Local band releases original album and talks about their future.

One year after their establishment in their current formation, indie pop-rock band Dakota released their debut EP ‘So Far So Great’ and are now set to play Casemates at the Mental Health Day concert on 12th May.

Dakota are looking at further exposure on the local and hopefully international scene, where they are gaining popularity thanks to fans downloading their albums from the four corners of the globe. They have had a series of gigs at the Rock on the Rock Club and various prestigious pubs and cafés while evaluating offers for concerts overseas, which may as well become a reality as soon as they move to the UK in pursuit of their university careers.

If the title can be regarded by old rockers as a nod to Bryan Adams, since the fearsome foursome professes to be partial to 90s music, their name is not at all inspired by starlet Dakota Johnson – although pianist, organist and self-taught bass player Jonathan ‘Scotty’ Maclean claims their music is, exactly like life, never in stark black and white, but always plenty of shades of grey. The band name is actually lifted from the homonymous only UK chart-topping hit by popular ensemble Stereophonics.

“Covers are the bread and butter of any new band, but we now want to make a reputation for ourselves with our own songs.” They have started with five distinctive tracks bound to catch your attention: ‘New Day’, ‘We’ve Got Time’, ‘Free Your Mind’, ‘Going Nowhere’ and ‘Natalie’, whose intro is the flagship of their musical maturity and innovative élan. “We covered Stereophonics a few years ago when we formed, as a school band to participate in a talent show, and even if we hardly ever cover them nowadays, the name stuck, because we feel that the song’s vibe well describes us,” the boys say.

In fact, the right ‘vibe’ is central to Dakota’s philosophy when it comes to composing and arranging their original songs, as they have so far undisputedly proven with wisdom well beyond their teenage years, especially in the track ‘Natalie’ that opens with the nihilist line “She thinks she knows everything but she is locked in a bubble.” They work under the motivational motto ‘if it sounds good, it must be good’, and they allow their gut guide them over the voice of reason, that more often than not turns out to be a buzz-kill. Against all pigeonholing, Jonathan also plugs the pitch “We are indefinable. We are Dakota.”

‘Going Nowhere’ is an accomplished piece that echoes Oasis not just in the title but also in the style of vocals. Its video, shot and edited by Kieran Kavanagh under the band’s creative direction, shows artistic ingenuity as it doubles up as tourism promotion with its warped vision of the stifling heat of a summer afternoon on the west coast, when musical instruments are powered by watermelon wedges for a new kind of ‘unplugged’ performance on the beach filmed through a harsh red filter.

Without disclosing whether Natalie is a real person in his life and whether a pseudonym is used to protect the innocent, or because it fits the melody when dismembered in dissonant syllables by his powerful and slightly gruff voice, vocalist and lyricist Robin Panter explains how the creative process comes upon him: “I write the chord sequence and the melody, then the lyrics fall into place, just like a poem, rather than elaborating on a specific topic, so that they can be open to interpretation: my songs don’t tell a story, but set a mood, a vibe.” Sometimes there is no specific message in the words because the lyrics are jigsaw puzzle pieces that click together and create an atmosphere, so that if the lyrics were to be changed, the sound may remain the same in terms of melody, but the emotion would be compromised: “We don’t want to be too easy listening. We want our work to be known for its contrasts and intensity.”

The other band members have their active input in arrangements, and claim that band practice time is always a serious commitment, as well as great fun. “Our songs portray a positive message and our music is jolly,” Jonathan adds, “but there is room for emotional ambiguity, with transitions and comparisons between riffs, as you can hear in ‘Natalie’, our most emotive and complex track.”

Influenced by The Killers, Coldplay and Oasis, and looking back, hopefully not in anger, at other 90s and early 00s hits, Dakota are trying to build up a sound original repertoire, featuring a distinctive sound aiming to become their trademark, despite jokingly musing on their hashtag #bestbandintheworld and promoting themselves as the ‘next Oasis’. “It’s not just because music was better back then, before we were born,” Jonathan continues, “but it is mostly because music always refers to the past, reinventing ad re-elaborating it to adapt it to the decade the musician is living in: for example, rock‘n’roll originates in the 40s-50s and then blooms in several rock genres in the 80s, and before that it was the blues, and even before we could trace our influences even to Beethoven and Mozart… yet the secret is being able to keep up with the times without giving in to easy commercialism, as it sadly happens too often in the music industry nowadays.”

Dakota’s core resides in Robin and his childhood friend, the band’s drummer and future sports coach Paul Dewfall, who weathered together the storm of a number of line-up changes until they settled in the current one and landed a rehearsing room at Rock on the Rock. They praise the club as virtually the only place in Gibraltar dedicated to showcase original independent music to the undivided attention of an audience longing to hear what the band has to say, sing or scream, and not just to have some background noise to their revelling and boozing. “We are immensely grateful to Rock on the Rock for making available a rehearsing room, but we were saddened to learn that many kids our age hadn’t heard of the club prior to us inviting them to our gig!”

“Music in Gibraltar is an interesting business,” the band says, “but with limited options. Thankfully, the advantages of the digital age are that we broadcast and promote our music worldwide. Our creativity is important to us and our recordings will hopefully be our legacy.”

Lead guitarist Robbie Ballantine describes himself as the one providing the riffs and the solos to brighten up the song, as well as an A-level student and part-time pizza delivery guy – the fitting ‘humble beginnings’ for a future rock star: “I started playing the guitar at the age of eight and got on seriously when I was fourteen, so now I am studying for music A level amongst other subjects. I met these guys (gestures at smirking fellow members) in school when they auditioned me for the band and I am in for the fun of it first and foremost, well understanding that this is more than a hobby, a true commitment in terms of time and dedication if we want to make it work. I am also training for a sailing competition next year, so time management is the essence. We surely have little or no time to waste on social media, except for marketing ourselves.”

“Social media is a great tool,” Jonathan echoes for the benefit of all concerned parental units reading this, “but they are designed to be addictive and we are wary of their dangers. Yes, our days are packed with activities, because we maintain that lack of purpose leads to mental health issues for teenagers.”

Music is a lifestyle for them, not just a hobby, and they are confident that the band will never disband indefinitely, no matter how far apart their academic careers will drive them: there always be time for a band reunion during the holidays and time for on-line rehearsing and composing. “Hiatuses are actually a positive thing for any committed band because playing someplace else with other bands can enrich and round up your style and outlook on performing, so that you are able to bring back new ideas to your old band.” A new input to the ‘sonic palette’, they label it.

But the secret to any band’s resilience is, in their opinion, friendship: a personal bond between all members and the excitement of jamming together is the true glue of any successful ensemble, regarded not just as any business venture, but as a real family – a four-way bromance.

Visit dakotagibofficial.wixsite.com, @dakotagib_official on Instagram, or like their Facebook page for information on the band, their gigs and to listen to their songs.