Ossia: Devil’s Dance

‘I don’t always believe in my music until I’ve had a bit of reassurance from some people,’ says Dan, reflecting on how he is often driven by others to release his music, ‘I’m kind of slowly learning to have a bit of faith.’ Despite a dodgy Facetime connection, I sense a proud revelation in his voice as we begin to talk about his debut album, Devil’s Dance, and unveil the marathon that this medium demands of its maker.

Released in February, Devil’s Dance by Dan ‘Ossia’ Davies, takes you through cavernous dub steppers flecked with soothing melodies, which open up gorges of euphoria, amidst the album’s ominous recesses. Dan’s approach to making music is experimental, reactionary and playful – pushing the boundaries of dubwise mixing desk techniques & sound collage in a style akin to some of those who inspired him: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Iannis Xenakis, Ekoplekz and Scientist for example.

Having worked with him before on his release Red X, Dan decided to send a handful of tracks to Kiran Sande at Blackest Ever Black to see if he would be interested in signing any of them as part of an EP. ‘When Kiran replied, it was an interesting eye opener,’ says Dan, ‘He saw it going in the direction of a long player, and felt like it could go further [that] it hadn’t reached its full potential in its current state.’ He was told he should consider drawing out the narrative of those first tracks. Yet, for it to work, he would need to fill their sparse crevices with a few more light tipped peaks and changes in mood.

Open to change, Dan turned to the inclusion of live instruments to add a new dimension to the sound. ‘I really like the process of recording instruments and even just working with other musicians. They’re always going to bring their own creativity to it and musical ability, [which I can] integrate into my world,’ he explains, seeing Kiran’s proposition as an opportunity to learn from new experiences.

Someone to help lift his sound was his Dad, Ollie Moore, who himself has been active in the music scene for many years, playing for bands such as Pigbag and Red Snapper in the 80’s and 90’s – and whose saxophone solos eek in and out of album songs ‘Radiation’ and ‘Vertigo’. ‘I didn’t let him hear the tracks before,’ he laughs, thinking back to their recording session, ‘I wanted him to go in completely blind and feedback from the immediate feeling.’ For the final cut of ‘Radiation’, they took a further five takes and Dan would later find himself using a variety of snippets from these takes and incorporating them into the track.

Knowing that he liked to amalgamate recordings later on in the production process, meant his recording sessions were less stringent. For example, some of the rogue takes of ‘Radiation’, where the backing track was accidentally recorded through the room mic giving the live recording a ‘booming low-end’, were cherished and taken back to the drawing room – ‘It felt like a good way to get ‘out of the box’ and try working against the stream of what’s seen as a ‘normal’ way of working,’ he says.

Not to mention, the album’s aforementioned twenty-three minute track ‘Vertigo’, or piece as he corrects me since it wasn’t all made in one go, went from being born out of a wormhole in his mind, where he just ‘went off on one’ piecing together different takes and sound sources, to gradually becoming the album’s closing epic. Founded on endless layers of intricately woven together field recordings, vocal takes and hidden fragments of melody, many of its layers are now indefinable to the listener. If we were to peel back one such layer, we would hear the sounds of the city of Tunis stretching into life simmering gently beneath the surface. ‘Just knowing it’s there is quite a nice feeling,’ he smirked, as if regaling the thrill of the omniscient producer.

Going into such detail over parts that he openly admits will perhaps be inaudible to the listener seems pointless. However, he argues that it’s important to keep faith in one’s own methods, ‘You have to distance yourself from this idea that other people are going to hear it because it can knock your confidence and lead to more obvious choices in music that are geared for pleasing people.’ During the album making, shutting himself away in the studio day and night, with only fleeting interactions to get a coffee, barely able to croak his vocal chords back into gear, was Dan’s way of finding that insular distance, so his artistry was never impeded.

‘It’s a nice way to find this deeper zone in your mind,’ Dan remarks, looking on the bright side. Soon, like the blinking of a lighthouse, the mind can be used to guide you back to that creative threshold where you were the night before. ‘It’s really important to be in the zone for something,’ he goes on, ‘It’s really hard to force something otherwise it’s going to sound unnatural, so I think half of the music making process is about finding mentality in which you are channelling your most free and creative thought processes and reaching that level of deep concentration in order to manifest them. Ideally you want that feeling where you’re in the zone and things feel kind of effortless – when it feels like it’s all falling into place in front of you, almost out of your hands.’

Of the album’s birth in the gallows of Dan’s mind, he only tells me that there was a strong and recurrent imagery that he was experiencing, and that he wants the listener to find their own narrative and meaning. It is apt, since the making of the album involved many new experiences for Dan (break ups, new relationships and moving cities from Bristol to Berlin all being part of the process), that the album comes across as a journey. A labyrinthine odyssey, where the listener is mired in various moods and feelings.

Dan is quick to praise those who lent their helping hand for the album. Not only those who featured such as violinist Rakhi, who also plays for Immix Ensemble, and Jasmine, who is a budding member of Young Echo, but also those who encouraged him to believe in his work: Cera Khin and Ben ‘Lurka’, both of whom he works with frequently; Robin Stewart of Giant Swan, whose advice on the trippier elements of the album were equally valuable to him; and BinkBonk Studios, where his album was given the ultimate Bristolian facelift by Julian “October’ and Mat Sampson.

‘I think when you ask someone for feedback you’re going to hope that they tell you it’s great and then you have that affirmation,’ Dan admits, ‘But it’s important people give you an honest answer […] you’re not going to progress with a dishonest answer.’ Ceaselessly selling, promoting, performing and writing music, Dan is not one to make excuses for himself. Running and beginning numerous labels, it seems he is sometimes more comfortable at seeing the good in another’s work rather than his own. With the album having done the rounds over the last few months, receiving much press and deserved attention, it appears it’s time for Dan to give himself a hefty pat on the back for his musical approach.

There’s a special moment in the album for me, midway through the familiar crunch of ‘Hell Version’, when a distinctly unexpected sound creeps in, at odds with what came before and what comes after, yet bizarrely familiar, perhaps simply because it’s such a pleasing sound; it opened the sails and I was gleefully carried away.

When asked if he can ever know if his music sounds good before it goes out, he answers ‘You have to feel a certain excitement or a kind of emotion when making it or listening back – dark or light, strange or soothing – doesn’t matter – when making music sometimes you might be close to tears, screw-facing or just want to jump up and down with joy. I think those are moments you should probably recognise as good indications for potency in the music.’

I imagine the vision of most artists is for their work to transcend the gap between themselves and the audience, hoping that what inspired them is the reason why their listener loves it. In Dan’s case, I think he has achieved this due to his permissive approach.

As the freshly painted canvas begins to dry, the artist celebrates their work but soon enough, they look around and see their piece is the same as those before it. If instead they open the door to other minds and meticulously build on what they have then idiosyncrasies will be explored, clichés avoided, and special moments like those found throughout Devil’s Dance are born.

Words: Joseph Francis

Featured Image: Chester Giles

Artwork: Alex Digard

Grab physical copies at Rewind-Forward, digital files at Blackest Ever Black.

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