Ah, existential dread. What a mood. It’s weird because, as kids, no one ever told us about this particularly nasty part of adulthood, this bit where the future appears so uncertain and everything feels like it might fall to bits at any moment. They teach you about puberty and they teach you about taxes, but they miss out all the dread that comes in between. Weird, huh?
So what do you do while in the midst of an existential crisis? You do what everyone else does – you go to every length possible to assure people you’re fine. Better than fine, actually. Good, even. Nine for nine, if you will. At least this is the tact taken by Seattle-based musician Danny Denial on his latest track, the lo-fi ‘Nine For Nine’.
Denial is no stranger to what he calls ‘existential stalemate’, his new track inspired by a period of flux in which he packed up his stuff and moved to Seattle, feeling listless after the release of his debut album, 2017’s Goodbye. But while his debut relied on a heavier sound that often submerged his vocals in swampy guitars, ‘Nine For Nine’ is a more succinct listen and a more conscious foray into indie rock. But Denial’s sound is hard to define. He describes it as “a place where the The Breeders and Pixies meet Lil Peep,” though perhaps for those less musically-minded, this is hard to translate.
What comes through most clearly on ‘Nine For Nine’ is a sense of urgency, a desire to break free from routine and monotony – a familiar feeling for a generation of directionless Millennials. But there’s something more sinister here too, Denial calling his self-worth into question with the ambiguous line “My dignity’s been bought and sold/For something lacking permanence/An isolated incident/And I’ve been dying ever since.” When the refrain rolls around, Denial is back to assuring us he’s “doing fine,” brushing aside his angst for the sake of a brave face.
Inspired by questions of existentialism, Denial’s work is also influenced by his life as a queer black man. It’s an identity that’s made him want to subvert expectations, not content with conforming to preconceptions of what his music will sound like. “I’m just as interested in the more lo-fi/grime direction current hip hop is headed in as I am in 90s alternative,” he says. “I’m interested in finding ways of intersecting genres in a way that’s not just ‘oh he’s black so he should have more hip hop influences’ because I’ve gotten that shit since I put out my first song.”
Aware of the pressures of being a young, black, queer artist, Denial stresses his own position as an outsider. “Personally and creatively, I only started making anything of value when I stopped giving a fuck,” he says, in no mood to bow to expectations. And, unsurprisingly, Denial isn’t impressed by the fetishisation of queer or black culture for the sake of selling records. “I think queerness and ‘otherness’ in general is in a very precarious place right now,” he says. “Everyone wants to talk about queer artists and artists of colour and wear us like some type of badge, but I don’t find it real at all. All the labels and press still churn out bands of all cis white dudes like it’s 2002. But queer artists are out here hustling anyway.”
Uninterested is being worn as a badge, or sanitised for the sake of mass-market appeal, Denial is content on the fringes, making music that refuses to conform. ‘Nine For Nine’ is the first track taken from his upcoming LP, released this Spring. It’s a raw insight into Denial’s direction, one that bristles with tension, its scuzzy edges suggesting confrontation, albeit more of an internal one than any outward aggression. At the track’s end, as Denial belts the final refrain of “Lick it up, lick it up, baby,” it’s hard not to be reminded of PJ Harvey’s ‘Rid Of Me’ and its final holler of “Lick my legs, I’m on fire,” Denial channelling a similarly unfettered energy.
Describing his upcoming record as “the Bleach-y record I’ve always wanted to make – really dark and aggressive and in-your-face,” as well as working on a “punk-opera horror short film” to accompany it, Denial has some very exciting projects on the horizon. With so much going on, he might even manage to shrug off some of that heavy existential dread once and for all.
‘Nine For Nine’ and its b-side ‘I Can’t Wait To Dye’ are available to download for free on Bandcamp. Featured image by TEENY.