100% Murkage Dave, the downtempo dancefloor hero

The DJ and club runner-turned-artist discusses his journey from Mike Skinner to Caroline Polachek via Skepta. His Reebok Workouts won’t fail him now.

Murkage Dave is really well loved. He’s been doing club nights his whole career.”

So said Mike Skinner when we interviewed him last year. After he dissolved The Streets in 2011, Skinner hooked up with the London-born DJ and club-runner, then based in Manchester, to co-host a below-stairs party they would call Tonga. Like the balloons with which they filled their club night, it took off, which led to Tonga tours bouncing the pair round the UK and Europe.

But in 2018, Murkage Dave – a dancefloor hero wherever he spun – stopped DJing.

I love raving – I really love it. I’ve been raving since I was 13, d’you know what I mean?” he says with a knowing smile. And I do really miss DJing, but I had to stop – it was just getting a bit mad. I’d be in the club playing, like, Future or whatever, and someone would be like: Murkage Dave, what you doing here? I’d love to put you on my shoulders!’

And I was running out of time to make music. Writing and performing was what I always wanted to do. So I decided to focus.”

Cue the release in October that year of Murkage Dave Changed My Life, a debut album that mixed soulful acoustica, R&Broken Beats and electronic rap, all hooked round Dave’s sweetness-with-an-edge sing-talk vocals and lyrical bite.

Three years on, the singer-songwriter is back, trailing his second album with two killer tunes: Please Don’t Move to London It’s a Trap, which deserves props for the title alone, and Awful Things, a beautiful sounding collab written in lockdown with American singer-songwriter and FACE fave Caroline Polacheck.

Ahead of the album release, we probed an artist who also knows his way round gospel and funk – and who’s a master of laidback, sat-back, stripped back, soulful vocal delivery, one that adds punch and power.

That’s just what I know how to do,” he says with a shrug. Some maximalist club record would just sound terrible if I did it.”

10% Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?

I was born and raised in Leytonstone in East London. Then I went to Manchester to study history at uni. But I got kicked out. I was trying to do a music course at the same, and I was running bare parties – I was spreading myself too thin. But I ended up living there for 10 years. [Because of that] some people gave me honorary Manc status – whether I deserve that depends on who you speak to! Now I’m back in East London, in Hackney.

20% What emotions or experiences influence your work?

Being a bit of an outsider in every situation. But the blessing of that is, it allows you to walk between worlds. That’s my job, I think. The artists I end up working with – or even the people who are into my music – are like that.

30% What is, or was, Tonga?

I used to run a party in Manchester called the Murkage Club. And when I met Mike Skinner, I was gonna quit – I was totally done with club nights. But he had started DJ and was getting into clubs, while I was getting out. And he asked me to run a night with him. I was trying to move to London. It’s a bit like Carlito’s Way, where [Al Pacino’s character] comes out [of prison] and he can’t get away from the streets – literally The Streets, haha! But because Mike is one of my musical heroes, I could not say no. So Tonga ended up being the Murkage Club on steroids. And we went all over the UK and Europe doing it. He’s now a respected DJ, killing it in that world as well doing The Streets. And I learnt a lot from him about songwriting.

40% What was the importance of the balloons?

To get people in that childlike vibe. Only a psychopath’s gonna see a balloon and not wanna play with it. And at the time, a lot of kids were just doing balloons.

50% What made Skepta a good collaborator on Every Country?

I got lucky with that. I know Skepta from booking him and JME back in the day in Manchester, to play an R&B club. They were wearing tracksuits and they didn’t want to let them in, but I explained they were the headliners. Then I saw him years later when it was Tracksuit Mafia. But with that beat, he sent it to JayKae, then JayKae asked me to do the chorus. So it’s sick that, roundabout, I got to work with Skepta. He’s so influential on me in a lot of ways.

60% Of all the books in The Bible, why shout out Ephesians in Awful Things?

There are a lot of themes of purity and Christ-like living in that book. And there’s a line that has to do with how you’re living. A housekeeper left The Bible open in my hotel room as she saw the way I was living. She was sending me a message to change. [Growing up] I went to a really theological Methodist church in Stratford [in East London]. It wasn’t fun and happy-clappy. It was serious, slow hymns, just the piano, an hour-long sermon breaking down one verse in The Bible. And I had to go morning and night every Sunday. And I wasn’t allowed to do anything else that day, just eat food and go church. I did that for 18 years. So whether I like it or not, that runs through everything.

70% Speaking of Stratford: what do you miss about working at JD Sports in the Stratford Centre?

You were mainly selling Air Max to drug dealers – guys coming in with cash to buy two pairs. Or, people were stealing them. One guy used to chase them out the shop. I’m like: Mate, are you having a laugh? I’m not doing that just to get a thank you voucher from JD.’ Back then there was no social media, so if an MC came in, that was how you knew about them. And there were a couple of girls in there that I fancied, but I wasn’t tough enough. They liked the bad boys. Yeah, it was an experience!

80% What are your favourite trainers?

I could never afford anything, even with the staff discount. It was more Reebok Classics. Now I mainly wear Reebok Workouts. They’re affordable and democratic, and they go with everything I wear.

90% What can people expect from your second album?

It’s a lot more outward-looking, more social, more political. I feel I’m more confident now. When you see the videos or artwork or listen to the songwriting, you’ll get that. The first record was a last-ditch attempt at being an artist. Whereas now I believe more in my songs and ideas and what I have to say. You had Ibuprofen. Now you got Ibuprofen Max.

100% What’s your favourite spot in East London?

I used to love going to The Walnut Tree in Leytonstone. It’s a Wetherspoon’s. Cheap drinks, but is Wetherspoon’s cancelled now or not? Let me know. Maybe I will go there again. We’ll see.

Please Don’t Move to London It’s A Trap and Awful Things are out now. Murkage Dave’s second album is released next year

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