David Holmes interview: ‘This album is me screaming from the rooftops’ | Juno Daily

Holmes on hope, and much more

pics: Stev Gullick

“Considering the fucking world is falling apart, I’m doing okay,” says producer, DJ and soundtrack composer David Holmes. 

He’s talking candidly from his home in Belfast about the bristling defiance of his new solo album, ‘Blind on a Galloping Horse’, just as the conflict in Palestine has exploded into a humanitarian crisis. 

“I’m finding it very difficult to avoid what is going on, but at the same time, trying to stay positive,” he continues. “I’m finishing projects but you know, I’m human. We might all be alone together but I want the world to be in a much better place.” 

David’s musical exploits have been characterised by restless reinvention, creating music that ripples with style and energy. A similar fervour zings through our conversation and in the multiple projects of a career spanning five solo albums and more than 30 TV and film soundtracks. Since his involvement in acid house’s pivotal early days with his Sugar Sweet club night in Belfast, solo work, collaborations and screen work have been many. The latter has ranged from Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ trilogy to Steve McQueen’s critically acclaimed ‘Hunger’, and hit drama ‘Killing Eve’. His latest record, the first under his own name since 2008, opens up a new chapter. 

“I’ve never written a protest record before in my life and I grew up in Belfast,” he says wryly. “When I was 19, I discovered MDMA and acid house, and the last thing I wanted to talk about was The Troubles.” 

“It was life-changing but I always wanted to be as far away from that as possible in my music. I guess there have been little nods to it, but this is the first time I’ve given it my full attention in a conceptual piece that tells a story.” 

‘Blind on a Galloping Horse’ 

On first listen, there is an anger coursing through many of the tracks making up ‘Blind on a Galloping Horse’. From 10-minute opener ‘When People are Occupied Resistance is Justified’ to ‘Necessary Genius’ and its roll call of heroes and mavericks (including close collaborators and late comrades Andrew Weatherall and Sinead O’Connor), it pulses with attitude and an eclectic musical sensibility – followers of gnostic sonics will delight in everything here from ambience to garage rock and electronic psychedelia.

David’s ‘Holy Pictures’ 2008 album was his last solo record, a personal exploration of loss, and featured his vocals alongside his productions. 

“The album was about losing my parents,” he says. “So it was something I had to do, no one could have written those songs or sung those lyrics apart from me. After its release, I thought it was going to be my final solo LP.” 

Despite this statement, and a slew of creative vehicles vying for his attention, David has been constantly crafting music in the wake of its release, some of which has found its way onto ‘Blind on a Galloping Horse’. He began to unite sonic strands during the mid-2010s and the crash landing of Brexit on the UK’s collective consciousness. 

“Brexit was a platform for Boris Johnson to come in, divide and conquer to become Prime Minister,” he states. “I started to get really angry, to see how it was all about him, how there was no consideration for the working classes in Britain in any of it. This was all mounting up. Then Covid happened and I started pursuing psychedelic therapy.”

Navigating Inner Space 

Alongside political toxicity, David’s mental health issues loom large over the album. He received a diagnosis of a form of OCD without compulsion which reared its head during the pandemic. The “pure obsession” he describes had a destructive influence until he happened upon mushroom therapy. 

“A big part of having ‘the Pure O’ as they call it, 70% of it is amazing, you get obsessed by music, film and culture, then the other 30% is really destructive,” he says. “I was experiencing negative thoughts and I couldn’t get off the ferris wheel – it blew up. Then, the mushroom therapy really helped me. I still get negative thoughts but they just don’t hang about anymore.” 

David’s studio is in his home so despite the restrictions surrounding the pandemic, he was still able to write and record. He used the relative stasis of Covid to reset and rethink his creative strategies. An avid note taker, he’d collected sketches of lyrics, turns of phrase and they gradually came together during this period.

“Thanks to the therapy, the fog was removed and I could focus on being an artist,” he says. “I started linking those notes together and they formed the basis of the songs on the album.” 

The new record bulges at the seams with ideas over the course of the 14 tracks with the announcement of the EU referendum lighting a creativity that has rarely stopped. According to David, he’s also sitting on a wealth of unreleased music from this fertile period. 

“The material just built and built as I really felt like I had something to say,” he explains. “The songs are about protest, of course, but it’s also about dealing with mental health, getting your shit together and taking control of your life.”

