Perspiration hung thick in the Trunk Space on Sept. 5. Tickets were capped at 175, but there were more people than that in the garage-sized venue. The concert probably broke city fire code. No one cared.
Okilly Dokilly was well-rehearsed for their real-life debut. They tore through their set, frontman Head Ned screaming songs such as “Nothing At All” and “Purple Drapes.” The crowd screamed back.
Outside, workers cleaned up a Springfield-themed carnival behind the Trunk Space. Inside, white construction-paper clouds adorned the back wall while a pink-frosted sprinkled doughnut inner tube rose and fell on the waves of the crowd.
The “Simpsons”-flavored, Ned Flanders-themed metal band was born, seemingly fully formed, on Bandcamp a month before, on Aug. 11, when the band posted four demos and a couple of band photos online.
The story was broken by Australian blog Rip It Up two days later, and it went viral. Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and VICE’s Noisey blog all latched on. They were, after all, five grown men in coordinated outfits, mustaches and glasses, declaring themselves the world’s first “nedal” act. It was ridiculous. Hilarious. Gimmicky. It was happening in downtown Phoenix.
Midway through their first set, the band paused, overwhelmed. Head Ned surveyed the crowd before raising the mic to his mouth.
“We, uh, got famous on the internet,” he said.
The crowd cheered. Okilly Dokilly raged on.
A failed urban myth
Cartoon character Ned Flanders has been with “The Simpsons” since the beginning. He appeared in the series’ 1989 premiere, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” outshowing Homer’s Christmas lights in the first taste of the neighborinos’ rivalry. Flanders’ signature pink polo and green sweater, generous evangelism, and endless string of diddlys, doodlys and okilly-dokillys grew over 26 seasons as the show laid deep roots in American culture.
Okilly Dokilly began as a joke between Head Ned and the band’s drummer, Bled Ned (his skin cracks and bleeds on his drumsticks during shows), in a grocery-store line over a year ago.
(The band has requested this story use their Ned aliases to protect their identities and connections to other downtown bands.)
“The joke of this band has been a joke for a long time,” said bassist Thread Ned (the best-dressed “metrosexual of the band”).
“And now the band is the joke,” Head Ned added.
The five members have about a dozen bands between them, many dating back to high school and overlapping. They have played shows to audiences the size of their bands. Okilly Dokilly was meant as a fun escape.
“I got a little jaded playing around town. You play shows to nobody,” Head Ned said. “So my idea was to do this band, and we were still going to play these shows to nobody, but we were going to have these four or five people who said, ‘I went to this show and the entire band walked out as Ned Flanders.’”
The band recruited its last two members, Stead Ned (the reliable one) on guitar and Red Ned (the redhead) on synths. Only Stead had played in a metal band. Only Head and Bled were metal fans. Many were coming off hiatuses from other bands.
None of the Neds are full-time musicians. Bled’s a mechanic, Thread manages a hotel, Red’s an animator, Sted works in a school science department and Head’s in sales.
Head Ned used tricks from a previous clothing-company job to find cheap pink polo shirts in bulk, hunter-green Hanes sweaters and circular wire-framed glasses. The members poached Goodwill stores for gray pants and black shoes and grew out their facial hair.
Head Ned intended to spread the band’s existence via word of mouth. They’d become a sort of urban myth, the local gimmick band equivalent to a grainy Bigfoot video. He only posted the demos and photos on Bandcamp so it’d be easier to explain to friends.
Okilly Dokilly’s Bandcamp traffic hit an Everestian peak.
The band published its Bandcamp and social media pages the night of Aug. 11. The next morning, the band had 300 likes. It was already more than they’d hoped. By the end of Aug. 12, the number had ballooned to 3,000.
“At that point, our minds were blown,” Bled Ned said. “We were so proud of 3,000. And then it exponentially grew. ”
On Aug. 13, their Facebook page reached 20,000 likes and their Bandcamp demos had been played 1 million times. The Facebook page currently has more than 30,000 likes.
“It’s crazy to go from like zero people knew about this thing, and you felt embarrassed telling people about it, to a million plays,” Head Ned said.
That night, he left messages on all of the Neds’ phones. Red, Stead and Thread were at work; Bled and his wife were visiting their midwife to practice birthing techniques.
