How Dreamboogie are integrating blues into a contemporary context
16.10.2019

How Dreamboogie are integrating blues into a contemporary context

Words by Augustus Welby

The eighth annual Coopers Blues Music Festival comes to Federation Square on Sunday October 20. Melbourne’s Dreamboogie are one of the leading attractions on a lineup that also features the likes of Jimi Hocking’s Blues Machine and Rod Paine & the Full Time Lovers.

Dreamboogie’s latest release is the four-track Something Shocking EP. In the opening moments of its title track, vocalist Rebecca Davey sings “I saw you driving round town in your red Hyundai.”

In a recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Record podcast, Jack White elaborated on his opinion that modern references don’t make sense in the context of blues and rock’n’roll songs. Basically, White thinks because the blues idiom was so firmly influenced by the era in which it developed, only references to the technology available at the time sound organic.

Davey has a different point of view.

“I have always been of the opinion that blues started as a very punk, very political and activist kind of music,” she says. “It was obviously a period of segregation and lots of hardship, but the lyrics to those songs were always rooted in the present day.

“I think that’s how it becomes old-fashioned, if the language is not moved forward to the modern day. Especially with a genre that’s been around for over a hundred years, some people can think of it as stuck in time, whereas in Dreamboogie we like to bring that forward and keep it as the intent was. To speak about what’s happening in real life today.”

Something Shocking contains two covers and two originals. The slithering grooves of ‘Something Shocking’ and the defiant ‘I Don’t Look Back’ bookend the release. In between, the band submits versions of ‘When the Levee Breaks,’ which originated in the 1920s and has been subjected to innumerable adaptations, and Bob Dylan’s ‘The Ballad of Hollis Brown,’ a similarly popular candidate for reinterpretation, most famously by Nina Simone.

“Blues is essentially folk music and meant for a certain group of people, so it has a tradition of people singing the same songs but putting their own meaning into it and we try to carry that forward,” says Davey. “For example, ‘When the Levee Breaks’ was brought back into our set when Hurricane Maria happened and again people were dying and losing their homes on the wrong side of the levee.”

‘Hollis Brown’ was brought into the band’s live sets more recently.

“Whenever I heard that song, there was always something about [the line] ‘Hollis Brown, he lived on the outside of town.’ I always thought of people who are left outside of society. There was that big spate of all the shootings in America and the person who was responsible for it was always a loner or bullied. I always thought of those kinds of people as Hollis Brown – they lived on the outside of town; they were outside of society.”

Dreamboogie formed in 2010 when Davey joined guitarist Sam Buckley, fretless bass player Connor O’Neill and drummer Robert Dillon, who’d already been working together.

“We started with the idea of basically spending a year with all of our favourite blues songs, the things that made us interested in blues, and as we went on, we developed our sound,” says Davey.

After nearly a decade together, the members’ individual proclivities have been strengthened by the union.

“Everybody is interested in a different thing,” says Davey. “I’m very interested in 1920s and ‘30s vaudeville blues. Robert is really into that Gene Krupa style. There’s Albert King influences [from Buckley]. Connor is really into jazz bands and that sort of stuff.

“We really thought, ‘OK, we’re going to take everything that we like and try to mash it together.’ It’s come out with this really interesting and bizarre sound, because none of us really compromise. We all just went, ‘This is who I am and we’ll play how we play’.”

Dreamboogie will perform as part of Coopers Blues Music Festival at Federation Square on Sunday October 20. For more info, visit bluesmusicfestival.com.au.