Raven Violet

Raven Violet’s voice is a defining sonic texture of the new album. Austere yet emotive, she is the daughter of David’s musical comrades in the Unloved, American musicians Jade Vincent and Keefus Ciancia. During the making of the Unloved’s first album, David was constantly urging Raven to enter the studio. 

“I was always trying to get her to sing backing vocals,” he says. “She came down, did it with this incredible voice, like Michelle Phillips from the Mommas and Poppas but with a punk attitude.” 

The collaboration ignited after a conversation with Keefus saying how Raven was looking for creative projects. This chat coincided with the Golden Lion pub in Todmorden inviting David to contribute some music to their label.

“I DJ at the pub once or twice a year and they asked me to put together a track for their series,” he said. “I asked Raven if she would do it – she said yes, it turned out really well [as ‘Love is a Mystery’], then I wrote ‘Hope is the Last Thing to Die’.” 

According to David, writing the lyrics and handing them to Raven to perform gave the sound of the new record a sharper potency and added a stronger meaning. 

“To hear these lyrics being sung by a young woman, it really was so much more visceral,” he states. “I would write them, then let Raven live with them, then get her to come in and sing them with my melodies. I would give her some direction – but ultimately what you hear on the record is Raven being herself.” 

David believes that he was able to hand over the vocals in part due to the influence of his mushroom therapy. It enabled him to relinquish his ego, step back from the songs he’d created and bask in the collaboration.

“Raven’s voice is so incredible, it’s a tone that you can’t learn,” he says. “It was a very organic process with her, it started with one track, snowballed and we would have felt foolish not following it through.” 


Initially a fan of punk, David’s mind and DJing exploits were expanded by the arrival of acid house culture. His subsequent 1997 Essential Mix represented an influential moment in DJ culture, where a new eclecticism was forged. It’s now commonplace for selectors to combine an array of sounds and styles, yet he was part of a wave of DJs to look in uncharted waters for their dancefloor highs, an approach he continues via his God’s Waiting Room nights.  

“When I made the Essential Mix, I was bored,” he says. “I’d just come out of this heavy Detroit and European techno phase, and got to a point where I wanted to hear something else. I’m always on the hunt for proto hip hop, house music, techno – I love these records that you find that were made in the early seventies and it sounds like Jeff Mills.” 

David’s sets at God’s Waiting Room, held at Banana Block in Belfast and around the country, are usually all night-style affairs where he has the opportunity to go wherever his tastes desire. ‘Blind on a Galloping Horse’ adopts a similar vision – 

This isn’t strictly electronic dance music or informed by his approach to soundtracking dancefloors. But it is something you can move to. 

“I wanted to make a record that was technicolour, you could almost see the colours as it was so vibrant – and making music you could dance to by threading in like different influences,” he says. “To me, dance music hasn’t even scratched the surface of what is possible yet which is why I still get so excited by it and have this real urge to create.” 

“Living through the eighties, you were exposed to rockabilly, rock and roll, punk, the whole indie world,” David continues. “It was an amazing time to be educated, and my love of music is why I became a DJ, not the other way around. I’m fortunate that as a producer, I’ve lived through that and been able to go back, pick sounds and bring them into the modern world.” 

New Futures

Exciting musical adventures continue to keep rolling around David, from DJing at the Convenanza festival in Carcassonne to working with the late great Sinead O’Connor as well as his film and TV duties. Right now, he’s focusing on promoting this album, not making music as world events swirl around us all. 

“What has happened and what is happening now just goes to show how the people in charge are detached from reality,” he says grimly. “I suppose I feel justified to scream from the rooftops as the album is saying something totally in line with how many people feel.”

The record is an acknowledgement of the trauma blazing away and the permanent sense of crisis we’re going through – but it’s also a rallying cry. There are moments of introspection and subtlety but also a yearning optimism. And despite the trajectory of our chat, there are flickers of empowerment and light in the dark. 

“At God’s Waiting Room, when I DJ, you see clusters of Indian kids with dog collars and string vests, trans kids, Catholic kids, protestant kids, all coming from different backgrounds, areas. They’re dressing up and into the music – and that gives me hope. Just not any current governments.” 

Jim Ottewill

‘Blind on a Galloping Horse’ is released by Heavenly Records on November 10 – click here to pre-order.