Where I Belong: Scratch DVA

Hyperdub, Rinse and 'Pretty Ugly'
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Sipping some coffee in Brick Lane, Scratcha DVA is all energy, vibes and enthusiasm. Recently departing from his Rinse FM breakfast slot, the producer is relishing being able to take back control of his day.

Ripping apart four - count 'em - sachets of sugar, Scratcha DVA begins reflecting on his new album. Out now on Hyperdub, 'Pretty Ugly' is probably his biggest step yet as a producer fusing Grime riddims with House textures, soulful flourishes with some totally unexpected influences.

"People might think it’s only a breakfast show, it’s a couple of hours in the morning but actually it takes a whole day and even more if you want to put some more thought into it" he explains. "I just needed more time. I mean, I done the album when I was still at the show and now, in order for me to go and tour the album, I can’t do the show".

Sounding a little exasperated, DVA continues: "I just needed a change, bruv – I mean, six years of something is long. Imagine you’re with a girl for six years. You know what I mean? You’d probably split up! It just gets boring. Not that the show got boring, but six years of anything is long, so you’ve got to change up your life".

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Are you aiming to free up time to focus on your own music?
Yeah. For everything really. To free up time for everything. People might think it’s only a breakfast show, it’s a couple of hours in the morning but actually it takes a whole day and even more if you want to put some more thought into it. I just needed more time. I mean, I done the album when I was still at the show and now, in order for me to go and tour the album, I can’t do the show. I just needed a change, bruv – I mean, six years of something is long. Imagine you’re with a girl for six years. You know what I mean? You’d probably split up. It just gets boring. Not that the show got boring, but six years of anything is long, so you’ve got to change up your life.

What drew you to the album format over, say, a series of 12s?
I don’t know.. It was more actually, like Kode9. He suggested to do one. I just put out a couple of tunes on their label, and it was like a natural thing. It was in conversation, they said an album was supposed to happen. So I didn’t think nothing of it. They said about an album, I just thought I would get on with whatever I’m doing. Then it was more a bit serious when he was like, do you what? We need to do an album so here’s a contract. I thought: cool. This is a good idea, I’ve never done an album before. In fact I did do an album but I never showed anyone. It was like a grime, weird thing.

Back in the day?
Yeah. It was just before this, really. I got like loads of Grime acts to appear: Wiley, Asher D, Badness.. loads of people. Loads of people. I did this album called No Right Turn.. Yeah. That flopped. I could probably do something with it later down the line if the time was right. Plus: too many egos and then everybody’s got managers now and it’s all changed, whereas before your mates were passing through the studio, we make some tunes and it’s all good. This was a chance for me to do something by myself, which I’ve never really done before. It’s good.

Your own style really comes through on the album.
Do you know what? That’s more like.. I always knew that with Hyperdub there’s all different sorts of sounds going on. They said – just do what you want. So it wasn’t like, I could do an album for some people and it would be like: OK we want it in this style, or that style. ‘Cos I do different things. But they just said: do what you want, no mid range dubstep – we’re cool. You know what I mean? And that’s just what come out bruv. It was never going to be any other way. I just got in a studio, I didn’t think about it I just did it, y’know what I mean? And then that’s it.

That’s probably the best way to go right now, given the diversity of the scene.
I’ve always been about that. I’ve never really been someone to stick to one tempo, or stick to one sound. There are producers out there who have made a whole career out of like a preset sound or sounds that they’ve made up. Put together themselves and made a whole career out of it. I dunno, I haven’t done that. I couldn’t do that. Everything from my album now to a tune three years ago or even yesterday would be completely different. It’s good that I’ve been able to put it on one project. I thought it was going to sound like a jumble sale but it’s actually come together. That’s what I think anyway.

How did the collaborations come about? Did you have a list of vocalists in mind?
Yeah, it’s kind of like.. happen along the way, kind of thing. So with Fatima, who I had a release with before – I like Fatima, I had to have her on the album even though it was the same vocal as what we did back then. It’s people I like. So as I said before, when I was working in a studio doing all the Grime stuff it was like people who were just passing through – ‘cos I used to be an engineer. Wiley would be there, he’d be like “got any beats?” and I’d be “yeah”. Now, I was like: what do I actually want? ‘Cos these people aren’t going to do that, so I had to actually reach out a bit. I like this person, I’ll try them in there. Luckily I got it, y’know what I’m saying? Now, it makes me think like really.. I don’t really care about other people but I’ve always thought that if I wanted some person on my tune they’d never care. But you never know until you ask! Luckily I got everything I wanted. It makes you think, really, when you’re doing an album.

Presumably they’re other people you want to collaborate with?
They’re loads of people. There’s people I contacted. I wanted Foreign Exchange on the album as well. I got Musina who used to work with them. I wanted Foreign Exchange, so many people. But next time around, maybe. It just naturally all happened, I just made a beat and then though “I just have to get this person on the beat”. The beat told me where to go. It’s kind of been like that with me for a few years, I hear the beat and know that only a certain voice will go on that. So I think of the range of people who will fit that beat, and ask them. I won’t just get a singer for the sake of them singing, I think that’s ridiculous. So everything – hopefully – works. It works in my ears!

