Written by Alex Lopez
Alex Lopez experiences “an epiphany from the shadows” of a Dragged Into Sunlight show he saw a few weeks ago. The notorious UK extreme metal band's crushing live performance helped him understand how “art, in all its forms,” should be meant to please its creators above anyone else.
I recently started making art again. If you picked up or read a copy of Trial and Error’s last zine, you saw some of it as background art on the second page. Despite the fact that my work now adorns the pages of this fine publication, I am not a long-time artist. I first started drawing and painting only three years ago. When I moved back home to the San Francisco Bay Area from Tucson, I found myself stuck in the middle of the traditional post-college year of unemployment. As it turns out, you can only do so much job hunting in one day, so I decided to take advantage of my copious amount of free time by taking an introductory art class at my local community college. It was something that I had always wanted to learn how to do, so I decided that would be a good time to learn some basics. To this day, that class is still the only professional training I’ve had as an artist. I use the basic concepts that I learned in that class all the time, but the rest is, fittingly, a practice in trial and error and discovering what works and what doesn’t. Overall, it’s a hobby I’m glad to pursue. In addition, while I never envisioned myself publishing my work, I’m happy to share it as another way to contribute to this publication.
I consider myself a practical minimalist when it comes to making my art. All of my work is completed with watercolor pencils for two reasons. First, I am a notoriously impatient person. One of the biggest reasons why I stopped painting shortly after my community college class finished up in the first place was because it felt like such a pain in the ass to set aside some time in my day to actually paint, then set up my equipment, and finally clean my brushes and save my excess paints after I was finished. Inspiration can strike at any moment. I do not want to have to deal with too much equipment only to lose my inspiration as soon as my work space is ready, and, conversely, I don’t want to take that much time to set up my equipment on days when I’m not really feeling a creative spark. The second reason I use watercolor pencils is because, since I don’t like setting aside time in my day to make art, I usually end up doing so on either my lunch break or on my BART train commuting to and from work. Watercolor pencils are a portable and convenient way to lay down some color when you do most of your work on the go, and you can go over your work with a brush and some water to create the effect of an actual painting.
Maybe it’s my roots in the punk and hardcore scenes that made me develop this minimalist mentality, but since rediscovering my artistic talents, I’ve come to realize how important it is to create your art for no one other than yourself. If you’re not going to enjoy doing it, then it will end up killing your desire to create. It’s an old adage that many artists – regardless of medium – live by, but I never truly understood it until the day I picked up those pencils, bought an artist’s notebook, and started drawing and illustrating.
I suppose it’s only fitting that a few months after I started putting pencil to paper, I decided to catch England’s notorious extreme metal freaks Dragged Into Sunlight at The Golden Bull – a dive bar in downtown Oakland that has becoming one of my go-to watering holes on Fridays after work thanks to their cheap drinks and solid selection of punk and metal blaring over their speakers. To be perfectly honest, I was not familiar with Dragged Into Sunlight’s music prior to the show. In fact, the band that caught my eye the most on this lineup was Cult Leader – a hardcore band from Salt Lake City whose debut album, Lightless Walk, turned out to be one of my favorite releases of 2015. Still, I heard from more than a few people that Dragged Into Sunlight’s live show was something that should not be missed, and the Trial and Error piece previously written about them by Andrej Simeunovic convinced me that these guys were something special. So I decided to stick around after Cult Leader and see what all the fuss was about.
Five minutes before Dragged Into Sunlight were supposed to go on, one of the roadies brought out a large candelabra, set it down at the front of the stage, and lit the candles. My interest was piqued. Being front and center, the placement of the candelabra felt like a barrier between the band and the audience. It almost had the feeling of an ornate fence in front of an old, haunted mansion. I had never seen a stage setup quite like this, or at least not in a venue so small. At this point, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Soon afterwards, the lights dimmed and Dragged Into Sunlight took the stage.
As if the candelabra wasn’t enough, the band gathered towards the back of the stage and largely played with their backs to the audience. An omnipresent strobe light behind the drummer gave the illusion of stop motion while further plunging the band into a sense of anonymity. This tiny dive bar transformed into a cavernous abyss. The music was loud, intense, bleak, unsettling, and unwelcoming. As our hosts in this void, Dragged Into Sunlight were sending a clear message throughout their performance: “This is our world. You should count yourself lucky that we’re gracious enough to give you a glimpse of it. We refuse to make you feel comfortable while you’re here.”
Dragged Into Sunlight’s performance convinced me to shell out a few more bucks that night and buy their album Widowmaker on vinyl at the merch table. I threw it on my turntable the next day. Widowmaker started out on an unorthodox foot – even by their standards. The first side features a 15-minute song simply known as “Part I,” which is an eerie, ambient piece driven by acoustic guitars, bleak piano, and a hair-raising violin. As I listened, I kept waiting for the distorted guitars, blast beat drums, and tortured screams to kick in. I was expecting to be plunged once again into the unforgiving, desolate metal soundscapes that I had just experienced the night before. That moment never came throughout the duration of the song. I thought I had fallen for a “bait-and-switch” and bought their one ambient album in their catalog; however, the side of Dragged Into Sunlight that I was introduced to reared its head on Side B, and I once again felt transported back to the gravitational pull of the strobe-lit abyss that was their live show. Ambient, acoustic-driven tracks are nothing new to the extreme metal world. In this context, however, it felt like Dragged Into Sunlight were driving their point home even further. “Part I” felt like they were sending me a follow-up message to what they had told me the night before: “We told you so.”
I have been to countless great live shows over the years, but only a handful stick out in my mind that made me feel like I walked away from the venue feeling mentally refreshed and inspired. Dragged Into Sunlight joined that club. I felt like I walked away from The Golden Bull that night just a tiny bit different compared to when I walked in. The nature of both Dragged Into Sunlight’s live show and their album structures on Widowmaker told me a message that I interpreted loud and clear: art, in all its forms, is the creation of new worlds. You are the ruler of these worlds, so make them for an audience of one and please yourself above all others. Everyone else who experiences your art is just a tourist. I like to think that what I took away from this show helped me grow as an artist and, eventually, become published. It’s an important lesson to learn in creativity, and I feel more sure of myself and what I want to accomplish as an artist because of it.