A 26-year-old from South East London who goes by the name of Dave.i.d, is a Tricky, an Aphex Twin, of a modern electronic recording artist. That is to say, he has emerged from the shadows, an enigmatic figure, to become a prolific musician operating at the forefront of radical computer pop.
He uses vocals, some keyboards, a guitar, a synthesizer, drums, and the latest digital technology to fashion a series of songs that are elaborate yet somehow succinct, murky and menacing but with the potential for mainstream appeal. These are songs that, via machine beats and the human voice, offer some idea to visitors from another planet of what it is like to live in London – or indeed any of the major post-industrial conurbations in Britain – at the start of the second decade of the 21st century. The songs are suffused with sorrow yet somehow crackling with positive energy.
Dave.i.d’s forthcoming ‘Gangs’ EP, set for release on Off The Uncertain Button/!K7, is supremely evocative music. As sonicly spacious as Brian Eno’s early productions on Bowie mixed with at times a Mavado-like dancehall and a peerless heartfelt song-craft, in parts the nearest contemporary consider- ation would be Radiohead. It has guitars and vocals while possessing the vital ryhthmic purpose of J Dilla, Timbaland and N.E.R.D in their prime. Dave.i.d sings with a soulfull, vacant snarl, only he manages to bring an effortless melodic twist to the bleaker moments – think The Cure circa Pornography remixed by the RZA on a film soundtrack for some idea of the intoxicatingly echoey atmosphere.
The sound has the ethereal quality of a hallucination or dream, even though it may well have been born out of a sequence of events that could be described in terms of a nightmare. Quite brilliant, though. The use of the studio is never less than startling, from the processed vocals to the resonant production. Dave has been compared by one journalist to The Beatles, only if they had formed 15 years later in Sheffield, just as Cabaret Voltaire were working on Nag Nag Nag. Others have noted the mood of unease, one worthy of
Joy Division, only with added glitchy textures and Dave.i.d’s sci-fi soulful wail. ‘Se A’ was, proposed another reviewer, trip hop with torpid anxiety replaced by amphetamine apprehension.
So much for the music and its air of contemporary dislocation; what of the words? It would be easy to assume from Dave.i.d’s recording and stage alias that what is being dealt with here is disquiet regarding information overload, about our surveillance culture and the incessant monitoring of our lives by each other and the authorities. Dave.i.d stresses the “spontaneous energy” of the project, although he does admit that anger is the primary energy. This becomes more apparent during his live shows where, he teases, things can get “quite intense”. Mostly, he is happy for listeners to draw their own conclu- sions about his forceful soundscapes and inchoate messages of dread, but ask whether he is a twisted misanthrope wreaking sonic and lyrical revenge on the world, and he simply replies… “No”. He is concerned not to be pinned down. Is he one of the first post-dubstep artists? An exponent of electronica noir? A pioneer of 21st century soundtrack themes? None of the above. “I just make what feels conscious to me,” he explains. “The production is what makes it what it is. Musically, I don’t know what it is.”
Either that, or he’d just like to be left to his own devices. Not that he’s a miser- able solipsist, just that he’s, well, “quite a pessimistic person” with what he calls a “slight pitch of bad attitude”. He’s quite happy with this state of affairs because it means he generally gets left alone, which is fine, because when he is given space and time to create, great things result. Things with the power to enliven and disturb yet enrich and entertain – and ultimately maybe even make a difference. He may contend that, “I don’t care if it gets anywhere – I just want to make music”, but one senses that, for Dave.i.d. there is more at stake here than pleasing himself. Above all, what shines through like a beacon in the night is the evocative power of his music, bathed in beauty and shimmering with a sense of hope from despair.