As a dedicated student of rock ’n’ roll, Dirty Nil frontman Luke Bentham knows there are two basic kinds of performer—the ones in danger of taking root on-stage, and the ones that show up ready to sweat. It’s not by accident that he and his bandmates—bassist Ross Miller and drummer Kyle Fisher—have planted their flag in the latter camp.
“One of the first people who I really saw take things to an amazing level in terms of connecting with an audience was Jon Spencer from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion,” Bentham says, on the line from a tour van headed to Detroit. “When I saw them it was just this sort of Steve Albini–fuelled Elvis-like character who absolutely captivated the crowd. It was like, ‘Holy shit!’ Part of our stage presence is a bit of a reaction to certain musical scenes that we grew up in, filled with people staring at their shoes and focusing on their instruments—trying to look cool, I guess.
“As part of the first YouTube generation, part of our absorption of rock ’n’ roll was discovering it through YouTube form,” he continues. “That explains my love of bands like the Who and the MC5. I remember watching the Who at the Rock and Roll Circus, them a little bit drunk on brandy, just fucking destroying the place. Tight as hell, but a little bit loose at the same time, knocking over microphones and stuff. That was something that I personally aspired to.”
That commitment to going over the top is more than evident on Master Volume, the second full-length from the Dundas, Ontario, trio. There’s no shortage of things to love on the record, from Bentham’s wide-eyed rawk-warrior vocals to the brute-force bottom-end bombast of Miller and Fisher.
“That’s What Heaven Feels Like” is the sound of hopeless adrenaline junkies mainlining Thin Lizzy, “Please Please Me” is raging punk at its most swinging, and “Bathed in Light” serves as a reminder why the early ’90s were a golden time for pure power pop.
A couple of things stand out to make Master Volume one of the great records of the year. One of them is Bentham’s heavy-as-fuck guitar sound, which, in the hyperdistorted tradition of Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould and Black Flag’s Greg Ginn, suggests that someone spent a lot of time coming up with something truly inventive. The other is that Dirty Nil has never sounded more stadium-ready, trading the lo-fi aesthetic of past outings like Higher Power for something impossibly bold and shiny.
“From the second we began developing the material that would become Master Volume, we were very focused on creating a record that would sonically compete with things that we looked up to,” Bentham says. “We weren’t satisfied with the murky production that we’d rested our hats on previously. We pushed ourselves harder in the year leading up to Master Volume than we ever did in the 11 years we’ve been a band, practising every single day.”
The ultimate goal was to make a record that any student of rock ’n’ roll would love. Mission accomplished, with the Dirty Nil sounding more than ready for its close-up.
“The band changed a lot since we recorded Higher Power in the fall of 2014 and early 2015,” Bentham says. “We played a gazillion shows and we played on some really big stages. And we learned some subconscious lessons about what works and what is true power. Playing with the kinds of bands that we did on that touring cycle—Billy Talent, the Who, Against Me!, and many more—taught us some lessons while we watched from the side of the stage. They weren’t really spoken things, but they ended up being firmly written into our brains.”
The Dirty Nil plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (November 3).