(Post) Modern Genius?
by James Parker (July 2001)
David Holmes is an extraordinary and diverse DJ/ Producer. Within the modern scene he is one of the few DJs who can be taken seriously as artists. The worst crime being that his recording career has been largely ignored in favor of radio friendly bullshit.
Born in Belfast is the 1970's, David Holmes rose to prominence during the 1990's. The first time I listened to his work was part of incidental music on Therapy's Infernal Love (1994), rather than having gaps between songs front man Andy Chairns wanted something different and Holmes obliged. I knew the name now and kept a look out for other stuff.
Chairns repaid the favour by supplying guitar pieces for Holmes 1995 album This Film's Crap Let's Slash the Seats. Released on the Go! Beat label, also home to Portishead among others, This Film's Crap... provided the listener with a soundtrack to an imaginary film. It's a good but not a brilliant album; several of the songs go on for far too long. But the ideas are still very good, the atmosphere grabs the listener by the balls and the promise of better things to come is apparent.
Holmes spent most of the next two years doing DJ work. However, it was during a trip to New York in 1997 that his next album Let's get killed began to take shape. Holmes simply walked around New York recording people on a DAT player; their opinions and frustrations. Some were on James Bond; some were on slam dancing. The result was stunning. The critics salivated over it; it became album of the month in several music press magazines such as Jockey Slut and UK based Musik. Several, including traditionally indie-based, magazines included it in their album of the year lists.
The feel of New York is evoked brilliantly: more importantly, not the upper class Manhattan New York but the Bronx and Harlem. We get the real nitty gritty; The French Connection, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver cinematic visions of New York.
Holmes admitted himself that he was on acid some of the time; there is a definite spaced out feel on the album. This is emphasized by crackling and unrelated samples and the constant use of throbbing and diverse beats. Let's get killed never stays still, never sleeps and absorbs every influence; much like the city of New York. The album like the first didn't sell brilliantly; Holmes produced an excellent album that was perhaps, like label mates Portishead, a bit too electric and original for mass consumption.
In 1998, Holmes really began to get off the ground. Hollywood called and he produced the soundtrack for the George Clooney/ Jennifer Lopez sleeper hit Out of Sight. The soundtrack was very low key and subtle for Holmes usual standards, perhaps just hinting that he had more strings to his bow than was originally thought.
Also in 1998, David Holmes-Essential Mix was released- a very far cry from the usual essential mix selections which usually consisted of Trance and Rave anthems. Instead, we got a fun trip through Holmes record collection; obscure songs from the 60's and 70's mixed with Holmes usual flair. Several highlights included forgotten acid drenched gems such as Marlena Shaw's "California Soul," Ananda Shankar's "Dancing Strings" and Rare Earth's "I Just Want to Celebrate." However, Essential Mix only hinted at were Holmes was headed.
It was in mid 2000 that we got Bow Down to the Exit Sign, a film soundtrack for close friend Lisa Barros D'sa. Holmes promised us a mix of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and The Stooges, we got that, but also much more. Holmes had gone back to New York, but he had also embraced Paris. Holmes isn't holding back on this album; his constant use of new inventive ideas is apparent. The intro's to several songs are frankly bizarre and are laced with punk rock 'Fuck-you' attitude. We are in a very dark and frightening place.
Another progression of Holmes on this album is that we have songs with words, which sets it apart from his two other albums. The bass led groove of "Compared to What" (evocative of both classic hip-hop and '70's funk records) segues into the totally different punk rock "Sick City" and doesn't feel disjointed or out of place. The Jon Spencer blues of "Bad Thing" works its undoubted sleaze around the brain.
The influence of Miles Davis is obvious- several of the songs have thick grooves which make a definite nod to the experimental '70's work of Davis and also the Quaaludes 'influenced' disco of '70's New York mavens such as Giorgio Moroder. Yet although the album is influenced by the past, it is undoubtedly a modern and contemporary record that embraces every influence that Holmes can get his hands on.
The critics raved; UK intellectual broadsheet newspapers such as The Guardian hailed Holmes as a genius. Not one review was rated under the very top marks. However, the album was not a great commercial success. It sold well enough but unlike his contemporaries, Holmes didn't go for popular appeal. This is what sets Holmes apart from the other DJ artists such as The Chemical Brothers; his music is the dark underbelly, music for nightmares rather than the fun (sun?) filled beats of Fat Boy Slim. Or in apt film director terms, he is more David Lynch than Quentin Tarantino.
Essentially, David Homes is the Iggy Pop of the decks- the individual who simply doesn't give a fuck and has the arrogance and invention to carry it off with his own particular style. For the future, Holmes has stated that Bow Down to the Exit Sign is the last of his film-related albums. But where does he go now? Quieter work? It is possible that Holmes has reached his peak; the promise of the first two albums was undoubtedly confirmed on Bow Down... but as with fellow pioneers such as DJ Shadow and Tricky, Holmes may not reach these heights again or better them.
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