They have been compared with The Monkees, Beastie Boys, Flight of the Conchords and the Inbetweeners gone musical – quite an accolade for an unsigned "gimmick rap band". But with more than 48 million YouTube hits, two sell-out tours and their own forthcoming E4 series, the comedy trio The Midnight Beast now hope to swap cult status for mainstream success.
The musical journey of three London twentysomethings, Stefan Abingdon, Dru Wakely and Ashley Horne, sounds like any other modern rite of passage: the schoolfriends posted a home-made parody video of Ke$ha's No 1 single "Tik Tok" on the internet, acquired thousands of fans and even got the star herself to say their version was better than the original.
But while most viral claim-to-fame stories end there, Midnight Beast's fan base has taken on a life of its own. The band swapped parodies for original songs, and they soon became the fastest unsigned band to sell out Koko, one of London's live music venues. Now, their "scripted" comedy series, chronicling their highs and lows as they find fame, will be broadcast on E4 early next month.
"It started off as a random bit of fun," says Abingdon, 23, from south London, who, as a guitar and keyboard player, is known as the "most serious musician" of the group. " 'Tik Tok' was done in four days on a budget of a Bacardi Breezer, a Barbie doll and a piece of A4 paper. There were no tripods: cameras were placed on my parents' lampshades, or handheld. It was mega cheap."
The show, called simply The Midnight Beast, is produced by Warp Films, the company that brought us the Bafta-winning TV series This is England and the critically acclaimed film Submarine. The storyline of the show is that they are three young men sharing a dingy east London flat, trying to impress girls and coping with a creepy neighbour.
The band members, who are personally championed by Jay Hunt, the chief of Channel 4, will perform music videos in each episode, which will then be available to download.
While the characters on the show live a world apart from the real-life boys – who all have homes in south and west London – the trio say the series showcases "elaborated" versions of their true identities. Abingdon insists he is a "control freak", Wakely is a "game-console nut who likes to drink" and Horne, an actor who has appeared in EastEnders and Dr Who, says he is in the band only "for women and fame".
Nerys Evans, the commissioning editor at Channel 4 who was sent a link to the band's YouTube page nearly two years ago, says Midnight Beast represent "the voice of a generation".
"They are in between Skins and The Monkees. They are cheeky and young, but it's definitely not a kid's show," she says. "They are classic underdogs. They have their flights of fancy in their videos and then they go back to their own shitty flat."
For Mary Burke, a senior producer at Warp, the series is breaking new ground in a visually led genre of TV. "We're living in really tough times and people of their age don't have lots of prospects," she says. "To think you can do something from nothing, in your own front room, is pretty aspirational.
"I was attracted to the DIYness that sprang up: they sold out Koko with no marketing label; they were just this funny little parody band."
Midnight Beast will be releasing an album at the end of the six-part series on their own label – run by Abingdon's parents – and will go on an 11-date UK tour in October. A Channel 4 spokeswoman says it will not be receiving any royalties from the music.
Wakely says the fans like the band's "potty-mouthed sense of humour", but they insist that "it is music first and comedy second".