Sad Night Dynamite: freaky alt-pop beats to dominate festival season
Each week in Next Noise, we go deep on the rising talent ready to become your new favourite artist. The Glastonbury duo hit up arenas with Glass Animals earlier this year and now, with a banging new mixtape in tow, they look set to become one of the festival season’s breakout live prospects. Words: Max Pilley
As Archie Blagden and Josh Greacen waited to step out onto the stage at Chicago’s Credit Union 1 Arena last month, they could have been forgiven for allowing themselves a moment to savour it. Having landed a support slot with Glass Animals on their recent US tour, 8,000 people were waiting for them on the other side of the curtain; as of only two weeks earlier, this pair of producers and songwriters from Glastonbury, Somerset had only ever played three gigs together.
Sad Night Dynamite had only formed in the first place so that they could perform live. Blagden and Greacen were looking for an excuse to translate their fledgling studio careers into a live environment, and in late 2019, the duo solidified the project and set about recording the tracks that would make up their debut self-titled mixtape, released in early 2021. By then, of course, playing live had become impossible.
What happened instead was that Sad Night Dynamite’s elegant blend of slick, nocturnal hip-hop-flavoured instrumentals and hooky, sweet vocal melodies began to garner rapid momentum online, quickly earning them fans such as FKA twigs and Gorillaz. Glass Animals were another that fell for their music in short order, asking the duo to join them as their support band for a major, month-long tour of the US in early 2022. Earlier this year, they played a sold-out show at London’s Village Underground, a key rung on the live performance ladder for emerging bands. But still, as far as ways to dive back into live performances go, an arena show is very much at the deep end.
“It was amazing,” Blagden tells NME, having recently completed the tour. “We just jumped face first into the whole lifestyle. We loved it, it was really tiring, but it’s so rewarding. Taking time to learn your presence on stage, it was fun to test that out with the Glass Animals crowds.”
The experience will no doubt leave a lasting impact on them, the scale of the support shows giving them suitable preparation for the summer of festivals that now lies ahead of them. With dates lined up including Primavera Sound in Barcelona, the Netherlands’ Lowlands and Jodrell Bank’s Bluedot, and more still to be announced, tracks like the twitchy ‘Tramp’ or the pounding prowl of ‘Krunk’ are guaranteed to be crowd-pleasers at whichever point of the night that they land.
“Festivals are just different,” says Greacen. “People are so loose. The English, we love it, don’t we? People getting drunk at 9am, that’s what we’re looking forward to, we suit the crowds when they’re a little bit more, sort of, you know…”
“Fucked,” interjects Blagden, and they both laugh.
Hailing from Glastonbury, festivals have formed a significant part of their musical consciousness from day one. “We went to Glastonbury a lot of times and grew up on that,” says Greacen. “My goal has always been to play the Pyramid Stage because I grew up next to it. Then I was like, ‘That’s so cringey’. But you have to think like that. Even if it doesn’t happen, it’s something to aim towards.” They’ve since been confirmed to play this year’s edition, noting that they’re clashing with Paul McCartney, and “we are worried he’s gonna have an empty field”. The game is on.
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Earlier this month, the duo released their second mixtape, ‘Volume II’, and they see its predecessor and this as being two halves of a whole project and their first complete statement as Sad Night Dynamite. Themes recur throughout them both, such as the melody line from ‘Icy Violence’ that re-emerges on ‘Tramp’; this cohesive, motif-led way of structuring their career is partly borrowed from Greacen’s love of Pink Floyd. “I would love to bring back themes from all of the music that we’ve done so far and keep re-using it and pulling it back out of the hat in different ways going forward,” he says. “That’s in our DNA now, hopefully.”
‘Volume II’ emerged during the period of forced isolation that made the duo reassess what Sad Night Dynamite was going to be, if not a live entity. “We were living in this space of purgatory,” says Greacen. “We weren’t alive and we weren’t dead [as a band]. It was this really weird in-between time and the music reflected that.”
Opening track ‘Look Alive’ evokes that sense of existential uncertainty the most clearly: “On my back, flatlined, half alive/Doctor keep my brain on ice/Look alive”, they confess on the track. They agree that it just so happened that the themes on the mixtape matched the everyday realities that the world was facing at the time, but it is no surprise that having to put their performing career on ice just at the moment that it was primed to take off should have resulted in such a mindset.
For the same reason, they expect that the themes that will dominate their next release will be very different. “Having played live and seeing how people react to these songs, there’s a clear blueprint for what works,” says Greacen. “That can’t help but influence your music. Naturally, things are already changing.”
From the first date of the Glass Animals support tour, the duo were looking to convert the enthusiasm and emotional high of performing into new music, the two huddling around a laptop in their cramped minibus as they drove from town to town. They rediscovered their love of the basics of creativity; as Blagden puts it, music became their hobby again.
With the new energy has also come a new dedication to hit even greater heights. “Before we released the first mixtape, we thought we were the shit,” says Greacen. “Now we’ve released two of them and it’s like, OK, there are artists that are nailing way better than us. And we need that, that’s what we want. If we still thought we were the shit, then what would we do?”
They point to Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead as artists with the kind of continual artistic growth to which they aspire, a sense of never being satisfied with the status quo. “There’s that feeling of needing to get somewhere,” Greacen continues, “you should be searching for that, rather than trying to be comfortable.”
‘Volume II’ contains guest features from Maryland rapper IDK and the South African firebrand Moonchild Sanelly, two artists that Sad Night Dynamite are yet to actually meet in person but for whom they have immense respect. While they acknowledge that such a calibre of guests brings elements into the mix that they could never replicate, they are eager not to become defined by their collaborations either, in the way that production teams sometimes can be.
“There’s just a way to do it, I think,” says Blagden. “It’s just becoming the norm to get a 16-bar feature from someone and you already know before you play the song where they’re going to come in. There are ways of doing it that aren’t so boring, I guess. I’d rather not be known for features, but be known as Sad Night Dynamite, standalone, but with some features.”
With ‘Volume II’ having been warmly received by fans and with the world now fully open to them, Sad Night Dynamite are primed to attack their first summer of shows with full force, and to move their creativity into a new space once again.
“’Volume II’ was very much us in our element,” says Greacen, looking back, “but when the first mixtape came out and no-one had heard of us, people were shocked by songs like ‘Krunk’. I think that’s where we’re heading now. We want to keep people guessing.”
Sad Night Dynamite’s ‘Volume II’ is out now