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David Balfe was the first of his peers to learn to drive. In a 2001 Renault Clio, he and his friends would spend evenings driving around the city, soundtracked by Raidió na Life and homemade mixtapes.

“That was the sound of our relationship,” says Balfe. “When there’s five people in a tiny Clio, there’s no escape – the conversation goes to intense, beautiful places.” This nostalgic electronic backdrop also provides the foundation for Balfe’s self-titled album as For Those I Love, a solo project born from wanting to communicate a fierce love for friends and family.

Balfe was raised in Donaghmede, north Dublin. His initial interest in music was nurtured by his uncle Darren who helped foster his most revelatory musical moments. There was Seán Miller’s record The Bitter Lie, which opened up the possibility of making music in a Dublin vernacular. Original Pirate Material blew Balfe away with Mike Skinner’s use of his “normal human voice”. And then there was an in-store at All City Records in the mid-aughts, in which rapper Oddisee’s live sampling session on an MPC showed Balfe that what he’d been doing at home – chopping up music in Cool Edit Pro 2.0 – was the backbone of much of the music he loved.

Still, the biggest inspiration for For Those I Love came even earlier. Balfe was 13 and walking up the stairs at school when he spotted an At the Drive-In badge on a bag up ahead. The bag belonged to Paul Curran. From lunch breaks in the school sheds shuffling their iPods, to playing in bands together (Plagues, The Branch Becomes, Burnt Out), Curran, Balfe and their closest friends were inseparable. “Having an excuse to spend that time together when things felt so delicate… it was amazing to have something to rely on,” he explains. A man Balfe describes as his “best friend and greatest love”, Curran’s passing by suicide in 2018, and the trauma that followed, has informed For Those I Love in an astounding and heartbreaking way.

For Those I Love is a tribute to Curran and a deep dive into grief, but the project was already forming before he died. Created during a time when he had neither stable employment nor financial security, Balfe wanted to say thank you to those who cared for him: “I wanted to create something tangible, beyond actions and words.” The result combines euphoric rave signifiers, social commentary and, above all, stark poetry to a remarkable and profound effect.

Curran was his biggest supporter. “This isn’t hagiography,” Balfe says. “He was exceptionally supportive and tried to activate that support however he could.” When Curran died, friends and family encouraged Balfe to persevere with For Those I Love, not just for the catharsis but also in memoriam. The finished record is peppered with snippets of voice notes that relay the protective, encouraging nature of their relationship. “A quick message to say I love you/ First and foremost,” goes a recording in The Shape of You, a track which blooms from simple piano chords into an ecstatic synth-led peak, sampling Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ The Tracks of My Tears.

In my own experiences of grief, I have found it to be a chaos in which I have lost myself. I feel that chaos in For Those I Love; in the disparate emotions that rage through Balfe’s lyrics like wildfire, in the visceral desperation that his textured productions evoke. Guilt and grief are intertwined, and though the context differs, Balfe agrees. It’s a guilt that’s complex and irrational, but in simple terms, For Those I Love is a project from which he will gain – and that’s a hard concept to accept.

The guilt is such that Balfe hasn’t been able to listen to the record for months, and he waited in an uncomfortable space for the album’s release in March. I try to reassure him that his art will function towards a greater good. That in helping others, perhaps, in time, Balfe will also feel that he has helped himself.

Sounds like: Gut-wrenching storytelling on an electronic bedrock
Soundtrack for: Hugging your mates tight
Our favourite tuneYou Live / No One Like You
File next to: Real Lies, The Streets
Find him@forthoseilove

For Those I Love is out now via September Recordings Limited