Pretty Ugly seems like quite a pertinent title for the latest release of Hyperdub’s most eclectic, and under-the-radar musician, DVA—better known in the grime scene as Scratcha DVA. Having played a part in London’s burgeoning grime and dubstep scene via the influential pirate radio station Rinse FM, producing tracks for names like Wiley among others, DVA has amassed enough knowledge and experience in the scene to be able to confidently take apart the sounds and recreate them in his own experimental and mutated configuration. A composition that often defies conventional takes on what rhythm is, with its miss matching snares, excessive and loud synthesisers, and a generally schismatic approach to musical arrangement which some may find weird to say the least. Having said that, I’m of the persuasion that “weird” is good. It’s a platform that can hold a wide-ranging selection of qualities without breaking under pressure, i.e. an excuse to be completely antithetic while remaining a legitimate piece of music.
That’s why the album name is so apt; it’s riddled with contradiction—much like the album itself—songs that start out on a familiar funky groove depart in completely different trajectories, taking the listener by surprise and making them question the very nature of the sound.
The album is full of distortion, synths, random kicks and crackles: things that initially made me think I didn’t have my headphones in properly. But after forwarding the track, I realised that my headphones where securely in, so I went back and re-listened to how the track got from the initial stage of “what the fuck?” to its melodic and rhythmic crescendo. A prime example would be the opening track “Chase The Sun.”
Let me just say for the record, I liked the transition. I love it when musicians take us out of our comfort zone only to place us back in the warmth of our leather three-seater before the track is done.
It’s a practise that keeps the scene fresh, tasty and unpredictable—although I’m not entirely sure it was DVA’s intention to trick the listener into thinking their headphones weren’t plugged in properly or there was a problem with their MP3. If he did, though, I wholeheartedly salute the vision.
However, the unconventional musical arrangements can sometimes be too much to bear for me personally. Case in point, the track “Madness” which I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on…the title does that already.
The record is a mishmash of changing moods and tones with consistent soulful female vocals scattered throughout—often in the strangest of places…along with odd old-school garage vibes here and there. The album is like a blank canvas that was eyeballed for two hours by the artist only for him to spontaneously and intensely splash and flicker buckets of paint before retiring to his quarters for contemplation—only to come back the next day and try make sense out of his artwork.
I don’t know if this is what DVA meant, but it’s like he left to the audience to make up their own minds on the finished piece. My definitive opinion of it is that it is an eclectic journey through all the sounds that DVA holds near, delivered in his own stream of consciousness style with little regard for convention or indeed record sales. I dig it.
The standout track for me has to be “Bare Fuzz.” Compared to the other tracks on the album it’s minimal, stripped down and more linear with an incredible bassline and subtly funky vibration to it.
The album ends with the epic finale “Where I Belong,” which sounds like the title music of a grand sci-fi trilogy yet to be released. With its bold strings, organ sounding effects, and almost gothic feel, it cements the albums eclectic nature and nudges the listener to try and make sense of the last 48-minutes of digital carnage. Something I’m still trying to do.