INTERVIEW: NE Dons | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Back in March, grime duo NE Dons turned to each other on stage at The Globe in Newcastle and joked that this could be their last gig for a month. Little did they know, eight months later live performances would still be off the cards, leaving their beloved small venues facing potential closure, and that their new EP would be promoted online during a national lockdown.

From beginning the year on BBC Newcastle’s 2020 tip list, and attracting the attention of 6Music’s Tom Robinson, it’s fair to say the last few months haven’t quite gone as planned. “We were a staple on regional rap shows,” Morgan Cole sighs. “Even in slower months, we’d still be performing three or four gigs. We started playing bigger venues, selling CDs. We were supposed to be playing Tyne Bank Brewery but that was binned off too. I miss it, man.”

When asked if online gigs appealed, the answer was a resounding no. “I don’t think our music translates into that. I feed off people being there – how do you know if people are paying attention to you through a screen?” Cole laughs, shaking his head. Whilst they agree it’s hard work getting hyped up for a gig in your bedroom, they’re quick to point out that they’ve supported livestreams from other artists and flag Newcastle-based John Dole as the best of the bunch.

I feed off people being there – how do you know if people are paying attention to you through a screen?

Lockdown has allowed plenty of time for reminiscing, and conversation turns to the earlier days of NE Dons and how they found their feet in the North East music scene, famed more for guitars than grime. Cole and Will Lawton came together in mid 2017 – the same year Stormzy’s Gang Signs and Prayer topped the UK album charts. “We didn’t know what we were doing at all at the beginning. I was pretty shite to be honest,” laughs Lawton, but it didn’t take long for NE Dons to find their feet. They credit live shows and the “community-like” audiences at World Headquarters, and BBC Introducing’s Lee Hawthorn for their quick progression.

With a tight knit local community playing a huge part in NE Dons’ music, it’s hard to imagine them working on their new EP, Energy, remotely. Snatching time together here and there in between local lockdowns and shifting Government guidelines, the process was fairly swift, although “it could have come out in August, easily”. As the title – and their attitude – suggests, the tracks are full of energy and drive, centred on the notion of getting stuff done – easier said than done in 2020. Written entirely pre-Covid, I wonder how different the sentiment might have been had the writing process happened a couple of months down the line. “I’m glad we wrote it when we did,” Lawton reflects, “there could have been quite a significant change, although we’re not known for introspection, and we haven’t lost that drive.”

This sense of ambition doesn’t stop with their music, but extends into hope for the region and its creatives. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to the wider music industry, but if there’s anywhere that will battle through this it’s the North East.” I log out of Zoom feeling a little bit more hopeful than before.

NE Dons release Energy EP on 11th December


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