GET FAMILIAR: MURKAGE DAVE
One breakthrough contemporary artist who's been our radar for a long time is Singer-songwriter Murkage Dave. Based out of East London, he has been pushing the boundaries between Brit-pop and R&B with his own unique flare and flavour so much so we just knew it was time to get familiar with the man himself.
How did music first enter your life?
My Mum and Dad used to play a lot of tapes in the car, from Diana Ross to Michael, Whitney, you know - stuff like that and yeah Bob Marley of course! My Dad was really into Donald Byrd and Grover Washington, and my uncle used to make us a lot of TDKs of the newer 90s jazz/hip-hop fusion stuff. My mum was really into musicals as well so I have memories of shit like Phantom of the Opera and the War of the Worlds audio tape playing in the car as well.
What records did you listen to when you were younger?
When I was super young I can remember MC Hammer ‘Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Em’, and also the ‘Jungle Mania 2’ double cassette. Then Fugees ‘The Score’ and Oasis ‘What’s The Story Morning Glory’. And just a lot of tapes off the radio, back then Kiss FM was the biggest black music station around so I used to listen to that a lot but then once I discovered pirate radio, that opened me up to a whole other universe that I could record sets from.
Who did you look up to when you were coming up?
The role model thing is interesting man. I was always quite creative but I do think that a lot of the reason I was drawn to music was because I saw a lot of prominent musical artists who looked like me. Maybe if I’d seen more visible black film directors or novelists or whatever, I would have headed in that direction instead, who knows.
I remember the first time I ever got on a plane, when I was 18, I went to visit some of my mum’s family in New York. I have this distinct memory of seeing a billboard of Puff Daddy all the way up the side of a skyscraper. This was a pre-Obama world, I’d never seen any shit like that before. I wasn’t like some Puffy superfan back then or anything but it’s one of those things that sticks in my mind from that time in my life.
Are you still tryna be Craig David?
That's funny - no man, but in the early 00s I fully was trying to be that guy! I met him very briefly in Ibiza a few years ago and he was super nice.
You walk the line between brit-pop and contemporary R&B; what influences from your past made this happen?
I think it was always going to go that way with me, once I accepted who I was and connected with that artistically. I grew up in the ends but I wasn’t really that ends kid. I went to school out of the ends and didn’t fit in there either. I spent ten years living in Manchester as a Londoner. I’ve always existed in spaces where I don’t fit in but low key I realised I kind of thrive off of it. I may never be fully accepted anywhere, but my gift is like more to be a translator you know, I can walk from one world to the next, and tell these worlds about each other.
Like I’m the artist who’s gonna get the deep R&B fan into indie, and the deep indie head into R&B, despite not really being either genre myself and you see at the end of every year when people post their Spotify Wrapped stuff, with my fans there’s literally no trend for what else they might be listening to in their top 5 artists. you might see me there with a bunch of metal, or neo soul, rap, country, electronic, anything mate!
How did Murkage Mondays come about? What was the crowd like at these events?
Monday Murkage was something I started in response to the first piece of ‘success’ I’d had with a song. At the time I was going under my real name David Lewis, and Sunship had done a garage remix of a soul tune I had on MySpace called ‘Hands On Her’. DJ EZ had picked it up and put it on his latest ‘Pure Garage’ compilation, which was a big thing at the time, like all my cousins got it for Christmas and stuff. So I started the club night more as a place for me and my friends to begin to showcase our work.
I definitely got a bit lost in clubland for a bit but I have no regrets as I did all the learning i needed to do during this time. We moved from Mondays to Thursdays, changed names to The Murkage Club, and the night became a huge hit in town for a few years on the bounce. it was a place that brought everyone together man, hipsters, students, road youts, champagne people, suicide girls, ex-emos, everyone was there man. I didn’t realise it at the time but that’s my thing you know, bringing the worlds together.
And then how did you meet Mike Skinner?
I met Skins in Manchester, not long before I was gonna knock everything on the head and move back to London. He’d started DJing and my boys Now Wave (who now own the Manchester venue YES) had booked him to come play and me to host the night. It was kind of mad because I’m a deep fan you know but I didn’t realise he knew who I was, and he was jumping on the mic during his set and bigging me up which was kind of surreal.
When I moved back to London he asked me to start a club night with him. Which was a bit of a Carlito’s Way moment for me, as i’d sworn I was done with the club shit and i just wanted to do my music. But when your musical hero asks it’s different you know, so that’s how Tonga was born. Tonga was like The Murkage Club on steroids, we had a very wild time across the UK and also mainland Europe. But I also learned a lot about songwriting from Mike during that time as well, just from conversations on planes and trains and hanging out in the studio.
Your debut album came at the perfect time - with regards to the diaspora beginning to feel more comfortable talking about mental health - how did these themes come about when you were creating the album?
To be honest there was zero calculation with my last album, it was only ever about survival. I was in a spot where I was known a bit as a club promoter and a DJ but nobody was trying to hear music from me at that point. at the same time I was being super creative in the studio so I just thought fuck it man, just say it as it is, what’s to be lost. I’d tried all the tricks and the bells and whistles, when all I had to do really was be myself. It’s such a cliche but that’s it really, and that’s how those themes came through in the record, because essentially I just gave up. gave up pretending man. so it’s a real reward to feel like I was in tune with the diaspora you know, all I’ve ever wanted.
Do you still have the couch?
The Car Bomb Sofa! It has lived a life man. After a while it was just too crusty and uncomfortable, so we’ve put it in the back yard under a cover. It’s the garden sofa now. I wanted to set it on fire on camera, maybe I’ll still do that. Or give it to a fan if anyone wants it!
And now you have a follow up album to share with the world - what themes does this album explore?
The first record was just my story, looking inward and working shit out. The new record is still a piece of that, but also beginning to look around and talk about what I see as well. I don’t want to give too much away at this point but I’m going on a journey with this album as well, and I really want the listener to travel with me.
Who have you collaborated with on this latest release?
It’s been really amazing to work with Caroline Polachek, she’s such a gem man. just a proper artist, she really gives a shit, and that inspires me a lot. I haven’t gone proper mad with features but there’s a few more surprises to be revealed.
Do you regret moving to London?
Nah man I’m from London! East London born and bred! I spent a fair while in Manchester so sometimes people think I’m from there, but I’m an honorary Manc at best, depending on who you ask.
With ‘Please Don’t Move To London It’s A Trap’ I’ve had people asking me why I’m hating on London. But i’m not, there’s a part of me that really loves London, but I just wanted to sum up how it really feels to live here. The song is every walk around the block i’ve ever taken, every night out, every month where I’ve come up short. I feel like when it comes to cities like London people like to either airbrush and romanticise the shit out of them, or only wanna talk about gang crime. I just wanted to give a bit more of a balanced review you know.
What does the future hold for Murkage Dave?
Freedom to create. That’s my goal. Any time i make a list that’s what i write at the top. Obviously there’s things I want to achieve. there’s venues I want to sell out, awards i want to win, artists I want to work with. but never ever at the expense of the freedom to create. It’s a promise with myself I can’t break.
Photography by Jordan Curtis Hughes
Words by Passion Dzenga