Today I travelled up to Manchester to watch a band perform. It’s a journey I’ve made several times over the last few years, coming to see bands that I loved since childhood. This time though, it wasn’t for some punk-rock or pop-rock band from my youth, but rather a newer band that only released their first single two years ago in 2017. Their first full album, Primrose Path, was released only last week. That band is Dream State, and they are one to watch.
It’s hard to really sum up the performance I witnessed from them. More than any band I’ve seen before, there was a connection with the crowd that felt somehow unreal, like they were true to their name and emerged that darkened room into a state of dreaming where everything was just that bit more… human.
CJ, the lead vocalist, was an alcoholic university dropout with drug addiction problems. Her debut title, White Lies, was written as a way to channel her negative feelings and begin down the path of recovery, admitting to the world that “I’m not alright”, and that she wanted help to change herself. This raw emotion laces the lyrics and crackles through CJ’s passionate vocals like electricity. Each word drips with empathy, creating a captivating sound with real soul that the band has been able to replicate across every song they’ve produced without it ever feeling manufactured. Truly, every song is powerful and should be listened to and experienced.
Everything that makes these songs as powerful as they are become amplified the moment that the band takes to the stage. It’s so clear how small, frail, anxious, and emotional CJ is up there, but also just how fierce and driven she is too. She dances with an energised freedom and screams out her lyrics like a battle cry, a true warrior of the stage as she crowd surfs and moshes, yet in the quieter moments, her voice quivers at the edge of tears, the emotions of the crowd reflected back at her and worn proudly on her sleeves. This is a woman who has gone from rock bottom to being announced as a performer at Slam Dunk festival among the biggest names in rock in only two short years, and the gratitude to her fans is palpable in every breath and look. She isn’t afraid to open herself up to the crowd, and the crowd opens itself up to her in return. We are all there together in this moment, flaws and all. All so broken, all so very human.
I think back to the chance encounter of the Youtube algorithms that led me to hearing their debut singe, White Lies, for the first time. I hated life. There was nothing dramatic to it. No trauma, no addiction, no distant family, just a complete tiredness with myself and the world in general. All of my life I had worked hard and done what I was told was needed to succeed. I had good grades, went to university where I attained a 1st, and worked every day on my writing to achieve my dream of being a writer. Yet there I was, working a job that left me wanting to breakdown every day, emotionally distant from everyone and unable to express myself even to my family. I’d received nothing but rejections from my stories, rejections from job applications in the fields I wanted to work in, and a continued social anxiety that has kept me from forming meaningful bonds for my entire life. My twenties are entering their twilight years and I had no job prospects, no relationships, and no hope of owning a house to find myself as an individual. I felt isolated and alone.
Around this time I started a new story. A children’s story about magical pirates. But more than that, it was about accepting yourself. All of my remaining hopes and dreams, the shattered fragments of my confidence, it all went into this last effort. It was during this time that Dream State became the soundtack of my life. The songs gave me the encouragement to keep moving forward, and they worked themselves into the themes of my character’s adventures. As I finish up editing the story and prepare to send it off into the world, not knowing if more rejections await me or if my hard work will finally pay off, the song New Waves has become so entwined with my story that it has come to represent my dreams for the future.
"I've worked too hard My head and My heart got me this far I'll wear these scars On my sleeves Real proud Like my broken heart Cause all I want is another chance A new beginning I just want to make new waves And find a new way out"
A song about embracing yourself for who you are, that also happens to use ocean imagery, was too perfect for a pirate story about a young boy who is scared of his own abilities and watched his dreams disappear before his eyes. And for me, another drifting soul lost in the sea of self doubt. As the band returns to the stage for the encore and New Waves start playing, I find that I have tears in my eyes. All of that emotion, from CJ, from the crowd, and from deep within myself, hit me like a freight train.
CJ and the boys of Dream State are something special. This isn’t music made to make money or rise through the charts. It’s an outpouring of emotion given form that needed to break free. It travels straight from heart to heart rather than mouth to ear, and I think that everyone in the room felt it.
Keep your eyes on this band, because they are going to go far. And they bloody well deserve to.