San Fran, Wellington
Friday 20 May 2016
Drax Project (the word drax being made by combining the words drums and sax) is the latest up-and-coming band from Wellington. They formed when some students from the School of Music began busking and playing covers in town on busy nights to earn a bit of coin. After gaining some attention they started playing the pub circuit and writing their own material. In 2014 they dropped their debut EP, and armed with some new original material, started making more waves.
This rise from a busking covers act to bonafide band has culminated with them signing to Universal to release second EP, T/W/OO. They have a hybrid sound drawing from many other genres to create smooth soulful pop tunes.
This gig at San Fran was indicative of their seemingly sudden rise in fame. In some ways it was fairly professional – this was the only time I’d ever seen a curtain used to cover the stage between sets at this venue, and they had images projected on the back of stage throughout the night – but fell short telling in other ways – namely the sound levels. This is not a reflection on the band, but rather people manning the sound desk.
Volume and sound mixing is hard to get right. I am not advocating for having it excessively loud (like at the Mogwai gig last year), and I always wear special earplugs at shows. But the band needs to be loud enough to hear clearly. And I can understand that it isn’t always easy to perfect. I’ve seen Rise Against – one of my favourite bands – play four times at different venues, and their mix has been fairly bad every time.
The first set was surprisingly different. It’s not often that I’ll see a band that uses either cajon (a percussive box that the drummer sits on and slaps) or upright bass, let alone both. The four musos sat aligned at the front of stage, treating the crowd to a set of unplugged numbers. The distinctive pitter-patter of the drumsticks on the cajon, the rhythmic strumming of the two guitars, and the deep regular hum of the bass was crowned by the gorgeous vocal harmonies. It’s just a shame that I could barely hear all of these elements together at any given time, seeing as everyone in the bar was having a conversation.
The second set fared better, possibly because the electric instruments were amplified more, meaning that we could hear more elements of the band. I’ll give them this – they can play! I guess that’s what you should expect from music students, but they really were impressive. I liked that the drums had trigger pads to bring in new sounds. But the best parts were when singer Shaan Singh ripped loose on saxophone between verses. The solo material was well received, obviously familiar to the audience, despite being so new. The audience sang along to the popular songs, prompting Singh to say “wow, you guys are louder than us!” The band also played plenty of covers to extend the set time, drawing from their wealth of experience playing these covers hundreds of times together back in their busking days. Two big hits that went down especially well were reimagined versions of Ginuwine’s “Pony”, and Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River”.
They have the talent, they have the songs, they have the popularity, and they have a big label backing them. This was a sold out show, and if they get their sound mixing sorted out I expect that they’ll sell out many more to come.