Truancy Volume 63: Damu

Damu - Truants

The last few years saw a deluge of mediocrity in a scene describing itself as “UK bass music”, which drew together the politest bits of house, techno, garage and dubstep for a depressingly vanilla sound. Thankfully, the scene also yielded some real original talents, one of whom is Damu, an artist with releases that include an album on Keysound Productions, “Unity”, a riot of colour and glitter, and EPs on Local Action and his own new label Damu. He’s as much in demand as a remixer as he is a producer, crafting reworks for labels Hippos in Tanks, Bella Union and Tri Angle, among others.  In addition to his own eponymous label, he runs Fulcrum Records, which has released EPs by Paleman and Thefft. We waxed lyrical about his latest, “If You’ve Got Nothing To Hide / You’ve Got Nothing To Fear” and figured the time was right to hit him up for a Truancy Volume. Ever the gent, he obliged with a mix of unreleased exclusives, icy grime tunes and oddball jams – and we love it. We had a chat with Sam about  bendy legs, Bhangra and staying out of trouble. Read the interview below, and check the mix at the bottom.

Hi Sam, thanks for making us a mix. “No worries, thanks for asking me to do it. I love Truants.”

And Truants loves you. So for those who might not be aware of your work, could you tell us a bit about your music? I believe you come from a classical background, is that right? How did the move to electronic music come about and what came first, DJing or producing? “I learned to play every instrument I could get my hands on while I was a teenager. You name it, I probably tried it at some point. Using Reason to help me make my little songs was just a bit of fun at first, then when I got into dubstep I realised I could make something that I liked entirely out the box. That worked really well for me because until then I’d been mostly recording instruments through computer and Singstar mics, so the electronic music sounded cleaner and more professional. DJing came quite a bit after that, once I started building up a bit of actual knowledge of the history behind the music I liked.”

We all loved “Unity”, but whereas that was very polychromatic and melodic, your sounds seems to have taken a turn for the darker and more percussive. How did that transition come about? “I was really happy at how the album was received but it was mostly based on a compositional background rather than a production one. I felt like if I was gonna keep doing music full-time, I needed to get a lot better at the more technical side of it. I love techno and making it is a real production learning curve, compared to layering melodies and chords. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always preferred darker music to dance to, but it wasn’t until the last year or so that I felt like making it would aid my growth. That tied in nicely with the timing of starting Fulcrum, so I think it makes sense for me to release a bit of the darker stuff I’ve done. I’ll definitely be doing more melodic music again now I’ve got my head around the technical stuff. I still think of the romantic, coloured stuff as being ‘my sound’, but in my mind, it best suits an album format so I’ve known that if I was going to start making it again, I would want to step it up a gear in every dimension.”

It certainly looks like you’re very busy; you seem to have a lot of different projects on at any one time, with releases on both your own and other labels. What do you think the benefits – if any – are in keeping everything discrete, and how do different projects feed into and inform one another? “I make music all day every day and I’m not really the kind of guy to chip away continuously at any one sound. If I finish a tune, I’d rather the next thing I make is the polar opposite of that. It means I learn more and faster, plus it keeps things interesting for me day-to-day. I see what I do, loosely, as a process of learning about music as a whole; by covering as many bases as I can, I feel like I’m getting towards where I want to be. I do have some doubts about the way people perceive it if you just keep going from one extreme to the next, so I guess doing things under different names and different labels provides a distinction that shows more clearly that I don’t do anything by accident.”

And what’s the creative process like for you? “I think of the tune I make as being made up of 6 or 7 different processes put together. To be honest, I’ve been spending way too much time honing those processes recently and not enough time putting them together; I just end up making lots of weird soundscape things, but I think that’s all part of the overall process. I’m an album person; I like the idea of a bold singular statement, so the main I set a goal for a sound I want to hear, that I have to learn how to make, and how far I am away from that goal at any one point.”

Could you tell me a bit about your labels, particularly the latest one, ‘Damu’? It’s just for your own productions, is that right? “Well, I called it Damu because it was supposed to be just for my own productions, but the main aim for it is to be able to release stuff that I’ve just finished through it quickly. I’ve been doing quite a lot of collaborations recently so I might think about releasing one of those through it but I don’t have any plans for the next one yet. The last one came together in a week though so I’m just gonna wait for the right thing to come along. Fulcrum is going well, there’s been a bit of the usual red tape to sort out recently but we’re getting ready for some more releases in 2013.”

You collaborate with vocalists quite a bit too, don’t you? What’s on at the moment? “Working with Trim on “Unity” was a lot of fun. I definitely want to start doing stuff with more grime MCs again. I just spent the weekend in the studio with Py and that was great, she’s a fantastic vocalist and really knows how to use the studio. I’ve also done a tune with Roses Gabor that really needs to get out there now  – but these things take time. There are two other vocalists I’ve been working with as well but I think I’ll just keep them to myself. You’ll probably hear some of that sooner rather than later.”

