Keeping Time With The Multi-Talented Musician That Is DoomCannon

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Keeping Time With The Multi-Talented Musician That Is DoomCannon

Words by Mr Chris Hall | Photography by Mr Jeff Hahn | Styling by Ms Sophie Hardcastle

23 September 2022

It is simply impossible to compress the achievements and abilities of Mr Dominic Canning, aka DoomCannon, into a single sentence. Born in Peckham, southeast London, Canning started out learning the flute and the piano, aged 11. He soon moved from the flute to the alto saxophone and then the tenor sax. Along the way, he picked up percussion and joined a choir. He plays “a bit of guitar and bass” and “dabbles” in other instruments. I’m convinced he’s too modest to mention any more. He’s “a terrible beatboxer”, apparently, although I have only his word for it.

As well as playing everything, it seems, he works as a producer, arranger and composer for several bands and artists. He is the musical director for Brit Award-winning singer-songwriter Celeste and is either a founder or member of countless collectives. This summer, he took centre stage with the release of his debut album. Fittingly for a man of so many talents, it’s titled Renaissance.

With such a wealth of experience under his belt, it seems odd to describe Canning, who records and performs under the alias DoomCannon – a somewhat theatrical adaptation of his name, its origin long since forgotten – as a rising star, but at 25 years old, he’s a lot nearer the start of his journey than its end.

Canning credits local council-run music groups with the opportunity to discover his calling. “I was a part of a music school called Stacks, a Saturday school run by Southwark Music Service. Through them, I found places such as the David Idowu choir, Southwark Youth Orchestra and Kinetika Bloco, which is where I found my footing in percussion and samba. That all kept me on the straight and narrow, I guess, especially at a time when Peckham wasn’t necessarily the greatest place. Shout out to my parents for that one.”

“The music I’m going to write has to come from a place of honesty within myself. It has to come from a genuine place”

To hear Canning recount his early inspiration is a reminder, should it be needed, that raw talent needs more than a nurturing environment. It needs a visible model for success, one that feels achievable.

“I was in the sixth form studying music, music tech and creative writing, but the creative writing wasn’t quite working out,” he says. “There was a tuba player called Theon Cross, who went to my secondary school and I’d seen his slow rise. He was in a band called Sons of Kemet and I thought, actually, if someone from a pretty much almost identical demographic to me can do that, then maybe there’s a chance.”

Musically, Canning’s work defies narrow definition. He prefers to avoid the inevitable “jazz”, as it can be both snobbish and reductive. “People hear a solo and they say, ‘Oh, that’s jazz,’ but really it’s an amalgamation of black music. It can be spiritual jazz or hip-hop. There are soul ballads. There are songs that are right out of 1970s jazz-fusion rock.” If pushed for a term, he settles on the deliberately vague “contemporary improvised music”.

“It’s literally anything that you can think of as music from the African diaspora,” he says. “I am a product of that, coming from a Caribbean household.”

Canning, whose parents are from Grenada, resists the idea of bracketing his music as “south London jazz”, but is the first to accept that it is very much a product of his environment. The album is shot through with social and political commentary and Canning is unsurprisingly forthright in his views of Britain’s establishment and governing classes.

“I might call someone for a gig not just because they’re a great musician, but because I know what they’re going to say before they even get into the room. It’s that synergy”

The opening track, “Dark Ages”, is a comment on “the greed of the government when we’re going through dark times”, for instance, but get Canning talking about social issues and he’s eager not to resort to simplistic stereotypes.

“I think there are signs of change,” he says. “I see companies putting their money where their mouth is. But there has been a lot of performatism from the government. It’s quite upsetting to see people from similar backgrounds, such as Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak, chucking their people under the bus. If their ancestors could see that, it’s kind of embarrassing.”

Canning’s cheerful, easy-going demeanour reveals a thoughtful maturity and he returns time and again to themes of personal growth and self-awareness. “Even if it’s not about social justice, the music I’m going to write has to come from a place of honesty within myself,” he says. “Whether that’s dealing with trauma or dealing with life’s everyday problems, it has to come from a genuine place.”

He describes writing his debut album as “therapeutic” and says “there’s a vulnerability to it in that everyone can hear your inner thoughts”. The moniker DoomCannon helps, he says, “like Flying Lotus or D’Angelo. It allows me to access parts of myself that I may not feel comfortable doing as Dominic Canning and it can be a façade to hide behind if I need – but a terrible façade as I’m blatantly still myself.”

