Murkage Dave is Championing a Uniquely British Sound

Having garnered cult status as a legend of underground British music for his work with Murkage, END. joins Murkage Dave on tour to discuss pirate radio, his experiences up North and the importance of music as an emotional outlet.

Murkage Dave relaxing prior to performing in Newcastle shot by END.
A pillar of the club scene in Manchester throughout the noughties, Murkage Dave's eponymous club night and collective, Murkage, operated as a hub of underground music in the northern city for a decade. Stepping out of the shadows, Dave is finally ready to embrace the limelight, serving up a nuanced blend of contemporary R&B that maneuvres the musical styles he championed during his tenure as a sought-after promoter and DJ.

A community of musicians as well as a regular, weekly club-night, Murkage proved to be fertile ground. Launching the careers of artists such as Gaika, Star.One and Kaizen Records, the collective were renowned for their energetic approach to holding parties. Evolving into a stepping stone for artists and DJ's from London to perform further North in the United Kingdom, at a time when this upward expansion was difficult, as well as celebrating the local talent on offer, Murkage served as an important figurehead of Northern underground sounds. Booking now-legendary acts such as Skepta, DJ EZ, DJ Q and David Rodigan, Dave's intense love of music, and the UK Garage rave scene on which he was raised, propelled him into cult stardom. Passionate about music and the parties he organised, Dave built a name for himself over the course of the ten years he lived in Manchester. Heading back to the capital in 2012, he strived to find his footing as a musician in his own right, showcasing his unique perspective on the world.

Despite being on the scene for nearly two decades, Dave released his debut album "Murkage Dave Changed My Life" in 2018, following a number of cult singles. A catalogue of lived experiences, the full-length album encapsulates Dave's way of viewing the world. Brimming with bittersweet feeling, sensitivity and passion, MDCML offers a unique insight through the perspective of someone who has spent a great deal of time observing the world around him. Finally entering the arena as a solo artist, Murkage Dave's brand of R&B cultivates a uniquely British sound - inspired by UK Garage, Soul and even the Indie rock synonymous with Manchester - and the result is a varied mix of heartfelt and honest music.

Sitting down with Murkage Dave, END. discuss the impact of pirate radio, Dave's experiences in the North and the importance of music as an emotional outlet.

Murkage Dave ready to perform at his show in Newcastle shot by END.
To me, there’s nothing more British than UK Garage.
With the meteoric resurgence of Grime over the past few years and UK Garage gaining traction again, what do you feel about the second wave of these genres from the perspective of someone who has grown up with this music?

It’s great to be honest. I know it sounds like a bit of a cliché to say, but I really listen to every kind of music, so I’ve seen genres come in and out pretty frequently. I remember when Indie was the coolest thing on the planet, now no one really gives a shit. One year it’s Grime, one year it’s Drill - I was there for the birth of Dubstep - it all just runs in cycles, especially in the United Kingdom. When people are doing things for the right reasons, that's when music can be truly exciting. When it becomes motivated by something else, like money or whether that sound is cool at the time, that is when it just doesn’t work and becomes less inspirational. I’m happy about UK Garage coming back though, man. I was in Dublin last night with the youngest crowd I’ve played to, and they were going mad for any track with a two-step garage beat. They knew all the words, but they really loved the garage vibe. For someone who grew up listening to pirate radio, it was pretty strange and beautiful. To me, there’s nothing more British than UK Garage.

The track “Magic Mission Deja Rinse” calls back to a time in UK music that placed emphasis on radio stations as central hubs of finding new music – what was it about pirate radio that was so captivating?

Historically, pirate radio came about way before UK Garage, it was called pirate radio because it was literally broadcast from ships. But around the time I was listening to pirate radio, social media didn’t exist. In music, there have always been the gatekeepers, the block - whatever you want to call it - at labels, who get to decide what goes through to the mainstream. Pirate radio offered a way for British black music to get around that, in the sort of way that social media can do now. If something was popping or creating a wave within the culture, that music could find a way to the people through this scene of pirate radio, raves and record labels pressing vinyl. It’s a beautiful thing, because it created an infrastructure so that these artists didn’t have to rely on the existing music system, which wasn’t really helping them at the time.

Murkage Dave performing live in Newcastle shot by END.
Much like Instagram now, where a much bigger artist could shout-out or show the music of a much smaller artist to their following, the bigger DJs and producers on pirate radio could show off the smaller artists to their following too.

