Decibel Festival Presents: Decadance featuring Dragonette with Icona Pop + The Knocks (MOVED TO SHOWBOX AT THE MARKET)
Friday September 28th, 2012
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It started with a… well, not a kiss, exactly.
“We met at a festival,” she tells me. “I was the only chick on the bill, and I was singing what we affectionately call ‘tampon music’… You know, singer-songwriter, Ani Di Franco, Lilith Fair, Jewel-type music… tamponics! I didn’t wanna be strumming my fucking guitar for ever. I was so bored of that scene.”
“I was in an improvisational, experimental, drum & bass and breakbeat trio”, he tells me. “We were from pretty disparate musical areas, the two opposite ends of this Nickelback moment that was happening on the eastern coast of Canada…”
She: “…and then we screwed.”
He: “And then I left my girlfriend.”
The fruit of this encounter between Dan and Martina was Dragonette, a duo, but also not a duo (we must at this point mention drummer Joel Stouffer and guitarist Will Stapleton) who make sharp, sardonically witty electronic pop music.
“At first,” they confess, “it was a joke in our basement. Like a real pastiche, fully exploring a stereotype, and coming up with beyond-reasonable 80s guitar songs and synthpop songs. We weren’t referencing today’s pop music at all. We would go and listen to The Cars, and make a song that sounded like a bubblegum pop girl singing over a Pat Benatar record.”
At some point, however, they became more serious about being in a band. From the very start, the concept was, in stark contrast to the rest of the Canadian scene during that ‘Nickelback moment‘, unashamedly and unapologetically POP. Dan explains, “I’d like to write songs that at least I can remember. I’m very bad at remembering melodies and the lyrics, so it needs to be memorable!”
The results are dirty, hook-heavy, electropop monsters like “I Get Around” and “Competition”, depicting a world of guilt-free promiscuity and sexual predators on the prowl. Martina’s isn’t interested in writing, she says, “songs to get depressed to.” As Dan puts it, “It’s hard enough working on songs that are *fun*. I can’t even imagine what it‘s like working on miserable material…”
Dragonette are not, it’s fair to say, a band who’ve come up the hard way on the toilet gig circuit. Quite the opposite: through a few strokes of fortune, their first public appearances were baptisms of fire in the deep end of mega-concerts. Their second-ever show was supporting New Order at NYC’s Hammerstein Ballroom, followed by a US tour supporting Duran Duran.
“Once or twice in my life,” says Dan, “I’ve had a crowd of 15,000 people in the palm of my hand, reaching a critical mass where they’re all cheering for you’, and that’s what happened at the Duran shows.” Not everyone, however, was impressed. “The next day, we saw someone’s blog: ‘I went to see Duran Duran in Dayton, Ohio, and this fucking terrible band from Canada opened… It was fronted by a slut wearing panties, and she was singing songs about Jesus and sex‘. And all these other people chimed in, saying ‘I know. I took my son!’ Which is hilarious, because Duran Duran are the bad boys of the 80s. They’ve done everything you can think of, with four more ounces of class A narcotics on top…”
However affronted some of the religious mid-westerners may have felt, Dragonette caught the eye of the people who really mattered. “Martina saw all the people on the bleachers, and shouted ‘Who do I have to fuck, to get all of you up there down here and dancing?’ That’s what got us our record deal.”
By putting a great deal of thought into their visual presentation, Dragonette contravened with the any-colour-so-long-as-it‘s-black cliché of alternative rock. “It’s so easy to wear the skinny jeans halfway down your ass, and disappear into your fanbase. The real challenge is to look the way we do onstage, and be that person offstage as well. That’s kinda fun. It’s also terrifying. But we wanna give a great show, and that’s part of it.”
Dragonette eventually signed with Mercury, and, like fellow Canadians Peaches (who they know) and Gonzales (with whom Dan went to school), headed for Europe. “When we were writing these songs,” Dan explains, “we had this idea in our minds that it was more relevant for this part of the world. One thing’s for certain: it’s not the kind of band to launch in Canada. You couldn’t bounce high enough on the trampoline to see over the trees.”
So, the duo decamped to London with drummer Joel, where they’ve been honing their small but perfectly-formed, all-killer-no-filler repertoire. Ruthless perfectionists, they proudly boast that “We don’t have any spare songs. We write songs till they’re finished, then we kill off other ones. It’s not like we picked 10 out of a possible 20 for the album. There’ll be no scraps.”
In the meantime, Martina has accidentally become a pop star. When she wrote and sang lead vocals on a new Basement Jaxx track, “Take Me Back To Your House”, she had no idea that it was to be their next single. But that’s her, all over your screens in the Dougal Wilson-directed video, cossack-dancing in front of a tank driven by Stalin.
Next, it’s Dragonette’s turn to become pop stars in their own right. If that’s the correct description… “I don’t see us as a pop band,” says Dan, “so much as an electronic-rock band who write pop songs.”
Oh, the name? Nothing to do with puns on retro cop shows. “Martina called her iPod that,” says Dan. “I saw it plugged in on her computer, and I thought ‘Wow, that word looks fucking cool.’ Then we post-rationalised it and said it was about this female-fronted male power band. It’s a fire-breathing dragon, but it’s a chick!”
Martina beams. “A dragon in stilettos.”
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