The Mark of Excellence

Dave Aju

Open Wide

By Dimitri NasrallahFor his debut album for the French label Circus Company (also home to Noze), San Francisco house producer Dave Aju has pulled a page from the Herbert playbook and made an entire full-length based on samples of his mouth. It’s a trick that has been attempted before — Björk’s Medùlla and, to lesser extent, Rahzel’s Make the Music 2000 come to mind — but Aju’s elastic mouth comes with a distinctly West coast palate that pulls elements of down-tempo, hip-hop, jazz, funk and soul onto the dance floor. Along with Herbert and Matmos, Detroit veterans like Amp Fiddler and Theo Parrish come to mind as well as cues for Open Wide. Aju may not have many releases under his belt but he’s the kind of producer who trades in quantity for versatile and eccentric quality. An album of mouth samples could’ve been a major limitation in the hands of another musician but Aju works with a number of tempos to build range over the course of an hour. It helps, of course, that he has a deep and soulful voice he’s not afraid to use for spoken word, singing or rapping, all without losing focus. This is a serious talent from a reinvigorated West coast scene.

How did you decide to make Open Wide completely with mouth sounds?
I made one song and enjoyed the process so much I felt doing an entire album was possible. Limiting oneself is both challenging and liberating. I’m a firm believer that the more you put in, the more you get out of something. If you use common, preset sounds and typical arrangements and production methods, sure it will sound familiar to people and you may sell a few records but then what? In music, especially now, I think longevity and personalization are key, and nothing is more personal than our voices.

You draw from a number of influences, from jazz to funk to house to musique concrète. How did your musical tastes develop?
My dad is a musician and he raised me on jazz, from early bop to Latin and fusion styles. My brother closest in age to me was a DJ in the ’80s and exposed me to early hip-hop, electro, house. From there it was mostly discovery and trial and error to find a good balance. I’ve always been fascinated with sound in general, so when I learned about the more academic avant-garde movements, I wanted to incorporate those ideas back into the street and club music I also loved.
(City Centre Offices)
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