True outsiders with uncompromising independence, Getintothis’ Paul Higham champions the extreme noise of GIT Award nominee Dragged Into Sunlight.
For some, the inclusion of Dragged Into Sunlight in the list of GIT Award nominees might come as something of a surprise. Alongside the sense of surprise, many might just be forgiven for asking who they are.
In granting one of the 12 nominations to an extreme metal band, this year’s judging panel have thrown something of a curveball. For if there is such thing as a typical nominee then Dragged Into Sunlight seem as far removed as possible from the template.
Indeed the band themselves appeared shocked by the new found fame that accompanies the nomination, “it comes as a surprise. Dragged Into Sunlight does not tend to ‘fit’ anywhere however the award provides an opportunity for extreme music in Liverpool to gain overdue recognition.
Musically the band seem far removed from the typical Liverpool guitar band sound. If such a sound exists – and that is perhaps one for a separate debate – it owes much to the enduring popularity of West Coast psychedelia that traces its influence through Love and Arthur Lee, via Mick Head and Shack to today’s more youthful exponents.
While perhaps not a deliberate ploy, the effect of Dragged Into Sunlight’s nomination has been to offer a welcome boost to a musical form that isn’t immediately associated with the Merseyside ‘scene’. Yet perhaps it offers a lifeline to what, in Dragged Into Sunlight’s eyes at least, represents something of an ailing niche.
“If the city continues to drown underground extreme music, the days of Planet X are likely to be lost on future generations and it is likely to continue pushing touring artists out towards other cities where extreme music often feels more supported.“
Although Dragged Into Sunlight do not allow themselves to be defined by Liverpool, the city has played a critical role in the band’s identity and development and remains high in their affections. “Liverpool is the world in one city. It is an inspiration for Dragged Into Sunlight.
“Foremost, on the basis that it is where several of those involved originally met. L8 is home. The first buildings that we rehearsed in were along Princes Road.
“We continue to congregate in local haunts prior to live shows or tours and we continue to record locally.”
While Liverpool’s live music scene on the face of it appears fairly buoyant there does remain problems in terms of support for less mainstream acts. While this applies indiscriminately to all forms of music it is felt more keenly by the underground metal scene, which remains engaged in a constant battle for survival, a never-ending fight to retain a sense of cultural relevance.
“It is still underground despite efforts. Shows by strong upcoming bands are often empty and promoters give up after trying and often failing to fill venues.
“Underground music and extreme music in particular appear to have regressed somewhat. In the most part, owing to a lack of recognition by Councils, funding opportunities and commercial space for less mainstream shows.“
Although much has been made of the vibrancy of the current ‘scene’, it derives as much from a collective will that acts as a mutual network of support, advice and encouragement than it does to a singular sound. As the GIT Award rightly acknowledges the city is awash with great music, yet within that there is a terrific diversity of sounds. The times when a raft of bands would emerge all pursuing a common vision seems a quaint relic of the near past.
Dragged Into Sunlight push their music into spaces many fear to tread. Existing in the outer extremities they are so far removed from much of their more acknowledged contemporaries that they could be seen to plough a lone furrow even in a field where difference and diversity feel a watchword. Such is their difference, they make other bands appear as if huddled under a collective umbrella.
In daring to be different and by making music that seems deliberately intended to challenge, to discomfit and to intimidate, Dragged Into Sunlight stand separate from their peers. In many ways this has placed self-imposed limits on the extent of their popularity and on any conventional measure of success.
It could be argued that within its manifest anger is an articulation of political rage yet this is something that the band are keen to play down; “There is no political edge. The view is that if you wish to argue about politics, religion or academics, it is an intellectual debate. Music should not be an advertising ground in which to broadcast opinions narrowly fitted to a soundtrack.
“There is something unintellectual and naive with such an approach. Authors write entire books on specialist subjects, so there is certainly no ambition to rehash that knowledge or expertise.”
The band instead seem focused on the intimate and the personal, allowing their music to provide a release from the daily drudgery of life; “It is an exorcism of daily frustrations. A venting of everything that makes you want to smash the walls in with a claw hammer.
“It is a genuine feeling of malice because that is the world we live in, it is cold, impatient and unsympathetic. One would assume that such feelings are more often than not both unsettling and discomforting.”
