The Dark Jokes are a hugely talented band. Young, cool and relevant, the band are one of the most exciting unsigned band in Edinburgh at the moment. I first saw them after watching a video my friend had shot of them playing live. The video showed the band’s lead singer, Aaron Dennington, performing an acoustic version of his song In A Gregorian Garden – watch the same video below. I was blown away by Aaron’s performance and I knew I had to see the band play live. I contacted Aaron to ask when their next gig was and he responded by inviting me to go to the band’s studio (a space they rent in an industrial estate in Granton) to watch them play a gig a few weeks later.
I was excited about the gig so when it came around I asked a few friends to come along. None of them had heard of The Dark Jokes before and none of them shared my excitement. In fact, they were pretty skeptical about the prospect of seeing a local unknown band. When I told them the band’s name they sneered and on learning that the gig was at a studio on an industrial estate they remained unconvinced. More than that, when I told them the studio was in Granton they became quite disparaging – apparently Granton is a less appealing part of the city.
On reflection, I shouldn’t have been surprised by their attitude. Our consumer culture, from which I am not immune, encourages us to believe that spending money on branded products is the only way to guarantee quality and enjoyment. My friends had no ‘brand recognition’ to go on so the band’s name seemed strange (consider Dizzee Rascal or Smashing Pumpkins). The lack of a ‘recognised’ venue also suggested that the band were no good. You pay to see good bands and if you don’t pay the band cannot be very good.
In my experience, art is an area where you can definitely experience fantastic performances for free or very little and often in the most surprising places. Ofcourse, there are great and not so great well known bands and there are great and not so great less well known bands (what equates to ‘great’ is obviously subjective). What is important, however, is to be open to both and not to discount something on the basis of commercial status. To do so risks missing out on some of the joys that local music can deliver. One such joy is the ‘surprise factor’ that finding a great local band can bring. This can be a pleasure in itself and very satisfying.
It was against this backdrop that I was so excited to see The Dark Jokes. I was looking forward to the ‘surprise factor’ of their live show, seeing their studio and the crowd who would be going along. Having said that, I was a bit nervous on the way to the gig because I was slightly concerned my friends wouldn’t enjoy themselves.
When we arrived we were met by Paul Dennington, the band’s drummer. Paul showed us around the studio. First, into the live music room, this was a large room full of people watching a support band. Then into a smaller room where we got some beers before Paul took us to another large room where some silent films were being shown via a projector. There was also a pianist accompanying the silent films. I later found out the pianist was Matthew Thornton, the keyboard player and cellist from band.
The studio was cool. The band had transformed a space on an industrial estate into a place of art and music through some hard work and creativity. I was impressed. My friends were equally impressed. We enjoyed some beers, the silent films and the support bands before the main act began.
The Dark Jokes came on stage at around 1am (having your own venue means the music can last all night). From the first note of the first song we felt the full sonic force of drums, bass, keyboard, guitar, cello, saxophones and trumpet. Aaron’s voice bristled as he sang, in his Scottish accent, Chinese Asylum, Jean Charles de Menezes, Yellow Menace, Low Winter Sun and In a Gregorian Garden, only stopping to swig at a warm flask of whisky between songs.
The depth and variety of the sound was a refreshing departure from the conventional indie sound of guitar, bass and drums. The quality of Aaron’s lyrics can neither be ignored. Never clichéd or worn, they mix the poetic with the political and convey stories of his experiences of Edinburgh.
There were many moments to savour from the show. The high energy performance of Yellow Menace, during which the band’s trumpet player came off stage to play facing back at the band from the middle of the crowd was particularly memorable. My favourite moment was the performance of Low Winter Sun, a warm and uplifting song which, although mentioning the bleak and cold Edinburgh winter, reminds me of its beauty. It’s a message of hope: even in dark times the faintest light shines through. Take some time out and enjoy the music of The Dark Jokes. You won’t be disappointed.
by David Paterson
Visit the The Dark Jokes at their Myspace page to listen to their music and find gig information.
Thanks to Julien Pearly for providing the videos featured in this post. Visit Julien’s Vimeo page for videos of local bands and more.