‘Baron of Techno’ Dave Clarke on what led him to record his first album in 14 years
The British DJ found himself after a wake-up call in 100kph car crash
It took a car crash to jolt Dave Clarke’s muse. Fresh from a gig as part of 2016’s Exit Festival in Serbia, the veteran British DJ was in the passenger seat when the vehicle ran into a lamp post in Novi Sad.
Recalling the experience to fans on social media, Clarke said he was oblivious to what had happened. “Woke up after snoozing to be launched into the air at over 100 km,” he said, before describing how the car’s roof was ripped off and landed in front of traffic. “Life has the possibility of changing before you know it.”
A resultant bout of soul searching inspired Clarke to revive the idea of what was to become his first solo album in 14 years.
Not that he was idle in the meantime. Clarke moved to Amsterdam, where he has a successful career touring as an international DJ and radio presenter.
His return to the studio, he reasons, was as much down to inspiration as it was to a sense of unfinished business.
“The desire to write songs has been bubbling in me for ages,” he says as he describes his revered previous two albums, 1996’s Achieve One and 2003’s Devils Advocate.
“This one’s more like a book, a chronology. I’m so happy with my studio. I’ve stayed away from club music. Finally, it’s just me, my imagination, and a touch of fearlessness about opening up.”
Indeed, you will need to find it takes a very adventurous club to air the tunes from Desecration of Desire. Clarke’s trademark form of all-out techno assault is tempered by more pensive and soulful moments.
Presented in the order the songs were recorded, the album also functions as an audio story of a veteran artists expanding his reach with each track.
Hence the chaotic nature of opener Exquisite, which veers from dissonant techno to a riot of shuddering beats, makes sense. It’s the sound of Clarke limbering up after a long time away.
“The song for me is basically like a massive release,” he recalls. “I was using a very powerful computer and I used so much of that energy in the first two minutes, particularly in the sound of the synth, that I managed to get all the angst that was building from not making an album.”
Laced with sharp percussion, foreboding synths and rumbling bass, the album has a gothic and confessional feel – a perfect reason for Clarke to enlist rock’s ultimate brooder, American songwriter Mark Lanegan, to sing vocals on a pair of tracks. One of those is the album highlight, Charcoal Eyes. It is built upon a taut drum rhythm and ricocheting effects. Lanegan croaks out bruised poetry: “The all-pervading smell of burned wood and pee suits the charcoal eyes.”
With Clarke named by late British radio personality John Peel as the Baron of Techno for his foreboding sonics and all-black stage uniform, his meeting with Lanegan was not the stuff of parties.
“We first spoke on the phone and it was a bit difficult and the conversation was dry. This was also because I was also in the process of opening up myself and also writing lyrics” Clarke says. “We then met in the lobby of the hotel and we really started talking and then it felt easy. He actually told me that he never spent this much time talking to people and that he enjoyed our conversation.”
Considering the deeply personal nature of the album and its smattering of guests – electronic acts Louisahhh Gazelle Twin and Anika also lend vocals – Clarke admits touring is unlikely. “There is no plan for that at this stage; if we can get the singers together then maybe we can do it.”
Clarke is instead content to leave Desecration of Desire stand as what is becoming a rarity in current dance music – a fully thought-out album.
Interestingly, Clarke believes that it is the consumers who are partly dictating that trend.
“They don’t have the amount of time to invest in things anymore,” he says. “And because music is more affordable and accessible now, it loses its value. You don’t look for it anymore. You just type it up and find it. We all do this.”
And what about the responsibility of the artist in reversing this trend?
“That’s simple, and that’s to be who they are,” he says. “You can only be yourself. If you are not, then don’t bother.”
Desecration of Desire by Dave Clarke is out now through Skint Records
Published: February 25, 2018 12:09 PM