DVA Talks Pretty Ugly, Watch New Video

Hyperdub's resident producer of warped house, grimey R&B and cosmic soul speaks about his upcoming debut album Pretty Ugly - and watch a brand new video for album track 'Eye Know'

Leon ‘Scratcha DVA’ Smart is set to release his debut full-length, Pretty Ugly, through Hyperdub on March 19th. It finds the Rinse FM DJ and long-running producer pushing his music outward into new territories: where his history lies in grime, and later twisted takes on UK house, the album moves everywhere from cosmically minded hip-hop of the Brainfeeder variety to Eglo Records-style synthetic soul and broken beat. Its day-glo synth-work still harks strongly back to grime, and it features a fair scattering of dancefloor friendly tracks, but it finds Smart working with song forms more than ever before. Around half the album features vocalists, from Eglo chanteuse Fatima to Victor Duplaix, Natalie Maddix and Muhsinah, and DVA’s looser, syncopated rhythms and colourful motifs are bent in slightly different ways around each successive singer. You can read our review of the album here.

You can watch the brand new video for album track ‘Eye Know’, featuring the vocal talents of Natalie Maddix, below. DVA also spoke to us about the making of Pretty Ugly – you can read the full interview below the video.

You’ve obviously been making music of lots of different styles for a long time now, but Pretty Ugly is even more diverse than your previous music. Did you make a conscious choice to tackle lots of different sounds with your album, or was that just the way it came together in the end?

Leon Smart: Yeah, its just the way it came together really. I was told to do what i wanted for this LP, so thats how I approached it. I like lots of different music and I’m influenced by lots of different things, and I guess you can hear that in the project. I wouldn’t say the album is more diverse than whatever I’ve done before, because I’ve always liked vybing in other time signatures and just other things and sounds. I remember a DJ Suvv tune which was in 3/4 – and I was always a watcher of what V Recordings were up to, but when he dropped that 3/4, that was a big rule breaker for me. Not in production because I wasn’t really producing too much then, but just how I viewed what’s possible in music. There was also a Snoop Dogg track called ‘Fresh Pair Of Panties On’ which still interests me now.

So how long did it take you to make Pretty Ugly, and did you set out with the idea to make an album in mind?

LS: Im sitting here thinking about how long it took, and you know what? I actually think it took 9 months. Oh my days!

Thats actually pretty funny, because I used to feel that it was like giving birth, because the creating was fun but coming towards the end was pain. And with [Hyperdub boss] Kode9 being a doctor and all that, haha, pretty weird! But yeah, as a producer I’ve always wanted to make an album, but I never really thought of making one with myself being the artist. I did try something before, but I got all pissed off and left it. I’ve mainly always had the idea to work on another artist’s album, and preferably an unknown artist. So when Hyperdub approached me with the idea to do something I was bare happy. But yeah, other than ‘Just Vybe’ ft Fatima and ‘Madness’ ft Vikter Duplaix, everything was made for the album and with the album in mind.

The album’s got a fair few vocal tracks. Did you make a decision early on that you wanted to work with more vocalists? And how did you find the process of adapting your instrumentals to work with singers?

LS: Having the amount of songs on the album I have wasn’t a planned thing. The whole process has been as natural as ever really. Yeah, at the end we cut some tracks and re-jigged the order a couple of times, but as far as vocals go – if the beat needed a vox it got a vox, and if it didn’t, it stayed instrumental. Sometimes the sounds can tell a pretty good story without any singing, I reckon.

Most of the time if I’ve been in studio with an artist they will have to open their mind, because if they don’t nothing good is going to happen. I’ve been lucky this time around to work with open-minded vocalists who aren’t afraid to step outside their comfort zone, or are already comfortable with working with the stranger side of sound. In a situation like with Muhsinah – I had heard her on lots of trippy, soulful stuff with crazy harmonies and crazy beats, so I thought, ‘Yeah we could definately get something down together’. But when I approached her and her manager with a track similar to what she knew, they said they were bored of that and wanted more of a challenge. So I sent her the ’33rd Degree’ beat with a song concept and she did her magic. And these are the types of artists I like, and work easiest with. Ones who ain’t scared of something else. 

Is that sort of vocal material something you’re planning to explore more in future?

LS: I would like to produce an album or albums for an artist or two, including a singer, definitely. I’ve always liked the thought of working and developing an act from scratch, and would love to do that with an unknown singer with a raw talent who hasn’t been corrupted by crap TV music. So in the future, I guess I would like maybe to have another baby myself, and then third time go for IVF and have someone else’s baby. Or would that be a surrogate mum? But yeah – you get what I’m saying right?

How have you found the dancefloor responses to your Pretty Ugly material? Does it sit well alongside the kind of music you’re DJing out at the moment?

LS: Yes, definitely. I’ve been playing ‘Where I Belong’ in clubs for quite a while now, ‘Polyphonic Dreams’, ‘Reach The Sun’, ‘Bare Fuzz’, ’33rd Degree’. I do know what you’re saying though, but I’ve never ever sat down on my computer and forced myself to make something that a club DJ will play. If I do then it’s a bonus. But for me, in my personal DJ sets, I’m working the album tracks in more and more, because I’m generally just playing a lot more of my own music in my sets now – so it works better. And now I’m attaching a 30 minute live set to the beginning of my DJ sets wherever I can, it’s allowing me to play different stuff of mine as part of a showcase. Which is my plan for 2012 sets.

You’ve recently taken over the Hyperdub Rinse FM show, and moved across after doing the Grimey Breakfast Show for a few years. How are you finding the new slot, and how is the way you’re approaching the show and the music you’re playing different from what you would have done on the Breakfast show?

LS: Now and again I used to get jealous of DJs who could just come in once a week or a month and just showcase new music, so now I’ve got that with the Hyperdub show I’m fully happy. I felt that I had to steer my radio stuff into a bit more of what I was about musically and what I play in the clubs. I enjoyed all the music I played on the breakfast, but you would never hear me play Emeli Sande in Plastic People – and that was the thing.

Photo by Jimmy Mould

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today