Craig David and I have a longstanding social media bond.
Back in 2013, I was a student nearing the completion of a five-year degree at the University of Technology – a building that has repeatedly been voted as the biggest shit stain on Sydney City’s skyline. Ultimately unhappy with my tertiary study decisions and humanity in general, I decided to pick up writing as a hobby and began freelancing for various publications.
One mission led me to witness Craig David on his first Australian tour in a decade. When he stepped onstage in a red button-up and matching red trousers, I knew that this was going to be good. My sixth sense proved correct, as numerous tears were shed after his signature single ‘Walking Away’ received a standing ovation. I returned home to write my review of the show, giving Craig’s outfit choices and vocal chords a commendable seven thumbs up. When I woke up the next morning, I logged onto Twitter and found this.
Craig describing my work as ‘the most real’ is still the best thing to ever happen in my life, and reaffirmed my decision to stay in the journalism industry and dedicate my life to creating #engagingcontent. Over two years later, I got the chance to sit down with the legend himself as he returns Down Under for a DJ set in Sydney this Sunday, presented by RNB Superclub & Marquee.
It’s been 15 years since Craig released his seminal debut album Born To Do It, which has since been voted by MTV viewers as the second greatest album of all time. It’s also been sampled by everybody from Justin Bieber to Sango – evidence of his everlasting influence on various sonic spaces. Since then, Craig has kept busy: He’s judged a Miss Ukraine competition alongside Paris Hilton, and even walked 100 kilometres across a Kenyan desert in the name of charity. He’s also become a social media beast of sorts, frequently posting these gems of wisdom to his Instagram page.
Most notably, Craig has shifted his focus back to becoming a DJ, where he got his initial break into the music industry. “I started off DJing before I started writing songs, and I felt like the natural progression of where things were going was that DJs are becoming the new rockstars,” he says. He reminisces on the days of carrying vinyl to the club, a foreign concept in today’s technologically-dependent world. “The mp3 around the neck with the chain wasn’t really running back then, which is cool – things change, you’ve got to go with the flow,” he laughs.
More importantly, the ‘Diggin In The Crates’ days of DJing taught him the microphone skills that made him a global star. “There was no keeping things on a loop, no BPM matching of tracks – if the needle started skipping on the vinyl, you need to work out what’s going on. That microphone was almost a ‘get out of jail’ card – while I’m trying to find another vinyl, I’d be doing an acapella thing,” he remembers.
With every second bloke and his dog now claiming to be a DJ, Craig emphasises that it is these skills which make his performance one to remember. “When I do a TS5 set, I’ll be playing other people’s songs as well as my own songs in the mix. I can play an instrumental and sing or ad-lib over that. I can drop it down and do an acapella. It’s performance as opposed to playing – there’s no time to turn around and do a shot of tequila with a mate and then chat to a couple of girls and get a few numbers – No. It’s a performance of an hour, from start to finish,” he says.
TS5 is actually the name of Craig’s penthouse in Miami. What began as pre-drinks at his place with an iTunes playlist and a small circle of friends grew to become a DJ set that was live-streamed back to the UK. Now, TS5 is a full-blown party that puts on shows everywhere from Beijing to Istanbul. My idea of pre-drinks consists of sitting in an alleyway off Oxford St with a goon bag – but if there’s one man who can turn an intimate gathering into an international touring powerhouse, it’s Craig.
Heading into his performance this Sunday, Craig is also conscious of the generational gap of fans who will turn up to the show. He says that “the old school, nostalgic generation hopefully will experience something that they haven’t had before” and knows that there will be “a new generation who’ve never even heard of me.” Still, he maintains that the show will be “a learning curve for everybody,” including himself.
While Craig was one man to bring the UK garage sound into international spotlight back in 2000, similar intertwined sub-genres have since gained global traction. Of course, the colossal dubstep explosion that began in 2009 resulted in the likes of Britney Spears and Rihanna dabbling in heavy basslines, as well as an overblown American interpretation of the sound. Now, with backing from the likes of Kanye West and Drake, many believe that 2015 is the year that the English grime scene will find a significant international fanbase. Craig has some thoughts on the issue.
“There’s people like Stormzy who can rock a mic hard over a beat – but I think the natural progression of grime and 2-step garage is where it’s starting to get melodic again, so people in the club don’t think it’s abit hard. Garage is about that – having a champagne bottle in your hand, bubbling! The girls feel sexy, the guys feel good. It got heavy on the grime at one point, you were scared to go to the pub because if you start stepping on one guy’s shoes, trust me it will kick off. It got hard,” he says.
Finally, I ask Craig about an Instagram video he posted a few weeks ago, where he had a surprise Mr Whippy van at his birthday – perhaps an indirect answer to the long-lasting ‘What’s Your Flava?‘ question posed by his 2002 single. He responds enthusasitically.
“That Mr Whippy went down well, man. I got the Flake, slammed the Flakes in heavy. I had to let people know. You put your Flake in the bottom and push it right in the cone, player!”
At it’s at this point that I really, truly know that Craig really was Born To Do It.