How Manchester Saved Murkage Dave’s Life

Words: Jesse Bernard
Photography: Saelmn

Having your name ring out in a city is one thing, but for it to be an adopted city some 200 miles from your hometown is another. A decade ago, underground music was thriving in London and many of the venues that have gone to ashes in recent years used to be home to some of the biggest nights in grime, D&B, garage and dubstep. David Lewis had other ideas, partly due to the claustrophobic feeling he had in London, and established a base for himself in Manchester, gradually building a network in the process. I say David Lewis because, while promoting raves is how he made his bread and butter—as Murkage Davehis passion was to always make music.

You’ll struggle to find the original but, back in 2007, Sunship released a remix of one of Dave’s earliest records, “Hands On Her”, which later made a compilation album put together by DJ EZ. Then came the Murkage Cartel days, where it operated as a satellite hub for grime artists up North at a time when grime was supposedly dead. And this is perhaps what is understated about Murkage Dave’s impact and why he gets to call his debut album Murkage Dave Changed My Lifehe took a chance on a city that wasn’t known for its grime scene but a young student population who pissed away a semester’s worth of student loans in freshers week. From what I heard, it was worth it. It’s fair to say three years since The Murkage Club ended, Manchester’s music scene has been doing comfortably well.

It may not be well documented just how much Dave played a role in creating a bridge between Manchester and London, especially as much of this was taking place in the underground circuit. Over a decade later—picking up a cult status along the way—Murkage recalls moments in his career and how what began as a t-shirt joke became the title for his debut album.

What made you want to put the album out now?

Firstly, I think it was two conversations which sparked it. I had one with Louis Don Dada, he produced five songs on the album, and I was in Paris working with him on some music and he told me to “stop fucking about and do a solo album.” Then, back in London, I met up with Kayus from Young Fathers who was pretty much telling me the same thing. I was spending a lot of time doing all these things here and there, but never really thought about an album until I started to generate a fanbase after a couple of singles.

It’s all come full circle for you since coming back to London a few years ago.

I started off all of this by singing, even when I was in primary and secondary school. I left London when I was 18 to go to Manchester, went to uni and got kicked out, but I was making soul music at the time. There was this song I made that got remixed called “Hands On Her” and I was going by the name ‘David Lewis’, and I had a band at the time. It was remixed by Sunship then EZ picked it up and put it on a compilation and that was a big moment for me. That’s when I first started putting on raves because, in my head, I thought I was going to have more of these songs, you know, because I didn’t know anybody and I needed a platform. There ended up being loads of us in the crew, which became Murkage Cartel, and we started experimenting with dubstep and rap but then we all went on to do solo stuff eventually.

I remember going to one of The Murkage Club nights back in 2009, during the days when grime artists were doing dubstep PAs.

2009 was a big year because we had booked Skepta, Oneman, DJ Q. Then we started having Todd Edwards, EZ and David Rodigan, who hadn’t played in Manchester for over a decade. I was very involved in doing raves, but my passion was doing music and I started getting a cult following because of it.

Any regrets?

It was a great time—I don’t regret any of it—but my passion was always to do what I’m doing now.

Do you feel like you could’ve arrived at this moment earlier in your career?

Sometimes I think to myself whether I should’ve carried on doing music when the Sunship remix happened because I could be way further along. Then I think, no, because look at all the experiences I’ve had and all the people I’ve met along the way. With Murkage Dave Changed My Life, that’s something people used to say back then—if I gave someone their first DJ set or put a photographer on—but now it makes me think about who I would’ve been had I not done all of these things.

So why did you decide to start a new life in Manchester?

I grew up in Stratford/Leytonstone and I left when I was 18 but I rarely came back. I wanted to get out and people thought I was mad but, at the time, I wanted to leave because the area was bad and I felt disconnected. I heard Manchester had a vibe and ended up staying there for time but came back four years ago. I built a name for myself in Manchester, so when I came back things were so much easier. It’s not even like I’m best friends with everyone, but I know people through things. I remember when I first booked Jme in Manchester at an R&B club and he brought Skepta along, both wearing tracksuits. The promoters were saying they couldn’t come in but when I came back to London and ran into Skepta during the tracksuit mafia days, we were just laughing about the old days. Even DJing at Visions was important because three years ago was when it was at its greatest—we call those the Gianno Years, when it was the centre of the scene in London. I loved it, even though the club was falling apart. I was sat with Dizzee and Skinner the other day and it just made me think about all those years I spent grafting but now I’m chilling with the guys who soundtracked my life.

A soundtrack you’re now making but in a different way.

Yeah, I love street and road music but I can’t make it at this point in my life. My album is like folk songs for the culture, which is why a lot of rappers listen to my music. Fallacy was saying that you’ll say a lot of things them man are feeling but won’t say because they’ll get moved to. And that’s my contribution.

What was that like for you, as someone who’s just putting out their first album?

It’s scary because there is that vulnerable aspect. I remember when I first put out “Car Bomb” and the reception to that was great because it was just a freestyle and I was talking about things to do with masculinity. It’s tough, though, because you do have people reach out to you at times, some who are suicidal, and I always encourage them to seek help. It’s not easy having that role but I know there’s some help I can give.

How did you start trusting yourself to take that step for yourself?

As a creative, I decided to start trusting whatever came to me. I guess I didn’t just decide to switch lanes but do stuff that came natural to me, and I didn’t think about it too much because it was all music at the end of the day—whether I was creating or facilitating it.

That sounds like a natural path.

Music’s what I’m here to do now. One of the great things about this, is that you end up working with the people that you admire. My confidence is up now and my inner strength is real.

Do you feel like everything is less regional now?

Yeah, definitely. Back in the day in Manchester, even though there have been great rappers, there was a general feeling that nobody gave a fuck so they didn’t give one either. I did a one-off Murkage party earlier this year because a lot of the kids who were underage are now in their twenties, and they’re killing it. Everybody can see a path to success now, especially after Bugzy did it. No one really knew him like that, but now he’s shown that there’s a path to success, same with IAMDDB. With Birmingham, Skinner felt like the city didn’t fuck with him but I brought him back, introduced him to Dapz, Jaykae, and obviously I knew Despa, but I got to see how they’re pushing the scene forward.

Posted on December 03, 2018