PENNYWILD's 'NIGHT PEOPLE' EP is a 15 Minute Dance Music Musical
There’s something beautifully performative about PENNYWILD’s NIGHT PEOPLE EP. The Los Angeles-based, New York-born artist weaves together a patchwork of seemingly non-sequitur conversational clips with elements of disco, house, UK funky, hip hop, and the essence of the afters to tell the story of a night out with friends. It’s a 15-minute dance music musical. Distilling the micro-adventures and changing sonic moods of a Saturday night in this way only seems obvious when you realize that Penny Wildman’s career began on Broadway.
Before directing music videos for Zedd and RL Grime and DJing at Coachella and Lightning In A Bottle, Wildman performed on Broadway and toured internationally with West Side Story. And while it is not a foregone conclusion that a theatre kid would create a space where dance music and narrative storytelling can co-exist, it seems one hundred percent on-brand for her.
“You don't do eight shows a week for two and a half years of your life and then throw that all away,” she explains. “I can't help but think of character development, nuance, and arc, growth, and character dynamics. I think that is the tell-tale sign of my background. I'm really kind of making a theater piece with this project.”
Imagined at the height of the pandemic, she sought to capture the experiences we were all yearning for. And even though we’ve resumed some semblance of normal life, the story is still relevant.
“It's just what we've all been missing for the last year and a half, which was so simple, but so sacred. The process of getting together for a pregame and everybody getting on the same page and laughing and talking and building up the tension and excitement for the night to come.”
It’s all there. The hilarious conversations in the Uber. A late-night trip to Taco Bell. Inside jokes in the car and an after-hours party you immediately regret the moment your alarm clock goes off in the morning.
“There’s really a through line even if it's loose, even if it's vignettes. It's linear, it's not scripted. All those sound bites were organic, from natural conversations.”
Wildman created NIGHT PEOPLE as a bit of fun. She says, “I don't feel like I'm moving mountains necessarily emotionally by revealing a huge part of myself or challenging a societal norm. This was just what would it be like to take an audible journey of a night out.”
That being said, the impetus for the project is a clear indication of how deeply thoughtful she is. Before she started to write it, she was feeling low and uninspired. She needed to manifest something brighter.
“I picked up this book called ‘The Artists Way.’ And it is this book that completely attacks the ego. And suddenly, I'm journaling in the morning. I'm taking a break from drinking any alcohol or smoking any weed. And I'm really just going introspective and figuring it out what it is that I want, and why I'm here, what my priorities are, and how I want to connect with other people or not connect with other people.”
The book is a 12-week course to help unblock the creative space. By week four she was conceiving Night People, booking studio time, looking for new management, and laying down the drums for the EP.
Wildman spent more than half of her life in various creative roles. It’s her roles as a dancer and choreographer that have served her most in her career as a producer. She grew up unafraid to let the music move her. That deep background in dance has informed her creative process.
“There’s this hilariously corny, Sondheim quote, from Sunday In The Park With George, which is, ‘Look, I made a hat where there never was a hat.’ And I think that is creativity incarnate. And I feel very fortunate to have—from a very young age probably the age of 10 years old—an understanding of what it's like to be alone in a room and making something out of nothing.”
Spending hours a day in the mirror practicing and creating choreography was one of the most impactful tools to prepare her to spend hours a day plugging away at her computer to make music. What sets her apart is what she does next.
“I will get the drums down first, for example. And then instead of building a lead from just plugging stuff out on the keyboards, I'll dance around to it. And I'll say what accents am I feeling in my chest? What accents am I feeling when I'm doing footwork? If I'm dancing to this four on the floor thing, what would I want to perform to? And what would I want to move to?”
NIGHT PEOPLE is truly a culmination of all of Wildman’s years of experience as an entertainer. And while she may think that she isn’t “moving mountains,” she has achieved something great. The level of creativity it takes to find union between disparate worlds of entertainment, and make it compelling and fun, deserves to be called out. NIGHT PEOPLE moves the needle. And Wildman clearly understands the inherent theatre of club and dance music culture.