Dactylion, Grawl!x and Alex Hale: Dubrek – live review

Before we start – full disclosure: Dactylion are signed to the record label I co-run Reckless Yes and this EP is our latest release, Grawl!x is also signed to our label. Derby’s a small place, what can I say? It makes it a little strange that I am writing about them both – but I write this as their label manager, and a music fan, rather than as a journalist and editor here at Storge.

Ok…onwards.

It was a winter morning when Jay Dean dropped me a message and said he’d been working with a band I just had to hear. There was nothing recorded but he knew I’d want to hear this shoegaze sound. When the bedroom-recorded demo dropped in soon after he was right. Lo-fi though it was the beauty of the melody, and the potential of Dactylion was clear.

We – as Reckless Yes – first met the band and talked to them about releasing the EP at the end of January. We were running a show at the Hairy Dog, Desperate Journalist soundchecking before performing to a sell-out audience, as we ran across the road and into the cosy, warmth of Dubrek. We huddled round the wood-burner and talked about possibilities, we talked about how much we loved not just that first track but had fallen head over heels for the whole EP.

That all seems a long time ago, and no time at all, as they headline the EP launch show tonight in the very room in which it was recorded. This band, perhaps more than any other right now, symbolise not just Derby’s music scene but the community which is coming together more vibrantly, more supportively, more productively than ever. And beyond what they may symbolise, they sound great.

The night starts with a solo set from Alex Hale. Previously of Nottingham band August Actually and now part of Prizefighter as well as a solo performer he pulls a spontaneous set-list from the 200+ songs he’s written. An affable performer this is a conversation as much as a show. He hands out leaflets (It Could Have Been A Beautiful Korea…The Official Guide To The Coming Nuclear Crisis) and talks about communism and impending world doom, depression and love all with honesty and humour. In keeping with the reading material we get The Failed Soviet State Of My Heart, as well as O, Cowardly King Of The Canary Isles! (a version of which is currently being recorded by Prizefighter for their forthcoming EP), and Seasonal Affection Disorder, Part II as well as covers of the Spice Girls 2 Become 1 (“One day they’ll let me do a John Lewis advert, this is what I’ll do”) and a duet of Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean‘s Hips Don’t Lie with Dactylion frontwoman Hannah Smith. Reversing the parts the duet is both a fun cover and a brilliant showcase of voice.

Grawl!x brings something completely different. Performing solo it is, as ever, a spellbinding set where the musicianship is as entrancing as the melody. Beginning with the instrumental Butterflies on the piano, the delicacy of this music is laid-bare, the vulnerability and the determination of it taking flight into the heat and darkness of Dubrek. Looping parts and echoing through the hearts and the space we get Atlas Bear, Pando and new tracks too. Emotionally overwhelming at times these are songs full of reverence, wonder, the void of grief and the bursting forth of joy, these are tears and dances, and songs seemingly pulled straight from the air by magic as much as musicianship.

The third Grawl!x album, and the final part of a trilogy on grief which started with 2012’s Good Grief and continued to 2015’s Aye!, will be out early in 2018 and having already heard it I’m so excited to release this collection of music into the world. The journey will start with the premiere of the accompanying short film, Fleeting, and launch the first single from the album at QUAD in November but tonight is an immersive performance whether you already know Grawl!x or its a first encounter.┬áDerby doesn’t realise how lucky it is to have artists like this right here.

Lit only by fairy lights Dactylion take their places and play the EP, Come Inside, in full. The wonder of this band keeps striking me – only formed at the end of last year to have this level of song realised so soon is hard to believe and yet tonight they prove they deserve every bit of the recognition I feel sure is coming their way. This is a band who can not only commit to record perfect hazy, thrashing, emotionally resonant tracks but can conjure them beautifully – even if not quite perfectly yet – in a live setting.

From opener Hold On, through single So Easy (the grown up version of that first lo-fi demo) through to the final Fears the influence of bands which hit way beyond the band’s years is clear – Mazzy Star, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, 18th Dye all reverberate through these tracks. But this is no aping of genres past and resurgent, Dactylion‘s songwriting talent makes the sound their very own and is spell-binding tonight.

This early in their time as a band, and their individual careers as musicians, there is some way to go before we see the full potential of this band but right now and its a shame the second half of their set was beset by technical problems so the gathered numbers had diminished by the time they finished. But as a launch, for a first release, this gig set out clearly their intention and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that given a little time this band may be one we see break bigger, rightfully finding their way into the hearts and ears of the masses not just the lucky few.

Dactylion‘s debut EP Come Inside is available digitally now on the usual streaming and download platforms. There is a limited edition CD available from shows with their next Derby date being at the Hairy Dog on 2 October supporting Oakman with Phattfoxx, Tahoe, The Gold and Amoradetails here.

Find Dactylion:

Images by Richard McKerron.

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