“Go inward and be bold.” That was Harmony Korine’s advice to aspiring creators, during a question-and-answer session at the British Film Institute in early 2016. For the newly formed Drahla, his words served as a guideline, encouraging the trio to do so. trust their own instincts, however remote they may be. they could be those of their peers. Three years later, the Leeds-formed group defined their own vital art-rock subset with Useless Coordinates, a debut album as fearless as it is thrilling.
Speaking from her current base in South East London with bassist Rob Riggs, singer / guitarist Luciel Brown recounts the somewhat chaotic gestation of the record. “Most of the last year was spent touring, so we were on a rush to write and record from early 2018 through late August.” Between a main tour, supporting slots with Ought and METZ, and several festival appearances – including at Meltdown at the behest of Robert Smith of The Cure – Brown, Riggs and Wakefield-based drummer Mike Ainsley managed 10 days in the studio. in total.
It was the unstable nature of the period that partly inspired the album title. “[Useless Coordinates] summed up all our situations, ”says Brown. “We had all of these shows coming up and we knew we had to quit our jobs and change our living conditions to make it all happen. So we had all these fixed points and deadlines, but at the same time, we felt pretty lost in it all. “
Although they felt adrift in their personal lives, artistically Drahla thrived in confusion. Experimentation was an integral part of the creative process, with Brown and Riggs continuing to swap instruments according to their live performances, as they were collectively open to abandoning traditional song structures in favor of a more instinctive approach. Another integral development turned out to be the involvement of XAM Duo’s Chris Duffin, who played saxophone over large portions of the record and whose esoteric musical tastes were influential.
Via Duffin, they discovered the work of Japanese synth pioneers Mariah and saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu. These cult figures are among an eclectic array of musical touchpoints, from Glenn Miller and Swell Maps to LA-band Behavior. According to their early releases, No Wave and post-punk are an integral part of Drahla’s musical universe, evident in Brown’s brilliantly unmoved sleigh, in the Gang Of Four guitars on “Gilded Cloud”, and in the skronking saxophone of Duffin on “React / Revolt”, which draws parallels with the work of James Chance and Contorsions.
The sharp angles, austere tones and claustrophobic textures of the ensemble are reflected in the album artwork. Designed by Brown and Riggs – as with all previous record covers and promotional videos – the minimalist and mixed creation is inspired by the Talking Heads and Gang Of Four album cover, the work of American artist Cy Twombly and of the economic and regulated aesthetic of the Bauhaus Movement. “Drahla was born out of the need for an outlet for creative expression,” says Brown. “So the whole aesthetic is extremely important. As important as the music.
Regardless of the medium, Brown’s interests lie in looking beyond the immediate into the abstract and the indefinable. His lyrics are developed from observations, notes and poems, and the fragmented imagery is glued together for a disorienting effect. On “Gilded Cloud” elegant snapshots from Hollywood’s golden age are juxtaposed with abrasive guitar textures, “Pyramid Estate” draws parallels between ancient Egypt and the present day, and “Serenity” evokes the violent energy of a painting by Francis Bacon. Beneath the abstraction are a wide range of themes, including genre fluidity (“Invisible Sex”), city life (“Primitive Rhythm”) and artistic expression (“Unwound”).
The result is an uncompromising yet deeply rewarding start where the internal and the external, cerebral and visceral merge to a rather surprising effect. Harmony Korine would be proud.
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