Bloc Party on “Alpha Games” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, December 5th, 2023  

Bloc Party on “Alpha Games”

Bloc Party 2.0

Apr 29, 2022 Photography by Wunmi Onibudo Web Exclusive
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UK band Bloc Party return today with Alpha Games, their much-awaited sixth album and the first where founding members Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack created songs from the ground up with new members, bassist Justin Harris and drummer Louise Bartle. The two members joined in 2015—after the departure of Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong—and whilst they both did some touring to promote 2016’s Hymns, it was an album and song cycle that highlighted the trials of a band in transition, that they had no hand in songwriting. Harris was involved in recording some of the studio tracks while Bartle was completely uninvolved.

Alpha Games is the exciting sound of all four members with their unique strengths coming together in the studio to finish writing a record that they had begun in earnest whilst on the road in 2018. To celebrate Bloc Party’s era-defining and much beloved 2005-released debut Silent Alarm, they went into the rehearsal room to learn or relearn songs for a 2018 tour performing the album with select dates. Unsurprisingly, the response from fans was overwhelming and with its success, the tour was expanded internationally for much of 2019. It was on the road during these tours that the quartet first started playing with ideas that would eventually become “Traps,” the kinetic first single off Alpha Games. Released last November, “Traps” began as a jam during sound checks and was developed during their tours across the world from the UK, to America and Australia. Hence, the sonics of their latest album has more than just a passing resemblance to their debut—propulsive rhythms, angular guitars and Okereke’s vocals at turns playful, gentle, and menacing. Thematically, however, it deals with the turbulence and troubles grounded in this moment.

Okereke has found having a female drummer in the band rejuvenating even as some diehard fans still lament the departure of Tong. Impressed with her technical skills on the drum kit, Okereke tells me over a Zoom call, from his home in London that: “I think Louise is technically better. And I think it was important that people could hear that on the first thing that we did—‘Traps.’ Because our old drummer is a very great, inventive musician, but as someone that was in a band with him for years, you know, he will admit himself that he wasn’t the best timekeeper.” The proof, Okereke feels, is in watching previous live performances, where the band didn’t sound at their most cohesive. “Louise,” he adds, “she’s just a different style of player…people need to see what she is actually capable of. And they will, when we go and do these shows.”

The evening we speak, Okereke is excited and slightly nervous as it’s the eve of the band’s first live show since the pandemic began. By all accounts their first show back was a success, even though Harris, who is from America and also a member of the Portland, OR duo Menomena, was unable to make it the UK and was missed. A look at their recent performance at the BBC 6 Music Festival, in Cardiff, Wales confirms that Bloc Party 2.0—what Okereke has affectionately called the band’s new configuration—is indeed in fine form. Their energetic and taut set took in new tracks “Traps,” “In Situ,” and “If We Get Caught,” as well as fan favorite “This Modern Love” and their post-punk classic—the jagged-edged “Banquet.” Currently on tour in the UK, Bloc Party will kick off their American tour next month, which will include Just Like Heaven Festival where there will share top billing with other early-aughts bands such as Interpol and Franz Ferdinand.

While Okereke has never been one to look back—Bloc Party have never managed to repeat the stunning success of their debut but by the same token they’ve never appeared to place too much stock in treading the same path—and was at first, resistant to the idea of even doing an anniversary tour, the new line up has fired him up to dive into Bloc Party’s discography with new vigor. In an interview at the BBC 6 Festival, he mentioned wanting to tackle deeper cuts and including them in future set lists for a more balanced account of Bloc Party’s almost 20-year output.

The new blood has also been conducive to exploring new songwriting territory and Okereke has relished the opportunity to now have female vocals on Bloc Party songs. Bartle not only sings on “If We Get Caught” but also had an outsize hand in pushing for the song’s nascence.

“Yeah, it’s funny,” explains Okereke who is protective of Bartle as she’s also the youngest member in the band, “this was one of the first songs that we wrote in 2018, and I personally didn’t want to take it any further…and Louise was adamant that she wanted us to keep working on it, even though nobody else really wanted to.”

Her enthusiasm made him reconsider. “If she can hear something in it that we can’t hear,” he thought, “we need to see what there is in this song.” So they persevered with it. By the time it came to for him to write the lyrics, he’d had a good sense that the record’s darker themes would include unctuous characters that mirrored what Okereke was observing around him—people in positions of power abusing their standing.

The wistful, tenderness of the melody then became the perfect foil to the angular edges elsewhere on the album. Okereke then wrote equally emotive lyrics evoking love and loyalty—“If we get caught, I want you to know, I will always ride for you.”

He explains: “This idea of a lost, last kiss before impending doom was just an image that seemed quite resonant with the record…this kind of Thelma & Louise-type situation, knowing that the game is almost up but wanting to steal a moment of tenderness.” Coupled with the swelling crescendo of Bartle’s backing vocals the track is one of the album’s standouts. Okereke beams proudly as he says, ““Louise’s voice takes it somewhere completely different,” and admits he is looking forward to the prospect of writing in this manner more in the future.

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