videos (you can view his latest below); the videos replaced a monthly comic McGuigan used to design.
The duo has DJ’ed at locales other than The Bog, too — like the ongoing Stalter’s First Fridays, or what McGuigan and Langan call “Burst Fridays,” and even a kid’s birthday party at Arcaro & Genell in Old Forge. And wherever they perform, in addition to their personal Panked favorites, there are some songs they won’t play. For instance, Langan hates “Good Lovin’” by The Rascals and said he’ll never play it. McGuigan has a no-play list, too.
“If I’ve been drunk and cranky and some girls keep bothering me, I’ve told people ‘I will never, ever, everplay your song,’” McGuigan said, “but now because I’m usually drunk I can’t remember what those songs were. I mean they wanted to hear the Mariah Carey Christmas song, and this was like, July!”
So this Thursday, a Christmas in July (in April) has been ruled out. But it is shaping up to be a celebration of holiday-like proportions.
“The Panked crowd is awesome because they dance to anything,” reasoned McGuigan. “They’re my favorite crowd. They’ll flow with anything.”