There is something almost so stiff when interacting with a brilliant counterpart. It can feel like heavy tension or subdued awkwardness in between exchanging words. David August is a prime example of artistry reflecting in conversation as his focus on verbatim is concentrated while making sure “your question is answered.” Living a private life, August’s communication is his art and his mystery is left to the listener to transcribe. In the rare case of an interview with David August, I was limited to a timed sit-down with the musician which he carefully extended until we reached full circle.
Rare is a commonality for August. Starting in Berlin’s heavily influenced DJ culture as a newly established artist, it can be easy to get side swept amongst the city’s stars and follow their lead in the clubs. “You were excited when a guy was playing your track,” he looks back on. It’s an initiation into that world. Being recognized and surviving in the most cutthroat dance mecca as the youngest prodigy amongst older seasoned peers requires perseverance and laser sharp focus.
August wasn’t interested in mediocre work or living a normal life, whatever that may be in his case. “It's crazy looking back at it now. The way I chose to live.” Playing Athens, Morocco and Berlin in one weekend, only to return to university as an "average" student was the decision he made. To lose out on time with friends, grow up fast, and be effected by these circumstances are decisions not all artists can handle at the tender age of early 20’s. August gained independence quickly and abided by self-discipline in the heavy dance grounds of Germany.
He began making epic hits, beautifully elegant dancefloor hits. His Berlin Boiler Room session is an August staple. It was his first serious introductory to an audience and our mind-blown acceptance of him. Every August fan references that set and remembers what it was like hearing it for the first time. All original music, eloquent and a deep weave of storytelling, the set has been viewed by 7.7 million YouTubers. His first set of releases were ahead of his time as if someone ten times his senior pieced it together. Emotional and moving, theatrical and rhythmic. Vocals piercing at the ears. It was that good and it was his first of many accomplishments that were yet to come.
To August, the point isn’t to outdo what is already set at a high bar. It’s maintaining laser focus attitude, using skilled technicality and deep inspiration to recreate a more mature and evolved narrative. As a result, he produced two new projects simultaneously: a 24-track ambient album accompanied with visuals directed and shot by August titled DCXXXIX A.C self-released on his new label 99CHANTS. Six months later he released the album D’ANGELO.
August’s extensive touring with new music will run for two years. New to us, old to him, “which isn’t fair because the audience doesn’t know. I just finished the record and it’s the fresh start for people but you’re chewing that for two years.” It was during the last leg of his North American date where we were greeted in Los Angeles at El Rey Theatre just hours before his performance. When asked about what state he was in while working on the "new" albums, it was his fastest response throughout our conversation: “Trying to find answers.” August searched the depths of his ancestry, his Italian roots, and isolated himself in Italy to birth his new works. “It was a process of research, something I have never done before. If I think about how deep I was in it..it was not always really healthy.” He goes on to say, “It’s not like you just go researching and nothing happens to you. It’s intense.”
“I would do it a thousand times again..at the same time it feels paradox,” he breaks out and laughs. “I took a break because I was creatively exhausted and now l feel creatively exhausted again where it’s just about to start with touring. It’s how you learn, having done this so intensively, you need to have a healthy way of being an artist, you need to have a healthy approach to create. Being this absent guy in the studio until 3 or 4 am...I’m done with that.”
Feeling musically complete, August required additional inspiration to prepare for the coinciding tour. “I realized I want to create versions of the record that is new to the listener. I see the live show as an extension of the narrative. So something to take advantage of. It's the only moment you can have a more direct dialogue with the people. I think it’s important to show something that elevates it from the rest you've been presenting.”
Having played in leading venues in over 40 countries throughout his career, August’s trailblazing is in Europe primarily, including Berlin where he’s “sick of Berlin right now. If I think about myself in that environment I wouldn’t be inspired. I’ve conceived all my energy in that place, it’s not the place I want to be creative right now.” He has sprinkled his most monumental movements throughout Europe, like performing with a self-constructed band at renowned festivals and composing a symphony with a 50-piece classical orchestra.
In the Americas, August is known for club shows so he feels the challenge to attract people musically whereas his sound and transition is ahead in Europe. “I’m alone on stage playing these gorgeous venues, it gets on a personal level. And when this succeeds and the storytelling gets perceived in the right way, it’s beautiful.”
August agrees when I express my outlook on D’ANGELO as a walk-through on his new depths, telling him each track seems like a door opens and closes into his current state, and the conclusions as a bare strip down. “Yes, I feel similar. I’m literally walking through time by listening to it. It's also scary, because it's so personal, but I had to put it out.” He exposes his vulnerability and allows listeners to ride this creative journey together, considering his fans have been with him from the start. “I think I was afraid of exposing myself before. Now this step feels natural and authentic.”
