Brighton Magazine

The Brighton Magazine

Selected Brighton Magazine Article

Monday 14 June 2021

Electronic Rock Group Death in Vegas Co-Founder Launches New Country & Western Band

A founder member of acclaimed electronic rock group Death in Vegas has formed a new Country & Western band. While that might catch fans by surprise, Steve Hellier says that with new act Django Rhinestone he's actually returning to his musical roots. 

And as Django Rhinestone prepare to play live, Hellier also has some words of wisdom for fledgling groups trying to break into the industry - telling them, "Your over-seriousness is damaging your mental health". 

Hellier, along with frontman Richard Fearless, formed Death in Vegas in 1994 and has writing and production credits on Dead Elvis and a writing credit on The Contino Sessions. 

1999's Contino Sessions saw critical and commercial success, with single Dirge featured in a Levi"s advert as well as 2002 horror movie 28 Days Later, while serial killer-themed Aisha peaked at No.9 in the UK charts. 

Hellier, from Catford, South East London, ultimately quit the band in 1999 to cement a career as a BBC studio manager. 

And while Death in Vegas was famed for fusing various musical genres, from psychedelic rock to techno, Hellier isn't afraid of embracing new territory either. 

Describing his latest Americana-inspired venture Django Rhinestone - which comprises Hellier on guitar and keyboards, Nick Gunner on vocals, Rod Stewart as guitarist, Maggie Stephens on bass, and David Krupski on drums - the 55-year-old says: 

"Independent of all my musical leanings, as I was growing up in south east London my dad had a succession of friends stay over - mostly blokes who'd been chucked-out by their partners or wives! 

"One of them was a chap called Keith Nelson, a Californian session banjo player. I was 16 years old, desperately keen to find my way into music, and Keith was a mentor for me for almost a year.

"Keith was refreshingly free of any cynicism, blindingly enthusiastic about life, and he took me under his wing as he played two or three times a week at gigs or studios. 

"I'm going to do some terrible name-dropping here but I ended up sitting in pubs with people like Albert Lee, the quintessential Country guitarist and local Deptford boy, and one of the Everly Brothers.

"It was just amazing to be around and to watch and learn from these people. 

"At the time I was playing guitar and this experience gave me a real interest in Country music and that form of songwriting."

Django Rhinestone itself grew from Hellier's long-standing friendship with Stewart. 

The pair played together in a band called the Hometown Boys during their time at Goldsmiths, University of London, at the tail end of the 80s and also enjoyed Country music at that point - with Hellier describing Willie Nelson as one of his heroes. 

Fast forward 30 years, and Hellier and Stewart decided to play together once more, drafting others into this new group. 

Hellier, who has also worked on a series of thought-provoking sound installations exploring the history of London, particularly the docklands, adds: 

"With Django, we're all in our 50s and it's just lovely to sit in a room and play music together.

"It's also so diametrically opposed to what I've done elsewhere in the money-making stage of my music career. 

"But I've never lost the love for this, the social aspect of music. 

"It's not a tidy story, the way Django Rhinestone has formed, but it's not random either - there"s a real genesis there."

Django Rhinestone initially formed in 2017 but, like many acts, was forced to hit the "pause" button during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Django plans to record for the first time in the coming months. 

Explaining how Django plays on the strong Country tradition of narratives that blur the lines between fact and fiction, Hellier says: 

"We're interested in that American tradition of the snake oil salesman. 

"You want to go listen to that person, you"re interested in what they're telling you, but you don't necessarily know if it's true or not. 

"That whole mechanism fascinates us. It's oral, folk tradition - it might be complete fiction but you want to believe it." 

Describing recent practice sessions, Hellier laughs: 

"We started rehearsing two weeks ago having not played together for 18 months and everyone remembered everything. It felt as if we'd found a cure for Alzheimer's!

"We're not the best musicians in the world but this is a celebration of the fact that I'm 55 and still knocking out some stuff."

Hellier admits his time in Death in Vegas was something of a whirlwind: 

"Initially, I thought it was all a bit of a punt. But all of a sudden we've got a singles deal... and it got a bit scary. 

"Other people get involved, it's not the same gig it was, suddenly you've got tour managers and A&R departments, you're going on tour, and the music almost takes a backseat because there's so much more to do. 

"I was juggling all of this with my job at the BBC as a radio sound engineer and it was the right thing to do for me to leave the band. 

"I'd done all the things I'd ever wanted to do and made a bit of money out of it. You can't ask for more than that."

He's also got advice for anyone else looking to make a splash in the industry. 

He warns: 

"I think there are a number of problems for younger kids now, and this has been borne out from my experiences working with younger bands. 

"Firstly, they seem to be ridiculously over-serious about it all. The only thing that kept me sane was having a sense of humour, which I think is slightly lost on some of the new acts. 

"There's an earnestness and seriousness these days that I think is damaging, almost verging on mental health issues. 

"Social media means people have multiple avenues to pump themselves up with, too, while the gatekeepers are more restrictive than ever. It's really tough for them."

by: Mike Cobley

Related links

Django Rhinestone


Credit Climon Parent

The thrill of live contemporary dance and circus theatre will return to Brighton Dome's Concert Hall stage this autumn.

Written in 1888, Miss Julie - which comes to New Venture Theatre, Brighton - caused outrage when it opened and was banned by the censors — yet over 130 years later, it's no surprise that this powerful drama still retains its shock factor.   
Credit Andy Sturmey

With the shackles of lockdown finally released and Brighton's cultural swing doors once more admitting concert goers, photographer Andy Sturmey was back in the pit at Concorde 2 Brighton, last night, and this time he had folk-punk hero Frank Turner in his lens line.

The honour of 'Freedom of the City' of Brighton & Hove has been awarded by the Green council to 'all those who helped during the pandemic,'  kick-starting a programme of recognition of city residents that will run throughout the year.

Following months of closure for many stores across the UK, successful pop-up marketplace The Pop-Up Club is returning to Brighton's Dukes Lane.

Students with additional educational needs from across the South have come together to participate in the South of England Agricultural Society's 23rd Jim Green Challenge. But, due to Covid, the format of the competition changed for 2021.

Back in the old world at the start of 2020, psychedelic punk heroes The Lovely Eggs were primed to release their new album I Am Moron – a work over-flowing with political venom and fresh ideas, set to a gloriously independent noise.

A local community group is creating new school resources for primary and secondary schools focusing on the story of the Three Kings of Botswana and their visit to Brighton and Sussex in 1895. 

Brighton & Hove Green Councillors joined in solidarity with the city's trans and non-binary community and allies once again as part of last weekend's annual Trans Pride celebrations in the city.

Having opened for the mighty Psychedelic Furs back in 2019 and then received critical acclaim for the release of her fifth solo album, Queen High Straight, Wendy James was supposed to be heading out on a UK tour in 2020.  
Credit Craig McIntosh

Showcasing Goodnight Louisa aka artist-producer Louise McCraw's icicle-clear vocals and stiletto-sharp writing smarts, visceral dark disco track Get Your Hands Off My Girlfriend dramatically contrasts euphoric 80s driven drum sounds and nostalgic synths with troubling lyrics on a little-talked about experience – the harassment and assault of gay women in what were thought to be safe spaces.

With the summer holidays fast-approaching, Brighton & Hove Music & Arts (BHMA) and East Sussex Music (ESM) launch their Digital Summer School; a family-friendly programme that offers a vast choice of online music education from under £30.

Organising a conference or event in Brighton?
See our Brighton Conference section.
Brighton web design by ...ntd