KELE OKEREKE: IN THE HOT SEAT
The Bloc Party singer is just off a 10-date DJ tour of the US when DJ Mag catches up with him...
“It was the first time I've toured completely by myself — no tour manager, no band, no nothing,” he says. “But it was awesome, I absolutely loved it, I felt like I was going on a space voyage or something, and it's given me a hunger to get back out there.”
He's booked to do a load of DJ shows all through the summer, playing his favoured blend of house, tech house and a bit of minimal. He tells DJ Mag that he doesn't really get requests for Bloc Party tracks, but does for some of his solo stuff at the gigs he plays around the world...
So, Kele, you're part of the Crosstown family now...
“Yeah, for this record I am, for these EPs. I think I'm doing three EPs, this is the second [the 'Candy Flip EP']. When did I first meet Damian Lazarus? I think I was first introduced to him by a mutual friend. We Skyped a few times, he's a really cool guy, he actually went to school in Essex really close to where I went to school. It was nice to find that out. He's had quite an interesting history, from what I'm aware of.”
So did your mutual friend think that your new tunes would sit well on Crosstown?
“Yeah, I'd made the first selection of tracks completely by myself with no real idea about how they were going to be released or distributed. I played them to a friend and he was like, 'Yo, we need to send this to Damian at Crosstown'. I was aware of Crosstown's music and I hadn't anticipated being able to release music on the label, so I was like 'Sure, if you think so'. But Damian was really into it, so it was like a dream come true for me.”
How long did it take you to learn how to produce?
“Well, I've been making music... I started when Bloc Party were working on 'A Weekend in the City', our second album that we started making in 2006. That was the first time I started using Logic to make music, and I fooled around with it and carried on throughout the release of 'The Boxer' and 'The Hunter', the two solo albums that I did in 2010.”
Why did you want to do your own stuff in the first place?
“It just seemed to make sense. I've always been a fan of electronic music, and I guess ultimately what made me want to start making music completely by myself was that I'm quite selfish, and being in a band is a collaboration — a compromise. It's always appealed to me, this idea of just locking myself away and seeing what I can come up with.”
Your first forays into dance music were a bit more, err, EDM — what made you start doing cooler stuff?
“Well, singing on the Tiësto track or the Chemical Brothers track or even the Hercules & Love Affair track that I did, when you sing on somebody else's track it's not really your thing. I don't own it, so every time I'm asked to feature on something the question that goes through my mind is, 'Do I like this piece of music that I'm hearing?' There has to be something melodically or rhythmically that excites me for me to want to do it, but once it's done I'm not really precious about it, cos it's not my thing. For me, these sorts of things are always a challenge — to be able to work with somebody else's music. That's the only real reason why I do it — to learn more as a singer and a songwriter.”
When did you first start DJing?
“Probably towards the end of 2005, when Bloc Party were touring. I came quite late to it, two members of my band at the time were already DJing. When I first met Russell [Lissack, Bloc Party guitarist], we used to go to this club together in Camden called Peach — at the Camden Palace — he was really into club culture, he had decks and stuff. So I came to it later than the others in the band, and I was also quite nervous. I like to go out and dance, I like to watch DJs, I like to lose myself on a dancefloor, and I was conscious that it was something I was really going to have to get better at. It's only really in the last two or three years that it's been something that I feel like I'm in a position where I can turn a party out.”
If all your band was into dance music, how come you formed an indie band?
“Oranges aren't the only fruit. The first time I met Russell, he was playing guitar in a friend's band and I asked him to start something. Where I grew up in Essex, there weren't that many people into music per se, it wasn't really that kind of place. You would often find that the indie kids or the grungers would also be the kids who went to raves and experienced that kind of lifestyle. So there was a certain amount of bleed-through.
“I guess the reason we didn't start an electronic project was because... I don't know, we both had guitars, and it was easier carrying a guitar around than it was some decks, and we didn't have computers or anything, it was just two kids in a room jamming — that's how the band started. Although we were an indie band, a rock band or whatever, I still feel the influence of the dancefloor was something that you could trace throughout our records. We were never far from it — even now.”
Have Bloc Party split up for good now?
“Ha ha ha, ahh, well, y'know, I think... we haven't... y'know, that's not really something I... can't really answer that question. No, we're just, erm... after we made 'Intimacy' we took a two-year break to do other things. Everyone kept asking us if we'd split up, but really we just took some time apart — and I think we're in the same situation now. We finished a world tour last year, Russell's having a baby and we're all doing other things. I don't know the future, but I'd be very surprised if that was the case. I think that we're just taking a break.”
Why did you call your new tune 'Candy Flip'?
“Ha ha, well, you know what that term refers to, right? I don't know how truthful I can be about this, so let's just say I really like the term.”
And in the tune you're saying 'Be careful'...
“Yeah, I mean, I've always had a slightly cautionary vibe with drug use, especially things like psychedelics because you can really do some damage to yourself, to your mind. To experience that kind of level of consciousness without any sense of a grounding can be quite a traumatic thing, and I've seen it with friends and people that I've loved, it's something that I don't want to proscribe or preach about. Everyone is here to do what they're gonna do, but I think there's nothing sadder than young minds being damaged or destroyed by drug use. Personally, I've always advocated a sense of moderation. I know it doesn't work for some people, but that's just how I roll.”
Which DJs do you admire?
“Lots. Obviously people like Seth Troxler, Jamie Jones, Damian, Laurent Garnier. When I lived in New York, every month I went to this awesome house party where I saw Danny Krivit spin. One of the first DJs that I remember seeing and having an effect on me was... I used to go to that club Trash at The End, and seeing Erol [Alkan] seamlessly mix indie to electro to whatever, hearing how you could construct a mood and a movement with lots of disparate types of music — I'll never forget that. That club's definitely shaped how I experience music to this day.”