I receive confirmation of a press pass to the Drenge ‘Strange Creatures’ show at Electric Brixton barely two hours before Valeras are due to take to the stage. And given that it’s the PR company of Valeras that have offered me such a neat perk, I need to get a boogie on to get there in time. London’s rarely difficult to navigate though. out of rush hour, and I get into the queue at the Brixton Electric with minutes to spare.
I’m clearly not used to these gigs at larger venues; getting in is akin to navigating through airport security. In fact, I’ve been through airport checks that have been slacker than this. Initially, I’m forced to prove my age by showing my ID. Luckily, I’m carrying my driving licence. Yes, I get that they’re showing equal treatment to all but surely common sense must prevail. A man nearing 50 who looks his age is unlikely to be wearing a disguise to shield the fact he’s under-age. After that, every single one of my jacket and trouser pockets are emptied of coins and pens. My wallet is poked and prodded. The frisking is intense but in these times of heightened security I shrug and accept.
One wonders how on earth Valeras managed to get into the venue themselves. It’s the first thing you notice when this five piece from Reading take to the stage. I’m sure it’s not what they want attention drawn to yet they look exceptionally young – as if this could be a GCSE music project. (I check – they’re older than that).
Standing in a straight line of four, the guitar playing members (3 girls, one boy) of Valeras quickly and urgently launch into their opener. The drummer, Max, sits behind conducting. It’s the most classic of rock sounds. Some have their hair longer than others and throw it around in time with the driving, ballsy beat. There’s head banging a-plenty and full-on rock stance before we even get to the end of this first tune.
You can’t help but notice the lead singer and bassist, Rose Yagmur. She does most of the talking between songs; there’s not much and it’s your standard stuff of urging people to come a little closer and checking how in the mood for Drenge people are. But Rose’s vocal is strong and her bass-playing even better. When she really rocks out, my notes suggest that we could have a young Suzi Quatro. It’s no doubt lazy thinking on my part.
What stands out above everything is the unity between band members, even when cowbell and harmonies are introduced. Despite their tender years, Valeras are a band who have practiced and worked hard to sound more accomplished than many double their age. They’re definitely ones to watch.
I probably first saw Drenge when they were younger than Valeras. It was a festival up North (review here) and back then it was just the Loveless brothers, Eoin singing and Rory on drums. From memory, they played a small stage at the end of a long weekend but still from somewhere I summoned the energy to mosh, such was the compelling thrash of noise that they offered. I later reviewed them when they were a three piece for the Leicester Mercury. I’ve lost those words and the beasts at the Mercury haven’t archived them.
It seems sort of right that I now see them as a four piece. With third album just released, Strange Creatures, it’s immediately obvious from set opener, Prom Night, that their sound, songwriting and stature continues to develop. This is dark storytelling, more contained than those early days, more angular post-punk than all-out raucous energy. As a set opener, it’s dramatic, unhinged brilliance. It bookends brilliantly with the slow build and electrifying wig-out of Let’s Pretend at the end of the set.
In between, the raucous does come; the sound epic and fuller than ever. Classic Drenge tunes such as Bloodsports and Face Like A Skull mix in with the newer seamlessly.
I’m no longer moshing – I couldn’t possibly take it in that crowd tonight. At times, when it really kicks off, you almost feel some sympathy for the security guards, rigorously and desperately clinging to an out of control mob.
“By rights, these should be even bigger than they are”, mouths a chap sat (yes, I sat) next to me. And he’s absolutely right. Perhaps it’s Drenge’s gradual growth in band members, their fluent rather than sudden rise from brilliant to better, their determination to keep developing that has kept the stadiums a bit in check.
Drenge might no longer be at the start of their careers but they’re forging one of longevity. As it would appear are Valeras. Drenge end in encore with ‘We Can Do What We Want’. In times as uncertain as these it’s probably a pretty fine way to look at things.