True story: I was at Bungalows and Bears, on a Saturday night. A lady in a yellow shirt comes to me and asks me about the previous bands that were playing at that Rough Shag night. She then asked about Death Rays of Ardilla.
“Who are that band with the weird name? How are they live?”
“Uh…they are loud, and… dunno, aggressive but cool!”
“So what do they play? Rock, Indie, Blues?”
“uh….Satanic Surf Rock?”
She stuck around for a few songs with two friends. She then turned to me and said “great drummer.” They disappeared a couple of songs later. So it happened.
There was a duet bloom in Sheffield, a little while ago. Maybe it was the rarefied atmosphere. Maybe it was the good water quality of the River Don. Who knows? Wet Nuns, Drenge, Mega Aquarians, Electric Tape Recorder, Death Rays of Ardilla. All gave a good live show. Some are still here with us. Some, well, that’s life.
I ran into Death Rays of Ardilla after getting an invite to a Tramlines afterparty, back in 2010. Leki from Wet Nuns told me the day before, while we were talking in The Washington‘s beer garden. I remember being dead tired when the time came but eventually made my way to S1 Artspace. Wet Nuns‘ set was chaotic, as Rob was a little beyond the realm of sober. I think a wallet was thrown to the floor, repeatedly. After Wet Nuns finished their set, Death Rays of Ardilla played in the dark for most of their set. You couldn’t see much, but you could feel it all. The jazz drum fills, the psychedelic guitar riffs coming out of a fiery Selmer amp. It was one of the best shows I attended in Sheffield and I had a quick talk with the band after the show.
Another X-Ray Horse show about 2 months later, and there they were, Death Rays (of Ardilla), pulling no punches, rocking that stage as hard as they could. They had good competition, in the form of Dead Sons, a live powerhouse that played to a packed Harley.
It’s hard getting ahold of them, as they sometimes evanesce out of existence, materialising back to play the odd gig and, if Saturn is aligned with Mars and Fenris, to release a single. Eventually, we managed to get an interview with them on a cold Saturday. It was February of 2011. We met at Stag Works and it was an excellent conversation. Geeking about pedals, talking about films, and just having a ball. It was a long conversation, but it was never boring. Nick and Thomas are a lovely chat. Pippa took some great photos that day. I managed to get a few lucky shots too.
During the interview, they played a new song. It was a rough draft, but already had a certain something. It was urgent, aggressive, and moody. Here’s the finalised form:
After that, I missed a few of their gigs, but managed to see them every time they did a Rough Shag gig. I will never stop saying this: Andrew Smith puts some of the best gigs in Sheffield. Always had a good ear for top notch bands and he chose Death Rays of Ardilla for his gigs so many times for a good reason. Yes, their output goes at a glacial pace, but fuck me two ways to hell, they put one fuckin’ solid show. I’ve never left one of their gigs disappointed. Nick‘s drumming: precise, always with rapid-fire intensity and crossing the line between rock and jazz without a hitch. Thomas‘ crunchy guitar riffs, as loud as his screams, but never as deep as his voice. ‘Diamonds’ is such a great track and ‘Kandahar’ felt like a mad drive through the San Luis Potosí desert, La Huasteca, with no gas left and an open wound. You might be losing conscience. The radio might be distorted. You step on the pedal and you fade away, into the vanishing point of a camera operated by the ghosts of a thousand dead forajidos.
The last time I saw The Death Rays of Ardilla was also my last ever gig in Sheffield. It was a Saturday Night. I was late, barely getting to see the last 2 songs by Joe Newman‘s new band, at least it was new, back in that bitter December of 2013.
The songs flew by. For a moment, the pain of leaving the country reduced until it was unnoticeable. I would say goodbye to Nick, Thomas and dear Andrew Smith later. All good people that I associate forever in that psychedelic “satanic surf rock” that is Death Rays of Ardilla, who still kick around a heckuva show. Until we meet again, guys. Take care.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López