Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Early in December 2012, Deptford Goth – Daniel Woolhouse to the world – shared his second self-directed video for Union, ‘Life After Defo’s’ emotionally transcendent second single. It featured a balloon-carrying Daniel trudging across the grimmest of windswept hilltops, and felt imbued with echoes of loneliness – but perhaps, with the openness of the natural space, was tinged with airs of hopefulness. Such a mood and aesthetic is extended on ‘Life After Defo’s’ cover: a René Magritte-esque image of a pair of hands against a hyperrealist backdrop of untouched mountainous landscape. In front of ocean blue skies the hands are outstretched and peered upon in that “I’m here, this is happening right now” sort of way we may all catch ourselves mindlessly doing from time to time. It’s an image that conjures an individual voice facing endlessness dead on, trying to find their place in it all.
While it’s been a few years coming, it feels important to state how much ‘Life After Defo’ elaborates so powerfully on the Deptford Goth project from 2011’s ‘Youth II’ EP. The vocals back then were often candy-wrapped in AutoTune, and on a concentrated listen of Real Love Fantasy, Woolhouse’s delivery felt intentionally buried in the mix – tweaked that bit lower than what the ear anticipates. Here, Woolhouse’s voice operated as one of many smudges of paint on the palette. From the mists first clearing over the titular opener, to the quietly devastating murmur of “be cool my heart” on the lonely synths of Lions, there’s scarcely a moment where such a claim could be made on ‘Life After Defo’.
Deptford Goth – Union
While what Deptford Goth builds with voice – its languidness and masked reserve – belongs in line with fellow London pop-abstractors such as The xx and James Blake, it’s the way this mood is played off lyrically that really resonates. In a Guardian interview this weekend with Dummy’s Ruth Saxelby, Woolhouse discussed his wish to skirt away from pop clichés. It’s an intriguing point to raise, as at times the layered images that come through lines like “darkest day ever seen” or “history in the belly of the beast” on Object Objects seem to risk just that. But rather than cliché, they speak to an extremity, a wish to avoid half-measures and reach for end-points.
“It’s a sound built in isolation, like opening up a notebook of personal scribbles and sketches.”
It’s the duality raised in how these statements – fed through Woolhouse’s lump-in-the-throat vocal – that makes them come off as so entirely genuine. Nowhere is this clearer than in Union’s impossible outcry to be with ”everyone I’ve ever known”, which is swept up in Union’s warmth and becomes one of the most powerful images of purgatorial in-between and intense spiritual reflection crafted by a UK vocalist since Thom Yorke wailed out ‘In Rainbows’ closer Videotape in 2007. What mustn’t be underestimated is how much this comes off through the fat-shredding production: providing build and release where necessary, but always turning back to the humanity in the middle. Put simply, he’s come to craft his voice around such smatterings of electronics and sparse instrumentation in a manner few have matched recently. I for one am just relieved that time has told he should find his voice in “post-dubstep” London than in the era of baggy Britpop, where Woolhouse first found his musical feet. We’d be without an important modern voice if he had.
Deptford Goth – Feel Real
Admittedly, if cuts like Feel Real and the carousel-like bursts of instrumentation on Years didn’t spark and ignite in the manner they do, ‘Life After Defo’ would risk collapsing under its own despondency – and Union’s core carries such intensity that at later moments things are clearly operating at a lower level. But these are relatively minor pinpoints. It’s a sound built in isolation, like opening up a notebook of personal scribbles and sketches. But – as with the minimalist cover – it’s the way those reflections are cast out into a limitless landscape, with closeness and distance interweaving throughout, which makes ‘Life After Defo’ such a triumph.