Miss Me Much: Craig David On SW4, Creativity, And The Eternal Appeal Of UKG
Craig David is a force of nature.
Right from the start of our conversation he's a boundless torrent of positivity, moving from topic to topic with unerring optimism.
Of course, he's every right to be optimistic. Craig David is currently working towards another studio album, while his TS5 project has stormed the Ibiza season.
Even the UKG sound that made his name is bubbling up once more, with the Guardian, no less, pondering the merits of a UK Garage revival.
Of course, garage has never quite retreated from view, with a closeknit underground keeping the sound alive; but with AJ Tracey and Joel Corry scoring Top 10 hits with singles clearly identifiable as UK garage, it's clear that something is up.
Curating his own stage at London's SW4 festival over the weekend, Craig David topped another sizzling month with his new single 'Do You Miss Me Much'.
Clash got on the phone to find out what's what.
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How has the Ibiza season been this year?
Do you know what? It’s been brilliant. Every year I’ve been trying to make small little nuances to the experiences people can have, and I think this year – of the four years that I’ve been doing it so far – has been the best. Just for the simple little things: the stage was moving closer to the pool, we changed the depth of the pool, so it’s a proper pool party. Full pool, 360 stage… love it.
Where do those changes come from? Are you a perfectionist?
I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my music and wanting to excel in anything that I do in my own world. The one thing that I pride myself on, though, is the experience that everyone else has of the show. That’s why the little things that I wanted to change in the pool party were all about the experiences people could have. Having a supportive team that listen to the creative ideas and then see them through is the best thing, because I just want people to have the best time ever. That’s the difference now.
That’s what has changed over the years – it’s not about chart positions or recognition, it’s about… actually, what memory did you have? Did you have the best time ever?
It’s a team game, after all.
I trust each of the people around me. It’s like being the captain of a football team – you need everyone to play their position, so it functions correctly. The great thing that I love, across the board, is that everyone is transparent with each other. If someone is not stepping up, then they get called for it. And I include myself in that. And I love that, because that’s what makes a good team performance.
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You curated a full stage at SW4 over the weekend, how did that come about?
I’ve done TS5 there before, which was wicked. I know what a big festival it is, so when they asked me to do a takeover I was like: I’d love to do it. But it has to fit what TS5 represents. From its beginnings as a house party, the style of music… so the acts had to be able to perform and hold the crowd’s attention no matter what.
I think we found such a nice balance of the types of music – it’s not hinged on me coming out and doing my show.
It’s very broad – you move to DNB to Mabel…
I love that when we asked Mabel if she’d perform, it was before her big hits. I love when you can bring someone through for their talent as an artist, rather than just a hot song. Now people are blown away by Mabel being on the bill, but she was there from the very start.
Do you have any rituals before you go onstage?
I’m at my most comfortable when I’m onstage. I think because I’ve learned the hard way with records skipping in clubs when I was a kid back in Southampton. The freestyling on the mic to hold the crowd’s attention while I’m frantically finding another piece of vinyl to put on.
All those elements have made me so confident on the stage that all I do need in the run up to going on is some quiet time. If can get 15 to 20 minutes on my own, quiet… the one I’ve realised is that a lot of people around you can get excited – which is great – but people can forget that I need to be grounded to hold this crowd’s attention. It’s an important thing for me to be calm, so I can own it onstage.
You seem completely grounded in your approach, how do you maintain that?
I’ve been with the same manager now for 19 years. He originally signed me to his record label, he came down to Southampton to sign me. He’d always been in artist management – with a few different people over the years – and I’ve always felt that he’s been so straight and honest with me. Even with the highs – he’s not pessimistic, but he’s always said ‘just enjoy this, but don’t define yourself by it’.
Any artist who wants to be in this for a long period of time, you’ve got to recognise that there’s going to be times that are testing for you, and it’s going to get low. And there’ll be a moment when everyone is gassed. It goes both ways. And if you keep going up and down, that can mess you up. It’s hard, but stay consistently in the middle – enjoy the ups, understand how the lows work, and ride it out.
My team are very much the same, and if you look at my parents that installed some real morals in me. Just work hard and don’t get too gassed by it, because it’s all smoke and mirrors by the end and you can lose yourself.
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You’ve certainly kept focus over the past two years, there’s been a slew of great music. Can you write on the road, or is it more about maximising studio time when you can?
