Interviews

16/04/2014

DENA getting Flashy at Birthdays in Dalston


You - or rather the press in general - can't describe DENA without  a string of qualifying geographic specifics. I'm the same, even conversationally, calling her the Bulgarian-born, Berlin-based minimal electro rapper. What this description misses out is the massive 90s influence, that came into full effect last night at her live show in London, The United Kingdom.

The idea of 90s nostalgia usually has me running for the hills and in many ways DENA is a one woman Little Mix made for a Shoreditch palate. But it's all the good bits of girl rap like TLC, and it's co-opted with a loving ear. Listening to Boyfriend on record, it's almost a parody, but when you see her dancing in the vocal break it totally makes sense. I can't pinpoint exactly what it is, but her voice is much more expressive in the flesh, even when the expression is a kind of bored version of 'don't fuck with me'. She has one of these day-release personalities, the true bedroom creative who rarely sees daylight, finally let loose in public. She's not trying to be cool or win anyone over - and yet achieves both by simply loving what she does, and radiating that love with a childish grin.

I got exactly the same feeling of seeing Robyn play live, in that both artists really understand the difference between a karaoke PA - which many solo singers fall into - and the logistics of putting on a live show and making the songs stage ready. The Sweden-based songstress does this by having two drummers; DENA does it with a jazzy moustached synth player and a beat perfect drummer armed with samples. They don't just accompany a backing track, they create it.

Of course she's known for THE HIT, Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools, which she saves for the grand finale, complete with false ending and virtuoso synth soloing. It was preceded by the brilliant reworking of Skee Lo's I Wish, which took on a much darker grandiosity. I'm making grandiosity a thing. The whole show was simply packed with feel-good pop which is an anomaly in the otherwise trend-obsessed worlds of electro, rap and 90s nostalgia.