30 days, 30 bands – #20 Drenge

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I once wrote an article for Vice, talking about the similarities between Mexico City and Sheffield. It was a white label affair, so my name wasn’t there, it was mostly an ad for Jimador Tequila, dashed with anecdotes about sediment sampling in the Don, jokes about burritos (not my idea), and photos of Club60 and Tye Die Tapes (my idea.)

It tried to be a positive article, and I think I’m still proud of it. There’s something else that’s pretty similar in the United Kingdom and Mexico: validation. I have no idea what’s the real root of the problem here, but it feels like people in both countries, especially in the artistic fields, crave validation. They scramble for it. They would do anything for it.

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Cue Tom Watson‘s resignation letter, where he name-dropped Drenge. Suddenly, everyone was “the first one who wrote about Drenge.” I fell in this cycle of stupidity, this folly of trying to be the Prophet of Cool no one paid attention to, the one blessed with the foretelling abilities of soothsayers. Music writers…we are a bunch of wankers, aren’t we? Trying to justify the endless hours and hyperbole, waiting for that one claim to fame. A fool’s dream.

Can you hear it, three years after, still rumbling in the distance? The explosion, when we all wanted validation as “the cool person who found Drenge before the other journo fuckers.” It means nothing , no one cares who wrote first about a band, but who wrote best about the band and that credit falls into a politician. And that’s what really hurts, isn’t it? Some dickhead from Labour! How dare he! How our consecrated words have no weight. We have no power. We are not tastemakers. We are glorified press release re-writers, fuckin’ up our colleagues, trying to be the big winner, weaselling our ways into free promos, drinks, and backstage passes. But we are merely tadpoles in a very big ocean. The sooner we accept this, the sooner the whole music journalism scene will stop being so fucked up.

Like I said, a fool’s dream…

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But, hey, Drenge, though. It was a conversation with Wet Nuns, in mid-September of 2010. We were at the Ranmoor Inn and I had gone for drinks with Rob and Leki. It was an interview for Sloucher that got delayed because Counterfeit wanted another interview too, and since they had a bigger audience, I thought they should get one first. So it goes.

“How was it?” said Leki to Robert, “that show with the kids?” Rob smiled with his usual grin. “It was a lonesome place in the peaks, they even played one of ours.” I didn’t ask which one, but I’d like to imagine it was ‘No Death’. I would meet Eoin and Rory at Club60 a month later, after a day trip to LiverpoolRob had fallen on his head and we were all dead scared. He was okay, just a few drinks beyond the pale, but a-ok. I can’t remember what I talked about with them, but I would eventually see them live in early 2011 at the Old number 7, in a lonesome West Street cornerEveryone was there for Wet Nuns, but Drenge stood on their own quite well.

I was a fan of their Blood and Milk zines, I lost a few copies when I had to get the fuck out of the UK, but still have two, safe in a lunchbox that now resembles a time capsule. Setlists, badges, ticket stubs, zines, the memories of the Sheffield Years, all there, decaying in the midst of dust and the ravages of time. Let’s not be too nostalgic, though, Drenge are still going strong, always offering a fierce show.

 They opened for Retribution Gospel Choir at The Harley back in 2012.  A snowy day, but it was all gone by the time they took the stage, getting the vibes ready for the psychedelic jams of Retribution Gospel Choir, the fiercer side of Low. I saw them at Bungalows and Bears too, part of another brilliant Rough Shag night.

And I lost track of them for a while. I know they started to get a lot of press and, to be honest, that’s really for the best. Two guys who just wanted to play some music, ASBOs notwithstanding. We come back to 2013, the year of  Tom Watson‘s resignation letter: it’s irrelevant and felt like the last kick of a politician who knew his career was on its last breath.

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The kerfuffle came and went and Drenge released their first album. ‘Blood & Milk’ became ‘Backwaters’, keeping that hillbilly from Castleton sound. ‘Bloodsports’ became focused, less tangential. ‘Dogmeat’, shit, ‘Dogmeat’ is a bonafide classic and I’ll fight you if you say otherwise. Now, the place the band really shone at was when they jumped into a parallel universe and created a song so rich in atmosphere that I feel breathless after it’s done. ‘Let’s Pretend’ is an 8-minute goliath, dirge-like in spirit, nihilistic like the best of Grunge, and explosive. It feels raw and it’s the place where Drenge always seem to excel at: bloodshot eyes, weapons drawn, a cold stare, waiting for you to flinch.

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Undertow came out last year. No more weight to be pulled. No more politicians, Kanye, or Jools on sight. Pure, unadulterated Drenge, still rumbling in the steep Goosehill road, waiting for the shivering mountain to finally topple down. ‘The snake’ was a prime cut, and ‘The Woods’ brings back that atmospheric magic. I saw them live for a final time during SXSW 2014. I was quite happy to see them again, and although they were tired and fed up with the gruelling schedule, they were as courteous as ever.

PHEW, for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself. Drenge are still creating proper rock. There’s a new song knocking about, so I guess it’s album number 3 time. In the meantime, Rory has started a band with former Wet Nuns‘ vocalist Robert Graham and Nick Chantler from Seize the Chair , another Sheffield band that hopefully will release more music soon.

Now, do we really care about validation? Life’s too short and those slices of fame come and go, totally fuck-all to everyone involved. Perhaps instead of scrambling out to find the next best thing, us music reviewers should just sit around and let music wash us off of our collective filth; the detritus of hyperbole, adverbs and buzzwords that never amounted to much.

Words: Sam J. Valdés López.

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