DVA has seen it all: from the Jungle/D&B era to the rise and fall of Garage to Grime and Dubstep’s worldwide takeover, the London producer, engineer, DJ and radio-host has been present whether in the spotlight or shadows. In this exclusive interview Son Raw and ‘man like Scratcha talk radio, London and of course, the new album Pretty Ugly out now on Hyperdub.
PotW: Hey man, how’s it going? Introduce yourself!
DVA: It’s all good! My name is Scratcha DVA, I started out in the Drum & Bass days with Terror Danjah, made a move into Grime – this is back in the Slimzee days. I did a lot recording with people in the studio, doing the engineering thing, and slowly I moved into what I’m doing now.
PotW: How did you make that move from Grime?
DVA: Yeah, the thing with Grime is that it all had to be a certain way and I wanted to do my own thing. People were hitting me up for beats and they wanted them to be at a certain speed and I was like “MOVE ON.” At the same I was listening to a lot of old music, working backwards. Someone once told me, “you have to go back to move forward” so that’s what I did, listening to loads of old tunes.
PotW: Such as?
DVA: a lot of old jazz, Brandy…
PotW: she’s quite huge in the UK. People like Blawan are just grabbing old vocals of hers, she’s bigger in the UK than in North-America.
DVA: At the Time or now?
PotW: Now but I guess she had to be huge back then as well.
DVA: I haven’t been one lately to sample vocals but I see what you’re saying, I thnk it’s just easy innit? There’s loads of acapellas from Brandy and she’s massive, massive! People always liked her. For me, it was about producing vocals, listening to Brandy and what Darkchild did with the vocals helped me a lot – I used to study it. how did they do it? How did they make the vocals go all the way up and to the side? I’d listen to it and would sort of model my mixdowns on those records.
PotW: What was it like to work with that array of vocalists? You’ve landed on an interesting cast in that they neither go for the really garrish autotune stuff nor the Adele/Winehouse/retro thing. It’s quite current but also out of time. How did you find the direction?
DVA: It was about getting the right artists. Once you have the right artist for the right track with the right song, it’s all good. There was a time when I’d go to the studio and there’d already be a singer there so I’d just put her on a beat. I can’t do that anymore. I don’t care who it is, if it’s not the right voice for the beat, it’s not going to happen. That’s how these songs happened, I knew it was going to work. You’ve got different types of singers, you’ve got your Brandy sort – your head voices then you’ve got your belly ones. You’ve got ones that understand time signatures and you’ve got the ones who’re a bit more straight.
The reason Muhsinah’s on the track she’s on for example, I’d heard her on some music by Nicolay from Foreign Exchange and music by Mike Slott and they can be really strange and weird so I sent her a couple of beats which were what she normally does. But she wanted to do something a little more challenging so she’s on something a bit more normal but not normal for her! So that’s an example of how the vocals come out. Then I’d also either plant an idea in their head or they’d come up with ideas that meant something to them. Like “Just Vybe” with Fatima actually she didn’t have nowhere to live when she wrote that song so that’s where them lyrics come from.
PotW: the personal material you mentioned on the album, it’s got a lot of soulful content and it’s not just about clubbing, it really feels like it’s about living life in London on the daily.
DVA; Yeah, the going on out sort of thing, I had the Natty/Ganja release on Hyperdub but I was never one to make music for the club. I always made what I wanted to make and it ended up in the club in someone’s set and it’s all good. When I finished the album I didn’t think “Oh my God I gottta rock the club!” I care about the club and my DJ career but it’s the first time I made an album and it just comes out – there’s no thinking about it. It just happened the way it happenend. I can’t change it and I love it that way. There’s not that much dancy stuff or clubby tunes but my favorite albums are that way. I realized
PotW: what are some of those?
DVA: Thundercat on Brainfeeder. It’s not really a “go to the club and have it” album.
PotW: I was out at [the Brainfeeder-affiliated club] Love End Theory and no one was dancing. It was more people listening to the music.
DVA: Yeah, I went to a massive club in Denmark last year and it was the same thing. Loads of people but no one dancing. There was still a good vibe but you only knew it was a good show by the Internet messages the next day! I saw Pearson Sound playing this outdoor show with grass and everyone was sitting down and he was DJing these massive beats but everyone was sitting! But then I saw bare tweets saying that he was killing it! You’ve got your chin strokers and then you’ve got people who want to go mental.
As for my stuff, I’ve seen people do crazy skanks [dances] to it but as an album, I prefer albums that have substance, feeling and stories. I could have easily made 10 tunes, crafted them so such-and-such DJ would play them and some albums work like that! Banging tunes and you could play all of them in a club and that works for some people but I can’t do that unless I sit down and think about it, and I don’t really do that.
PotW: In that sense, your situation really fits in well with what Hyperdub’s doing given that they’ve bridged the club and home listening environment in bass muisc. How did you link up with them?
DVA: The Kode9 thing happened via Cooly G but even before that I was sending him tunes. Except it was a hotmail thing and he wasn’t getting the tunes because hotmail is so rubbish! But yeah, he never replied, that was during the Grime years and then I was with Cooly G at her house-cum-studio and was playing her bits, she came across the beat for Natty which eventually became Just Vybe. Even then I knew it was going to be soulful but the thing is, my computer blew up and all I had was the drums cuz that’s as far as I’d got. She heard the drums and went “what’s this?!” and I said it wasn’t finished but she loved it as it was. She took it and started playing it out, Kode9 got back to me asking to sign it and I said the same thing – it wasn’t finished! I need to do this jazzy thing to it and he said “nah, we’re putting it out like this!” Then when I got my computer back I went and finished it because that’s never how it was supposed to sound in my head! But it got me a leg up out of it, so I was happy!