I find that any idea that comes to me, I’ll get it down as a voice note on my phone. But the actual recording, I find that I really need to focus in. For me, it’s more productive when I’m like that. And also, I think the difference from back in the day is that I used to be in the studio for such long periods of time- again, I was so super gassed by the whole thing!
But now, I can get more done in that period of time, if I lock and load in that six hours, as opposed to working until 4am with everyone vibing on the bass… and then you wake up the following day, mid-afternoon and it’s like: this isn’t quite as good as I thought! I’ve learned to keep it tight, keep it moving.
New single ‘Do You Miss Me Much’ is an absolute UKG banger…
That’s it man! I just wanted to make a straight up and down garage record with all the elements I feel make up a garage tune – the cut up vocal, the MC parts, a bassline that’s got that wobble… and a song. Like, if you strip off all the UKG elements you can sit around a piano and sing it. I was always able to do it – like we did acoustic versions, or with ‘Rewind’ which is a straight dance tune but I could sing it a capella.
I feel like we’ve ticked a lot of the boxes for it, and I feel there’s a new wave in the garage scene, something that isn’t a throwback or nostalgia thing. With AJ Tracey and Jorja Smith releasing garage tunes, or with Conducta on production, there’s a whole new take on it. Maybe it needs a new name – we don’t even know where it’s going to go. But these 15, 16 year old kids won’t remember back in the day. We’re getting into that place where afrobeats – which, for me, is literally dancehall from 1990 with a different tag on it – it’s like that.
It’s exciting to see this whole new wave, but some of the old classics – the Reeboks are back out, that loud Moschino outfit going on. It’s a good time.
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UK garage is often misrepresented – it’s a hugely musical sound, with a tonne of different influences in the pot.
100%. That’s what got me into it, really, in the first place. If you look at Rosi Gaines, ‘Closer Than Close’ or Tina Moore, ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’. Or with the R&B elements, look at K-Ci and Jojo, ‘All My Life’ or Jaheem, ‘Just In Case’. Taking proper R&B ballads and then flipping them, putting double time down on it in production. You’re approaching an R&B ballad, but the output is actually a dancefloor filler. Then MJ Cole with ‘Crazy Love’ really bringing musical instruments into it.
I feel that’s where the Artful Dodger was great because Mark was very much pulling his orchestral experiences to put actual strings on a record, an actual guitar, and it really did showcase that it wasn’t just a beat production thing. I mean, there were some bangers out there, but some of the classics - ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, ‘Flowers’ - you could do them as ballads. They’re amazing songs.
We’re now in another period of time, and I hope that the floodgates open and people get on it because it’s a totally British thing that we’ve kept under wraps for a minute and it feels like it’s coming back round again.
It’s a deeply British sound, and it’s also a hugely positive sound.
It really is. The elements of what made it so good back in the day, I’m feeling like that whole thing has come full circle. It went garage, early days of grime – So Solid, for example – then it needed to go underground for a moment again, because the scene was pulling it in that direction. It can get saturated, so people make it darker again. Then out of that you got Wiley, Skepta, Kano… until you see Stormzy headline Glastonbury.
So grime reaches that point, and then all of a sudden you see Jorja Smith put out a garage tune, AJ Tracey put out a garage tune. So maybe this is the point that a whole generation realise this is the flow they could be on.
For me, UKG isn’t a place and a time, it’s a genre of music. We’ve got dance music, four to the floor, and certain progressions… but this is definitive. This is garage. And you cannot get away from the way those snares, hi-hats and bass are put together. It’s in its own world and it will always live now.
It’s amazing to think that the UK has created something that will stand the test of time like that.
To finish, what’s coming up next for you?
I’m finishing off an album. Making sure we have all the right pieces to have a body of work. I’m still focussed on having an album after putting out singles… I just can’t buy into putting out singles or chasing streaming numbers. I get where it’s moving to, but there’s still a duty of care with bodies of work. It’s an artform, it doesn’t have to just be put out there for the numbers. So, finish an album.
And then, to be honest, I’ve realised that the outcome has changed for me, and all I want is to give people positive memories of me and my music and my performances, and just be consistent with that, which means I have to evolve, I have to keep myself relevant, I have to be ahead of the game.
I think, for me, that’s going to allow me to consistently give people that feeling. And that’s it.
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'Do You Miss Me Much' is out now. Stay in touch with Craig David online HERE.