The former film student has hyped-up senses, and a firm grasp of his artistic destiny
As he courteously orders his spiced chai latte, it’s hard for me to square the young man sitting in front of me with the Denzel Himself in the video for the 22-year-old’s latest single, ‘Bangin’’. In it, he staggers around a nameless, indistinct suburban green space under drab, grey skies; a single camera tracking him as he forms a mosh pit with himself as the sole occupant. Spitting and rasping, he stares, unblinking, down the lens as though challenging the viewer to disagree with his treatise. But while the visceral persona the former film school student has created for himself is mesmerising to watch, the gentle, thoughtful character with whom I chat is just as engaging, albeit for very different reasons. It’s my first encounter with the many dichotomies that come together to make Denzel Himself one of the most genuinely interesting young talents to emerge in the UK this year.
Boldly driven and yet decidedly humble, his self-assuredness is punctuated throughout with moments of shyness. Careful to make sure I will paint him accurately, at first he seems wary of revealing too much – he refuses to be drawn on where, exactly, he comes from, for example – and gives answers that seem considered but a little vague. He pauses frequently and corrects me on the difference between punk and hardcore punk, lest his influences are misrepresented. And as I ask about the inspirations and goals that form the basis of his music he tells me quietly but firmly that he doesn’t want to, “over-intellectualise things.” Instead, he says, his only modus operandi is to make his music sound cool. Whether bravado or self-deprecation, I sense that there’s a plan at play here that is much more complex than a simple desire to sound cool, but, either way, he can safely tick that initial aim off his list.
Employing brutal grime electronics to ensure he has your full attention, Denzel Himself’s music reveals an awful lot more when it is given the time it deserves. Gravelly vocal refrains are offset by layers of bright jazz guitars and spindly saxophone lines, serving as a reminder that, without, of course, wishing to over-intellectualise things, we’re dealing with an artist who has his head screwed firmly into place. His songs are the product of a wide-ranging love for music that goes deeper than society’s expectations of what a young black British male should listen to. He’s spoken already about how it feels to be the only black person at a punk gig; now it’s his turn to help bring the spirit of that music to people of colour.