Drahla’s Abstract Punk Songs Are Ecstatic About the Everyday
The squalls of noise in songs like "Pyramid Estate" show a band willing to dig beneath the surface.
Photo courtesy Captured Tracks
Drahla have already answered all the boring questions. In the video for their prickly single “Stimulus for Living” the droll Leeds punks elucidated the whens and the whys and the particulars of their formation and their motivation as a band. Sort of. Fuzzy tape rolls as a droll voice intones a series of questions (“How did the band form?”; “Drahla, what does it mean?”) and the band answer in cryptic abstractions (“In holy matrimony”; “It’s just letters from the alphabet”). This goes on a little over a minute; throughout the bit, their intentions remain opaque.
It’s easy to read that video just as contempt for people like me who are tasked with telling the same story that dozens of other blog posts have told over the last couple years. It has to be frustrating on some level to tell people over and over again what bands your parents played on the car stereo as a kid. But in an email interview, they say it was more than that too. There’s beauty in even mundane things if you’re willing to dig past the surface.
“The interview at the start of the video asks standardized questions, that have the same copy and paste answers every time,” says singer/guitarist Luciel Brown. “There's far more interesting things to explore. Within the lyrics, the same [idea] has been applied to the everyday [observations] and points of interest that have stood out to me in regular situations, highlighting that there's interest everywhere, you know, there is a stimulus.”
This mentality is part of what’s made them work as a band over the last couple of years. They work in a pretty traditional format—guitar, bass, and drums—but they’re able to wring a little more out of it because of their insistence on digging deeper. Browns riffs are abstract and pointillist, like something you might expect from the great grayscale post-punk records of the late 70s, or no wave’s idiosyncratic squalls. The muscular monochromes of Rob Riggs’ bass work are unpredictable and elastic. Mike Ainsley’s geometric drum work is reliable, but reactive, pushing the other players into woolier territory. They’re able to take familiar parts but push at their edges. It’s all part of trying to find access magnificent in the mundane. “There was a recent David Hockney documentary in which he describes the variety of color he sees within a road that could be suggested as appearing only grey,” Brown says. “[That’s] a good visual illustration perhaps to articulate the idea.”
Since forming in 2016, the trio have released a few 7”s that have illustrated their unique approach to these sounds, but on May 3 they’ll release their debut album Useless Coordinates on Captured Tracks. It’s a 10-track collection of erratic, paranoid-feeling songs that feel guided less by structure than by pure nervous energy. The songs feel plotted, but loosely, like someone trying to draw a map to a riff from memory. Riggs seems to suggest that this is inherent to their approach. “I find [the painter] Francis Bacon’s impulsive methods of working encapsulate creative energy in its purest form,” he says. “His instinctive outbursts of emotion are captured directly to the canvass, uninterrupted for eternity. I think our approach to songwriting is very primitive and reactionary, there is no predestination.”
That disposition resulted in songs like the sub-two minute blast of noise and static “Pyramid Estate,” which premieres here today with another hazy, abstract video. The bass riffs hum ominously; Brown’s guitars circle and spiral around the track threateningly, like bleach circling a drain. There’s a palpable danger, a sense that anything can happen. Which it does, in the form of squeally saxophone deconstructions, courtesy Chris Duffin. He appears throughout much of the record, adding another layer of grime to their sound. Like the rest of the band, his approach is freewheeling and unstable. I mentioned in my questions to Drahla that some of the playing reminded me of child screaming, a description they apparently passed along to Duffin, who thought that made sense, given his own approach to the record.
“A lot of the time the guitars are quite dry and sparse, which gave me a lot of room to weave free and erratic lines around them,” he wrote. “And yeah it probably does sound like a child screaming. A big part of the sax sound on this record is me literally screaming into the mouthpiece as I’m playing—so I’ll take that as a job well done.”
It’s a telling detail—that someone involved with Drahla might approach their instrument in such a way. That’s the environment they’ve cultivated. They’re a rock band, no doubt, but one in which you might step back and reconsider the way you’d normally do things—the way the world generally works—and try something totally different. Anything less is boring.
Drahla tour dates:
April 19 - Motel Mozaique Festival, Rotterdam
April 20 - Basement Bash, Urban Spree, Berlin
May 2 - Broadcast, Glasgow
May 3 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
May 7 - Yes, Manchester (w/ Sleep Eaters)
May 8 - Phase One, Liverpool (w/ Sleep Eaters)
May 9 - Hare And Hounds, Birmingham (w/ Sleep Eaters)
May 10 - Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff (w/ Sleep Eaters)
May 11 - The Louisana, Bristol (w/ Sleep Eaters)
May 12 - Heartbreakers, Southampton (w/ Sleep Eaters)
May 13 - The Cookie, Leicester (w/ Sleep Eaters)
May 15 - Studio 9294, London
May 16 - Green Door Store, Brighton (w/ Sleep Eaters)
May 17 - The Bullingdon, Oxford (w/ Sleep Eaters)
May 18 - The Boileroom, Guildford (w/ Sleep Eaters)
June 23 - Loose Ends Festival, Amsterdam