“The past is a concept. Whenever you experience anything, it’s right now. When we were talking five minutes ago, it’s now. The future is now.” If Craig David used to insist on 9pm dates with “cinnamon queens”, today that is unlikely. These days he wears his philosophy on his sleeve with a watch that simply reads “now”. But while the former golden boy of UK garage is living for today – his fans just want to rewind.
At the turn of the millennium David’s honeyed vocals and catchy lyrics, coating two-step beats with pop sheen, sent the 19-year-old soaring up the charts. When his first album Born To Do It “dropped”, as he calls it, I headed straight to Woolworths for a copy (complete with a B-side disc of him talking to himself). I learnt the words to the whole album, carefully balancing the CD on the spindle of my Sony Discman.
But even by 2002 interest had already waned. “It’s what they call the rise and fall,” he lamented on his second album Slicker Than Your Average, which sold around half as many copies as his debut smash. He next became the victim of a cruel but oddly enduring character on Leigh Francis’ sketch show Bo Selecta which had his trademark facial hair and, inexplicably, a Scottish accent and a pet bird Kes – the kestrel from Ken Loach’s film. It was a swift descent.
Craig David left London for Miami, moved into a hotel and got into bodybuilding. An episode of Cribs revealed life-sized photographs of scantily-clad women, white sofas, impressive audiovisual equipment and a thing for fast cars. Everyone moved on. Yet teenage kicks…so hard to beat.
I jumped at the chance to do a ‘phoner’ with the beanie-toting star of my adolescence.
He was in London for the tour of his DJ show TS5 in which he aims to “bridge the gap” between live performance, DJing and MCing.
Named after the number of his apartment-cum-hotel penthouse, TS5 is modelled on his own “pre-drinks” house parties. These are carefully orchestrated affairs where the man himself “holds it down” on the decks, there are drinks on tap, before everyone goes “out out” (they call it that in Miami too).
Getting the “sexy vibe” is an exact science so David enforces a rigorous 70:30 female to male ratio on the guestlist. “If you overload it with guys, and the girl ratio is lower, in my experience, girls feel intimidated by that,” he explains. “Guys get really confident and try and hit on everyone and the ratio is all off.”
Curiosity piqued, I head down to Hackney’s very own Oslo for the gig, where I find myself surrounded by other sheepish looking folk in their mid-twenties, but no drinks on tap.
There is a reasonably sexy ratio of 60:40, the “vibe” is millennium chic and girls in white TS5 trucker hats hand out leaflets for the next gig. This being Hackney, I am initially concerned everyone is here to parody their younger, less cool selves. But I’m wrong. “You’ve got to love Craig”, two people tell me outside. “He’s the English Drake”.
Upstairs David exaggeratedly presses buttons and drags faders, his biceps bulging under his oversized white T-shirt. After an underwhelming opening song he gently brings in ‘Fill Me In’ and the crowd goes wild. Girls at the front flap white A4 sheets of paper with his name written on in biro, and there is much grinding.
But even the most diehard fan would be forced to admit he is simply not the best DJ, and his soft-as-butter voice just sounds plain weird when warbling over aggressive house bangers.
Thinking is the box
I ask about the transition from singersongwriter to DJ. “It’s crazy to think the cycle has come full circle”, he says. “DJing is what I started off doing. When the first album blew up, I put that on the side burner. I just do what ever I want to do, there’s no boundaries.
We’ve taken the box, and removed all the lines from it. It’s all open now.” I manage to anchor a memory of this ‘box’ in David’s sea of axioms.
Along with 75 thousand others I am an avid follower of his Instagram account, a luxury flick book of Miami sunsets (#blessed), workout selfies (#eatcleantraindirty) and tautologies set against a backdrop of his own face.
One of my favourites (genuinely), I tell him, is a picture of a cosmic night sky with a white square and “thinking is the box” written inside it…
I can hear him nodding down the phone: “You got it. It is the box. If you just do whatever you’re doing, there is no box to be in, but as soon as you say ‘there’s the box and I’m trying to think outside of it’, you’re saying the box is there.”
David comes across as intensely and at times robotically upbeat. I ask about his Instagram, where his posts often receive mixed responses, and how he manages to stay so positive in the face of jokes at his expense. “It’s transient”, he says. “It’s not to be taken seriously.
The beauty of Instagram and Twitter is there is a follow and an unfollow button.”
His puppyish optimism is likable and there is definitely a sense of humour under his earnest theories. I ask him if his rumoured new studio album has now been put on the “side burner.” He acknowledges the dig: “We’re taking the burner off. There’s no side burner, back burner, up burner, Bunsen burner. All the burners are out. We’re making the record.”
Craig David Presents TS5 has announced a second date at Shapes in Hackney on 16 October 2015. For tickets see ts5.com/shapes