In December 2019 I sat down to talk with Drinkbleachh about the crazy year he’d had, and his ambitions for the year to come.
It’s somewhere between sundown and midnight when my phone lights up with the image of a smiling face accompanied by a hurried “I’ll call you back in a second”. Seconds after the call started, the line goes dead – a perfect metaphor for a year of beginnings and ends.
On the other side of the screen, and the globe, is Canadian multi-hyphenate DJ Cline, better known as Drinkbleachh. Despite the macabre moniker, the man I speak to is in good spirits and speaks with a positive tone about the slowly stabilising life around him. “I moved to Toronto to take care of my head” explains Cline, but of course “getting on your feet in a city that’s twice as expensive on rent and stuff is… hard”. It’s clear the move to Toronto from Winnipeg has taken some toll; “To end the year off… I’m not even making any music right now” – though this is a conscious choice, and Cline details a vault full of unreleased music as proof. As a project and a person Drinkbleachh seems content to let 2019 end quietly, perhaps holding on to the only quiet moment he’s had all year.
Drinkbleachh had an undeniably turbulent 2019. In terms of discography he’s built upon a pair of EP’s in 2018 (including the stunning “LATELY”) to create his debut studio album “Amygdala”, the “mixtape 2” EP, and “1026”, a compilation of the last songs created at his Winnipeg home. “We had artists coming in and out every day” says Cline sentimentally. “1026” is a “special” record to its creator, marking the point at which he “went from having that [community] to having nothing”.
“Amygdala” sits as the crown jewel in the current Drinkbleachh discography. Musically, the record is a glowing hybrid of synthetic and natural sounds, but much of what makes “Amygdala” so significant comes from outside the studio. As we talk, Cline recounts the surreal experience of working with a record label for the first time, and the pride that comes with having his record “sold in music stores in Winnipeg”. “Amygdala’s definitely amazing. It’s about shit that I went through, like any fuckin’ artist”. His tone becomes pensive; “To win over some of my friends that were kinda sceptical about me doing hip hop was crazy”.
A victorious enthusiasm grows in Cline’s voice as the story deepens, recalling his parents divorce as an influence, as well as aspirations of the spotlight. “It’s the first project where I was the vocalist”, he emphasises. The lustrous melodies that carry songs like “Breathe Again” and “I Lost My Mind At The Thought Of U” prove this outright. “[I’m] so, so proud of it still and I’ll be able to look back on it in the future and be proud of it too” – how fitting that the working title of the record was “Halcyon”.
“Amygdala” saw its own sold out fundraiser show and a release party, two of a myriad of performances in 2019 – “[It was] neat for me to debut my album and hear kids singing songs I had just released”. Other performances included a set at a festival in Winnipeg; “The big thing for me was just meeting everybody at, it’s called Northern Touch Music Festival”. At Northern Touch Cline connected with Lil Bo Weep, aka Unaloon, an alternative artist with streams in the millions. The two made fast friends, and are now working on music together.
From the success of his debut album, the conversation between me and Drinkbleachh shifts; “We went crazy on videos this year”. Across various channels Drinkbleachh starred in nine music videos in 2019. “Slide Thru ft. Ugly Tomorrow” is a noticeably subdued affair; “Dag just bought one of those Ronin things, [we were] bored smoking blunts at my house. So stoked on how clean it looked, the shoot was so relaxed”. “different” is another professional visual, when talking about the collective directors NSTY Cline keeps it simple – “they’ve been fucking snapping”. The glitchy video for “Breathe Again ft. Postwar” landed on HAUNTXR’s channel at the start of May, galvanising a powerful connection. “He’s one of my good homies now” Cline remarks, “to have him fuck with my music is bizarre”. About HAUNTXR Cline speaks with a certain gravity, likely due to the former’s titanic status as a video host for artists such as Bones and Lil Peep.
As we continue to talk about connections and networks our attention inevitably turns to the Styx City Cult, a loose collective of multi-disciplinary creatives . Cline speaks fondly of his early days with the group. “When I joined styx it was an idea. I met Spaghking through Shae, the godfather, [Shae’s] lowkey the one who brought us all together”. Though Drinkbleachh now operates hundreds of miles from the group’s Winnipeg hometown, he’s eager to praise his fellow cultists. His voice lights up when talking about rapper and former roommate Dag; “He’s like my fuckin man, like older brother type shit”. He also cheers on Postwar, Losesleep, Spaghking, Logan Malcolm, and indeed all of Styx City Cult’s massive roster.
Wulfpunk, of course, gets far more than a mention. He and Cline moved together to Toronto at the end of 2019, strengthening an already “super close” friendship. Cline recalls how Wulfpunk used to come over “every single day” to make music, and expresses excitement regarding their new band, BleachhedWulves – ““We’ve made a band now, and a ten track album ready to go, entirely self produced, totally pop punk” .
Wulfpunk and I spoke later on, and his story offered some reflection to that of Drinkbleachh; “getting adapted is weird, being in a bigger city, but like we did a good job, kids from a small town… I been living like day by day, I feel like we don’t do shit but at the same time were doing shit all the time”. Continuing, he notes the distinctly collaborative nature of the new environment “The best way to put Toronto is like, well, Winnipeg is like its own distinct thing, its kinda a shittier place to live but has its own energy and culture around it, but Toronto wants to be so many other places, New York, Los Angeles”. Wulfpunk discusses Cline with appreciation “DJ really inspired me this year, which is obvious… he believed in me from the start”.
“I’m just juuling on my kitchen counter” shrugs Cline, snapping us both back into the present moment. Having been lost in discussions of the past twelve months for almost an hour, we look to the future to see what 2020 holds for Drinkbleachh. “The biggest part was moving to Toronto, even though it’s so fresh it’s made me realise this is what I want to do as my career”. A career focused approach seems to be the new standard for the Styx’s Toronto representatives. “[I want to] really work on getting plays, getting people to hear my shit. I already have 3 solo singles I really, really believe in. I wanna take it seriously in terms of release strategy. I dont wanna be cheesy and say ‘business minded’ or whatever the fuck, [but] if people hear it they’ll believe in it too”.
Our chat begins to wind down, the mood is reflective. Drinkbleachh offers some closing commendations. “Shouts out Styx City Cult, shouts out Ugly Tomorrow, shouts out anyone whos given me the time of day in Toronto so far cos I’m still meeting people, shouts out 108mics, and shouts out my girlfriend, and that’s about it!”. With that, Drinkbleachh returns to a new world and a new year, with the ambition and talent needed to make both his own.
Follow Drinkbleachh on Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Music.
Follow Wulfpunk on Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Music.
Follow Styx City Cult on Twitter, Instagram and Soundcloud.
– Jamie (@youngjade1216)