Of the many meanings behind Dark Matter—London jazz drummer Moses Boyd’s debut LP—the most vital comes from above. “It’s astronomy,” Boyd tells Apple Music, “this invisible fabric that brings us all together. Dark Matter isn’t meant to be a negative record; it's meant to unify, to make people think.” It’s also the rare political record that doesn’t lean entirely on lyrics. As both a producer and bandleader—contributors include Poppy Ajudha, Obongjayar, Joe Armon-Jones, and Nonku Phiri—Boyd wanted to capture the gravity of our current moment in both rhythm and atmosphere, by combining elements of Bjork’s Vespertine and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works with the funk of James Brown and Tony Allen. “I wanted nuance,” he says of the album's many textures. “That air and earth feeling. Floaty bits that are kind of beautiful, but thickness and weight, where it's like, if I put this on, it's going to hit me right in my stomach, and it's going to move me. I don't see myself as overtly political, but I guess I am. I'm just responding to what's going on around, which maybe all art should do.” Here, he walks us through his debut, track by track.
Stranger Than Fiction “I had just come back from holiday in Sri Lanka with my family to what was going on in the UK—so from palm trees and beaches to Brexit. At the moment, in the world, you can pick a country and look at what’s happening and just be like, ‘Is this actually real?’ I wanted to mirror what's going on around me musically. When you listen to it, it’s like, ‘What is real, what's not? Is that a real drum kit? Is that not a real drum kit?’ I wanted to really blur the lines and make people have to really listen carefully to decipher what's real and what's not. That was my musical metaphor for something stranger than fiction, which is also just referencing what's going on in politics, in nature, in life—full stop.”
Hard Food (Interlude) “Amongst all of this craziness, you realize there's so much you have in common with the person next to you. Hard food is a Jamaican term—it's a type of dish that might consist of boiled dumplings, boiled plantains, a really hearty meal that brings people together. I’d reached out to [jazz composer/bassist] Gary Crosby, one of my mentors. That recording is our conversation. He's grown up with his own struggles and challenges in the UK. He used this analogy of ‘I’m from West Indian background and I defy anyone, from anywhere in the world, whether they know about my food or not: If they're hungry they're going to eat it, and they're going to enjoy it, and it will fill them up.’ He was trying to say, ‘Look, we're all similar. We all want the same things in life. We're not different to each other. There's far more that unites us than separates us.’”
BTB “‘BTB’ is one of only two tracks that are complete live takes. BTB stands for ‘blacker than black,’ another play on dark matter. Just being me, and my experience being a young black person in England—it’s a celebration of culture. I'm from the West Indies, and I really wanted to have my sort of take on those sounds and those rhythms. So it's very sort of soca, calypso-driven. Also quite dark—you couldn't play that at carnival, but it makes sense to me, as somebody that's grown up in that culture, but not necessarily born in it and from it. It might be like being born in New York, but your family is from Puerto Rico. You have a very different reference in the way you visualize and present your culture.“
Y.O.Y.O “‘Y.O.Y.O’ stands for ‘you're on your own,’ and ‘yo-yo’ in the sense of just like a yo-yo goes up and down and round and round, and if you listen to the drum beat, it's like a cycle of a loop. But when I was making this music, I was thinking like, 'Man, all of this is going on. You really are on your own in this world.' And I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. When it sort of hit me, it was like, ‘That at first is very sad, but it's also very liberating.’ You are in control. You go as far, or as close, as you want to go. You can't rely on anyone but your own brain and yourself, and in that there is power. It was influenced by sad things I was seeing around me, but out of that came positivity."
Shades of You “I had the bassline and the drum beat, but I felt I’d given as much as I could to the song and it wasn't done yet. I was thinking about vocalists, and I'm quite good at kind of hearing somebody's voice on it. That was it—I heard Poppy’s voice. I just knew she'd understand it musically. And as I sort of explained it to her, she went away and came back without any direction from me. I’ve known her for a long time, I’m a big fan of what she does, and I wanted to try and push to see if she could try something different to maybe what you've heard from her, because I've seen her do loads of interesting things that aren't recorded or aren't on YouTube, and I just wanted to kind of get somebody that would get it, and I think she did.”
