Published 04 Oct 2018
At a time when guitar bands are losing visibility and popularity, The Dirty Nil do not lament the decline of rock and roll; rather they’re picking it up by the lapels, dusting it off and thrusting it into 2018 in a whirlwind of pink bubblegum, high kicks and custom studded lightning bolts, writes Sophie Porter
Hailing from Dundas, Ontario, the three piece band The Dirty Nil, plays with an undeniable raw passion as well as impressive technical know-how and composition. I’ve always had a soft spot for three piece bands; I enjoy hearing and watching how they fill space where other bands rely on more members. Less is more, perhaps. In the case of The Dirty Nil, more is what you get.
On Friday 28th September, the band concluded its second string of headline shows in the UK following the release of their second full length album, Master Volume at the Boston Music Room in Tuffnell Park, London.
The venue is the little sibling of the Dome in Tuffnell Park: A large, open space with a working men’s club kind of feel; square dance floor, built up stage, ample seating and a bar selling cheap pints, all in veneered wood. It looks the kind of place that has seen some stuff. It’s attached to an Irish bar, the authenticity of which is confirmed to me by a Belfast native; and the regulars are the kind that you take great pleasure in assigning a narrative to. I like venues with character; I was excited. One thing’s for sure, something special was about to happen.
The venue hits the lights ready for the walk in: Kyle Fisher on drums, then vocalist and guitarist Luke Bentham, and, finally, Ross Miller on bass. Their presence is known and felt as the near sold-out room presses together, simultaneously increasing the temperature and decreasing visibility. Ross and Luke come together in a jump, reaching out to the audience and staring into it, beckoning for attention. A short but sustained fog of dischord and feedback readies the audience before they launch into That’s What Heaven Feels Like, the first song from the new album.
The songs hint at the tone and feel of their classic influences yet carry with them a punk slant. Kyle and Ross form a rhythmic powerhouse as the sprawling bass lines dance around solid drums. Luke exercises an impressive vocal range, pushing into effortless screams, and plays complimenting guitar riffs, string bends and solos. The set list is self-aware and directs the crowd with little instruction from Bentham. The crowd is hooked from the beginning and the night descends into a hot, excitable frenzy.
The band’s visual performance is as impactful as the musicians’ ability to play as sharp and tight as their recordings and their clear understanding of the formula for catchy, anthemic choruses (Let's do whatever you want, whatever you want…, You are fuckin’ up young...).
Donned in a loose rock uniform, the band members each play their part in ensuring a memorable show. The performance should not be mistaken for rehearsed production, but rather an authentic display of pure love and devotion to music. Whilst oozing charm and confidence, the band is clearly humbled by the crowd and its reaction. Luke hangs the guitar over the heads of the audience, tempting them to touch, and dismisses the boundary of the stage during a super tight Metallica cover. Ross fills any empty spaces available by bouncing, kicking and gesturing with his hands directly into the audience. Kyle grounds the band by remaining firm, steady and loud.
I Don’t Want That Phonecall challenges classic rock messaging by telling the story of a friend struggling with substance abuse. The importance of seeking help is emphasised: “Don’t suffer in silence, we’re all in this together. Long live rock and roll”. The sentiment is supported by the crowd picking one another up during the next track Please, Please Me, in which the audience pushes out to form an empty circle, waiting with baited breath for a gesture to bring them all back together in chaos, sweat and spilt beer. In the penultimate track Evil Side, Luke drops to his knees with a bubblegum pop.
It is not with anxiety that the Ontario trio embraces classic rock trope; they knowingly dance upon the fine line which separates what they do from being a pastiche of true rock form and marry this showmanship with raw punk attitude, transcending the boundaries between genre labels by playing what they want, what they like, and what they know they can perform with vigour.
In September, the trio released a second full length album via Dine Alone Records - if God gave rock and roll to us, then The Dirty Nil gifted Master Volume to rock and roll.
Sophie Porter is a Masters graduate of Fine Art from Norwich University of the Arts, and has been writing, performing and touring as a musician for the past 10 years.
Header image by Cal Hudson. You can view more of his work here: www.calhudson.carbonmade.com
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