Deadboy has never sat comfortably in any niche.
The South East London producer's music has always absorbed too many influences, too many techniques to sit easily in any one style. The explosive, skippy UK garage beat of 'If U Want Me' was allied to a rich knowledge of grime, the glossy sheen of R&B and a lot more besides.
Returning earlier this year with the Local Action backed 'White Magick' EP, Deadboy seemed to enter further expansive territory. Sumptuous sonics that at times recalled Dolphins Into The Future, the producer is now set to flip the material on its head, re-working the tracks into more club-focussed edits on 'Black Magick'.
Intrigued, Clash had a quick catch up with Deadboy.
'White Magick' feels like a definitive break from your earlier material. Did it feel that way when you were writing it? Were you conscious, say, of attempting something distinct, different?
Yeah I think when me and Tom Local Action started going through all the tracks I had we started to pull together these ones and kind of a thread formed between them all, it was obvious that these were meant to go together and in my head I formed a whole narrative around the tracks, the artwork and everything. Its definitely the most cohesive thing I've done. I don't know if I was aiming to do something totally different I think you've just got to go with whatever wants to come out of you and this was it at that time.
Although traces of grime, R&B etc remain, 'White Magick' largely has a more ethereal, ambient approach. Do you still view this as club music, as system music? If so, where would you place it?
That's why I wanted to do the club edits EP, 'Black Magick', because I wanted to play these sounds out but they weren't going to work as they were so I shaped them into something that I could play in my sets. I don't want people to think if they come to a club and I'm playing that I'm gonna be playing whale noise and flute music or something, I still love to make and play club music but sometimes records are an opportunity to create something, I feel with this one I was trying to create a 3D space or a world that I wanted to exist in or at least visit.
'White Moon Garden' feels almost new age, with those blissful synths. It's almost similar to the palette Dolphins Into The Future drew from, albeit from a defiantly London vantage point. Has this been an influence? Is there a spiritual element, do you think, to what you're currently creating?
Yes I have been very into new age and early synthesizer music over the last couple of years. This has definitely coincided with a shift in my ideas about, I don't want to say spirituality but maybe consciousness. I've been reading a lot of Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna, Alejandro Jodorowsky, guys like this, and once you start to develop this outlook I think if you are an artist of any kind its impossible to avoid it coming through into what you do.
'Rye Angel' – is this a reference to Peckham Rye? Do you still feel a sense of kinship to SE, and – if so – have recent changes impacted upon you? Peckham, in particular, has shifted enormously with the influence of gentrification.
'Rye Angel' is named after William Blake who lived in South London and had a vision of an angel in a tree on Peckham Rye. Yeah, I do love south and I've lived here a long time now, but things have changed massively. There are good and bad things about this and London constantly changes but going through Lewisham now is very alarming, every spare piece of ground a towering hotel-like bunch of apartments has gone up, tiny expensive prison cells to stack commuters one on top of the other, and when all these buildings are finished and all the people move in what are they going to do because all the public spaces, clubs etc will have been closed down.
So they can get up, get on a packed train to sit in another prison box office, then go and spend the credits they have left on getting drunk in ugly chain bars. This is the London that property developers and the Tories are building.
The emergence of grime and dubstep found artists in different areas of the capital representing different sounds. Do you feel as though London still has that regionalization? Is that an important part of the capital's make up, or do you feel the city has a more fluid, and as a result, more dynamic approach?
It's definitely more fluid. Everyone is connected all the time now on internet so you don't necessarily know where anybody's from and it doesn't really matter so much any more I guess.
'Rye Angel' in particular verges on ambient, but with an enormous sense of tension. Do you mind the use of the word 'ambient' next to your music? If not, how do you think it differs from the traditional definition of ambient?
I don't think it's ambient music in the Brian Eno sense of the word, it just doesn't have any drums. It still has kind of a pop structure and it's got vocals - it's not background music, it's pop music without drums. I don't think I've made anything ambient yet.
The track titles hint at a tension between opulent wealth and grim reality. 'Inner Palace' for example, next to 'Sad Sniper'. What informs this? Is it necessary to have light/shade within your work, or are you suggesting something about the divide within London/UK itself?
Yeah this record definitely became about duality and the binary nature of everything, that's like the heart of the record. You can apply that to everything from this city or this country to everyone's individual psyche and the universe itself.
'Sad Sniper' is perhaps the most direct nod to grime, and fits alongside Mr Mitch, Yamaneko, Dark0. Have you been checking their work? Are there parallels to your approach / ethos? If not, how do you feel they differ?
Yeah I've definitely been into those guys, I love the completely unrestrained melodic approach and experimentalism that's coming about at the minute.
Grime in SE London – in particular Lewisham – is at boiling point right now, with artists like Novelist, Merky Ace hitting their stride. As someone connected to the SE area, is this something you've been checking out? Does the emergence of new artists like this push you to attempt new things, embark on fresh challenges?
Yeah definitely, it's crazy to watch Novelist blow up and The Square doing a lot of things, really inspiring right now and hopefully inspiring a lot of younger people round here as well. I'm always aware of what's going on around me and I feel like with music its always an opportunity to find out what you can do.
A spate of closures have hit London's small to medium sized club scene. Combined with often unmanaged gentrification, it can feel as though creativity within the city itself is being squeezed out. Is that something you've noticed? Has that shift affected the way you view / create music?
It's completely rampant. This city is constantly banging on about its culture, that's what brings tourists here, that's what brings companies here, that's why so many people move here and bring money here, but this government and the councils do not give a fuck about the culture we have here. It will sell off every public and artistic space we have or ramp up prices until nobody can afford to do it any more. What kind of artists can afford to pay the sort of rents that we are approaching, who will be able to afford studios? Meanwhile there are tonnes of buildings sitting empty.
This government will lose its grip on culture in this city and everything will move to places where people can afford to live and create without restrictions and its a shame but I also think it would be good to see some other cities and towns become stronger culturally and artistically, and see some genuine scenes develop. If London is not going to support us, instead actively making it difficult for arts and music to thrive, why should we stay and provide all the culture that it banks on? They are mugging us all off.
Is it harder now, do you think, for a new producer to get noticed given many of these introductory avenues have been blocked off?
I think it probably is, the main thing is being heard through all the noise, everybody's a producer or a DJ now with a SoundCloud etc, you have to really have something unique and vital for anyone to be interested. But if you're making music for genuine reasons, and making the music that you love and you genuinely want to hear, there will be people out there who feel and think like you do. The key thing is making music that is completely honest to you, and learning how to transmit that through your medium, whatever equipment you use, so that it is not compromised.
You've described the EP as being like a 'place' or a 'garden'. It does have an enormous sense of unity- where do you feel that comes from? Is it in the tones, the colours used, or it from the curator-ship, the selection of material which fits as one?
It's everything I think – the sounds, the artwork – it's a whole story. It's supposed to revolve around the paradise garden of Hassan I Sabbah, the story is that initiates would be drugged and wake up in this paradise pleasure garden full of things nobody had seen and beautiful women and stuff, then you would wake up back in Sabbah's palace and depending on your response to the experience you would become a member of the assassin order or the illuminati. Physical action in the material world or wisdom and understanding of a spiritual nature or something like that.
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'Black Magick' is out now - purchase LINK.