The first time I came across DROHNE, the live electronic partnership of Luke McCulloch and Richie Craddock, was as they supported Factory Floor at The Kazimier last December. Vocalist McCulloch growled over a frenetic, warped collection of sounds that almost resembled a beat, whilst the jarringly silent crowd fidgeted awkwardly in some kind of confused trance as they tried to get their heads around what the fuck was happening in front of them. Like myself though, every pair of eyes was fixed firmly on the two shy, sketchy-looking lads nodding their hood-enclosed heads assertively on the stage; the audience were at one in our intrigued, fascinated and mesmerised bewilderment. “Yeah, that’s exactly right,” Luke laughs, recalling the gig warmly. “People do seem to know us as that band with their heads down and hoods up.”
Drohne have nearly a year’s worth of demos available on their SoundCloud page and, even though Luke is keen to remind me that these are old songs and not necessarily a strict reflection of the band in front of me now, they do still act as interesting signposts for how the duo have progressed and what form their music might take in the future. T.M.R (The Mother Road), which gave them their first taste of radio airplay with the help of an excellent Harvey Brown remix, uses cloudy and saturated textures to enclose and swallow the faint residue of a melody. Suppression, equally as restless and deliberately uncoordinated, simmers contently as parts slip in and out of line with each other with controlled abandon. Throughout these songs, McCulloch’s vocals are so impossibly singular that they sound profoundly alone, drenched in despair as if they are the last cry from a man who has resigned himself to madness. It’s a powerful and moving display of humanity from a genre where technology so often dominates. “I don’t just see myself as the guy who sings in the band though,” Luke quickly reminds me, keen to move away from the idea of his voice as a structural centrepiece. “With our new songs, I like the idea of my vocals being more murmured and ambient, almost blending into the soundscape rather than jumping out at you as they have done in the past.” The effects of this can be seen already, in the grooving, more immediate track Soul-Jo. It is certainly the closest Drohne have come to being danceable, with a rolling beat and twinkling synth work creating this sepia-tinged, almost tranquil atmosphere. Everything is so gorgeously calm and lo-fi that you’ll hardly even notice the brittle vocals of McCulloch nudging the song gorgeously towards a conclusion in the closing moments. The musicality of Soul-Jo in the midst of all the dissonance and tension that underpins their body of work is almost jarring, and highlights their ability to expose the contrasts between the digital abrasion of their production and the natural warmth provided by tone and melody, with disarming consequences.
With limited recorded material available, Drohne have gathered most of their support based on a handful of live shows around the city. Support slots alongside East India Youth, Slow Magic and the aforementioned Factory Floor have enabled them to present themselves as a live electronic act, rather than just a production duo. And, whilst workstation software is obviously important, they are keen to remind me that, first and foremost, they are a band. “We don’t really consider ourselves as producers,” Richie explains cautiously. “We get bored of it quite easily, as it’s just there on a screen. Making the music has to be a more visceral experience for us, I think. The way we write a song is that we’ll have an idea and just jam with it for a while, lay it down, build on it, tweak it, add and change some vocals or guitar, until it just emerges into this sort of brainchild.” It’s telling that the pair don’t consider themselves producers; that isn’t to say that any note that isn’t strummed, plucked, bowed or blown is a purer form of expression than, say, one produced from a box of wires. Richie’s idea that songwriting needs to be visceral – that they need to feel each tone and melody before they subject it to digital manipulation – is essential to Drohne’s musical backbone in the sense that it provides them with anchorage to the strange, unpredictable results that emerge at the end of their creative process.
However, despite a healthy collection of demos and live performances, we’ve still yet to see an official release from Drohne. Their future is far from uncertain though, with an EP due out imminently. The concept of using their live shows to shape the recordings has allowed them to develop the EP around how they want it to be experienced, as well as how they want it to sound. “We’re planning on going to Amsterdam for a bit,” Luke says confidently as he explains their plans for the next twelve months. “There is a place we’ve got our eye on right in the centre of the city. It’s a huge brickwork building, and you can pay to rent out one of the floors for a month. It’s unbelievably big, like one hundred square metres of open space. We would just set up all our equipment over there and write an EP. It would be a different vibe completely living over in Europe, which would have an interesting effect on our music and the way we sound.” Whilst it may sound ambitious, that notion of locking yourself away in isolation as a means of creative stimulation has shaped some of the best albums of our time. And you get the feeling that, given the emotion and care they clearly invest in being Drohne, this kind of departure from reality will allow Luke and Richie to harness it into a singular piece of work that they feel can adequately represent them.
The pair aren’t afraid to dodge convention either, happy to arrive not fully formed, but in a state of constant development. And I don’t just mean in the literal sense (they have shaken off two former members over the last year), but musically as well. Their brief collection of songs, like their live shows, sound strikingly incomplete, as if they are a collection of ideas rattling around like loose change at the bottom of a bag. They wilfully resist cadences and conclusions, pushing their music into gentle spins that slow down, speed up, slow down again, but never quite stop. In an age of constant output and reproduction, Drohne are embracing the negative space between expectation and reality to ensure that their relationship with their audience, and with their own music, remains in an ongoing and enthralling state of flux.