Interview: Scratcha DVA

UKF front-runner Scratcha DVA is set to drop his debut album on Hyperdub later this month on March 19. He's been directing the flow of London's bass music for time now, with his Grimey Breakfast Show on Rinse FM, and with a steady run of releases on labels like Dusk + Blackdown's Keysound Recordings, and his own DVA Music. His 12" on Hyperdub 'Ganga' / 'Natty' demonstrated his knack for crafting a vibe in the dance like no one else, while 'Just Vybe', a collaboration with Academy alumna Fatima, showed a whole other soul jazz side to his productions, as Soule:Power with D Malice. For his album 'Pretty Ugly' he's pooled the talents of a bunch of singers, including Academy aluminati Fatima, Muhsinah, and Cornelia, as well as Vikter Duplaix, A.L., and Canadian-born South African singer/songwriter Zaki Ibrahim. We explored the mind behind 'Pretty Ugly' and found a world of 'Walk The Pencil', Sun Ra, and bright yellow frequencies.

RBMA: Hi Scratcha, how are you today?

Scratcha: Yeah I am good! I watched that film 'In Time' last night with Justin Timberlake in it and now today I've woke up thinking stuff, but it's kool.

RBMA: How have you been spending your breakfasts now since your Rinse FM show?

Scratcha: I can do whatever I like. Gym, studio, Xbox or stay in bed, followed by Jeremy Kyle. But now I'm not watching Jeremy no more. He's an idiot, and I don't believe in his show. I'm just watching people be angry, what's the point?

RBMA: Your on-air persona seems to come through in your music.

Scratcha: I've always felt that my music doesn't mirror what I'm doing on the radio. Maybe with my album, it has similar vibes, but that's only because I had so much fun doing it and I try to have fun on the radio as well. But no, radio is totally separate. If I'm in a bad mood and I got to the recording studio, then I'm more likely to make something happen I'm really happy with, and it's all natural. If I go to the radio in a bad mood, you wouldn't even know about it.

RBMA: So did you approach this album thinking about the club, or with more of a radio show mentality? Are they even different mindsets for you?

Scratcha: I seriously just aproached this album like Beyonce was naked in my bed and I had no idea, and I came home after a long hard day. I just went in blind because that's what it feels like when a label tells you to do whatever you like. "Just do you," 9 said. So I did. Then I had a break after 15 or so vibes I had built up during the summer. Then me, Kode and (Hyperdub label manager) Marcus looked at the vibes, and I went back in and finished the job. I never have DJing in mind when I'm making sounds. I dunno, I'm not really too fussed. The way ravers are now anyway, if FlyLo or Boy George plays any one of my tracks people will dance, so what does that mean? Sometimes I make dancey tracks and sometimes I don't. What I don't want to do is open up Logic thinking I have to do one or the other.

RBMA: How did you hook up with the vocalists on the record, did they all come through your show?

Scratcha: All the artists on my album I've definitely played on the radio or I have connected with via playing on the Rinse Grimey Breakfast Show. Fatima is on Rinse with Alexander Nut. A.L always sent me tracks to play on my show, so it was easy to keep track on how she's progressed over the last few years. With Cornelia, someone sent me a Soundcloud link to one of her tracks on a new music section I used to do once a week, so that's how I found her.

Muhsinah, I first heard on the Foreign Exchange 'Leave It All Behind' album. I used to travel to shows with Tinie Tempah and it would just repeat over a good few times on long journeys. So I took/borrowed (lol) the album and checked out all the small print to find out who the people featuring on the album were because I liked it so much. So I'm happy that working with Muh worked out. I got Tinie and his manager to thank for that. That was pretty much the same with Zaki Ibrahim. Gerv LV introduced me to her voice, so I went and found her and recorded her at Red Bull Studio in South Africa.

When I signed my publishing to Westbury, I noticed they dealt with Vikter Duplaix and I was just getting into listening to him via Jazzanova tracks and his album, then 'Manhood' which I always liked but had no idea who it was. So hooking up with him was a dream and I got to physically record him in London. Not no sending files Skype ting.

RBMA: You often seem to throw contrasting textures together in one song, like the title track with Cornelia - the clashing keys against her soft vocals.

Scratcha: I think making that instrumental was after watching a video clip of Sun Ra skitzing out on a synth. Made me think there shouldn't be any holding back when creating. Do you remember 'walk the pencil' in nursery? Well making that track was a bit like 'walk the pencil' in the studio. The beat is pretty ugly and busy, so the voice on top had to be a bit more laid back and delicate. Collaborating the beat with an artist like Cornelia was what it needed. She's open to sound and has worked with stranger things than me, so she knew how to approach the track straight away. The instrumental was named 'Pretty Ugly' after the first draft because that's how I think it sounds. Ugly off-keys and subs, but bright yellow frequencies.

RBMA: At the end of 'Bare Fuzz', there's a vocoded vocal that sings "Synthesize me into a galaxy, where music lives happily." Can you talk about that? Do you consider yourself part of a lineage of afro-futurists?

Scratcha: Yeah that was me on my MicroKORG. I don't know anything about afro-futurists. Is Steve Spacek one? Is that when black people think about space? I guess I am then, yeah. When I was at school I wrote a story about a planet where you can go to rave 24/7, but if you stop dancing you get shot. I can't remember what grade I got for that. Would make a good film actually.

RBMA: The lyrics on the album throw spanners into familiar urban stories, like on 'Why U Do'. Did you have a say in writing them, or could you trust the vocalists to do their thing?

Scratcha: A.L. attacked that beat with that concept which I really liked. It's actually a true story she said, happened to a family 'relative' (lol) but maybe it's just her really, who knows? She just needed some guidance on how her vocal needed to be arranged to fit the beat. So after her singing to me what she had, I just made her sing it in the gaps of the 3/4 structure so she would sit in the pockets, instead of singing in the wrong flow. Working with Aliesha is always a good vibe because she's actually crazy. We've done other time signature stuff before and she gets it better then a lot of singers I'm used to working with. She used to be a dancer.

Most track tracks came from a concept of mine or simply the title of the instrumentation. I get involved in the writing process as much as possible and I'm overly into illuminati conspracies and stuff. Now I've told you that, go back and listen to tracks 10, 11 and 12.

Scratcha DVA's debut album, 'Pretty Ugly', drops March 19 on Hyperdub. You can listen to the album over at Hypemachine. Photos by Jimmy Mould.

By Max Cole on March 7, 2012

On a different note