The visceral thrill of music made in a moment that can never be repeated has become the Manchester-based musician’s calling card. It has taken him on tour across the world, from a mountain-top monastery in Switzerland, Nuremberg’s Museum of Modern Art and Le Botanique in Brussels to Vietnam, Canada, the States, Poland and Portugal. It has earned him support slots with Johan Johnasson, Can’s Damo Suzuki, to Massive Attack and Mr Scruff (on whose most recent album he collaborated on five tracks)
The immersive, in-the-moment nature of the complex soundscapes Denis orchestrates has seen him sought out for film soundtracks and plays. Last year, he was the sonic star of Scuttlers, a major theatre production about street gangs staged at Manchester’s Royal Exchange for a month, which summoned the city’s industrial past, largely through Denis’ highly acclaimed live score.
The Guardian devoted the entire first paragraph of its glowing review of Scuttlers to Denis’s “sonic poetry of motion”, praising his ability to both mimic vast and varied machinery at work and provide nimble accompaniment to the action. For nine performances a week, from a suspended platform, Denis created a unique soundtrack that involved ‘playing’ the venue. Inspired by David Byrne’s Factory installation, he fitted 24 tiny hammers which hit the theatre’s frame and rafters to evoke not only the cacophonous sound of an industrial environment, but its actual, physical feel.
In London in the early Noughties, Denis played acoustic gigs with pedals, cables and a glockenspiel and immersed himself in the glitch electronica scene, absorbing Four Tet’s first album and the Matthew Herbert classic Bodily Functions and learning how to sample live.
Described by The Guardian's Laura Barton as “scuzzy Mancunian blues at its richest and most intriguing”. A multi-tasker both on stage and off, Denis designed the artwork, as he has done in the past with the visuals for his live show.
Denis’s first soundtrack was for an award-winning student film. In 2014, he was commissioned to score the Maik Reichert documentary Ostkreuz, which followed an East Berlin-based photography company that had documented the fall of the Wall, which appeared on the Arte network in Germany and France, supported by the Goethe Institute worldwide. Denis has since composed for films featuring Martin Freeman, Jose Long and Julian Barrett.
For the first time ever, Denis is recording songs that didn’t begin on stage.
“I’m going the opposite way,” he explains. “Instead of taking songs I’ve improvised live and trying to hone and condense them for recording, I’m writing music I may never perform live. The songs will be shorter, more dynamic and technically better, with tighter arrangements and built with technology I’ve never used before, including a laptop. I’m looking forward to including key changes that weren’t possible when I was restricted to the hardware.”
He will also have time to work on the lyrics, so expect the self-confessed big mouth to have plenty to say.
Written by Lisa Verrico