Stream: Py & Damu – Blind (Tripping On Wisdom)

Sounds exciting. Let’s talk about the mix, then. Is it the kind of thing you’d play out? “It’s definitely the kind of set I like playing out at the moment. It more or less sums up what I’m trying to do with my own production at the moment, but perhaps with a bouncier focus. I’ve used fewer effects on this mix than I would in a club because I don’t think it works that well on smaller speakers. I’ve always been a fan of pushing the tempo up throughout the set but I’ve kept it between 120 and 140 here. It’s a mixture of funk, techno and grime, basically because I think it’s going to be a good year for all three.”

That Madteo track is one of my favourites, so wonderfully oddball. What did you think about “Noi No?” “I loved it, there’s a guy who just has a particular sound as a result of having a very personal way of processing everything. It’s this rich, warm gooey melting pot of dusty vinyl; it just sounds like he’s pouring his soul out into it and that really hooks me in. I know it’s just seven minutes of a guy saying, “Staying out of trouble”, but this tune sends me wild, my favourite on the album.”

I imagine your tastes are pretty diverse. What do you listen to? “Grime has always been a big influence on me, especially the more emotive side of it. I know its bait but it was great getting my hands on the Ruff Sqwad white labels at last. I love the way they take those wandering melodies and reinterpret them for UK underground music. That’s something I like to do as much as I can and I’ve been playing with again recently. I spend a lot of time listening to what everyone involved with Fulcrum sends me, as well as the demos we get sent and stuff. I see a lot of people complaining about demos on twitter, it gets on my nerves, that – a lot of the stuff we get sent is great and I end up being inspired by it. I’d say I mostly listen to new music and keep up to date with what’s coming out pretty religiously. Other than that, I like a lot of jazz and classical (especially impressionist piano), 60s/70s reinterpretations of classical composers with synthesisers like Ruth White, Isao Tomita, a lot of noise and experimental on labels like Raster Noton, Spectrum Spools and Digitalis. Bhangra and Bollywood music, particularly Lata Mangeshkhar, has been a real hook recently, techno for the weekends and deep house for the mornings.”

A real mixed bag, then. Changing the subject slightly, you’re based in Manchester right? What’s the scene like up there, and which local DJs and producers are you feeling? Do you think the city has an impact on your sound? “The city and the other producers had a massive influence on me when I started out. I felt like London had a sound all of its own with a lot of different people working towards it while in Manchester, everyone I could think of was very much doing their own thing. That always seemed very important to me to the point where it’s just what I do naturally now so I don’t feel like the city itself is having that great an impact on me, but the heritage is there. The scene is going from strength to strength all the time, so many good producers coming out of Manchester at the moment – Compa, Brunks, Paleman, Pale, Werkha, Setoac Mass, Samename, Macker. There’s so many more, I shouldn’t have started listing. Lots of places in Manchester are good to play, of the bigger places Sankeys and Warehouse Project I’ve been doing a bit which are really fun from my side. Chow Down at Joshua Brooks, well, anything at Joshua Brooks is usually good.”

Sounds pretty inspiring. So Sam, what’s on the horizon for you? “I don’t really make plans, I just let things come together. The next two Fulcrum releases are sorted out and I’m as happy with them as I was the first two, i.e. the most happy I possibly could be. I am chipping away at quite a few collaborative projects so they ought to come out when they’re done. In the meantime I’m still working on getting the right sound together for the next Damu release, then probably a longer project. The main hope for the next year is to do more gigs with just the guys off Fulcrum, it’s so much fun every time we do it, and I guess that was the point of bringing everyone together under one roof.”

Who would you like to big up or who are you tipping for big things at the moment? “Ziro.”

Finally, a standard last question: when’s the last time you danced? “I can’t remember the name of the club but wherever Thefft was playing last Friday, it was sweet. We had a Madtech/Lo Note/Fulcrum dance-off and let me tell you, those guys have got the bendy legs. They’ve got the moves.”

Truancy Volume 63: Damu

Truancy Volume 63: Damu by TRUANTS

Madteo – Vox Ur Nu Yrs Resolution [Sähkö]
Damu – Shutters Up [Unreleased]
Damu & Thefft – Chemistry [Unreleased]
Thefft & Artifact – Cow Hop [forthcoming Fulcrum]
Ziro – Coded (Thefft Remix) [Crazylegs]
South London Ordnance – Revolver [Hotflush]
Barker & Baumecker – Schlang Bang [Ostgut-Ton]
Levon Vincent – Stereo Systems [Novel Sound]
Artifact – Helios [Unreleased]
Ziro – Alphas [Unreleased]
Damu & Thefft – Untitled [Unreleased]
Toyc – Blist [Unreleased]
Paleman – Halfout VIP [forthcoming School]
Ziro – Oni [Crazylegs]
Caski – This Is How I See [Self-Released]
Settles – What It Is
Wen – Spark It [forthcoming Keysound]
Breen – Walk
Boxwork & Cloaka – Toppin Up [MadTech]
Gomes – Dutch Kimo
Samename – Okishima Island [Self-Released – get it exclusively from Truants, here]
Slackk – Shogun Assassin [forthcoming Local Action]

Maya Kalev