Just as much as August delved into far lengths of self-discovery to further grow and develop, our role as listeners is a reflection of ourselves. Open, dismissive or neutral, a crucial part of the artistic process is the receivers end. Are we adaptable enough to accept change and evolve parallelly with the artist, or not at all? In today’s times, opinions are loud, subjects get lost in noise and our dialogue as a sacred space of thoughtful exchange is overlooked. I experienced post-show chatter about what August didn’t do instead of his presentation. He feels this energy and is opinionated, just like the audience.
“People sometimes wonder why I’m not playing my old stuff. Also the versions of the songs that I play from the record are quite different. I really just take the core part of it and might end up with a 10-minute version of it. I mash up ideas that might be in the same key or similar tempo. So people sometimes miss the moment of recognizing a song or experiencing old material. But I can't just play the songs as they are on the record nor can I play old stuff people might relate to the most. It's just an honest representation of where I am at the moment.” He recognizes it’s a fine line between presenting the audience with familiar songs to share that special moment together versus playing something completely new unheard of to the audience, yet he remains unapologetic. Just listen closely to his D’ANGELO lyrics as he sings:
Is it where you wanted to be?
Show it to me, I didn't know.
Is it what you really see?
I hope you care, I want to grow.
In response, I tell August people aren’t educated enough and asked how this reflects on his connection to culture and society. “We all need constant education. The more we know the more we can defend ourselves with what’s going on, be a strong bond together. I don't want to make allusions. I feel like it’s all pretty fucked up. I’m doing this hoping that what I am doing has a positive influence on something. I’m also aware that I’m a tiny little [spec] compared to the rest of the world and it’s not me who can change anything. But it’s the only thing I have so I’m going to take a chance on it. For the rest, it’s too deep of a struggle.” Here, an artist is pulling us out of this mad world and hoping to be heard positively. The connectivity between artist and reciprocator feeds inspiration and serves as a catalyst to move forward collectively, not to create additional noise that withholds boundaries.
“Culture and society, are in general the most relevant things to make this place a better place. Having the honor to have the possibility to contribute to that is a responsibility. It’s a possibility that it’s not seen by many people.” August explains, “Commercial DJ’s performing in front of 50,000 people banging the shit out of their heads for example is potentially a powerful position to be in, it’s a chance to communicate to all those people. But most of them are just not aware.” He does not strive to be on such big stages but uses what he has on a personal level. “I just try to give something that I think has value. The research I did has a value not just for myself but for the audience as well, I think. I’m presenting a part of culture they might not be familiar with and I’m presenting them generally a person’s storytelling that can be inspiring, too. I just hope that I can inspire in someway. Whatever way it is, if I do so, I am very happy.”
A musician creating and presenting their own craft isn’t unusual. But the unbinding spell of obsession and perfection that is as torturous as it is succeeding is a struggle August faces. “I’m very self critical. Out of ten gigs I might say two were a cool show. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but if I’m not happy with it I have to say it. I hate the picture of the tortured artist, so there is some self-acceptance involved. What you're capable of doing, what you're not capable of doing. Once you get there, once you accept that, you feel much lighter, more relieved.”
August’s shows are with the support of his manager who’s been his companion over the last few years. “I owe her a lot in inspiration and valuing someone you can trust. I couldn’t find someone on just a business level, it’s not what I care for. We have an artistic connection.”
Healthy and happy, August’s tour will go through Europe’s festival season, including Italy since the projects are related to there, and closing off the year in India. Thinking for his next revelation has already begun and it’s different from what he is currently presenting. “Right now I'd love to go into scoring. I’d love to do projects outside the industry....just see what other opportunities are there for me.”
While on the road, August continues to develop and create. “Being on a plane can be a creative cage, to make you think. Lately I was doing tracks so easily in the plane because I felt inspired by this limbo you're in. Looking out of the window, seeing the world from above, seeing the people around me sleeping, nobody can reach you, no phone. I’m forced to do something. It’s an interesting place for your creative output. Traveling and being in a different environment is inspiring. Everything that surrounds me inspires or effects me somehow. I’m in LA right now and the vibe of these streets the vibe of this theatre...it does something to me as it does something to you, I’m sure.”
August makes calculated devotions with strides of commitment to each project - time and space of where he is plays an important approach in his work. The concept of present time, of which takes place during August’s performances, serves as a circular interactive space for the audience to absorb, reflect, and salute. Gaining motivation and continuing to build repertoire feeds the musician’s creation and fills our society with meaningful, valued art. From classical to electronic, August navigates a versatile spectrum of music which we witness to develop differently throughout the years. Only the future will tell and spectators will (not) dictate what’s to come for the 28-year-old German Wunderkid.