Hands in the Air for Dralms
Travel to the heart of Vancouver to find brilliance in a local emerging band
Words and photos by Jen Kennedy
The recent performance of the local Vancouver band Dralms was one of its last live shows before entering the studio to start recording its first full-length album. The show was held beneath the facade of mountainous ocean and glass-towered serenity of Vancouver, in the layered and complex streets called the Downtown Eastside.
East Hastings, the area of heroin and homelessness, entrepreneur and artist, together form the very heart of the city. Visual artists showcase their brilliant works in tiny galleries dotted everywhere. Prostitutes stand along street sides where live music venues oscillate with the latest sounds. Vancouver has the highest number of artists per capita in Canada, and the most densely packed of these neighbourhoods is here in the Downtown Eastside.
Within this landscape, on a summer evening near the corner of Columbia and Hastings, I skipped into one of these innumerable venues. The Remington is part art studio, part gallery and part live performance venue. The only slightly polished interior of the large space allows you to feel like you’re in a portal. The chambers hold paintings and photography on their white-washed walls and high ceilings, and echo the sounds of local and emerging artists in a very authentic way. I feel part of something important, like I am at the gestation place for the greatest new musicians and artists of the future.
I arrived new to Dralms and their incredible opening acts, Mesa Luna and Dada Plan. But when Dralms began, the dark mythological electro-rock hit me and my heart dropped. As it plummeted with the rhythm of that first song, I fell almost instantly in love, and by the end of the night I was in awe.
The band members are Christopher Smith (vocals and guitar), Shaunn Thomas Watt (drums), Will Kendrick (synth and keys) and Peter Carruthers (bass). The sound is a sort of OK Computer-era Radiohead with rising post-rock arrangements and glitched-out electronic tones. Also contributing to the band’s sonic heft is producer and electronic artist Andy Dixon.
The band released its debut, two-song EP called “Crushed Pleats” in September 2014 with Fat Possum (US), Full Time Hobby (UK) and Boompa (CAN). It included three different limited-edition 7’s for each region. The Crushed Pleats EP includes songs “Crushed Pleats” and “Divisions of Labour” (available for streaming now). Dralms first full-length record is slated to come out in spring-summer 2015 on Full Time Hobby and Boompa.
As the music pushed into the shadows of the tightly packed room, words elucidate like atmospherically rocking, tightly executed and solid. But dichotomies also come to mind, such as elegant and disturbing, placid anarchy and cultured wrecked creation.
Lead singer Christopher Smith’s perfect, almost angelic, singing voice is like a halo, not illuminating, but a part of the music’s darkness, elevating it to virtuousness. It whispers to my senses as though telling me that there is something good in all that’s wrong with the world today. It is comforting yet energizingly haunting, and makes me want to rise up and throw my hands in the air.
Following the show, Christopher Smith relates in a conversation, “I’ve been making music with Shaunn, Will and Peter for a long time. They’ve been with me through my ‘solo’ work and now Dralms. We’ve definitely come a long way in our collaborating. We have a creative process we’re comfortable with and there’s a solid dialogue between all of us in the jam space and the studio. Basically we’ve spent eight years getting on the same page. I think these things affect our experience with each other while playing live too.”
The band is playing to a standing crowd revealed by a dim, rusty coloured light bulb with the silhouettes of faces augmented by shadows. The music is warm, and I feel as though I’m at a congregation of sorts, like a mythological gathering in the form of a party. People are moving slowly and dancing… it is beautiful, wicked music. We move more freely through the night as they stack the songs on us, making the atmosphere heavier and more intoxicating.
I asked Christopher Smith what it’s like to prepare to present this kind of energy live, and he said, “Sometimes (for myself at least) I’ve had to make an effort to get into the right head space — be it nerves or day-to-day life distractions. But generally by the time we soundcheck and people start rolling in, we’re feeling fired up to get out there.
“I think we’re pretty good at getting each other going too — if one of us isn’t feeling it, they’re sure to be bullied and bugged into submission by the time we’re on. After a show I’d say were pretty charged up—we like to have a good time.”
With hands in the air, the audience sways but makes no sound, just moving and transfixed. It is a snapshot of the children of a generation surrendering to an era we cannot fix and have nothing to do but dance in endurance to its ascendancy… and to the music.
I asked Christopher Smith if he had any other words to describe what the band was creating here? We discussed the following quote from Portals Music:
“Dralms spits and curses below the sweet top layer. Below, in the miserable underbelly, sits something built to explode under the weight of its own industrial misery.”
“I like that quote” he said.
Jen Kennedy’s full photo gallery of the night, featuring Dralms, Mesa Luna, and Dada Plan
by Jen Kennedy