For the album, Kode9 asked me to do an album but I didn’t think much of it! Hyperdub’s a big thing but at the time it was just whatever and I said yes. I asked what he wanted me to do and he said do what you want as long as it’s not mid-range dubstep!
Potw:*Laughs* I guess it was never really in danger of going in that direction though!
DVA: The closest I ever came a tune called Bullet a Go Fly on Keysound…
PotW: I LOVE that tune!
DVA: Oh thanks! I never set out to be Skream and that, that’s a level I’m not even going to go near. What Kode9 said was the best thing you could tell anyone like me because I like all different things, different sounds, I could do whatever! I didn’t have to think and that’s exactly how I like to make music!
That was my problem in Grime! Unless it sounded like [beatboxes typical Grime drum pattern] or something that sounded like the biggest tune of the moment, it didn’t go off and I was always on the different side. MCs said “I can’t spit to that Scratcha! Why can’t it go normal?” So working for Hyperdub has been a blessing in that way.
I made loads of tunes and Kode9 thought most of them were quite sophisticated, full songs so he helped edit out the unsophisticated ones so it would work as a package. I’d never done a package, they have. All I want to do is make tunes and they knew when one song wouldn’t sound great next to another one so that input helped a lot. That’s when I realized that Kode9 DID used to listen to my tunes! He’d go “what about that one tune from back then?” – He actually DID used to listen to my music before!
PotW: Kode9 was obviously never into the midrange thing but he did come from a Dubstep background whereas you came in from the Grime side and those two camps didn’t really crossover back in 2005. But you two were both outliers and kind of met in the middle. Was there any communications between the two scenes?
DVA: Nah! They didn’t mess with each other and that was sort of my problem with it. I was at a Grime rave last weekend listening to Logan Sama and Screwfizza and I loved the energy but you know what? It’s too negative – they’re like “don’t go there! don’t do that!” Unless Wiley does it! If Wiley does a Dubstep tune tomorrow then everybody can jump on Dubstep for the next two years! Wiley can do a House tune and we all get on House! But as soon as anyone else does it, it’s like “where are you going? You stepped out the circle!” I like too much different music to be stuck in one tempo! Just speed my tunes up! It’s Grime to me, even if it’s not 140BPM! Speed it up on a CDJ!
PotW: I actually did that to Bare Fuzz which is one of my favorite tunes on the album. It sounds really different from the rest of it as well – how did it come about?
DVA: I was messing with an old synth. A lot of the album was done at 5 in the morning, messing around. I’d go to the studio at 7PM and nothing would happen, go to sleep, wake up at 3AM and BOOM! Something happens. This fuzziness started coming out and everything fell into place. The second section came about because I had an artist over for the weekend, she came to do something else, I played her the beat and asked for backing vocals. She thought there was no keys so she couldn’t see it, she played the keys to give herself some guidance and I thought they were cool so I decided to keep them. Same as the pops and clicks on that track, when it came to mastering I told them to leave them in!
PotW: I think that’s a general vibe from the album, you’ll have a hard tune like Bare Fuzz but add jazzy chords to give it a different dimmension or have a jazzy tune with a weird bit so it doesn’t fit inside a standard box.
DVA: I don’t set out to do something different really. It’s just influences. It comes from listening to jazz but I’m not mad on jazz, I don’t know many names. I listened to a lot of House as well. The studio I was working in was on top of a night club where I’d do the lighting and they had a lot of Funky House DJs working there. Supa D, Pioneer, MA1 and they’ be playing loads of House stuff – once I found out what a tune I liked was, I’d download it but it wasn’t the same. Then, 10 minutes later, I’d find the bit I like! So I felt that tunes could change, they don’t have to stay the same from where they started and Grime won’t allow that.
PotW: you just switched from Rinse’s morning show to the hyperdub. Has your approach changed?
DVA: What do you mean?
PotW: Well, I only listened to the morning show a few times because it’s odd living across the world and getting tube updates…but for example I tweeted in once after a rave when I was off my head and had to tell someone and you were kind of enough to give me a shout. Appreciated that!
DVA: *Laughs* You know what, exactly what you said there is why I’m not doing that show anymore. What I will say is that, I’m a producer first over everything and my connection with Rinse is still wicked but in a business sense I had to drop something out and I’d been doing it for 6 years so it was enough. Plus Rinse is about to make a big step, they already have made a big step, they’ve come a long way. So I figured, let me move away before I get caught in it.
PotW: As a producer, there is a bit of heft to the album even if you’re not stone-faced, I guess it’s hard to get people to understand that you can crack jokes and be a serious artist.
DVA: Exactly. I just am how I am but promoters would come up and they wouldn’t know what I’m doing or how to push it! If it’s going to mess up my bread and butter it’s got to change. I’ll still crack jokes but when it comes to my livelyhood I had to focus.
PotW: And now you’ve got the Hyperdub show.
DVA: With the Hyperdub show, that was given to me because I needed a specialist outlet at Rinse. Then I decided to ask Kode9 if he wanted to make it a Hyperdub show because he stopped doing his show ages ago. THere were other labels on there like Numbers, Hessle and stuff and now I have the opportunity to go there once a month and play material I wasn’t allowed… It’s not that I wasn’t allowed but the way Rinse is going they’ve got their specialist shows and their daytime programming. You tend to move towards one side or the other right now so all the nerdy noodly things I want to do – they were like “Do it over there!” and I’m happy!
PotW: What’s the future hold for DVA?
DVA: I’ve got a launch party at Fabric on March 16th, I’m playing Sonar in Barcelona, can’t wait for that! Block Festival and a bunch of other festivals I never thought I’d play, so I’m happy about that. And this year is all about getting my live show set up with the artists I have on the album and…hopefully another album!