Search The Line of Best Fit
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Childe’s "Death Wish" is a moving portrait of emotional vulnerability

30 March 2023, 10:30 | Written by Joe Webb

An “inverse unrequited love story,” the slow-burning and intimate "Death Wish" sees Childe confronting love, detachment, and powerlessness.

Creativity is often said to emanate from close communication with the subconscious. Paul McCartney’s "Yesterday" famously came to him in a dream, while the surrealists Dali and Magritte drew heavily from the theories of Sigmund Freud. While it may all sound quite lofty, there is something undeniable about the artistic impulse to connect to and represent those feelings that lie beyond the realms of day-to-day consciousness.

One upcoming artist for whom this sentiment rings true is Childe, who I met with shortly before the release of his new single "Death Wish". “I see myself as more of a vessel for the song rather than a creator of the song,” he explains. “I’m not inspired directly by... of course you immerse yourself in other art — but when that moment comes to me, it’s always driven by the story that I’m telling.”

It is this desire to accept the art in whatever form it presents itself that is central to Childe’s songwriting philosophy: to resist the comfort of genre convention and let the art be. “If you fix yourself to the rails of one genre and you’re like, 'I am an alternative indie artist,' then your ability to be inspired by everything and anything is limited,” he argues. This ever-changing, formless pool of influence is partially attributable to his ADHD, a subject which he speaks candidly about, and an aspect of his life and art that he embraces and loves.

On "Death Wish", Childe’s subconscious all but boils over. His cadence is urgent, direct, desperate to spill outside the conventional meter — a lyrical trait that’s present across much of his work, including the fizzy "Child" from his debut EP in 2021. John Cooper Clarke has spoken about how lyrics that take up slightly more space than they ought to have this sense of being unrepressed, of channeling a vivid emotional experience rather than being cautiously glued to the form. Here, it gives the music a distinctly human feel, a vulnerability and a shortness of breath that evokes a more sensitive meaning than the lone acoustic guitar and cutesy diatonic melody would otherwise suggest.

Slow-burning and intimate, "Death Wish" works as an “inverse unrequited love story,” contemplating being loved when you don’t feel like you deserve it. The hook — "don’t start making me laugh / I don’t know how to stop / I can’t get enough" — is derived from Childe’s experience of laughing during moments of emotional stress with a partner (“It’s like this incredulous feeling of 'I can’t believe how powerless I am.'”). Elsewhere, the song explores emotional detachment and vulnerability, spinning a beautiful narrative that is a testament to the way that small details can reveal someone’s humanity.

The daring lyrical content of "Death Wish" is mirrored in its production, courtesy of Childe and producer Danny Presant. From the lo-fi acoustic guitar to the distant waves of reverb-soaked drums, "Death Wish" becomes an edge-of-the-earth soundscape, a crying out for help. The high point comes just after the first chorus, a killer bitcrushed glitch that gives way to a breezy whistling countermelody: it’s uncomfortable, rough, uniquely evocative, and vivid. Again, the mantra is emotional authenticity: “I want that edge of your seat feeling to be reflected in the production, so that — if only not for the listener but for myself when creating the song — it keeps me in that space,” he explains.

This captures what’s so interesting about Childe: the whole artist is present. Not a singer, not a guitarist, but a character; an alter-ego that is entirely embodied across his art. He tellingly speaks of “becoming” Childe, passionately and excitedly telling me about how his alter-ego liberates him to “confront feelings that we don’t usually confront... taking a bit of that social awareness skin off and being free is what Childe is really about.” Although sceptical of taking direct inspiration from other musicians, his primary, gun-to-the-head artistic influence is David Bowie — who is about as eclectic and unbounded by form as anyone.

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Credit (all shots): Joshua J P Davidson

Embracing this alter-ego has influenced and enhanced his live performances too, dropping the self-consciousness and shame for an “immersive theatre performance” that allows him to dwell in the emotional reservoir of his music. It’s funny, then, that while the art becomes more human, the performance becomes more, well, performative: he will intentionally avoid a joke between songs, a self-effacing "I’ll be by the bar," in favour of maintaining the spectacle.

“Because it is silly human awkwardness, it’s insecurity, it’s the external pressures of life that make me do that,” he explains. “If I’m able to resist those by being Childe, then I am actually in that flow state instead of having to humanise it and say sorry for showing off.”

Live shows are coming thick and fast: in May, he tours Germany, before returning to the UK for Dot to Dot Festival. Also on the horizon is an appearance in Vivienne Westwood’s Spring 2023 campaign, a foray into the world of fashion that has allowed him to “visually perform,” reflecting another dimension of his artistic identity.

A deep sense of gratitude radiates from him. “I feel a sense of peace in that [the new music] feels honest and like a real reflection of where I am,” he says. “But as always it can catch me in the middle of the night, I can wake up with a cold sweat imagining that it’s all wrong.” It seems to me that with his inspiring commitment to emotional honesty, and his newfound acceptance of his whole person — artist and all — Childe has very little to worry about.

"Death Wish" is out now. Find Childe on Instagram.

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