It was basically the culture doing A&R for itself. I feel like any time a genre does that is when it is at its best. With the Grime 2.0 wave, that was so exciting, because when Skepta put the tracksuit back on and everybody was coming through, nobody was signed at that point. You had artists like Stormzy, Novelist and Giggs all doing their thing, creating a culture and a genuine sense of community. There was no-one in the studio from the label asking for it to sound a certain way, it was just the people that made the music, who already knew each other and the only things they thought about were “does it bang?” or “how does it make you feel?”. That was the best thing about pirate radio, even though now it isn’t really needed, as we have internet radio. Social media is pretty much the same as pirate radio now, and that culture of independence that pirate radio offered still exists. There are always going to be artists who are willing to do it on their own and make the music with their people, the people who understand them, and keep the people who don’t understand them but want to monetise what they’re doing away for as long as possible.

Does radio still play an important part in these music scenes now, or has it become less important with social media in its place?

It’s less important, but it still has a place. It’s worth remembering that there are so many scenes and so many different circles. You’ve got to remember that the things that are obvious to you may not be so obvious to all these other people. 1xtra, for example, was developed in response to pirate radio, but it doesn’t really replicate it. There are some cool shows on there, but it’s just different and designed for a whole other group of people. Radio is still important, but it is a different world now.

Like any teenager, you feel that sort of uncertainty with your ambitions. You know what you want to do but you don’t really know how to go about doing it.
I’ve read you comment, “that’s why a lot of MC’s listen to my stuff, it’s like I’m almost saying the things they can’t say – there’s no one else to say it”. What has made you feel comfortable enough to talk about more hard hitting and emotional themes?

I’m from the same environment as a lot of contemporary MCs, and I don’t want to group together all MCs as there are many who do talk about similar ideas, but I was a quiet kid. I was adjacent to a lot of the mad shit that was happening but I was just an observer really. I didn’t go to school in the area that I grew up in, so I had a slightly different life. I was very lucky actually, as I got kept away from a lot of bad stuff. I didn’t have to worry about showing my vulnerability or weaknesses. For some people, appearing to be tough is a survival thing and if you appear to be weak, that’s a problem. I’m lucky that I don’t have to worry about that. There are loads of artists who do speak about these topics, but there are also a lot who could speak about these things. I’m trying to inspire other artists to go down this lane, especially in British black music. Don’t worry about what labels are investing in or what you think you should be doing – just say the thing that you want to say.

Described as “a collection of folk songs for the culture”, your debut LP expertly tells stories of lived experiences. Do these narratives come from your own personal experiences?

“Murkage Dave Changed My Life” is very autobiographical – there are some bits here and there where I have mashed together aspects of different stories, or where I’ve witnessed things and included them. I’ve been asked about certain lines in songs by people who know me, because they end up thinking that it is written about a certain person. I wouldn’t say any of my records are necessarily about a specific person or exact instance, but more pulling together all the things I’ve seen and been through. I didn’t make a solo album for a long time, so the LP is a lot of years of experience smashed into 12-songs.

You spent 10 years in Manchester before moving back to London in 2012, did you find that your time in the North changed your outlook on music?

Definitely, one-hundred percent. I left London when I was 18 and I was super lost, man. Like any teenager, you feel that sort of uncertainty with your ambitions. You know what you want to do but you don’t really know how to go about doing it. Moving up to Manchester opened up my world a lot because there was just so much more space to do things. Rent was cheaper, the people were a lot nicer – obviously every city has its problems, but Manchester was the place that allowed me to really grow into the artist I am today. When I came back to London was when I really applied all the things that I learnt. That’s kind of why my album is called “Murkage Dave Changed My Life”, because I do wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t moved up to Manchester and started putting on the Murkage parties, and had just thrown myself into making music at 18, like some Brit School kid. Would I have succeeded, or would I just be another struggling soul singer on the London circuit? I don’t know, and the album deals with a lot of these uncertainties.

The Murkage events will have also thrown you into a world of different music, working with a variety of different artists on your club nights.

When I was doing Murkage, I saw a lot of artists rise and fall, and a lot of scenes come and go. Running parties is the maddest shit, honestly. You’d meet the biggest celebrities, rich people, crooks, doctors, policemen – what some people might call the highs and the lows of society. They’re all in the same place and even though you might look at them on a scale, they are all intermingling and it kind of levels everyone out.

Murkage Dave performing live to a bustling audience in Newcastle shot by END.