You could argue that the talent for song-writing isn’t in your ability to tinker with the ivories, to pluck strings in intricate sequences, or to sing like an angel, no no no. The real talent is usually found in the musician’s imagination. What creative, fresh designs can you think up? That’s what musicians should be asking themselves, bugger the instruments. It’s not like James Murphy (overlord of all things LCD Soundsystem) can actually sing particularly well now is it? Yet he’s written a number of seminal songs that will stand the test of time. Nirvana made their biggest anthem with just three chords, and much early work from The Beatles‘ and Oasis‘ hits used a similar number of limited notes. It’s the spark that really makes people take notice, it’s the genius that supersedes your grade eight piano certificate, so if you’re a musician and you’re considering where to start, then start getting inspired, that’ll help.
It’s a consideration that perhaps shows up just how ridiculous faux talent shows, such as X-factor or any other similar SYCO production. They look for singers, or performers and set them off on (sometimes massive) careers, yet the imagination is completely curtailed by Mr Cowell. The successful candidates are actually handed songs that others have written. Sure they can sing, they can dance, they can look great, but by removing the imagination and creative input surely they remove the actual X-factor, no? Well, today’s recommendation would have Simon Cowell hitting his dismissive little buzzer before she’d even got to the centre of the audition stage. Not only does she seem a pretty average singer, she doesn’t have the dance moves, we’ve not seen her on any particular instruments, she’s from Bulgaria (!), and her taste in neon jumpers will have you rubbing your eyes every few seconds, as she arrives on screen with ever more garish outfits. However, we haven’t seen this sense of exuberant, exciting creativity for some time.
Our friend (and fellow Music Robot member) Phil over at the excellent Not Many Experts music blog recently gave her the attention of his useful spotlight, explaining that “she’s one oddball Eastern-European pop-star“, and he’s not wrong. Meet DENA, real name Denitza Todorov. She couldn’t be a more unlikely new star in alternative pop if she tried. You sometimes have to pinch yourself that it’s not in fact some kind of satirical Chris Morris stunt, especially when you watch the video for Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools. It’s a remarkably inventive song, which you might imagine is simply utilising the common, tired hip hop subjects, but therein lies her magic. It actually challenges traditional song structures, with a beat that feels like it’s bouncing down the stairs, handclaps that appear like they’ve been shot out of a machine gun and simple notes that play independently behind her flat-toned vocals. Layers drift in and out, particularly when she begins to sing two lines at once. It’s also a song with pockets of tiny moments that allow rounded sounds to break up the attack.
It’s not all spoken word either, with Dena occasionally switching to a more full set of vocals. She is known to have provided vocals on two Whitest Boy Alive albums (Erland Øye of Kings Of Convenience and The Whitest Boy Alive fame appears alongside her in the Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools video). The track, Boyfriend, in which she explains that “I’m with someone else…and his name is rhythm, all I came here for tonight is to dance with him“, shows us her adoration of music, delivering a disco house groove of a song, well away from the direct grit of her usual hip hop tangle. Her ability to switch styles around is remarkable, taking as much from MIA‘s infusion of sounds or Beat International‘s hybrid of influences, but it’s how she weaves them into successful songs that is most interesting.
Hers is a musical mind firing on all cylinders. You know how scientists suggest that we only utilise one third of our brains – well it seems like Dena is able to compose music whilst using those hidden parts of her cerebral cortex. She’s now living in Berlin, where she’s writing and recording, apparently finalizing her debut album with Finnish producer Jonas Verwijnen at his Berlin-based Kaiku Studios. We can’t imagine a more appropriate city for inspiration, so Berlin’s alternative culture should prove the perfect cultivating ground. It sets things up nicely for that first full album, but in the mean time, if you live in the UK, you can catch her playing a couple of live shows over at the end of August. We imagine her live sets will be just as crazy as her music and videos, so we will be there excitedly investigating just what she comes up with. With so much generic music and flaccid bands being sent to us on a daily basis, it is creative artists like Dena that get us really going. Ultimately, talent is found inside ideas; it’s at the edges of One’s imagination that we see the boundaries of music really getting pushed. That’s how the future is changed. Fuck Simon Cowell, with regards to Dena it’s a “yes” from us. (MB)
DENA – BOYFRIEND
DENA – GAMES