Sad Night Dynamite: Strange Brew
There’s something innately otherworldly about the music born in the UK’s West Country.
Think Portishead, Massive Attack, Aphex Twin: artists whose dusky, off-kilter music is so bewitching that it makes your hairs stand on end. Music that taps into an energy that’s hard to explain. It makes sense, then, that rising duo Sad Night Dynamite create music that sits in that same world, where ley lines and crop circles collide with raves. Archie Blagden and Josh Greacen are both Somerset natives who call upon the mysticism of their environment to create a woozy blend of pop, trip-hop and dub.
“We wrote most of our first mixtape in Somerset,” Greacen enthusiastically explains. “At that point, we were just going between each other’s houses in the countryside. In general, that environment just has a unique kind of eeriness to it. But the festival is one of the main places where Somerset is manifest… the freedom and the strangeness.”
By ‘the festival’, he means Glastonbury, of course. It’s the Tuesday after the world-renowned event when we speak, and the pair have just played there for the first time. Many of their loved ones were in the crowd, climbing on top of each other’s shoulders and screaming out their support. Both Blagden and Greacen feel elated but slightly worse for wear. Greacen is tired, sitting in his car with a patchy phone signal, but still volunteers to lead the conversation after Blagden admits to us both that he’s just been sick in the toilets of the train station he’s dialling in from.
This brotherly candour is evident throughout our call (at one point Greacen’s line cuts out in the middle of him speaking, and Blagden deadpans, “He likes to ramble on, Josh does.”) The pair met at school, aged 16, and quickly started “messing around” with music, writing their first song together “for a laugh” in just ten minutes. They briefly lived together in adulthood, though it was short-lived. “Now we don’t live together, our relationship is way better,” Blagden admits through giggles. “We’re both pretty easy-going and we just have a laugh, but it’s good being able to give each other space to breathe.”
In 2016, still only teenagers then, the pair decided to release music under the name Checks and found minor viral fame on the Spotify Fresh Finds playlist with what they now describe as a “bad pop song”. (There are so many artist results under the name ‘Checks’ that it’s difficult to confirm nor deny this, and they both avoid answering when I ask for specifics.) “I remember [when we released the song] we were driving along screaming, and thinking this was it – school was over and we had just made it,” recalls Greacen with glee. “But then, over the next three years, we realised how difficult it is to follow up the success of that. And the music got worse and worse. Not that it was ever really good at that point…”
Greacen and Blagden put their heads down and recalibrated. Eventually, they landed on a direction that took itself less seriously and was much more exploratory. In 2020, they released SND001, their first EP as Sad Night Dynamite. The name, they tell me, was inspired by a line Greacen liked in a book of Alex Turner song lyrics: “There’s one where he says something like, ‘Remember when all the girls were dynamite’, or something.” When Greacen first suggested the moniker, Blagden resolutely responded, “That’s the worst band name I’ve ever heard.” They both erupt into laughter, that fraternal goading shining through again.
Luckily, Blagden’s initial concerns about the band name didn’t stand in the way of the duo’s musical chemistry. Sad Night Dynamite have since put out two intriguing mixtapes of glitchy beats and vocal harmonies that border on dissonant; psychedelic synth swirls are often met with melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place at an abandoned fairground (as on the excellent Demon featuring South African artist Moonchild Sanelly). The pair have also expanded their creative world and collaborated with the likes of rapper IDK, Kendrick Lamar co-writer DJ Dahi and even FKA twigs (“she must roll her eyes whenever she sees her name come up, because it was an amazing day, but we haven’t released anything from that session,” sighs Greacen).
This magpie-like approach is typical of a generation raised online: tribeless, genreless, playful. “There are so many genre-bending artists because music is consumed so differently these days,” says Greacen of how the internet has impacted creativity. “I think it’s gonna be a really exciting couple of decades in music.”
“There are so many genre-bending artists because music is consumed so differently these days. It’s gonna be a really exciting couple of decades in music”
Without the abundance of inspiration at their fingertips, Sad Night Dynamite probably wouldn’t have discovered a passion for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller folk songs. But down a rabbit hole of YouTube music videos they fell. You can hear its influence in the claps and choral outros of tracks like Icy Violence or the warm brass arrangement of Psychedelic Views. “We used the scales from Romani Gypsy music throughout mixtape one and two,” Greacen explains. “The instruments and scales have a very different feel – they’re not minor and not really major. It just connected with us for some reason.”
Despite the nocturnal atmosphere of their music, Sad Night Dynamite are adamant that they don’t want to be known as “the band that do dark music”. Now based in London, it seems like they might already be shedding those spooky Somerset roots and experimenting with new styles for their upcoming release. The intention is to create music that has an unspoken element that ties it all together without being restricted to any particular genre or sound. “I like the idea of people being able to hear that it’s our music without really understanding why it’s our music,” smiles Greacen.
Their latest single, What Does That Make Me?, best exemplifies this new aesthetic: it’s a bright and crunchy pop song that skews slightly cheesy, like a particularly boisterous Just Jack song. “I think it’s going to surprise people, maybe upset people,” Greacen admits, hesitant but laughing. “But that’s what we want to do. It’s gonna be a bit of a wild, snakey journey through every territory possible. And if you don’t like it… sorry?” Blagden interjects, a little more emboldened now our conversation is coming to a close. “Don’t say sorry, mate! It’s more like… if you don’t like it? Fuck off.”
What Does That Make Me? is out now via Parlophone