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Hong Kong gigs

'Radioactive' hitmakers Imagine Dragons raise their game

Las Vegas rockers who play Hong Kong this month no longer have to compete to be noticed. But they haven't forgotten where they came from - playing casinos at 3am or opening for mime acts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 August, 2015, 10:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 August, 2015, 10:10am

Las Vegas has been peddling dreams since the 1940s when mobster Bugsy Siegel first headed for the desert and promised he would turn its sands into paradise.

Take a walk down the Strip on any night now and you'll still run into generations of believers dazed by the neon and dreaming big as they look to lose themselves in the Vegas night.

Daniel Platzman knows that scene, but also knows how vast the distance can sometimes seem between what Vegas offers and what it actually delivers, between the dream and the reality. As the drummer in chart-topping rockers Imagine Dragons, Platzman might be taking the world by storm now, but only recently fortune seemed a long way off.

The Atlanta-raised Platzman joined a band that had gathered in Vegas - lead singer Dan Reynolds, a Vegas native, had returned home after a stint in Utah where he had hooked up with Wayne Sermon (guitars), who recruited friends Ben McKee (bass) and Platzman. The idea was to simply pay their dues, fine-tuning their craft and hoping that, one day, their big break would come.

That it eventually did is one of the rock world's great success stories of the past decade. However, on some nights it seemed a long shot, as Imagine Dragons worked their way from club to club, bar to bar, often competing for attention with the noise from the gaming floors, and playing for an audience that had other matters on their minds.

But it was all about learning, Platzman says. "The early gigs allowed us to share our favourite music with each other as well as get inside some of our favourite artists' heads," he recalls.

"Getting into the intricacies of the music and seeing how the parts interact with each other is key. Learning what to do when things go wrong on stage was a great lesson and an important one.  It's awesome to know we have each other's backs musically and it allows us to stretch a little more on stage."

Platzman says while the band have developed - and now regularly play to packed stadiums of tens of thousands - they will never forget where they came from, and when their gigs were not quite so spectacular.

"The best thing now is getting to travel the world playing our original music," he says. "After playing jazz gigs in pizza parlours and opening for mime acts, we appreciate the success so much." 

Imagine Dragons recently brought the curtain down on the North American leg of the Smoke + Mirrors world tour that brings them to AsiaWorld-Arena on August 23.

The band's trajectory has been nothing short of sensational since they topped the charts in 2013 with the irresistible track Radioactive.

As they have toured, band members have often spoken about how the unique and fiercely percussive sound featured on that breakthrough single was something that emerged from necessity due to the nature of the gigs they were playing in those early days in Vegas.

"We would be in a casino in Las Vegas, at O'Shea's at three in the morning," Sermon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently. "And there's bikini-clad blackjack dealers and it's the cheapest beer on the Strip and no one is there to see you, no one cares, and there's a new crowd every two or three hours, and slot machines dinging all over the place. You have to grab people. You can't be passive, you can't be subtle in that setting. It wasn't like, 'OK, guys, let's be an arena rock band.' The sound just grew out of the necessity to be paid attention to."

Imagine Dragons' adaptability can be put down to the band members' diverse history, both on a personal and professional level. Reynolds has said his outlook has been framed by the time he spent as a Mormon missionary before turning to music, while Sermon, McKee and Platzman all attended Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music and have dabbled in various jazz ensembles.

Their latest album, Smoke + Mirrors, shot straight to No 1 on the US Billboard charts on its release in February. Critics and fans alike have noted how the band's sound has evolved on the album - pointing to a darker side to Reynolds' lyrics.

Since the album's release, Reynolds has gone public with his battle with depression, caused by an inability to cope with the fame and attention that has followed the band's meteoric rise. The rest of the band have also admitted to being under stress, but, as McKee said recently, they have been able to turn to each other for support.

"It's brought us closer, absolutely," McKee says. "We are 100 per cent family. We are, I think, closer to each other at this point than we are with our families. I mean, we've been through everything together, and we are the only people who can relate to the bizarre way that our life is.

"People don't really understand going on tour, and what it's like to have our band explode and be in the middle of that experience. We know where we're coming from. We've created this music together. We're out there every night performing together. We're brothers, we're teammates, we're best friends. We're all of that."

Meanwhile, Platzman says the band are excited by the chance to bring their tour to Hong Kong. Imagine Dragons have played here before. Last year they were flown in for the world premiere of Transformers: Age of Extinction - an invite-only event that left thousands of fans ticketless and disappointed - and despite the tight schedule they did manage to get out and about.

"We had such a blast in Hong Kong. This time we hope to be able to run around the city a little more and explore," says Platzman. "We love discovering new food and seeing new architecture. Hopefully, time allows us to go on an adventure or two."

Reports from North America say that the Smoke + Mirrors shows feature amped-up special effects suitable for a band who have become more used to playing cavernous venues rather than dingy bars, and Platzman promises fans are in for a treat.

"The tour is going great," he says. "It's such a great opportunity to fine-tune the details of the performance. I know everybody is executing at a high level when we can all focus on matching dynamics with each other on stage. We look forward to bringing the universe of smoke and mirrors to Hong Kong.  We spent a lot of time on the production and we look forward to playing with perceptions and pushing boundaries of what a live show is."

Imagine Dragons, August 23, 8pm, AsiaWorld-Arena, Lantau, HK$288-HK$788, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 2629 6240