“What have we dooooone,” Head Ned’s grainy voice cried out from the Aug. 13, 6:13 p.m. voicemail saved on Thread Ned’s iPhone. “Oh my god. Oh my god, oh my god. Oh my god. We’re famous. Dude, we’re famous. Anyway, I wanted to call and tell you that we’re famous. You probably know that we’re famous. But we’re famous.”
Listen to the voicemail Head Ned left Thread Ned the night Okilly Dokilly virility hit critical mass.
Head’s phone buzzed so hard with emails, Facebook messages, texts and Bandcamp receipts that it’d nearly fall off his desk. Head’s boss thought he was going to quit. He’d stay up until 3 a.m. answering messages.
The band designed and started selling shirts, which they ship more to German fans than Phoenicians.
Virality has a nasty underbelly. Trolls repeatedly posted in the band’s event pages accusing Thread Ned of killing a man and a cat. The posts were so relentless, concerned family members asked if they were true.
“I know I’m in a metal band, but calm down! I’m a salaried manager at a hotel!” he said.
One morning, an Argentinian fan repeatedly and rapidly sent multiple proclamations of love over Facebook. When he received no response within a few minutes, he curtly replied, “F**k you stupids.”
The band faced concerns with the Trunk Space show, which was booked before they posted the demos and now had more than 1,000 Facebook RSVPs. It could be a disaster of over- or under-planning.
“You can have 1,000 fans on the Internet, and not a single person will remove themselves from the computer,” Head Ned said.
Moving venues was not an option.
“We’re sticking with the Trunk Space because it’s the place we deserve to play,” Head Ned said. “That’s why we’re not trying to book immediately these enormous shows and we’re not trying to act like we’re huge.”
Trunk Space co-owner Steph Carrico was in Salt Lake City during the concert. She booked a flight to visit her grandmother between booking the show and Okilly Dokilly’s viral takeoff, figuring nothing crazy would happen to the brand-new band.
“And the next morning I woke up and Okilly Dokilly was the biggest thing on the Internet,” she said.
Carrico said she “wouldn’t have blamed” the Neds for moving the show after the event page jumped from 20 to over 1,000 RSVPs overnight. Carrico brought in as many volunteers as possible to man Trunk Space that night and hoped for the best.
The 175 count turned out to be perfect, with a few extra people allowed in, including a couple that drove from Houston. None of the Internet trolls showed up, and the metalheads and cartoon nerds got along raucously well. Some audience members brought their own Ned looks.
“There was a lot of hype,” said Will Barnes, a 19-year-old student from Phoenix. “I didn’t think it’d be as good as it was.”
While Carrico was concerned from her post in Salt Lake City, she was proud to see the Neds and the venue’s volunteers pull the show off.
“I was really, really honored, and I was really proud of Trunk Space and the community that Trunk Space has created,” Carrico said.
Okilly Dokilly has since played shows at Rebel Lounge, Club Congress in Tucson and again at Trunk Space. They’ll play in Flagstaff and California in November and December, respectively.
They’re expanding on their four-song demo. The band’s first investment was DVD copies of all 26 seasons of “The Simpsons” to watch for inspiration. Head Ned also scours the Internet for Ned Flanders quotes that could be seen as “mildly threatening” or dark when taken out of context or screamed at an audience.
“There’s a cultural osmosis. It’s very transcendent of being a show,” Thread Ned said. “The vast majority of people who spend any amount of time on Facebook have seen a ‘Simpsons’ meme flash across their newsfeeds at some point in time.”
The band embraces criticism that they are nothing but a gimmick.
“People are saying, ‘You got famous off the gimmick!’ And we’re like, ‘Yes, we absolutely got famous off the gimmick. We did,’” Head Ned said.
“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Bled Ned chimed in.
The Neds can’t overstate how much Okilly Dokilly remains friends riffing off a dumb joke. During our photoshoot, they dreamed up a “Flandercise” exercise music-video series. They spoke with fluent, nerdy references, covering “Monty Python,” Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” franchise, “Adventure Time” and “Big Hero 6.”
“We’re just a bunch of jackasses having fun and making ‘Simpsons’ jokes and doing what we love,” Thread Ned. “This whole band was designed as a good time.”
If the mustachioed, sweater-donning fivesome can get the crowd to join in on their inside joke, even better.
“We were good news for a day,” Head Ned said. “And we made a bunch of people larf.”
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