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Screenshot 2023-05-18 at 18.05.23
Photography Aidan Zamiri

Daniel Blumberg: ‘I was trying to make an extreme record’

The London artist’s third solo album, GUT, is an acute exploration of illness and physical fatigue

Daniel Blumberg is in a state of flux. The London-based multidisciplinary artist has just finished performing at Rewire Festival in The Hague, where he debuted his third solo record GUT. Tomorrow he’s meant to fly to Budapest to finish work on the score for Brady Corbet’s upcoming film The Brutalist, but the details of his flight have yet to be firmed up. Sitting in the green room of the gothic church venue, he carefully puts away his cigarettes and offers me a glass of wine – his go-to rider alongside a jar of pickles and canned anchovies. It’s been two years since his last interview – “it’s not something that I’m used to anymore,” he confesses, “it’s really strange”. 

Now 33, Blumberg was first signed to XL as a teenager, spending most of his formative years within bands like Cajun Dance Party and Yuck. An experimental musician, composer, and visual artist – he won a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Drawing School, graduating in 2016 – he’s a prolific presence across several fields, having also composed scores for the likes of Mona Fastvold’s queer western The World To Come, and a regular fixture at London’s Cafe Oto. In person, he’s softly spoken and measured, though could easily be mistaken as stern. Our conversation is freeform, stepping away from the standard question-answer format for what feels like a stream of consciousness, albeit a thoughtful one. “It’s part of the work to talk about it,” he continues, “But I try to leave the whole language side of it out of it.”

On GUT, Blumberg strips down to the bare essentials. Whereas his 2020 album On&On pulled apart traditional songwriter tropes with quartet-powered discordancy and atonal flourishes, his latest release is a solo effort, an unbroken sequence of six songs that capture the artist’s inner world with unflinching directness. Written during the pandemic, the album name is a reference to the autoimmune disease Blumberg has suffered in the last few years, and features acute renderings of pain and frustration in ballads that hit straight in the gut. “The record was made during a time when you weren’t meant to see people, and it was dangerous for me to see people, so it felt wrong to play with people,” he explains. “I never experienced illness in my life until then, so it was quite fascinating” – he doesn’t elaborate. 

It’s during this time that he stepped away from listening to music entirely minus two records: one by late French musician Ghédalia Tazartès and the other, Tierra Whack, both of which inspired the looping structure of the album. The same time he immersed himself in his art practice, small-scale silverpoint drawings – or micrograms. “The silver is living,” he says, eyes lighting up, almost gushing as he describes the durability of the material. He carries a pocket-sized pouch of sheets and silver stylus wherever he goes, he explains, gesturing at his notebook.

Blumberg recorded a majority of the album in one uninterrupted vocal take bound together by the breathy manifestations of the bass harmonica, which laboursly emulates the frustration of physical fatigue. “I was consciously trying to make an extreme record,” he explains. “The world around me was extreme, but also my body encountered extreme change, too.” Made out of repetitive loops that ring like mantras, the entire album feels like it could be reduced into a singular essence – there’s hardly any lyrics other than a few melancholic refrains sung in Blumberg’s plaintive, sometimes anguished voice. On “BODY”, a retching track punctuated with low-register gurgles, he performs with a microphone inside his mouth: “The whole track basically gets eaten.”

GUT is accompanied by a black-and-white film also directed by Corbet, Blumberg’s friend and collaborator. Shot on 16mm black and white film, it depicts Blumberg naked and vulnerable breathing laboriously into a harmonica. “We set out to capture Blumberg’s very essence,” says Corbet. Disorientating visuals pulls the viewer through various layers of disassociation, climaxing with the anthemic “GUT” where Blumberg breaks the fourth wall, pleading to himself “Daniel keep on singing”, before eventually concluding that “everything is out of gut”.

Daniel Blumberg is performing GUT at London’s ICA on May 23. Find out more here