It’s easy to forget David August is only 24 years old. In the time it takes most of us to work out what we might like to do for a career, he’s already built himself a CV that would be the envy of his older peers.
Brought up in Hamburg, he began playing the piano at age five, and was soon invited to the prestigious Steinway & Sons artist programme. Moving from Bach to basslines, as a teenager he began dabbling with production, turning in a remix for Oliver Koletzki aged just 17. By 20, his work had caught the ear of fellow Hamburger, Solomun, who released August’s debut Instant Harmony EP on his Diynamic label, letting him learn to DJ at their club Ego.
He then moved to Berlin after being one of just four from 80 applicants to be accepted onto the rigorous Tonmeister studies at the city’s University of Arts, which blends practical studio skills with classical music training.
A first full album Time came in 2013, proving August could do downtempo as well as dancefloor, and commenced a shift from preferring to perform behind the decks to out in front of an audience.
Within a year of making this move, Resident Advisor’s readers named him their fourth best live act, as he rode high on the success of Innervisions release “Epikur” and a Boiler Room set that has now clocked up over three million views.
Photo by Linn Kuhlmann
This year has seen David take his ensemble to the biggest festival stages, playing Sónar, Dour and Roskilde this summer, to name but a few. Instead of braving the elements here in the UK though, he sensibly opted for the cushier climbs of Camden’s Koko.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that given his age, his fan base are also of a demographic that meant it was a 14+ event, but if anything this just made the atmosphere that much more hormonally charged.
After the main man took position behind his laptop, keyboard, pads and twinkling machines, the electronic melodies began, complemented by some deft guitar licks from his axe man Max Trieder.
After a work-in-progress intro, the pair took on a live interpretation of "J.B.Y." – one half of this year’s well-received split single on Ninja Tune affiliate Counter Records.
As became the trend, things started slowly and built through the gradual addition of complementary elements into an impressive crescendo, with August’s often subtle productions given the extra oomph that can only come with live instrumentation.
A few songs in, Marcel Braun completed the trio on drums, giving tracks like his other new one "Ouvert" and the 2014 remix of “Origins” by Max Cooper some more rhythmic improvisation, to complement the pulsating machine bass.
Past the half-way point and things slowed down a bit, with ex-bandmate Sissi Rada’s dismembered vocals floating over prog-rock plucking and sleek synths on “Patria” – making comparisons with Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington’s Darkside project all the more apt.
A cover of Radiohead’s “Identikit” followed, before a 15-minute epic to finish, starting with some Bunita Marcus spoken word and steadily working up to the most almighty climax that inevitably had the capacity crowd screaming for more.
What we got in terms of an encore was, perhaps, the only let down of the evening, with August’s own vocals and electronic additions not making for a particularly memorable cover of Grizzly Bear’s “Yet Again.”
The following day, Pulse Radio caught up with him for a quick chat about the show:
How was it for you? Last night was great, I loved the venue and as a band I thought we had a good show. It was very intense, felt like we played for three hours or something, when it was only half that.
What’s changed over the time you’ve been performing live? Well, we’re really only doing festivals this summer. Koko was the only headline show on this tour. Max and Marcel have been touring with me since October, we also used to have Sisi on harp and vocals, but she didn’t come on this part of the tour.
Her harp is a very special instrument. You need to give it the space and time it needs, and if we only have an hour or so, I had the feeling we should express a little more rock and roll, rather than the more experimental stuff we used to do. Due the circumstances of the shows we’re doing now and musical settings, it doesn’t transmit so well.
Logistically it’s pretty hard to travel with. Back in the autumn we had a series of shows that we travelled to in a tour bus, but now it’s one off shows that require airplane travel. But it’s also good with just three people; the communication between us is more intimate.
Obviously you’ll work on your set beforehand, but how much improvisation happens on stage? Usually we have cues in the tracks where Max and myself know where things will go, it just takes a bit of eye contact and we know. We have tracks which are more structured, purely because they don’t permit themselves to as much improvisation, but most have room to expand more.
You won’t hear any show that is the same as the one before; we’re always changing things up. Last year I think we all played more solos, but there’s still space for playing things differently each night.
I’m sure the musicians and tech geeks will want to know what your kit is for playing live? I have three synths: a Prophet-6, a Juno-60 and a Nord Lead 2X. I have a couple of controllers in front of me, some effects, and everything goes through Ableton. There’s a mic, which goes back through as well, so I can loop and overdub myself.
Max on the guitar has plenty of effects pedals in front of him, so he can make his guitar not sound like one anymore. Then Marcel has his specially made drum kit. The bass always comes from my side, but he adds the other beats. He’s got a small synth as well, with an electronic drum pad too.
What’s next? How do you build on the live show and what might you be adding production wise? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m pretty happy with the show at the moment. This is really only what I want to be doing; aside from maybe a handful of DJ gigs a year. I’d rather be in venues having concerts, where you can just be more open musically and we can express ourselves as a trio on a higher level, than just by myself.
Production wise, I’m doing my album right now, just starting to work on that, so it will hopefully be out next spring.
David August at Koko photos by Aziza Azul