Kele Okereke

In the Mix

Oct 11, 2013 Bookmark and Share

Bloc Party frontman and solo artist Kele Okereke does not have Shazam installed on his phone. Although the choice is due to technical limitations rather than philosophy, the musician admits he enjoys attempting to capture the essence of a song on first listen well enough to look it up later—even if the process leaves his life littered with inscrutably scrawled lyrics.

“It’s not like clicking on a button,” he notes. “Growing up, buying records in record shops, you’d spend a lot of time searching for things, waiting for things to come in. It wasn’t a sense of things having to be here now. I’m not afraid of searching.”

Okereke’s natural proclivity for cataloging was put to the test during the creation Bloc Party Tapes. Featuring tracks from the likes of Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, and Junior Boys, as well as Okereke’s own band, among others, the mix (released by German label !K7) is a primer for the uninitiated—highlighting the natural interconnectivity between the warm, polyrhythmic percussion of Afropop and the pulsing synthetic beats of the modern club scene.

“That’s what I’m renowned for, educating people,” Okereke says, punctuating the deadpan statement with a self-aware laugh. “Not really. It was really just about making something that seemed cohesive, that told a story.”

For Okereke that story is personal. While the dance half of the Bloc Party Tapes represents a teenager and young adult installed in England’s club scene, the other half is a trip through Africa’s all-star musical output. A fan now, Okereke admits that it took him a while to truly appreciate the movement. Initially, he says, he rejected it as his mother and father’s “thing.”

A well-tuned ear isn’t the only thing Okereke has in common with his parents. Beginning with Zia track “Manifesto Meditations,” where the listener is called to “take a moment to observe our now,” through to Koreless’ hypnotic remix of Jacques Greene’s “The Look,” the album plays with a haunting sense of space.” It’s an aesthetic that Okereke attributes to his renewed interest in spirituality.

“One thing I did share with my parents, they’re very spiritual people,” he reveals. “Even though I don’t really share their religious beliefs, I feel like there’s a sensitivity to that thing that I definitely inherited from my parents.”

At thirty-two, Okereke is the self-described relic of a now-bygone era, when mixes were actually passed around on tapes. He attributes most of his early musical discoveries to the practice, and easily speaks of his discoveries as though placing them on a mixtape of his own.

“The first thing that would go on it would be ‘Jump’ by Kris Kross, he says. “I remember watching those two boys performing on Top of the Pops. I remember seeing those kids and thinking that’s what I want to do. I think it’s because they were two young black boys, the same age that I was. It seemed like, ‘Wow, this is cool. This is something that I want to do.’ It wasn’t really until five or ten years later that I started to really have an interesting in actually making music.”

He goes on to reveal that it was a short trip from sharing in his sister’s obsession with Blur (“Parklife was the first record I remember having in my house that wasn’t my own or my parents.”) to hearing techno and dance in the Northern London clubs he would frequent. After a moment of consideration, he caps off the metaphoric mix with Sonic Youth, as a representation of his enduring love of post-rock.

“I was very much on a journey as a young person,” he says, a smile implied in the words. “I’m very much on a journey now. It’s a different place, but it’s still leading somewhere.”



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