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Credit: Ella Podvalny

Fresh Kicks 208: Akanbi

Moving effortlessly through a range of tempos and flavours, the NYC-based, Lagos-raised DJ Akanbi demonstrates his party-starting sound with a live recording from New Year’s Day at Nowadays, and speaks to Michael McKinney about the evolution of his GROOVY GROOVY events, and taking the dancefloor somewhere new with his anything-goes approach

Andrew Akanbi has been throwing parties for over a decade. His event series, GROOVY GROOVY, has a simple yet expansive ethos. Ticking each phrase off on his fingers, he gets right to the heart of it: “Sexy party; love party; friendship party; intentional party; spiritual party.”

Akanbi was born in Virginia but grew up in Lagos, falling in love with dancing and entering competitions every chance he got. He smuggled a radio into boarding school, listening to pop stations and memorising their playlists: Akon, 50 Cent, Black Eyed Peas. His mother sold clothes and jewellery to businesswomen, and he’d tag along in the car. “I was the guy selecting tunes on the radio,” he laughs. “I wouldn’t let the driver touch it. My mom ain’t touching it. I was the guy.”

Near the end of high school, Akanbi went to a nearby market, grabbed an armful of Afrobeat CDs, and managed to get the housemasters’ permission to throw a party: his first, but by no means his last. After moving to New Jersey to study engineering, he fell in love with club music. He’d regularly take the train to New York, and dance “like a maniac” at parties like GHE20G0TH1K, Night Slugs, and upstate festival Sustain-Release (where he met founder, Aurora Halal, shortly after sticking his head in a speaker).

He wanted to bring the noise back with him across state lines, so GROOVY GROOVY was born. “I wanted to hear this rave music I was going to New York to hear,” he says. “I wanted to hear techno; I wanted to hear house; I wanted to hear club stuff.” A friend had a pair of decks and introduced him to DJing; together, they threw their first basement party. The first two sessions went well enough, and at their third, there was a line around the house to get in.

Ten years on, GROOVY GROOVY has turned into a New York dance music institution, and his own DJing career has taken off too. He’s got an everything-goes approach to the dancefloor, playing just about anything that keeps ravers on their toes: sweltering breakbeats, sun-kissed amapiano, zonked-out dub, wiggly techno, brain-bending dubstep. He’s liable to grab the mic, too, offering freewheeling commentary during his sets. “I can’t rap, [and] I can’t toast. What I can do is acknowledge the vibes in the room,” he says, grinning.

Last year, Akanbi caused a minor controversy by playing Akon’s ‘Locked Up’ at Berlin techno institution, Berghain. He speaks frankly about it now, throwing his head back with a mix of joy and confusion: “Why would you restrict yourself to this bam-bam-bam-bam vibe? Motherfuckers really are locked up in here!

“As DJs, it’s our job to give people the full rainbow,” he continues, expanding on his wide-ranging style. “That’s what I’m getting paid to do: cause confusion and eventually bring clarity.”  In Akanbi’s universe, it’s not a left turn to drop amapiano at peak time, to take hours getting to 120 BPM, or to play Akon in Berghain. Each of those moves represents the same goal: to take ravers to somewhere new. 

Akanbi is a virtuosic DJ and a knowledgeable curator, but his greatest strength is simply his contagious energy and boundless dedication to dance music. When he gets excited about this stuff, he hoots and hollers, laughing with his full body. In his work, Akanbi conveys this joy, inviting the dancefloor along for the ride. He puts it simply: “As long as you come in with an open mind and want to share your own magic, let’s link up on Planet Groovy and fuck this world.”

Listen to Akanbi’s DJ Mag Fresh Kicks mix, a live recording of his New Year’s Day set from New York club Nowadays, below. 

Want more? Check out Aletha's Fresh Kicks mix here, and dive into DJ Voices' Recognise mix and interview here.

Michael McKinney is a freelance writer. Follow him on X @mmck_