DRAHLA, Russian Baths
“Go inwards and be bold.” This was Harmony Korine’s advice to aspiring creatives, during a Q&A at the British Film Institute back in early 2016. For the recently-formed Drahla, his words served as something of a directive, encouraging the trio to trust their own instincts, however far removed they might be from those of their peers. Three years on, the Leeds-formed band have defined their own vital subset of art-rock with Useless Coordinates, a debut album that’s as fearless as it is enthralling.
Speaking from her current base in south-east London with bassist Rob Riggs, singer/guitarist Luciel Brown recounts the record’s somewhat chaotic gestation. “Most of last year was spent touring, so we were squeezing writing and recording in from the beginning of 2018 until end of August.” In-between a headline tour, support slots with Ought and METZ, and multiple festival appearances – including at Meltdown at the request of The Cure’s Robert Smith – Brown, Riggs and Wakefield-based drummer Mike Ainsley managed 10 days in the studio in total.
It was the unsettled nature of the period that part-inspired the album’s title. “[Useless Coordinates] summarised all of our situations,” Brown explains. “We had all these shows coming up and we knew we needed to leave our jobs and change our living situations to make all this stuff happen. So we had all these fixed points and timelines, but at the same time we felt quite lost within all of that.”
Though they felt adrift in their personal lives, artistically Drahla thrived amongst confusion. Experimentation was integral to the creative process, with Brown and Riggs continuing to swap instruments as per their live shows, while collectively they were open to relinquishing traditional song structures in favour of adopting a more instinctive approach. Another integral development proved to be the involvement Chris Duffin of XAM Duo, who played saxophone on large swathes of the record and whose esoteric musical tastes were influential.
Russian Baths’ forthcoming album takes their art of juxtaposition to its extreme. Feedback and dissonance swallow softly whispered harmonies. Granular synths and 808s rest besides guitar shrieks and pounding drums. Caustic fits are punctuated by moments of relief, tortured the next second. Surgical imagery and themes of personal regret and cultural guilt populate the soundscape, sung by voices sometimes so close, they’re in the room with you, sometimes from impossible distances. Unlike their dissonant peers, rarely do the proceedings lead to a scream. The record was meticulously recorded and assembled over the course of two years, and mixed by Ben Greenberg (Uniform).
Russian Baths is Jess Rees (guitar, vocals) and Luke Koz (guitar, vocals) from Brooklyn, NY, joined live by Kyle Garvey (bass) and Steven Levine (drums), and in the studio by Evan Gill Smith (bass) and Jeff Widner (drums). They have shared stages with Black Midi, The Horrors, Marissa Nadler, We Are Scientists, Bambara, and others.Russian Baths released their debut EP, “Penance,” to Brooklyn-based label Good Eye Records.