Darq E Freaker may be best known as the man behind some of grime's most enduring anthems, but he's also pushed the genre's boundaries in a fascinating way. The one-time Nu Brand Flexxx producer has always had a knack for merging the sometimes baffling, unorthodox sounds of London into an aesthetic that rap fans of all stripes can embrace. His first major production, 2009's "Next Hype" by Tempa T, became an immediate scene anthem—the kind of evergreen hit that the former Slew Dem member is still making money from years later.
"Cherryade," a lush instrumental for the label Oil Gang reprised the formula, appearing in countless sets during the early 2010s. Clued-in DJs immediately began cutting it with a wide variety of vocals, but it was Sinden's brilliant mashup with Waka Flocka Flame's "Hard In Da Paint" that best predicted the potential merger of violent Atlanta energy and London futurism. The buzz around Freaker even reached Detroit rapper Danny Brown, who tapped the producer for their 2012 collaboration "Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)," a major highlight of the emcee's live sets. The collaboration was a perfect opportunity for the up-and-coming beatmaker, and allowed him him to test the waves in America—a move that seemed to predict a rising interest in grime on the other side of the Atlantic.
Now, after building his name off years of underground work, Darq E Freaker's released his latest five-song EP ADHD (via Big Dada), which sees him further diversifying his sound with new tempos and textures. Tapping into the EDM movement's psychedelic and euphoric qualities, but pushing past its cookie cutter formulas, the tracks blend more elements per minute than most DJs do in their entire sets, with everything from hardcore techno to festival trap somehow ending up in the mix.
THUMP: How's the reception to your music abroad these days?
Darq E Freaker: Well, last night's show in New York was amazing. It was a sold-out show and there was a really good vibe. I thought it'd be more of a taste-making show—you know those kinds of shows where people stand and take in the music? It wasn't like that. People really got into it. I played a couple of grime tracks I made and tracks by other grime artists, and the crowd would be chanting the lyrics. It was quite an experience.
ADHD is your biggest record yet and explores a lot of new tempos beyond grime's 140BPM...
I've always done more than one thing. I don't want to sound cliché and say "I don't want to be put in a box," but I've made so many grime tunes and I'm going to make grime forever, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to show a different side of my sound palette with a different approach. A chef can't always cook the safe dish.
I actually think that style might be closer to what people are ready for in America. What about in England where "purist" grime is having a moment right now?
Some people stand there like "WTF? I came here to dance to "Next Hype" and "Blueberry," what's going on?" But what I do is that I start with my music, what I'd refer to as "weird shit," but then blend it into what they expect, move to some hype shit to start a party, and then wind down.
Where did the title come from? There's a lot of nods back to UK sound system culture in the sound, did you listen to jungle in its heyday?
The title is a representation of the energy, the vibe and the music. It sounds all over the place, and that's how I felt when I made it. I wasn't a participating junglist back in the day, but I was a curious kid. I was quite young, so I'd hear quasi-drum and bass tunes, the ones that were on TV, or the ones coming out of people's cars. There were a couple of big tunes that would stand out and get me interested, so it'd be a mix of breakbeats from jungle, but also from rave music.
This record does have that psychedelic, rave quality to it. Its got grime's energy but not necessarily the same kind of aggression. Was that connection to rave music something you were going for?
Yeah, it was! This record was like an ode to the records I grew up on. Stuff like Shy FX's music that I'd have been hearing when I was younger, The Prodigy, No Limit. This is my representation of stuff that I grew up listening to.
One of my favourite tracks is "Flabbergasted," which builds into a massive 4/4 section before switching tempos entirely—how did you come to that idea?
That's the most progressive tune that I've made, or that I've put out at least. It's kind of grime but it's also trappish, and then there's a hardcore techno part, and it slows down into hip-hop. I'm not going to say I'm confident in people liking that sort of music, but I'm going to be stubborn—I have to put it out so people get that side of me. People might think this guy's going crazy, so I'm happy you like it.
The record is definitely primed for the dancefloor, but previously you've worked with emcees like Danny Brown or Tempa T. Is that something you've put aside for now?
The thing with vocalists is that there's so much politics. You're firing tracks to people and then they're like "this is sick but I want it for my album." I want to revisit a vocal project with rappers and singers, but while I'll always be tackling that, I've got loads of genres on my computer. This is just the first time I've really put it out on a proper release.
That's something I want to add to the kaleidoscope of Darq E Freaker, to fully express myself. I know there's hardcore Darq E Freaker fans who want to hear grime and I'm always going to cater to them, but for the next few years there's going to be an extreme output.
It seems like it's a good moment for people to stretch out, there's a lot of grime producers exploring new territory.
It is a good moment, but I will say that I'm not doing this thing on the moment. I played the MoMA [in NYC] with grime music in 2013. I'm not one of those people going "oh my god, grime man!" I want grime to be a fixture. There was the dubstep wave, then the trap wave, and now people from outside London are listening to grime music. But we need to make grime a permanent fixture so people don't just jump off it onto the next thing.
In terms of pushing your sound forward, what's next?
I want to work with a singer no one would expect me to work with, like Sky Ferreira or Grimes, and put them on a sick grime beat. Other than that, I want to put out another EP by the end of the year.
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