words: Seth Tempo
pics: Andy Brown
It’s a funny thing, cool. It’s easy to point to people, bands and music that clearly are cool, and also those that are obviously not. But it’s also very difficult to define what cool actually is, and it’s easy to forget how tightly the concept is so often driven by a small section of the media. It’s not called the spotlight for nothing; the beam of NME / Dazed and Confused approval might be bright when it singles people out for temporary illumination, but its focus is very narrow.
There is an incredible variety of music being made in and around Sheffield that will never find endorsement from The Right People tm because it isn’t spiky, knowing indie played in the right trousers. Representatives of several genres routinely fill small venues but garner little or no media attention; Catch-It Kebabs (Ska), the Mirimar Disaster (brutal metal), and Ninio (dirty funk) are some of the great bands out there at the moment. Dangerlust are another.
When I first saw the band, I thought they were fantastic. This impression was partly because of my own distinctly uncool roots. I was a massive Wildhearts fan (I still am, but don’t tell anyone), and here was a band that unashamedly rocked in the same vein.
Named after a Wildhearts B-Side, Dangerlust’s melodic hooks, choruses, backing vocals and fuck-you attitude all brought to mind the sort of party rock that Kurt Cobain largely killed off, sung by a sassy rock frontwoman in a miniskirt and pink daisy-shaped guitar combo, accessorised perfectly with a scowl. The rest of the band – bassist Tony, guitarist Mikee, and drummer Alec - were largely leather jackets and rock-logo t-shirts, the low-slung guitars pumping out melodic riffs and chugga-chugga rhythms. (I don’t, incidentally, mean party rock in a Poison, beer kegs, titties and wilful dumbness sort of way. I mean rock with tunes, music with energy and positivity.) By the second gig, I could remember the choruses; that’s not something you could say of a lot of the imitating, wannabe indie-darlings around at the moment.
In the pub, I ask them to describe their music. Tony asks how I’d describe them. Melodic … rock, I struggle. Tony shakes his head sadly: “dirty words when put together.” And I agree. It makes them sound like Journey or someone. Singer Rach has a one-word go at describing them: “dirty.” I don’t think she’s being entirely serious. Tony makes more of an effort: “big, fuck-off pop songs. That’s what I like – good pop songs. I don’t care if it’s Britney Spears or a massive rock band, it’s about pop songs.” The rest of the band can attest to Tony’s (fully non-ironic) Britney Spears obsession. Britney is one of his favourite in-car listening experiences, apparently.
This theme also seems to run through most of their favourite music; by their own admission, it’s unfashionable. “‘Wildhearts’ is an even dirtier term than ‘melodic rock’ to a lot of people – there’s a real crusty, hair-metal impression that a lot of people have,” says Tony.
Rach points out that the music they grew up on – the Wonderstuff, Therapy ?, and the ensuing double-barrels of ‘britpop’ and ‘britrock’ – is pretty much all derided now by the musical cognoscenti. “We are not trendy people,” states Rach. I remind her of a surprising quote from the NME, of all places (an isolated incident), which described her as an uber-trendy rock chick. “Uber-cool, actually.” She smiles. “Uber-cool ? Fuck off.”
Most local press that reviews the band as it slogs its way round the country struggle to find female-fronted reference points to afford an easy comparison. They’ve been compared to Elastica, Sleeper, Echobelly and Republica, and received the highly dubious honour of being called “a heavy metal Catatonia”.
They’ve been described as writing “the kind of song Garbage have always wanted to write”. Rach’s vocals have been described as reminiscent of both PJ Harvey and Debbie Harry; quite impressively, Rach also stands accused of “making Courtney Love look chaste.” Finally, and similarly bafflingly, similarities between Dangerlust and Metallica have been suggested.
What unites almost all these comparisons is that they are bollocks. There is a certain hint of Debbie Harry in the vocals, and probably some milage in Blondie comparisons that go further than this. Blondie were, after all, a great pop band that happened to rock. But Elastica ? Sleeper ? Catafrickingtonia ? Lazy journalism, all of it, and journalism that was hopefully seen through by all who saw them on their recent twenty-odd date tour, most of it with Nottingham’s Hinterland, another rock band with tunes.
