The first time I encountered Veladraco was when they opened for Tweak’s 10 year reunion tour at The Assembly. I was exhausted after a long week at university and was probably only there because Tweak was a defining part of my childhood. I had arrived there just before Veladraco took to the stage and had plonked myself and my girlfriend on those leather couches that lined the back wall. Those couches were actually insanely comfortable and will be forever missed. As soon as Veladraco finished their first song, I said to myself: “this is my new favourite local band” and it was probably because they embodied everything that I love about pop-punk and more specifically a style of pop-punk that I lovingly call “shitty pop-punk” – a brilliant style of pop punk that abandons polished sounds in favour of authenticity, honesty and sheer rawness of emotion.
This is something that Veladraco does incredibly well with their live performances. It is a thunderous burst of catchy guitar riffs, punchy drum beats and Alaine Marthezé’s piercing nasal vocals which aren’t particularly great but they match the angst-ridden music that the band delivers. The piercing nature of Marthezé’s vocals are reigned in on Veladraco’s self-titled EP but nothing is done to disguise the fact that his singing is not on the same level as commercial pop stars. This is crucial to Veladraco’s sound as it drives home the authenticity and honesty that accompanies their music.
The EP opens with “Circles” – a punchy burst of four-chord riffs and haphazard drum-work that transitions straight into Marthezé’s nasal vocals as he delivers vocals that are soaked in angst and unrequited love. The song does a lot as to set the tone for the entire EP as it establishes it as a gutsy pop punk album in a scene that tends to favour indie rock bands, and to some extent, the band acknowledges that on the EP. There are occasionally synthetic elements that creep in under the pop-punk exterior and temper the punchy angst of the EP. They also serve to highlight some of the more subtle and softer emotions on the EP as is the case with “Forest”.
“Town”, which is currently doing the rounds on 5FM, is a nod towards a much softer sound that is more reminiscent of indie rock with the cycling between acoustic guitar chords and more driving electric guitar riffs. However, at the end of the day – it is a song rooted in the angst of adolescent pop-punk and it makes me intensely happy to see this playlisted on 5FM. It feels like one step closer to pop punk becoming a legitimate genre in South Africa.
“Cliché” follows in the same vein as “Town” with similar contrasts between a softer, less abrasive sound and the more acerbic sound of “Circles” and their live performances”. It is lyrically where “Cliché” is the most successful as being a partial nod to the stereotype of the counter-culture always being dressed in a black, but it also hammers home a subtle message regarding abandoning authenticity in favour of fitting into a particular niche. However, I could also just be reading into what is just an angsty love song.
“Nuance” is a gorgeous mess of thundering guitar riffs and licks of synthetic elements that remind me a lot of some of Hellogoodbye’s earlier material. “Ships” stands as a contrast to the abrasive nature of “Nuance” with its gentle acoustic musings and synthetic overtones. It is possibly the weakest song on the EP which isn’t saying much as the EP is an incredibly powerful burst of pop-punk that doesn’t sacrifice authenticity for easy commercial consumption. The EP closes as it started: with a burst of pop-punk energy in the form of “Animals”. The opening acoustic chords and synthetic elements should not deceive you as “Animals” is in-fact a high-octane pop-punk anthem that often has moments that could be a love-child between Blink 182 and Green Day especially on the first chorus and the bridge that quickly follows that.
Veladraco is the kind of band that is going to inspire a lot of teenagers that may be half-decent at singing to pick up a mic and hopefully start recording their own angsty and awkward takes on the pop punk genre. That makes me incredibly hopeful for the future.