Murkage Dave Out of Focus

Not a Soft G: Murkage Dave

“Run up on Yeezy the wrong way, I might murk ya,” Murkage Dave chuckles, quoting a line from the Jay Z and Kanye West song “Otis.” He’s trying to relate his stage name to my American sensibilities, because for all I know, his name has some sort of foreign lilt to it: A long “a,” a soft “g.” But nah, it’s just another tense for murk.

He’s Skyping me from across the pond, in London, beaming off the success of his video for “Car Bomb,” both the first solo single and solo visual he’s ever released. Dave began his career with the group Murkage—hence his name—in 2009. The quintet’s origins come from the collective Murkage Cartel, a Manchester, England-based group that spans the creative gamut, from DJs and photographers to musicians and designers. But it all began with the Murkage club night, a weekly party that started in Manchester in 2007.

From the party, the group developed a cult-like following in the city, and for whatever reason, became famous in France. Murkage had a solid 3-year run before they broke up—they just weren’t making enough money. “We never got over to the next level,” Dave says. He stuck around Manchester for a couple years after the split, but moved back to London, his hometown, in 2014.

“I almost got a bit of a false sense of reality [in Manchester]. Like, we’d go to restaurants and they’d just take all the food off the bill—or like go to a bar and no one’s letting you pay for drinks or whatever, and you start thinking like you’re more important [than you are]… London’s really hard but it’s humbling.

I think the great thing about Manchester is you got the space and the time to like be yourself… In London, it’s like everything’s so expensive and…there’s not enough space anywhere, and everything is just like heavy. Everything weighs on your mind. I feel like Manchester and the whole getting big in France and stuff—that was my development deal, but I just paid for it myself.”

Now, in London, Dave DJs at Visions, a bar that Skepta, A$AP Rocky, and Little Simz frequent. In 2014, upon his arrival back to London, he started a new party with rapper Mike Skinner from the Streets, called Tonga. Like Murkage, the club night spawned a new collective, the Tonga Balloon Gang, consisting of Dave, Skinner, Klepto, Oscar #worldpeace, Smith, and unofficial member Ragz Originale, who produced the Skepta hit “Shutdown.” To celebrate their one-year anniversary as Tonga, the collective released their debut project, Tonga Balloon Gang EP in November 2015, featuring grime rappers Jammer and Big Narstie.

What Dave’s course with Murkage showed him is that above all else, perspective is key. Murkage treated themselves like a democracy, which often compelled them to accommodate each other’s artistry and compromise each other’s’ intention. They would try to cover a wide aesthetic—slower jams, club hits, and festival-oriented songs, for example—but were only semi-successful, and would sometimes come up short and get caught in the middle.

Now, Tonga becomes Dave’s catch-all for party anthemic music, and Dave can use his solo material as a space for his theoretical, deep-seated ideas to shine. Skinner—who’s been active in England’s hip hop scene since the early ’90s—acted as recourse for Dave, helping Dave express himself and get a firm grip on honesty. He got a fresh point of view, which is what he expresses in “Car Bomb.”

The music video opens on a TV, playing a show called Jeremy Kyle—something akin to Jerry Springer. The camera pans to Dave’s face, and focuses in on his eyes, which are glassy and dull. When the shot pulls out, we see Dave sitting on his couch in front of his computer, eating a bowl of cereal.

“It’s literally just about what I’m doing right now… A lot of the time [I’m] working from home. I think it’s about having one of those days where you’re just like do you know what? This is dead, like fuck this… It’s just about feeling like nothing that you’re trying to do is working, everybody’s against you, almost like everyone’s laughing behind your back. That kind of feeling of hopelessness and procrastination.”

Dave named the track “Car Bomb” after listening to Dr. Dre’s “The Car Bomb” skit from 2001. Except for a quick lyric mentioning the skit, the content of Dave’s song has nothing to do with Dre’s; the title just became a nod to Dave revisiting his youth while also focusing on the future.

Indeed, “Car Bomb” is beautiful—you’re almost surprised that that voice comes out of him. The track is colored with soul, and very distinctive from the rest of the D.A.V.E. Part 1 EP, which, overall, is an exploration of sound, some of it hinging on grittier beats; some on sparser, haunting melodies; and some on 1980s-like synths. But what never falters is his voice, which rides high above every drum, string, and effect. In the notes below the video, he even mentions, “People keep asking if it’s actually me singing, like they don’t know I’ve got soul.”

Dave wrote “Car Bomb” in 30 minutes; and even with such little time spent on the lyrics, we get a keen look into his psyche. As the video progresses, he stares directly at the camera—and it’s pretty unsettling. “I really need to speak to someone / To lean on, to lean on,” he croons. At that moment, his body language changes, as if he’s letting go of something, already progressing, his arms opening wide, his blank expression morphing from realization to solace. This kind of sincerity isn’t necessarily strange in music, but it isn’t necessarily the norm. The song acts as encouragement to expel and express any negative energy—to talk to someone.

The remainder of D.A.V.E. Part 1 follows suit, mirroring the same stream of conscious spirit. Dave sees every track as a freestyle: Communicating whatever’s in his head and trusting his subconscious; a declaration of what he sees and feels. On “East London Freestyle,” for instance, he addresses the city’s gentrification and cultural shift—“Hungry Blondes,” too, is an extension of those ideas.The EP isn’t a prepared statement: He speaks off the cuff and with truth.

D.A.V.E. Part 1 is just the tip of Murkage Dave’s future, his forward momentum. “When I was younger, I was like, ‘I wanna play stadiums—I’m gonna be the biggest artist in the world.’ I still want big things of course, but I think it can’t be at the price of the output. The music lives forever. Everybody’s dying this year. [David] Bowie died, Prince died—but their music lives on. We’re only human at the end of the day.”

D.A.V.E. Part 1 is available to download for free on Murkage Dave’s Bandcamp.

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