The young prince of Hamburg is about to take it to the next level with a debut album and new live show.
Words: Seb Wheeler
Photos: Anselm Woesler
Walking along Talstrasse it’s easy to see why David August called one of his tunes ‘Hamburg Is For Lovers’. Located in the red light district of the city, the street is lined with sex shops and kinky hotels. At one end shine the bright lights of the Reeperbahn, a notorious neon strip home to pole-dancing clubs, peep shows and multi-storey brothels. At the other is a selection of murky bars famous for their lusty ladyboys. And, slap-bang in the middle of it all, sits Ego, the place where house and techno heads come together to get loose and get off.
It’s here that David had his formative experiences of dance music – and that track, which is one of his biggest so far, was named after the ecstatic atmosphere created by Hamburg’s ravers, rather than the horny mélange outside. “I was fascinated by the music and the effect it could have on people,” he remembers.
These days the 22-year-old is more used to being in the booth than the crowd.
Tracks like ‘You Got To Love Me’, ‘Instant Harmony’, ‘Peace Of Conscience’ and, of course, ‘Hamburg Is For Lovers’, have helped him become a shining talent in house music since he first stepped into Ego four years ago. As friend and label-mate Stimming says, David’s got a remarkable touch: “For his age, David is a very sophisticated producer. His sense
for melodies and timing is spectacular, and I love the feeling he transmits through his music.”
The last time Mixmag saw David August play, at a rammed party in Berlin, all the girls were trying to get a look at him while all the boys were trying to imitate him. The fervour surrounding August is explosive. “I’d be lying if I said [the attention] wasn’t moving,” he says, modestly. “Those people are the reason why the party is good, they make the atmosphere. It’s great that they show so much energy.”
We’re sitting in the upstairs lounge of Ego. It’s charmingly shabby; the countless scuffs and marks are as much a part of the decor as the graphic art that flows down the walls and onto the floor. It’s the type of place that could easily feel like home if you partied here enough and, for David, it kind of is.
The club was co-founded by Solomun, the world-beating DJ whose studio and Diynamic label are both based upstairs. He’s acted like a mentor, giving David a platform from which to release some incendiary tunes. Ultra emotive and utterly deep, those songs rippled through the underground, earning David a word-of-mouth reputation as a kid with real talent and class.
Tonight marks a significant shift in David’s career. At 2.30am he’ll unveil his new live show in the simple grey box that is Ego’s main room, and air tracks from his debut album, ‘Times’. Having repeatedly proved that he knows how to make a hit 12”, he’s ready to announce himself as an artist proper. “I didn’t want to do a dancefloor album, that wasn’t my thinking,” he says, leaning back on a leather stool while smoking one of many Gauloises. “I didn’t want to do a second ‘Hamburg Is For Lovers’. That would be boring, for myself and everyone else.” Though based on his familiar style of deep house, the album is a broad cruise through David’s interests and influences. It’s laced with surprising touches – film noir jazz, driving, Interpol-esque indie, gypsy folk, smoky Spanish guitar riffs, reams of glittering piano keys – all held together by his ever-present sense of warm, melodic melancholy. “I like the symbiosis between electronic and acoustic elements,” he explains. “I wanted to combine them to open new worlds.”
‘Times’ uses sounds not commonly heard in dance music. It’s a bold attempt to do something different, even down to the finest detail. It opens with the gentle crackle of static and includes found sounds such as dripping water, overheard conversations, bird song and strange, distorted echoes. “If you hear doors creaking, or footsteps, you think ‘OK, what’s happening?’,” he says. “Often in electronic music you have breaks where you don’t hear anything – there’s just nothingness – and I tried to work with textures to make silence that is interesting, to make everything more alive.”
In the half-light of the lounge, David appears cool and relaxed. Shadows fall across his face, accentuating his good looks, and a simple ensemble of white woollen jumper, neat blue jeans and brown boots would get him featured in any men’s fashion rag. But he’s slightly on edge because later he’ll play live for the first time. He only manages to eat half of his pre-gig meal and spends an hour before showtime pacing up and down Solomun’s studio while everyone else hangs out. “It’s a very big step for me. I’m playing a lot of music that people don’t know, so that’s the part that makes me nervous,” he says. “I wanted that challenge, definitely. I wanted a change in my career.”
Though his new material is influenced by Berlin, the city where he currently lives, studies and which inspires him because it “doesn’t stand still”, a gig in Hamburg will always be a welcome homecoming. It’s where he was born and raised by parents who got him playing piano from the age of five, and where the queue for Ego snakes down the street just minutes before his performance. Once again, the excitement surrounding him is white hot. The place is rammed and the atmosphere almost reverent, expectation building ahead of an appearance by the prince. Songs from ‘Times’ that sound intimate on headphones are given a lively kick when played through a capable system, meaning David’s intricate artistry is also very club-ready. He moves between playing keys and punching out beats on a sampler with a stylish demeanour that belies any prior nerves. When he finishes, he celebrates by sharing a shot with Solomun and the DJ’s sister, Magdalena, who manages Ego. Though it’s a triumphant occasion, August remains a perfectionist to the end, mentioning tweaks he needs to make to the set to make it better right after he comes off stage. It’s that type of restless creativity that means Hamburg’s golden boy is well on his way to sharing more love.
‘Times’ is out now on Diynamic