If I was 19 years old and white it wouldn't be difficult, everyone would just call it pop - Murkage Dave
On the back of his new, genre-busting album, The City Needs A Hero, I asked Murkage Dave some questions via email. Apart from the deal-busting love for Sting (sorry, Dave, but we are over…) the most surprising thing for me is his clear eyed view of himself, making ‘Underground Pop’ as his French friend calls it (I like the tension in those words and it’s a very nickable genre name) and noting that, as a 19-year-old white kid he would probably be considered differently. The surprise is not that I wasn’t expecting him to know his place in the universe but because I see what he does a little differently.
For me, Murkage Dave is in a line of unique singer-songwriters who tend to define a genre of their own. And I wish that he could/would have some of that ornery arrogance that often comes with it. That arrogance allows the owners of some very ordinary voices to thrive and stay in careers that were defined, often by one or two tracks and a cultural moment. Others, who are genuinely more talented, Like Vic Goddard or Edwyn Collins or Tricky manage, at least, to insert themselves into the music business sufficiently enough to garner a life-time’s career (in Vic Goddard’s case, combined with being a postman). I’d love that bottom line position for Murkage Dave. Even better would be some Glastonbury level success and the ability for him to put on the kind of show that he feels does his music justice.
And enough royalties to buy a house.
OUTSIDELEFT: Hopefully your uncle’s got the message you don’t make Grime, now. So what is it that you do make?
MURKAGE DAVE: Haha it was my girlfriend’s dad, in the lyric anyway. I make pop music. It’s not commercial. But I’m blending all my influences to make something new. If I was 19 years old and white it wouldn’t be difficult, everyone would just call it pop. But then if I was 19 and white i’d def have different influences haha. I have friend called Orelsan who’s a big French artist, and he calls it ‘Underground Pop’, which I quite like.
The idea of British cool since the 50s, our fashion, the way our language evolves, all are very influenced by West Indian culture
OL: What would the UK be like without the West Indian influence? You can hear and see it in music, culture, society. Language. Why has it been so effective?
MD: For the amount of us that are here, our impact is huge.. The idea of British cool since the 50s, our fashion, the way our language evolves, all are very influenced by West Indian culture. Production/engineering techniques in music, the strength of DJ culture in the UK, how much better our nightclubs are than in mainland Europe, a lot of that is driven by soundsystem culture. And it’s not just the ‘creative’ areas but sometimes it’s easier for things to be more visible within pop culture than other places
Caribbean culture to me is like this wonderful thing that came ultimately from something horrific. In a way it’s like a bootleg of West African and British culture that happened because of slavery, so I think that once we came to the UK it becomes like a cultural Trojan Horse in a way.
OL: Surprise me with some of your unusual playlist choices. No need to feel guilty. Cool is a construct.
MD: I really love Sting & The Police. Every album. Love the Sting solo stuff as well! I feel like Sting has that thing where he’s not humble enough for a lot of British people so they’re not too sure about him. And I know all the proper punks aren’t backing it. But I can’t lie he’s been a huge influence on me as a songwriter. Another one is Drake. I feel like hardly anyone doing an interview will list Drake as an influence, apart from maybe the guys that make road rap, because he’s so big it can’t possibly make you sound interesting. But ultimately we all listen to the guy and he’s had a huge influence on how music has sounded for the past decade so it is what it is.
OL: Following on from the last question… two absolutely essential tunes, please, that life would be half assed without. Careful, these will define you! Tell us why they are essential.
MD: Dizzee Rascal - Respect Me - ‘Boy In The Corner’ gets all the love and rightly so but the second album ‘Showtime’ is such a perfect snapshot of the paranoia of a hood star in London. It’s a record that could have only been made at that time by that artist and for me ‘Respect Me’ is the most potent example of what that thing can be I think. Even by today’s standards the flows are top tier, and that DJ Wonder beat just won’t stop coming as he’s bitterly trying to claw his way up this sisyphean hill of respect from his detractors, it’s so fucking bleak.
Bloc Party - So Here We Are - this is such a beautiful record. I’d probably want this played at my funeral man. You get these moments where a group of people manage to touch the source. And I think they managed that here. I remember my girlfriend at the time put me on to them. I realised later that they went to the same set of schools me and my brothers went to, but they’re older than me. I had no clue at the time though, music is funny man.
I learned early on that there was also this folk feel to the shows as well, it’s all of us singing it together
OL: Your live show was somewhere between a DJ/MC personal appearance and, something else. Given the opportunity, how would you present a concert? Choir? Orchestra? Fireworks? Unicorns?
MD: The show you’re talking about was a while ago now i think early 2019? When I started playing out live I definitely made a choice to move like a rapper haha. My budget was limited and I didn’t want fans to be let down by totally changing the sonics of the records live. But I learned early on that there was also this folk feel to the shows as well, it’s all of us singing it together really. As things move forward I’d love to have a band, something multifaceted like Talking Heads or LCD Soundsystem. Would love to do something with set design like the Talking Heads ‘Stop Making Sense’ film or the Prince ‘Sign Of The Times’ show.
OL: Who else do you have an affinity with? Other music artists but, also, maybe, film makers, writers etc. For instance, I can see a connection between you and film maker Steve McQueen. Who connects?
MD: That’s a big compliment and also a great reminder to watch the Small Axe stuff, I was writing ‘The City Needs A Hero’ at the time, so didn’t have time to properly zone in. I would say that the art world, despite knowing nothing about it really, is a huge influence on me. Any time i’ve ever been stuck creatively, a visit to a gallery tends to shake me out of it. I’m heavily influenced by the creative approach of guys like Basquiat and Keith Haring, and more recently by Jean Dubuffet who came before them, he’s a fascinating character.
OL: Best food joint in the UK, please.
MD: Mess Cafe. Hackney.
OL: How do we fix the world?
MD: This world is chaotic and I think by trying to fix it we invariably create new problems but I think we can make it better by all of us wanting it to be better. For me that’s the whole point of being alive, and it can be the smallest thing, like smiling at someone in the street, or you could be the intermediary who starts the conversation to get things done, or you could be actively trying to feed and clothe the homeless. But I think for all of us, looking beyond the end of our noses and trying to do some good is the way because ultimately this is what adds up to us living in a better world.
Murkage Dave's LP The City Needs A Hero is out now, you can read Tim London's full review here
Murkage Dave in Outsideleft here