The dark side of dub 

Giraffe Aftermath opens for Redeye Empire at the GLC today

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The band life ain't an easy one. Successful or no, the romance is never what it seems — especially for the up and comers. Take a look at Vancouver reggae outfit Giraffe Aftermath, working their day jobs to scrape by enough rent so they can pursue their music full time.

It ain't easy, man, when you're piling five guys in the back of an old van for a show in some faraway city. It sounds fun, sure, but when you're broke and hungry and now squished three people abreast, it can lose its charm.

And so, as one can easily imagine, much of GA's latest album, Sleepless Nights, deals with the trials and tribulations of being a financially strapped group of 20-somethings in the 21st century.

"A lot of the songs are about not letting the man get you down," laughs GA saxophone player Ian Weiss. "That's it basically. We write about what we know and a lot of the time it's just a fight with the man.

"The man," of course, encompasses the varied antagonists conspiring to keep regular folk under their numerous, meaty thumbs: the taxman, for instance, or the government. There's also the amorphous real estate industry for keeping housing prices so high, and, as always, the Great Cosmic Question Mark for never quite providing harmony in our day-to-day lives.

And GA's music, like all reggae music, is fundamentally about finding harmony in the face of all that's complex and irritating in the world. GA is a 21st century update of reggae music but where Bob Marley was seeking global unity, GA is struggling to find peace of mind.

"Whenever you say reggae they just think of Bob Marley or the few guys that people actually know. But I think our music, it's... kind of darker than most reggae too," Weiss says.

Childhood friends Luke de Villiers and Steve Hackenbruch formed the group in 2006. It has seen consistent lineup changes over the years, at times swelling to eight members, with the two founders remaining as the core of the group throughout. Weiss says the group's current five-piece incarnation is the most stable it's been to date. And the music is as solid as it's ever been.

"The music really is happening right now. I think it's probably, in my opinion, it's the best it has ever sounded," he says.

Since releasing Sleepless Nights last summer, they've kept busy playing shows in and around the Lower Mainland. But, as we say, it ain't always easy, especially when you're a reggae band in Vancouver.

"The reggae scene is definitely pretty small (in Vancouver). There's definitely not many bands doing what we're doing," Weiss says. "The thing about reggae is people want to go to the beach and listen to reggae. They don't want to stand in the rain and listen to it. So in the winter I think it's not as much of a big deal."

They've been playing as part of the Sublime Tribute, a series of shows around B.C. organized by the Victoria BC Ska Society where several bands do their own take on classic Sublime material. GA released their version of the love-gone-terribly-wrong classic "Doin' Time" through SoundCloud.

It's a fitting project for GA, who shares an almost spiritual bond with Bradley Nowell and Co. But where Sublime spread sunshine overtop of the oft-dismal subject matter, GA take a decidedly darker turn, dwelling in reverb-heavy dub, bluesy guitar solos and spacey electronica jams that at times flirt with psychedelia. The lyrics are in synch with the music and, we can tell you, it's not all sunshine.

But that's the state of the world these days. These are hard times. Everyone's broke. People drink too much. It's a confusing world out there — Bob Marley's Babylon might not be coming after all. GA's Sleepless Nights is the eulogy for the reggae revolution now that it's crumbled.

But that wasn't their intention. They're just singing about what they know and playing some tunes. All Weiss knows is that he wants to play more music.

"At least for me, it all comes down to the music, just making music you like, music you're proud of with a really good group of guys," he says.

"But my goal really is to just not have to work. To be able to live off the music."

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