Phantoms keeping their live shows, well, ‘as live as possible’

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“No DJ sets!” is the unofficial slogan of Phantoms, a Los Angeles-born, -bred, and -based pop/EDM duo and production team, whose continuing mission is to make their concert experience “as live as electronic music can be.”

When: 9 p.m. Apr. 7
Where: Concord Music Hall, 2047 N. Milwaukee
Tickets: $13 (18 +up)

So said Phantoms member Kyle Kaplan, in a three-way phone conversation following a triumphant outdoor show in San Diego. Kaplan was already back in metro L.A., and he’d looped in his car-bound musical partner Vinnie Pergola, still plying the congested northbound freeway. “Traffic City, man,” the latter sighed as he steered.

Phantoms appear Apr. 7 at Concord Music Hall (second-billed to Canadian EDM act Big Wild); they’re touring to support their self-titled debut album, released last week on Casablanca/Republic Records. Dreamy yet dancefloor-packing, “Phantoms” is the pair’s latest recording after two previous EPs, multiple singles – and a raft of remixes, for a roster including megastars Ariana Grande and The Weeknd (“Love Me Harder”), Grande with Nicki Minaj (“Side To Side”), and Rihanna.

Kaplan and Pergola’s reworking of “Work,” Rihanna’s massive 2016 hit, has accrued “over eight million plays on SoundCloud,” said Kaplan, noting that as remix artists, Phantoms’ access to high-wattage hitmakers is “one of the perks of being on a major label.”

The now 20-something gents actually kick-started their musical careers as teenage DJs, yet that was already their second foray into show biz: they’d been TV actors first.

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As it happened, Pergola and Kaplan both attended Taft Charter H.S. in Woodland Hills, meeting as sophomores – though not, curiously enough, at their high school. Instead, the 15-year olds got acquainted during a rather cheesy red-carpet event for young acting hopefuls. The two became “immediate friends,” Kaplan laughed, when they discovered that each had mainly come for the free admission to Universal Studios. “We were little fresh-faced actor kids, swarmin’ around Hollywood, just excited to be [on the scene],” he remembered fondly.

Television work “was a good opportunity for us,” noted Pergola, whose small-screen credits include “The Bernie Mac Show” and Disney’s “That’s So Raven,” “to be part of the industry and see how things work.” Vinnie’s most indelible small-screen adventure involved shooting an SBC Global spot, with eccentric Academy Award winner Joe Pesci as his dad. “I was a big movie buff, so I loved [Pesci’s Oscar vehicle] ‘Goodfellas,’” Pergola reminisced. Filming on set “was really exciting for me, and kind of odd; I’m a kid, and I’m working with Joe Pesci and he’s yelling at me in a commercial.”

“The coolest thing I did,” said Kaplan, “was the TV reboot of ‘10 Things I Hate About You’” – along with his role on an early episode of smash Disney series “Hannah Montana,” the star-making conveyance for its precocious, soon-to-be-infamous lead, Miley Cyrus.
“We were, like, homies with Miley when her career was beginning,” Kaplan detailed, “so it was kinda weird to see that rise to success first-hand.”

Both youths eventually soured on the TV grind, with its endless rounds of auditions. As Pergola said, “It just wasn’t really fun anymore. But music was always my background passion – I’m glad that we were able to figure out a way to turn music into our full-time job, because it is really what we love.”

They manned the wheels of steel “for a few years,” Pergola related, during which time “there was a cool little electronic music scene in L.A. – before EDM really blew up and was everywhere.”

A staple of that scene were weekly dance-music parties, “Dim Mak Tuesdays,” brainchild of the  indie label founded by celebrity turntablist Steve Aoki. Pergola noted that he and Kaplan “got to DJ some of them, which was very exciting.”

“I remember meeting Kyle and Vinnie back in 2009 — they were always psyched to just create,” said Bryan Linares, marketing director at Dim Mak. “They definitely have done it right.”

“When we started taking the production and songwriting side more seriously, we took a break from DJing to hone that side of the project,” Pergola described. “Then we started figuring out how to perform it live. And it’s constantly growing.” At this point, Phantoms concerts feature not only their live vocals, but live percussion and synthesizer, wielded in highly kinetic fashion.

“Once we started making our own music,” said Pergola, “we felt like it’d be more engaging if we had a performance aspect involved. I mean, I guess some DJs are good performers, too, but it’s pretty limited as to what you can and can’t do.”

“If someone’s buying tickets to see you at a venue, and not necessarily a club,” Kaplan declared, “we just really prefer to give ’em a show.”

Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.

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