Derbyshire duo Drenge on how their isolated upbringing drives their distorted angst
Taken from the October issue of Dazed & Confused:
Sitting in a tourist-funded but locally hated 50s-style diner in Castleton, Derbyshire, Rory Loveless, the 20-year-old drummer of Drenge, stares intensely at the table as if he and Honey Bunny are about to rob the place. Frontman Eoin, his older brother, is laughing at the muddy memories of growing up in what is essentially the middle of nowhere. More often than not, escapism came in the form of matches. “We just made bonfires really,” Eoin says. “You could try and make it sound really romantic, but the fields were always covered in sheep shit, so people would just end up sitting on the ground, lying on the ground, and when you wake up in the morning you’d just be like, covered in poo...”
After deciding that there was only so much fun to be had in charring wood, Eoin picked up a guitar as a means of channelling their smalltown angst, and then brought in Rory, who had played in the school jazz band. They christened their duo “Drenge”, which, it turns out, isn’t a blend of dirge, drudge, drone and dredge but the Danish word for “boys”. “It sounds kind of boring,” Eoin says with a smile, “and all the consonants sound really harsh and uncomfortable. We wanted it to sound hard, almost onomatopoeic.”
While Sheffield’s musical lineage speaks for itself, the area hasn’t recently produced anyone on the same level as Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League, Pulp or the Arctic Monkeys. Bands of great promise endlessly circle the local haunts without making it much further. Having grown up in various villages around Hope Valley, a stunning yet almost completely isolated area of Derbyshire, the Loveless brothers are refusing to settle for the title of “big in Sheffield”. “Music became really bad about six years ago. People just listened to anything and thought it was fine and new and interesting, but in hindsight it was really bad. So when we started the band we were having a nostalgic throwback as music started to get really shit.”
The band have started to gather fans in unlikely places. In a bizarre turn of events, Labour MP Tom Watson lauded their performance at Glastonbury in his resignation letter from the role of the party’s election co-ordinator. “Be that great Labour leader that you can be,” he wrote in August, addressing Ed Milliband, “but try to have a real life too. And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge.” It may have been less disingenuous than David Cameron proclaiming his love for Radiohead, but the brothers didn’t have to think twice about turning down a request to appear on Question Time. They prefer their gigs a little grittier.
“We started playing when I was 17,” recalls Rory of their first show in Sheffield. The audience consisted of one space-metal enthusiast, who was also on the bill. “This guy walks in with this huge leather fedora, he had a huge black leather trenchcoat and a weird t-shirt, loads of necklaces and this guitar. We were like, ‘We’re gonna go on after you?’ It wasn’t a gig; it was like a public practice... with lights. But we really enjoyed it – it was kind of what we wanted.” You feel that Drenge would rather play to the mob than backbenchers.
Our songs are aggressive and fucked up and about being really annoyed with everything because people are just pissed off and angry. If you’re young today it’s not this wonderful carefree world
“We weren’t ever looking for a big thing,” explains Eoin, eyeing the plastic-looking bagel that has just been placed in front of him. “We just wanted something to do. It was just a hobby.” Rory cuts in: “No – we just wanted a selfish thing. We weren’t really doing it for anyone else but ourselves. It’s almost like we didn’t want people to enjoy it, we just wanted to piss them off and make them feel awkward.”
“I think I wanted people to be disgusted by us because we were just really raw,” continues Eoin. “Our songs are aggressive and fucked up and about being really annoyed with everything because people are just pissed off and angry. If you’re young today it’s not this wonderful carefree world but in music it seems to be. If you listen to a lot of current music it’s very ‘nothing’s wrong, everything’s fine’, and that’s because that music’s made by people that haven’t gone through anything.”
The anger pulsates through Drenge’s debut, from the raging swagger of album opener “People in Love Make Me Feel Yuck” to the vaguely-misanthropic gut-punch of “Dogmeat”. And such declarations as “I don’t give a fuck about people in love” (“Fuckabout”) surely don’t come without a certain conflicted post-teen angst of the brothers’ own. “We’re not particularly aggressive people,” Eoin rebuffs, “but the songs come from frustration, one which you could link to living out here or you could just link to being young and unemployed and not knowing where your life’s going.”
Eoin and Rory may not be the most belligerent pair in person but onstage their rage is palpable, as a Coventry crowd found out last night when the boys supported The Cribs at the Kasbah. When asked why music allows them a release for their pent-up dark sides, it is Rory’s time to look up again. “It’s expression, isn’t it?” he says, awkwardly scratching his neck and fumbling with his blood-red Dr Martens under the table. “It’s just like... an escape.”
I’d had too much cider, really shit cider, and someone was playing ‘A-wimoweh’ on the guitar, and I fell into a fire.
While Eoin provides the band’s endless wealth of musical ideas, Rory is the one who ties down his brother’s fuzzy creativity into tangible tracks. It’s a shared experience and one dependent on balance. “Rory pretty much writes the song and I write the music.” He recalls a line in their single “Backwaters” about “falling into a fire or something” that sends his brother into fits of laughter, leaving the ever-confident frontman looking somewhat rattled. Composing himself, Rory smirks, “Yeah that did happen! There’s a video as well, which is hilarious.” Rather sheepishly, Eoin explains, “That’s based on true events. I’d had too much cider, really shit cider, and someone was playing ‘A-wimoweh’ on the guitar, and I fell into a fire.” Loveless Inc. are not naïve to the fact that as they move from the no-pressure gigs of empty Sheffield dives to higher-profile slots, there will be inevitable changes to cope with. While signing to Infectious Music in 2012 meant losing some creative control, it was necessary to escape. “We just wanted to play some gigs outside of Sheffield, rather than... stew,” Rory mutters, before adding “I don’t really get fucked before shows any more” to the list of changes.
But the brothers are in no rush to lose the personal edge that is so key to Drenge’s music. “That DIY thing was pretty important for us at the start,” Rory says. “And it pisses me off a little bit that people are less DIY than they should be, especially in music, even down to writing their own songs. You wonder where it’s coming from and how authentic people can be when it’s someone else’s song.” The brothers are determined to grasp back control from the music industry. “I think it’s a new sense of ambition for us, because the further you take things the more control you get. So it would be really awesome to start taking back.”
They may have been suffocated by the Castleton life as children but now they’re starting to see the village in a new light. “Even though I’ve been travelling out of Hope Valley for like, four years, for sixth form and college,” Rory says, “coming back now, driving through, it seems a bit nostalgic, just thinking back to those times.” Looking longingly out at the grey clouds, Eoin agrees. “I don’t really get homesick when I go away from home, but when you come round the corner and see the valley it’s like, ‘I wish I was home right now.’ If you come in in the evening when the sun’s setting, especially at this time of year, it really hits you somewhere.” “I used to hate it,” Rory continues, as meditative as ever. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the most beautiful place in the world if you’re like we were... but I get it now.” As he turns to his brother with a knowing smile, he murmurs, “I still hate it, though.”
The next day, en route to the Y Not? Festival, down the road in Pikehall, where Drenge will take to the main stage alongside the likes of Sky Larkin, Swim Deep and The Cribs, a long-time friend of the band chats about how important it is for young people to escape the mountains of the Peak District and try their hand in Sheffield, just as Eoin and Rory did. “It’s a nice place to grow up on paper but you get to 16 and it all gets a bit oppressive. So yeah man, I guess it is all about the 272.” When asked exactly what the 272 is, he looks up, bemused. “It’s all about the bus to Sheffield, man.”