The first time I heard the Drax Project was on the radio driving home from work one evening. It was one of those rare moments when an unfamiliar song is played and you wait for the presenter to tell you who the band was so that you can track this song and others. Let me tell you, if you haven’t yet discovered this band – DO SO.
The name, Drax Project, is a portmanteau of drums and sax – which harks back to their origins as a busking duo along the street of our capital, and has lead them to local success, through to their largest audience at Mt Smart Stadium supporting Ed Sheeran when he graced our shores a couple months ago. I was lucky enough to see them then – but even luckier to see them last night (Saturday 12 May) at their sold out performance at the Powerstation too.
Their line-up is across the stage – not one more in front than the other, no one person more musically gifted than the other (they all are, by the way), no one sound more important than the other – and this is true for the drum kit too. Watching Matt Beachen play is a work of art in itself; no “how many drummers does it take?…” jokes here. Polyphonic rhythms support and accentuate the harmonic structures that create the integral being of each song as Beachen effortlessly transitions between feels and fills – and that’s just for one song.
With their roots honed by their music school training in Wellington via the Jazz School – Sam Thomson, 24 (bass), Shaan Singh, 24 (singer/saxophonist), Matt Beachen, 23 (drummer) – and Ben O’Leary, 23 (guitar) Whitireia Music, their wealth of knowledge and harmonic mastery for what has been essentially branded across our radio stations as a pop band, is transcendentally a melting pot of pop, R ‘n’ B, Jazz, Jungle, and Soul – and probably a few other genres too – which is why there was such a mix of people there last night. Admittedly, I did feel like the majority of the audiences mum, but as I’ve already said, this is a rare band that can really capture the true attention across a multitude of generations.
Catchy riffs, epic ostinato patterns, unison riffs displaced through syncopation; this is their trademark, and the audience loved it. Songs either started with a pattern that would lay the foundations of the song, or start with a simple chord or arpeggio that was lifted by atmospheric reverb, or put through effects that intensified the experience. Some of the moments caught me off-guard and reminded me of the essence of John Martyn’s LP Solid Air, or Joni Mitchells Hejira, and it’s this skill of the Drax Project where they can take a song such as Latch’s Disclosure and make you sing along because you know the words – but you can only remember Drax P singing it.
These boys were high energy, and the audience responded both in the amount of moving to the music, hands in the air, singing along when Shaan Singh asked us to. When a band is this hot – and you’re lucky enough to be at the gig – you do what he tells you to. “That’s what I prefer”, and yes, it is. Loud participation for the chorus of Woke Up Late, which is not surprising, as it’s reached more than 5.6 million streams on Spotify, to which Singh responded with “That was great and I thought they were loud last night…”.
Ginuwine’s Pony, and Justn Timberlake’s Cry Me River are given the Drax treatment at either end of their set, and, much to the crowds delight, the tenor sax becomes an integral part of the line-up with its own undulations and climatic-rhythmic momentum. It is at this point that I ponder the fact that there are under 18s present, however, this is fleeting in comparison with what’s on Music TV nowadays and, recognising that the throb of this golden member is taking the audience on a journey through the Projects melodic & harmonic tension – and ultimate satisfying resolution.
We had ridden on the crest of the powerful melodic minor sax riffs, bathed in the wash of the likes of m7(b5), maj9, (b13) chords, and been driven and energised by the thunderous bass and drum beats intermingled with dance flavours of Shalimar, slap bass like Mark King, but with the finesse of Pat Metheny. This is a band that likes to juxtapose its harmonies, and for me, this extra foray into the unknown is what sets the Drax project apart from its peers. They have found the space in our music scene, combined live instruments (the tenor saxophone if now en vogue once more) with electronica and are now at the perfect launching spot to take the northern hemisphere by storm.
When this happens, be sure to tell your mates that you were there last night at The Powerstation, and saw what is surely the hottest band out of Wellington in a decade – I know I will be.
Thanks to Andrea Rabin for this guest review.