In producing music of such uncompromising intensity and pummelling ferocity, the band come across as a difficult sell to your average alternative music fan. This is dark, aggressive music laced with unrelenting anger that is designed to shock and awe. It offers little in the way of respite making it an uncomfortable and often unpleasant listen. This isn’t something to play to your mum.
As a live act the band are at their most intense, yet while it provides an undoubted bludgeoning and visceral experience for the listener, the focus of the band is very much on themselves and the music that they create. If the listener buys into it and comes along for the ride then all well and good but that isn’t the motivating factor.
“Dragged Into Sunlight has been described as a live experience, every show demands 200% effort and momentum without compromise. It is where the listener decides whether they appreciate and has an opportunity to understand what we do.
“Some do, others do not, however Dragged Into Sunlight started out playing to the walls and so whether there is even a crowd is often irrelevant.”
While we are naturally keen to laud any band that places artistic integrity over desire for commercial success there perhaps might be cause for compromise. Yet it is clear that to compromise would be to dilute and one thing that best defines the band is a an unyielding steadfastness and while “there have been many changes along the way, however we have come to realise that with every change comes a new turn,” the band have remained true to their own vision throughout.
While notionally existing in the world of metal the band don’t find an easy home within that environment. In eschewing the stylistic trappings of traditional metal they seem equally content to alienate what might more easily be defined as their natural fan base. As a band they don’t embrace the flamboyant world of excessive decoration and the razzmatazz of ritually mocked-up sacrifices.
It isn’t to say the band don’t have a hardcore devoted following – unequivocally they do. It is more that in adopting their own style and in not always conforming to stereotype they have allowed their music to stand on its own merits.
Dragged Into Sunlight are a band shrouded in mystery and a carefully guarded sense of secrecy dominates. The identity of the band members remains a closely guarded secret, with each member referred only by individual letters. When performing the band wear balaclavas to conceal their physical features and frequently play in near darkness often with their back to the audience.
“Anonymity seems to be a ‘thing’ nowadays. For Dragged Into Sunlight, it has always been about separating two sides of the same coin.
“Dragged Into Sunlight is a necessity and serves as a vehicle in which to continue our creative endeavours uninterrupted and unhindered.”
It has been said that the effect of this is to ensure that the band’s music remains firmly centre-stage and its impact is not watered down by an obsession with individual personality. The identity should remain indelibly tied to the band and anything else serves as an artificial distraction.
Indeed, the band seek to emphasise the direct benefit that anonymity brings to the listener, “it presents a blank canvas for the listener to create their own image rather than one that comes with a preconceptions or a marketed image complicit with a scene or genre.
“Music is always the priority, no one is retiring from this. As a band grows over time, there are often distractions, those that wish to avoid and most of which are of little interest.”
Or at least that is the theory. The cynic might be minded to suggest that the deliberate absence of identity conversely becomes very much an identity in and of itself. Is it a deliberately self-defeating reverse-psychological ploy, ensuring that attention is drawn to the band while proclaiming it to be the very thing they seek least?
Perhaps we are being unduly cynical but where very little, other than the music itself, defines the band’s image, the strict control of their image and identity becomes a defining characteristic in its own right. It becomes the talking point. Is it an unintended consequence or a deliberate strategy? While the band would contend the former, it does raise some interesting points on the role of identity and image within music.
It has been rumoured that Dragged Into Sunlight are gnarled veterans of the British metal scene and that their formation marks something of a super-group. The band shed some light on their beginnings. “Dragged Into Sunlight comprises members of bands that spent a long time at their lowest ebb growing increasingly frustrated by the fickle nature of trends and scenes.
“Our paths crossed at a strange but convenient juncture and one thing led to another. There was no formation as such, just a conveniently timed meeting of minds.”
In this context, it becomes understandable why the band members might be eager to conceal and protect their identity; to preserve their artistic integrity but also to operate as true independents without being bound by a particular scene or trend. From the outset the band have operated with a deep suspicion of the wider music industry, “Dragged Into Sunlight is a completely selfish endeavour. Its music mirrors a very genuine feeling of contempt from inception.”
Yet what remains striking is that the band were formed, unusually for purveyors of extreme-noise music, with absolute focus on their music as an art form and this is something the band look to define themselves by, “does anyone wants their work to fit neatly into a box?
