The Montreal-via-south London producer celebrates his debut album Earth Body with a new mix of bumpy house, UK funky and jungle
Montreal-via-south east London producer Deadboy never planned to make an album. For eight years, he’s been releasing 12” singles and EPs that have melded house music, UK garage, jungle, and grime with a strong melodic sensibility. Back in 2014, though, a record on Glasgow club label Numbers marked a clear turning point: its opening track, “Return”, uncovered a more moving, stirring side to his productions. Melancholic ambient music slowly unfurled over a short film made by fashion and music visual creator Thomas Traum, neon lasers slicing through an opaque cloud of smoke as an astronaut waves in slow motion. Looking back, it feels like a blueprint for the progression that has lead to his debut album, Earth Body.
“I guess maybe it’s confusing for people if you’re making club 12”s and then all of a sudden you make a pop album,” he tells me as he talks over Skype, wondering whether the shift in sound will make sense to listeners.
It’s certainly a departure from his earlier work, but one that makes sense considering the fluid ambient flourishes and heartfelt melodies that have populated a lot of his most recent music. The record is almost entirely beatless, and heavily features the producer’s own voice gliding through syrupy layers of AutoTune, taking cues from the introspective, emotional side of Drake and Kanye West’s work.
Talking from Montreal, where he recorded the album in the winter, Deadboy discussed the album, moving across the world, and self-sufficiency in the music industry. He also shared our latest Dazed Mix, which he approached with more of a club mindset than the music contained on Earth Body.
You work with AutoTune on your vocals on the record. Why did you decide to modulate your vocals? Was it to do with confidence, or something that you wanted to achieve with your sound?
Deadboy: I did it for a few reasons. I really like the sound – I love records that really overuse it, (like) Future, Travis Scott, and Kanye. Also, nobody likes the sound of their own voice, so if you're producing the record as well, editing all the vocals, listening to them over and over, you’re gonna want to make it not sound like you. To be honest, it’s a short cut – the record was never going to really be about the quality of the vocal performances, and I would never call myself a singer. So it’s both. It’s convenient that I prefer the sound, but it also makes things a thousand times easier. It’s also treating the vocal as a textural element. Some of the tracks have ten-part harmonies, so it’s almost like using the treated vocals as synthesiser chords or something like that, but with a bit of human poignancy.
You’ve said before that the likelihood of an album under the name Deadboy was something that was very low. What changed for you?
Deadboy: I didn’t plan to make this a Deadboy album – it was just a bunch of things I’d made on the side and was working on. People who heard them persuaded me to do it as a Deadboy album. I was against it at first, but enough people said it that I figured they know it better than I do. It didn’t feel like a Deadboy thing, it felt like it should be its own thing. I think what shaped (the album) is the general change and upheaval of a) moving to a completely new city and country where you’ve never been and don’t know anybody, and b) I don’t think it’s anything to do with politics, but the general feeling of the world in 2017 as well.
It’s pretty grim. You’re saying it wasn’t overtly political, but obviously there’s so much going on at the moment – is it strange to watch political events from the UK unfold from Montreal?
Deadboy: Yeah, definitely. We moved just before Brexit happened. America as well – everywhere – just watching this complete polarisation of society and watching the world turn into a Phillip K. Dick novel. It’s crazy. I’m pretty hopeful as well though. I think there’s a lot of good happening, it’s just hard to find that amongst all of the darkness. I think a lot more people are waking up. My generation is the first to grow up in a world truly connected by the internet, and that has changed everything significantly, forever. It has enabled an unprecedented exchange of information and ideas, and people are using that in amazing ways. We’re in the death throes of a corrupt and broken form of unsustainable capitalism and it will be people united across the world by the internet that will change things.
This unregulated exchange of information and ideas is changing the way we live every day, and every day thousands more people are connected to the internet and thousands more people are lifted out of poverty. The reason angry old white conservative billionaires are tightening their grip on the world is because it’s slipping out of their hands, and once a couple of generations of people who still trust mainstream media and still believe in nationalism and the political system are gone, everything will have to change. I think at the moment we’re at a crossroads and humanity could go either way, and even though it seems like the majority of people want these conservative, fascistic, totalitarian leaders, they’re actually ruling with a minority of votes and are backed by corporate right wing media.
Circling back to the album, the track ‘Rain’ recalls 808s & Heartbreaks for me. Was that album or that world something you had in mind while recording?
Deadboy: Definitely, I think it (was written) at that time when there was a lot of real introspective, emotional hip-hop. 808s & Heartbreaks and Drake’s Take Care and The Weeknd album all came around that time and I was really enjoying that vibe and wanted to make something like that. It’s hard to do it without it being completely contrived and corny. I don’t know if it comes across, but I tried to maintain a level of humour with it. None of it is 100% serious. It’s like a caricature of somebody, especially on that song.
Could you tell us about the mix?
Deadboy: It’s been a minute since I’ve recorded a mix outside of my radio show, so I wanted to do something more in the vein of a club set than the album-style material, and put in a load of my unreleased dancefloor tracks. So there’s some garage and some bumpy, raw house bits, some proto-UK funky-ish stuff, and a bit of hardcore and jungle at the end. Basically the kind of stuff I love to play when the party is going to be a bit raw and sweaty. Guidance Versions is an alias of mine I’ve been making some more kind of dubby, hardcore-influenced garage house music under for a bit of fun. I don’t have release plans for most of this stuff yet, but I’m probably going to try and get some of it out this year. I have so much music ready to release now, which is a great position to be in.
Local Action release Deadboy’s Earth Body on May 19