2016 Artist Survey: Dave Okumu of The Invisible | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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2016 Artist Survey: Dave Okumu of The Invisible

Okumu on Trump, Brexit, Prince, Scary Movies, First Kisses, and Memorable Fan Encounters

Feb 22, 2017 Issue # 59 - 15th Anniversary
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For Under the Radar's 14th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2016. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2016 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Dave Okumu of The Invisible. The British band released their third album, Patience, in 2016 via Ninja Tune.

For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about Trump and the election, 2016's deaths, self-driving cars, Stranger Things, first kisses, scary movies they shouldn't have seen as a child, which Friends character they are most like, and much more.

Pick up or download Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue for Artist Survey interviews with Amber Arcades, Austra, Faris Badwan of Cat's Eyes and The Horrors, Boxed In, Caveman, The Charlatans, Cursive, Lucy Dacus, The Dears, C Duncan, Sadie Dupuis of Sad13 and Speedy Ortiz, Dutch Uncles, Ezra Furman, Robyn Hitchcock, The Invisible, Justin Lockey of Editors and Minor Victories, Lost Under Heaven (LUH), Lush, Midlake, Phantogram, The Range, Springtime Carnivore, Sunflower Bean, Surfer Blood, TEEN, The Thermals, Nick Valensi of CRX and The Strokes, Jenn Wasner of Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak, and Yuck.

A shorter version of The Invisible's survey appeared in the print version of Under the Radar's Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue, this is the full unedited version.

Top 11 Albums of 2016 

Here are some of my favorite albums of the last 12 months in no particular order.

David Bowie: Blackstar—When I heard the first single off this record and watched the video at the end of 2015, I was completely overwhelmed. I struggled to remember the last time a single had ignited such anticipation for an album's arrival. I felt like a teenager discovering music for the first time again. God bless Bowie, [Tony] Visconti, and that troupe of extraordinary musicians for taking me back to that feeling again. This album held a special place in my heart even before I'd heard it. 

Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool—Having been on such an extensive journey with this band, I increasingly find myself tempering my expectations at the release of each album. I feel like the chances of being transformed by their music yet again seem less likely somehow. It's as if they've given me enough already and it would be greedy to expect more. And even when Ed [O'Brien] kindly gave me tickets to see the roundhouse show, I found myself continuing to manage those expectations. But it was that night that this album came to life for me. They played "Daydreaming" second and I was in tears by the opening line.

Solange: A Seat at the Table—This album doesn't reinvent the wheel but it demonstrates the unquantifiable value in articulating personal truth. Solange shines so beautifully through this music.

Frank Ocean: Blonde—I always feel albums should aspire to exist in their own universe. Frank has achieved this so gracefully. This album draws you into its depths and rewards you with every listen. There's an acuity and integrity of intention embodied in this album that much contemporary music is gasping for.

Frank Ocean: Endless—Haha.

Jamie Woon: Making Time—I love the poise, elegance, and musicality of this record and I love the fact that it exists on its own terms sonically. Such a beautiful record. 

Laura Mvula: The Dreaming Room—I love how distinct Laura's voice is as a writer, arranger, and singer. Once again I feel this is an artist who is committed to her own truth and I find that incredibly liberating to hear.

Aphex Twin: Cheetah EP—I know it's an EP but I had to put it in 'cos this guy makes me smile so much. Richard D. James restoring my faith in electronic music yet again. Compulsive tendencies in music can so easily feel oppressive and restrictive but whilst one cannot remain oblivious to the overwhelming attention to detail in his music, it always feels alive, free, and playful.

Darkstar: Foam Island—This record was released in 2015 but I include it because I think its relevance has increased in the ensuing months. As far as I'm concerned, these guys called it. 

Kendrick Lamar: untitled unmastered.—I love that this album dropped after To Pimp a Butterfly. This artist's uncompromising intent feels almost unparalleled at this time.

2016 was regarded by many as a fairly tough and negative year. Was it also a hard year for you personally? If so, how? And also what were the high points for you?

This year has been extraordinary. On a personal level, I got engaged, I'm expecting my first child, and I lost my father. I feel poised between life and death as I contemplate these moments of transformation and I feel compelled to do the same on a macro level as I do in my personal life, namely to approach the potentially overwhelming currents of change in our world with a willingness to learn and move forward.