There’s a lot of soul on the album, is that coming through from Garage, R&B or something more old school?
I used to love Garage – I still do. There’s Garage, but mainly it’s from the R&B and soul. Then like, even more recently getting into the other soul which wasn’t so big to me when I was younger. Like, back in the days it was R Kelly, all that bump ‘n’ grind shit. Now, it’s like Foreign Exchange and stuff like that. The edgier stuff which I didn’t know about back in the day. Carol Richardson, the neo-soul stuff. Headyway Records, Floating Points – all of that. That’s been a big influence as well. Jazz – totally jazz. I never used to listen to it back in the day, and I don’t listen to it now but when I hear stuff I respect it and check for it. Like Sun Ra, things like that. Gil Evans. They were the things I was listening to when I was making the album. The studio I was working in is like a mad, jazz place. I couldn’t get away from it, there were jazz records everywhere – Alice Coltrane and all that. I’m like, easily influenced with anything, y’know what I mean? If I eat a nice bagel I’ll eat it for five years. It’s the same with music – if I hear something good then that’s it. That’s what I was listening to at the time – Nikolai, Foreign Exchange and jazz. That’s how that album come out. I’ve always had soul in me because I used to work with singers in Grime. I put together a CD called ‘The Voice Of Grime’ – it had 22 singers on it and it was all Grime. I produced eleven of the tunes and I got like eleven other tunes from Terror Danjah, Da Vinci and so on. I’ve always been about that. As well as that – hanging around with Terror Danjah back in the day, ‘cos he’s a soul man, a soul / reggae man. With us both making Grime, he was probably the first person to show me putting Badness beats with R&B. It was being around his house. When he was doing that, back in the day – Celia, Shola Ama and that. That’s where that influence comes from. It’s always stuck in there, y’know what I mean? I think you’ve got to have some soul in there to begin with. That’s just how it is.

I’ve heard you went out to South Africa recently, is that right?
That all come about because I was looking for Yakima to do this album. So I’ve got this beat and I knew I needed her on it. I know what I want.  Had a get a few links for her and LV had a link, so I hooked up with her. He give me her number, all that stuff. I said: right, she’s not replying to me, she’s not answering my calls I’m going out there. How hard can it be to go out there? I’ll find her. He was looking out some flights for me, got me some flights for a good price so we both went out there and when she knew I was coming out there she thought “OK this guy is serious”. If I had never had gone out there we probably wouldn’t have got the vocal. While I was out there was got a few bookings, so it all worked out. Then they booked us again this year so I went twice. No I went twice last year.

Going back to the album, how did you piece it together to create a sense of cohesion?
You mean gelling the stuff together? I don’t know how that happened. What did help was the interludes, because the intro – that mad noise and backing vocals – that’s what comes in and out a couple of times. That was actually a song, which we didn’t end up using. I took all the drums away and cut it up into sections so you’ve just got this mad bits of fuzz coming in and out of the album. I think that’s what held it together a bit more. You know what, though? I didn’t want to be like “take that tune out ‘cos it ain’t going to go”. I don’t want to do that. I feel like, that’s just how it got made. You don’t have a baby and then change it for a different colour because that is just how it is. It come out that way. That’s how the album come out. Next time it’s going to be the same thing – I don’t even know what I’m going to do. I could never plan it. I could go into the studio and think “right: I’m going to make a 140 banger and I’m going to phone Wiley”. I’ll make something rubbish because I can’t do that, y’know what I mean? It’s just got to come out.

What are you planning now, then?
I just want to work on this album and go live with it. I’ve been looking at Ableton. I’ve got some live sets hooked up throughout up until whenever. I’m doing live at Sonar this year. I’m doing it with Kode9 and Cooly G. I’m doing quite a few Hyperdub nights around Europe. I’m going to be bringing a couple of singers with me as well so I’ll be merging that in a bit. I’ll be playing live and then I’ll be DJing as well. I made a remix just yesterday – I’ll play it to you in a minute.. I don’t even know what it is. That seems to be what I’m doing now.

Will you be pressing 12s from the album?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve never thought about it. Never actually thought about that. Sometimes with my own label, I’d be like we need to get so and so to remix it. But in this case, there’s nothing on there which needs a remix. If a remix does happen it could be something to do with Hyperdub. It’d be nice – I’d like to see what Floating Points could do actually. I tried to get him on the album, he’s another one I tried to get. I wanted him as the grand finale, the final track on the album with me collaborating with Floating Points. It didn’t happen. He did do it but we didn’t get to use it because he didn’t like it and all sorts of stuff.

He’s a perfectionist.
Yeah. I sat there for like half an hour when he tried to find the track and then what he did was say “nah, I don’t like it”. It’s actually ‘The Big Five’ – the tune on the album – he was on it as well, when we did some stuff. Then he just sort of said no.

Are you going to try and work with him again?
I’m always going to try to work with him. Always. My next plan is to get his Ensemble to play ‘Where I Belong’ – you know the big brass song? He’ll probably say no, knowing him.

Are you moving in more of a live direction?
Not really. I’m just feeling it out. I just don’t want to sit down at my laptop and have people stroking their chins. I just want to feel it out, have the singers being dead beautiful and stuff. They’re like the face of it, let them do their thing. I’m more about producing really. If I could just produce and not do anything else I would do that, to be honest, but I suppose you have to go out on the road. I don’t not like it, it’s just I wish I could just produce and that’s it but you need to do other stuff.
 


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'Pretty Ugly' is out now.

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