A sense of community underpins a lot of Canning’s statements – and his work – whether that’s recognition of his Caribbean heritage and the musical influences of his father and older brother or the social commentary of his debut work. Most literally, and most powerfully, it comes across when he talks about his bandmates and the experience of playing and performing together.

“When we’re all playing, it feels like harmony. It feels like we’re all part of one body. There’s the arms, the legs – we all have a part to play”

“All of us in some way or other have studied together and that makes it easier for us to sync when we’re all together,” he says. “I might call someone for a gig not just because they’re a great musician, but because I know what they’re going to say before they even get into the room. It’s that synergy. Being a friend and a good person helps your music. It allows you to be honest with yourselves and express yourself in a way that others may not be able to.”

Having watched the band for an afternoon in the studio, I can attest first hand to the their relaxed togetherness. Playing “This Too”, from the album, they’re totally professional, but it’s the ad-libbed jamming between takes – let’s call it variations on a theme of Mr Marvin Gaye via the Black Eyed Peas – that highlights the camaraderie.

“When we’re all playing, it feels like harmony,” says Canning. “It feels like we’re all part of one body. There’s the arms, the legs – we all have a part to play. We can’t do it if the other person isn’t pulling their weight. And there are times when maybe the arms and the legs aren’t moving, but the brain and the heart are going overtime. It’s like you’re walking down a road. It gets boring after a while, so you have to decide if you’re going left or right. Having people who understand each other makes it a lot easier to walk down that road together.”

“I did a gig at Ronnie Scott’s in a suit and turtleneck. Someone said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but you played better today.’ When you look good, you play better”

The group you see above is a familiar line-up, but members may come and go, drawn from a wider pool of equally talented players in the same wider community. Canning makes a point of emphasising the band’s role in perfecting his compositions.

“As much as I can play these instruments, I’m not a master of them all and I’m very grateful to be in a position where these guys can interpret the music in such an incredible fashion,” he says. “Giving it to the band adds another life to it, in the sense of I’ve given a piece of myself, they’re going to add a piece of themselves and we’re going to give it out to the world.”

Styled for MR PORTER in a variety of labels, from to , the band epitomises the juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary influences. Canning is just as at home expanding on the more tangible elements of his identity as the abstract, creative side.

“I feel like my style can vary from day to day,” he says. “I’m really into streetwear, but also, I do love dressing up. I love having a little cashmere number or a suit. It doesn’t happen a lot because in sixth form I was forced to wear a suit every day, so I’ve got PTSD from that.

“I did a gig at Ronnie Scott’s in a and – I think I’d just come from a funeral unfortunately – but someone said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but you played better today.’ I know when you look good, you feel good, you play better. It’s a confidence thing. My partner says every time I get a haircut I come back more cocky.

“I’m just coming into my own, owning my body. With men being allowed to do more, whether that’s paint their nails or grooming, I definitely lean into that”

“Nowadays I’m just coming into my own, owning my body. I was a lot bigger at the start of the pandemic. Now that I’ve lost some weight, I’m really taking care of myself. I mean I shouldn’t have to lose some weight to appreciate my body, but I’m taking more care of my grooming. With men being allowed to do more, whether that’s paint their nails or groom themselves a bit more, I definitely lean into that.

“I remember when I got my first earring, my parents were just like, why? Now I’ve got four. I’m always on the edge of getting a fifth, but it would be right there in the middle and I wouldn’t be able to listen to music for at least three months while it heals. So that’s not really possible. Maybe if I take a hiatus after, like, my fourth album.”

I have to ask: what about a watch? If it gets to that point – and you wouldn’t bet against DoomCannon – is the status symbol of a “serious” watch on the cards?

“My dad has quite an extensive watch collection. I couldn’t tell you a single one, but it is something I definitely look for. Right now, being a musician, life is expensive as it is. I do love a nice watch, but I don’t think I’d ever get one for showing off. That sort of scares me.

“I would want something quite understated when the time comes,” he adds. “But I feel like I’ve got other things to do first. If I had the money, I’d make sure my family’s OK. I’ve got to thank my mum and dad for all the piano lessons.”

Divine Timing