“The inspiration for Dragged Into Sunlight was always to leave a lasting mark like those who influenced and came before us. That’s what art is after all, an expression of that which inspires you to create.”
In being nominated for the GIT Award, Dragged Into Sunlight challenge the nature of the award itself and succeed in pushing it beyond the safe confines of a Liverpool music scene that on occasions can become a self-congratulatory bubble.
Where then to start with the Dragged Into Sunlight’s music? Debut album Hatred of Mankind might be the perfect introduction. Having been re-pressed and re-issued following its initial release it has generated a cult following and is a record of which the band are justifiably proud yet they temper this with an element of tongue-in-cheek caution, perhaps throwing a veiled barb at bands too keen to celebrate past achievements,
“Hatred For Mankind was first pressed in 2008 by a small but highly regarded label, Mordgrimm. It has been repressed and distributed worldwide since, gaining some quite significant momentum.
“Dragged Into Sunlight has certainly achieved more than we had expected however the real milestone is marked in 2018 on the 10 year anniversary of Hatred for Mankind and to know that the recording has stood a moderate test of time.”
The record sets out the band’s stall in defiant fashion; heavy and doom-laden, incorporating monolithic drones with savage riffs and blood-curdling screams and growls. The subject matter delves deep into the psyche of serial killers, a recurring theme throughout their work.
Widowmaker by comparison is positively cerebral and is a three song experimental suite that marks something of a radical departure.
Part I presents the real curveball. This is a discordantly dissonant sprawl of warped violin, piano and atonal guitar that build to a wall of squalling noise. Interestingly this element of the suite is largely drum and bass free, before Part II brings with it a sense of uncomfortable familiarity as bellowingly ferocious riffs echo the intense sounds of its predecessor.
In bringing the two contrasting elements together, Part III marks the band’s experimental high-watermark. Richly layered guitar riffs induce a droning soporific ambience that builds to an intensity before unwinding itself and allowing the tempo to be raised. It plays with dynamic range, pushes boundaries and challenges the perception of what this type of music can deliver.
Throughout the recurring refrain has been a band remaining steadfastly true to their art and with Widowmaker you are left undeniably with a sense of a band that cares about what it does. With its compelling allusions to the likes of Slint, Godspeed and Sunn O))) there is an audible sense of a band breaking free from the shackles of its own genre and heading off down lesser travelled paths. That is what makes it a genuinely exciting and important album.
Latest release NV is a collaborative affair with Gnaw Their Tongues that continues to blur lines between noise and metal. As an exchange of ideas and sounds over a long period of time, interrupted by other touring and recording schedules, that the collaboration has condensed over three hours of music into a lean and concisely coherent thirty minutes is an not inconsiderable achievement.
At the heart of the album is the band’s enduring obsession with serial killers, making use of particularly disturbing vocal samples hewn from direct interviews with inmates on America’s death row. This lends the album a harrowing rawness deliberately raising the extreme bar several notches higher.
With the promise of new music in the pipeline “Dragged Into Sunlight also anticipates recording new material towards the close of the year”, the band are keeping themselves busy touring the US, “Dragged Into Sunlight embarks on a headline tour of the US with Primitive Man and Cult Leader after the headline performance at Temples Festival in Bristol.
“It will be a return to the US following our tour with Cough in 2012. New York is almost sold out 4 months in advance so it goes without saying that it will be a highlight. We look forward to catching up with friends, old and new.”
For those of you that just can’t wait for new Dragged Into Sunlight material, we asked who have caught their ears and the overwhelming recommendation is Corrupt Moral Altar, featuring John Cooke from Napalm Death. In the words of Dragged Into Sunlight, “their new record feels like being crushed by slabs. Worthwhile listening”. High praise indeed.
On the face of it Dragged Into Sunlight feel like rank outsiders, existing in a different world to the other nominees. Yet there is something so uncompromising about their music, so compelling in their devotion to their art and so defiant is their independent spirit that you can’t help but feel they’d make wholly refreshing winners. And if it provides a boost to an extreme noise scene that feels at a low ebb, then who are we to complain.
The GIT Award 2016 take place at Constellations on May 14. Tickets are available here.