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. presidential election played out?

It's difficult not to feel deeply saddened by the way the elections played out but there is something inside me that is resisting the complacent urge to wallow in liberal self-pity. The world is screaming about its deep, historical wounds. We need to engage with what these are if we are ever expected to heal and transcend. This stuff isn't about Trump or Hillary, Brexit or extremism. It's about humanity's need to be heard and understood. This has been going on for centuries.

Let's discuss Donald Trump. What does the rise of Trump tell you about America in 2016? What concerns you most about a Trump presidency? How do you think his presidency might personally change your life? What message do you have for those who voted for Trump? What actions will you take over the course of the next four years to either protest a Trump presidency or support it?

It feels like a dark time for the U.S. but it's a time that the nation has to pass through. It is clearly unavoidable now. The thing which concerns me most about Trump is also the thing which gives me some sort of comfort, a kind of backhanded hope. He strikes me as completely opportunistic and amoral. I don't believe a word that comes out of his mouth. He has zero integrity in my eyes. It seems completely conceivable that he would go back on many of the things he has promised because he clearly believes it is legitimate to lie. Ultimately, this will be his undoing. But he could cause an enormous amount of damage along the way. His accession to power is already affecting my life as I'm questioning how welcome I would feel in the States in this current climate. I have family in America and I'm concerned that their sense of belonging may come under threat. My message to Trump voters would be to urge them to engage in a broad discussion. I haven't figured out what action I will take in the face of Trump's victory but the intention will be to address in some way the feelings of frustration that may have led to this awful choice. Its reality compels more profound self-critical thought than ever. The roots of societal change always lie within.

What reality TV star would you have rather been elected president?

Pretty much any reality TV star.

If you were president, what would you try to accomplish in your first 100 days in office?

I would aim to eradicate poverty, educate comprehensively, and provide free healthcare for all.

What are your thoughts on Brexit and the future of the European Union? To what extent do you think the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump were motivated by the same factors?

I feel incredibly disillusioned by the extent of our collective vulnerability when it comes to having transparent dialogue about important issues. Much like the U.S. elections, it seems a conversation took place in the wrong context with consequences, which the architects of that conversation don't understand. It feels incredibly irresponsible and manipulative.

We lost three highly influential music icons in 2016. What are your thoughts on the passing of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen? And what are your favorite albums by each artist?

It's the cycle of life. Death is coming for each of us, there's no denying it. Prince hit me hardest because he's the reason I started playing music. Sign o' the Times may be my favorite album of all time.

What do you think Prince and Bowie's afterlife project sounds like?

They are making the sound of perfection, something we aren't equipped to hear in this life.

What scary movie did you see way too young as a child, how'd you end up seeing it, and does it still scare you now?

I was pretty robust when I was little so nothing really freaked me out apart from this really creepy daytime TV play version of Beauty and the Beast on Austrian TV.

Are you ready for self-driving cars and a more automated future?

Yes and no. I'm fully up for self-driving electric cars. I hope this would lead to more meaningful conversations amongst other things. I've had some great chats on car journeys!

Tell us about the most memorable fan encounter you had this year.

A guy got down on his knees in the mud and wept after our Field Day gig this year and said he listened to our second album most days. 

Tell us about your first kiss.

At primary school in Vienna. Rachel and I used to stay behind at break time so we could kiss in the library section of the classroom. Break times flew by.

Under the Radar has been around for 15 years now, since December 2001. How do you feel the music industry has most changed in that time, both for the better and the worst?

Music's cultural currency has never been higher but its value isn't reflected in terms of artist remuneration. Music making processes have been increasingly democratized yet the creative life becomes more difficult to sustain. In the face of all this, it feels to me like there is nothing to lose, so I hope this will lead to more free thought circumventing the archaic structures of the industry.

If you have kids or plan to have kids one day, will you encourage them to be a musician or artist or would you prefer they get a more stable job?

I intend to do my utmost to equip my child/children for whatever it is they want to be. My hope is this will be a reflection of their true nature, something I could never hope to prescribe.

What band, besides your own, has the best name?

Menstrual Cyclist. I'm not sure if they exist. If they don't, they should.






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