Header image by Keisha
Interview by Alli Lindsey
Memories make moments, and feelings aren’t feminine. South London creator DWY embraces the genderless nature of emotions and nostalgia on his new mixtape 8-Bit Memories. While the 7-track project is a marriage between alternative soul and organic hip-hop, its sentiments are so human that the line between music and spirit become blurred. Clued-up on his own narrative flair, DWY’s 8-Bit Memories comes equipped with a zine and short film featuring wavy poetic prose, intimate discourse with friends, and other visual material related to the mixtape that break the modern social media chain. Exploring the dangerous and equally comforting nature of memories, this left-of-center mixtape is curated by the hand of an artist brave in both his masculinity and Blackness. In this visceral one-on-one conversation, DWY details the dreams, revelations, and gratitude that forged 8-Bit Memories.
You were born in Miami but raised in South London, two pretty different places. Do you pay homage to Miami in your art? Or is South London where your true roots are planted?
Definitely South London. I just feel British, you know. I grew up in London and my parents are from the UK, my Mum’s Jamaican and my Dad’s from Ghana, so those are the places I call back to heritage wise more than Miami. I don’t think I’ve been to Miami since I was about 10, to be honest, so I don’t really feel connected to it in that way. Definitely South London and then it’ll be Jamaica and West Africa.
Who are your greatest musical inspirations?
Marvin Gaye. I’m a big Frank Ocean fan, also like early Kanye West…Prince. I grew up on a lot of hip hop so the Fugees are my favourite – ‘The Score’ is my favourite album. Portishead, The XX, Busta Rhymes – very random!
I love Marvin Gaye as a songwriter and a vocalist, he’s always very understated but who is in control of what he’s doing – especially with the ‘What’s Going On’ album just to make that pivot from Motown love songs to making records bigger than yourself and talking about important stuff, I just find that super inspiring. I want to do more of my work to talk about topics that aren’t just about my relationships. I think Frank Ocean is probably one of the best lyricists of the last century and I like the way he puts words together. The Fugees ‘The Score’ is a flawless album and all the pockets are right and dynamic is great. The early Kanye stuff really shifted music a couple of times and I think not many artists have had the luxury of shifting music on more than one occasion. You know, you had the backpack era with the synths, and 808s and then he shifts it again with the grandness of Watch The Throne and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and then Yeezus. That’s something I really admire, he’s setting trends and being forward-thinking even when at the time is not well received, but then a couple years later people look back and say “oh wow we were wrong!”. I think music is all about the long game.
If you could compare your music to any visual artist, from any time in history, who would it be and why?
I’d like to say Quentin Tarantino for the fact that I just love what he does visually, how he mixes visuals and music – that’s something that I aspire to do. I think he’s a genius of dialogue and I always try to make my songs as conversational as possible by writing things the way I say it and the way people talk. A random story, I remember I was doing a little sync work and I was pitching for The Hateful Eight to soundtrack the international trailer and I got down to the last two. The way the opportunity came about was I was out for dinner with a friend of mine in East London then his publisher called and said “hey we need you to create this music for something”, so we left the restaurant to work on the song and they didn’t tell us what it was for at first then they kept giving us notes and told us it was for Tarantino. They didn’t tell us anything and I was in the cinema and the Hateful Eight Trailer came on and then it wasn’t my song – I guess we didn’t get it!
“My biggest fear when I was preparing the release? That nobody would care.”
What was your biggest fear when you were preparing to release 8-Bit Memories?
That nobody would care. I guess when you live with it for so long, you get over it and you start to lose perspective. I guess I’m still a very self-conscious artist and genuinely thought people wouldn’t care. There’s so much happening, there’s millions of playlists and songs every day so it’s been really great that people have paid attention – I didn’t foresee that.
Although 8-Bit Memories is a showcase of some of your most raw emotions, why do you think it’s difficult for so many men to feel comfortable with their deeper sentiments?
I think growing up you’re just told not to do it. So your entire life, childhood adolescents, you’re told not to be emotional, not to share. And then you become an adult and suddenly it’s like “why don’t we share?” – it’s because everyone told me not to. I grew up in South London, I went to a tough school and I think a big part of it is not having role models in that sense, and not seeing men that you look up to being vulnerable sharing.
So I think you grow up and in your mind you think that’s not the thing to do. It comes down to a lot of circumstances and bad advice given to young boys and I think people really hammer on this strong difference between men and women, saying women are emotional and men are not supposed to like all of these – which are all terrible ideals that you’re told as a child and you realize when you grow up, these are all wrong. Then you spend your adult life trying to figure it out and how to change and how to unlearn all those bad habits which leads you into so many negative places, a part of the reason why there’s such a high rate of male suicide and for a long time men don’t talk to anybody. I think it’s good to try and surround yourself with positive guys who are open to sharing and will check in on you. There’s been a few times where I’ve looked at my friends and asked if they’re ok and they say “yeah”, but you have to push through the awkwardness as we both know they’re not good. It’s a lot of work, and you have to hope you can figure it out before it leads you down a strange path that is hard to get off of.
“I think a big part of for so many men not to feel comfortable with their deeper sentiments is not having role models in that sense, and not seeing men that you look up to being vulnerable sharing.”
The foundation of 8-Bit Memories is rooted in nostalgia and the moments that make you, you. Given the chance, would you erase your life’s most unfavorable memories if it meant you still got to create this mixtape?
No, I wouldn’t. Because even if I wasn’t able to make the mixtape, I think going through all of those things moulded my view of life. Even if it allows me to inspire people younger than me that I can pull through and help them through their moments as someone who has been through a similar situation, as someone who can empathize and help someone else for it. I think more than how your positive influences you, you can also be like an influence and help other people too.
8-Bit Memories comes equipped with a short film and a zine. Why was it important for you to have these supplemental pieces of art along with the mixtape?
I’ve always loved storytelling and I really wanted to expand outside of the universe. I know that we live in a content driven time and I’m not the biggest lover of social media and all of the stuff that comes with it, however, I understand that people need content. I’m not the type of person to do TikToks and other stuff – that’s just not me – so I wanted to do content my own way and create a digital version of like analogue times with making the magazine. With the movie (directed by Quran Squire) it helped to give more context to the music and act as another world for you to dive into. I remember the blog era and DatPiff.com and discovering projects and diving head first into Frank Ocean’s Tumblr and wanting to create my own version of that today.
What is your oldest memory?
That’s a hard question. The first old memory that comes to mind was when I was about seven or eight. When I used to live in Southwest London with my family my dad would ride me to school in Balham with me sitting on the back of his bike. He had a car, so I don’t know why he liked to ride the bike in the morning sometimes! On the ride to school my dad would do impressions of TV shows like old school Black TV shows like Desmonds and Living Colour, the whole journey – it’s such a random memory, but that’s the first thing that comes to my mind.
“…I’m not the biggest lover of social media and all of the stuff that comes with it, however, I understand that people need content.”
What are your dreams like? (literal dreams at night)
Very vivid, exaggerated and wild. I had one dream I remember from a couple of years ago… I was running away from a zombie Mickey Mouse and Goofy and they were chasing me through a cave, and it seemed like it went on for hours. That was very vivid,
When concerts and festivals resume, how do you see yourself touring 8-Bit Memories?
I would like to play Lovebox Festival, UK finally because I was booked to play last year and was really excited. So I’d love to do the festival circuit as well as intimate shows in LA and London and build out the visual world of the mixtape – kind of like a performance art piece in a way by making the set and the stage feel like you’re in the world of 8-Bit Memories, the movie, and the magazine. I’d like to find a way to make it all feel connected.