Dancing in the Dark “What's the word when someone can read your mind? Telepathic. I had this loop, and even before I exhausted my part on it, I just heard Steven Obongjayar. He’s got this kind of raspy tone that could just cut through and make it kind of feel almost like Afrobeat and punk rock. We got in a studio together, and I played it to him, and then after two seconds he was like, ‘Man, can I have this for my album?’ After about an hour arguing: ‘No, you can't have it.’ What was crazy was that I had not explained anything to do with Dark Matter, or the subjects. He just got it. I was like, ‘Man, look at that. There's something going on. There's something in the air.’”
Only You “I was talking to Theon Cross, who's a tuba player, and I remember playing him some sketches. He’s like, ‘Moses, man, why do you never feature on your music?’ And I think because I write it, because I produce it, because I help mix it, because I'm putting it together, to me, it just feels a bit weird to then have solo stuff. And also, I don't want it to sound like a drummer's record. I don't want it to sound like you can tell who I am on the record. But he managed to convince me. I was in the club and I had an idea: I love listening to techno and garage, but why do I never hear a drum? I know it sounds weird, a drum solo through a sound system. But I didn't want it to be like a typical feature—here’s the song and it's framed just for me. I wanted it to kind of exist in its own sort of texture, to take you on this journey. Like you could close your eyes and sort of vibe to in a club. Maybe I got it, maybe I didn't. But that was the vibe.”
2 Far Gone “There's an album by Herbie Hancock called Inventions & Dimensions, and Herbie doesn't need help, but it just showcases him so well. It's got these incredible grooves, and he's just going at it on the piano. I was like, ‘How do I do that with my thing?’ I remember going around to [composer/producer] Joe [Armon-Jones’] house and he had recently got a little upright piano in his front room. Typically, if you go to a studio and you record piano, they'll have really good stereo mics, and it's really pristine, and everything's got to be good. What was great about this one was he just had this one microphone and it wasn't the best microphone. He just put it somewhere and did one take at this upright. People were walking around the house—it was so rough and ready. But it worked so perfectly. Even when I was trying to mix it, the rawness of it sounded so great.”
Nommos Descent “A lot of this stuff started as me really experimenting with loops. That one wanted a vocal. On a trip to South Africa last year, I was working with a friend of mine, Nonku Phiri. She's from Cape Town, but she lives in Jo’burg, and her father was a musician on Graceland, back with Paul Simon, so she knows everybody. While I was hanging out with her, a lot of the music she was showing me, people like Beverly Glenn-Copeland, a lot of folk music, vocal music, really fit the sound I was going for when I was experimenting. So when I got back to England, I sent her the track. Even if I took all the music away—I might do that one day—and just release her vocals, it would be so beautiful. It’s referencing the Nommos people, really talking on the element, the metaphor. 'Dark matter' is a reference for the plight of the diaspora, black people, and sort of how we've come from greatness and whether you choose to do with that what you will. What was cool: We're never actually in the same room. I sent the music to her and she did her thing, and it just worked.”
What Now? “It's easy to feel helpless, but I'm not really like that—I’m very solution-based. There's no point in sort of posing the statement without thinking about a solution. ['What Now'] was a nice summary for me, because I wanted it to be very meditative. It’s that real strong mix of trying to have the acoustic and the electronic worlds coexist without battling each other. You’ve got this 808 sort of vibe going, as well as horns that sound like they're almost suffocated. I was messing a lot with modular synths, and I think I sampled a note on a piano and sort of held it and saturated it a bit. I remember just listening to it in my home setup, and it just put me in this real trance. I think music has that power to cleanse and make you recollect, think, hope—all that stuff. Across the whole album, I could've just recorded things in a very normal, clean fashion, but it was more about how do I get that vibration? How do I get that texture, that tone? And I wanted to end the record on that sort of note: ‘Well, where are we going from here?’”