The tour coincided with the release of a double-A-side single with Hinterland; Dangerlust’s contribution was new track ‘Touch my ass’. It’s a great song, but lyrically quite frightening. Against a backdrop of big rock riffs, the song starts with a husky Rach giving someone the come-on; “come dance with me, I’ll make you sweat … what is it that you’re afraid of ? are you scared that your girl is going to freak out ?” Then, when you know where you are, the song suddenly appears to be about guitarist Mikee’s bottom. He takes over the vocal and warns that “if you touch my arse again I’ll break your fingers.” I certainly wasn’t planning to, but I’m left a little shaken all the same.
I ask the band what the devil is going on. They don’t seem to fully know themselves; due to a new songwriting process, both Rach and Mikee provide lyrics to a basic song outline. Then they’ve fused the two. So, some of it is about Mikee’s experiences with ladies of a certain age when he worked as a glass collector, some of it is a female perspective on sleazy men in indie clubs, and some of it is about the fact that women have the right to chat men up.
What it isn’t is misogynistic; one reviewer obviously didn’t get past the song’s title and accused the band of putting the women’s lib movement back 25 years. Rach was not amused. Almost as unamused, in fact, as when a punter did actually grab her arse and refuse to let go at a gig in Nottingham. I’m guessing that he can no longer walk unassisted.
Given, by their own admission, Dangerlust’s lack of fashionable credentials, what sort of audience do they think they work best with? Rach is quick to answer: “Old men and young kids. People our own age seem to be a bit stand-offish and sceptical. In fact, some of the best audiences we’ve ever had are people who don’t think they really want to see live music. People who’ve just gone out for a drink, see a band going onstage and think ‘fuck’, but then end up loving us.”
“We’re never going to be an NME-darling band,” reckons Tony. “We don’t fit into any particular scene. We don’t really click with a lot of the people who are into the cool bands on the local scene – they dismiss us as throwaway.” Tony can certainly testify to their appeal with younger kids, though – following a recent gig at a youth club he got propositioned three times and was given a bracelet. All by girls, I hasten to add.
If Dangerlust perceive that the musical cognoscenti doesn’t have much time for them, they don’t have much time for the cognoscenti either. I wondered how they felt about certain bands that fell under both ‘rock’ (within reason) and also ‘cool’. The Datsuns ? “The Datsuns,” says Mikee instantly, “may well be the worst band in the world.” Black Rebel Motorcycle Club ? “The same thing. No tunes. It’s just boring.” “You know why I don’t like Jet ?” asks Tony, although no one has mentioned Jet. “It’s because they are clearly cunts.”
The Hives are similarly dismissed, although not without a bit of conspiracy theorising. Mikee is positive that the Hives are not Swedish. “They’re American”, he insists. “They were signed in America, they’re big in America. They’re American.” As a theory, it needs a bit of padding out before it will compete with the grassy knoll theory, but he’s adamant.
So, it’s clearly rock bands with tunes that do it for the ‘Lust, then, but not Jet. The whole band’s favourite modern popular beat combo is in fact the Yo-Yos, a side project of (you’ve guessed it) one of the Wildhearts. I remain to be convinced by the Yo-Yos – it all seems a bit too sugary and lacking in substance to me. The band splutter into their beers and red wines in unison, and for a second I think Tony is going to break a bar stool over my head. “They’re the perfect band ! They write perfect, three minute rockabilly rock songs !” He shouts. Rach joins in: “they’re a proper rock and roll band –for listening to before you go out. People who try to be clever with music are so up their own fucking arses.” She follows this with an informed rant about how shit the modernist composer Feldman is; this must be the most intellectual defence of the Yo-yos anyone has ever given.
Given their love of good-time rock music, the band seem genuinely surprised that I say that one of the things I like about them is that their lyrics are not without substance – several of their songs deal with feeling down and finding ways through (‘Keep moving’), or challenging an apathetic music industry (‘Something new’). Ok, so they’re not The Smiths, but neither are they Motley Crue. Rach responds that she only writes when she’s down, and when she isn’t she doesn’t feel comfortable singing her own lyrics. The band seem to be in agreement that they want to entertain and make people feel good; I reckon that this can be done in different ways, and their potential for a bit of depth is something they don’t give themselves enough credit for.
So, what’s next ? Now that ‘Touch my ass’ has sold out, it will soon be making an appearance as a free download on their website. And the band really want to record an album, but fitting this in around all the touring is proving something of a challenge. My advice is: go and see them live. If you’re a trendy, leave your white trilby or Nathan Barley sun visor at home. You might hate Dangerlust. If you listen to them and don’t get it, fair play. But don’t write them off before having a think about it (or thinking a bit less about it, depending). You might find that you start to have … fun.