Originally Published: Clash Magazine
State Of Flux
Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke swaps guitars and bands for synthesisers and solo projects as he rejects his past and embraces a fighting new start with his debut album ‘The Boxer’
Their story ends here: “We won’t be back here next year,” explains Kele Okereke to the vast crowd that has gathered for Bloc Party’s Main Stage appearance at Reading Festival 2009; “or the next few years after that,” he continues.
Behind all the abstract suggestion and speculation, Bloc Party’s tenure is about to be put on hold. Twenty-three gigs in October – aptly renamed ‘Bloctober’ – seals the deal, as the band draw a pall over their decade together with their fans in every corner of the country. Their decision to go on sabbatical for a year is a mutual one, but a notional full stop lingers in its resolve.
His story starts here: “We said that we were going to be taking a sabbatical, but that was never the case,” Kele explains fresh from rehearsal. He’s about to depart on a European tour ahead of the release of his debut solo album ‘The Boxer’. “Whilst we said that,” he continues, “I knew I had already started making [The Boxer] by myself. I don’t know: you don’t necessarily want people knowing exactly what you are doing.”
The twenty-eight year old is one for keeping his cards close to his chest. He has expressed his disdain for interviews due to the media’s obsession with celebritism, and on a more personal level, the impending questions that relate to his race and sexuality. Even today, although it is not expressed verbally, there is a definite amount of unease and guard about his character when being questioned.
We sit facing each other at the end of a long, quietened corridor at the world famous John Henry’s studio, London. Little eye contact is made on his behalf during our time; instead, he leans back on his chair’s hind legs, plays with the crucifix chain that adorns his neck, and stares at the whitened walls that are surrounding us, offering astute and matter of fact answers as a defensive mechanism.
“That was bullshit! You say one thing and…” he pauses to laugh at the ceiling. A recent interview with XFM resulted in a slew of news stories purporting that he blamed his recent decision to shave his head came on through stress after recording his new solo album. It’s easy to understand why, having told the radio station: “I was doing a Britney. I’d had enough and I needed to start again – I was having a meltdown. I was attacking photographers with my umbrella and not being so good to myself.”
“You can hear in that interview that I was clearly joking,” he explains. “And all of a sudden it becomes a news story. I don’t care, in future I’m going to start saying more stuff that’s even more libellous so I get in even more trouble.”
His once wild then shorn locks are newly reformed into cornrows in need of some attention. And the only attacking that he appears to have been doing is in the ring learning to kick-box. Apart from that, he has settled into the new flat that he has bought, something that he refers to as “the first grown up thing I had ever done.”
His concerns about celebritism and tabloid journalism are therefore not without warrant. However, part of what he said was true: “I felt like I needed a new start,” he explains, as his statements and thoughts begin to align. “I felt like I had lost a lot of my enthusiasm for being in a band and making music, which was a little uncomforting for me. Making this record reminded me about what I enjoyed about making music.”
And that is? “It’s the challenge – it’s doing exactly what you want to do.”
‘The Boxers’’s story starts here: “I didn’t realise this, but most of the songs seem to be about stepping away from things that are harmful,” Kele explains. “Be it a failed relationship in ‘All The Things I Can Never Say’; be it drugs in ‘Rise’; be it a start of a new chapter in ‘Yesterday’s Gone’: they all seem to be about moments of revelation.”
Much of sounds’ revelations came from his time spent DJing, and pay dividends to the dance-laden whomp that resonates from the MDMA tranquillity of ‘The Boxer’. Something of a surprise upon first listen, but then considering each of Bloc Party’s platinum selling albums also appeared again in remix form, less so. “I guess it got me more onto the rhythmical ideas of music,” he explains of his time being inculcated behind the decks. “It just really changed how I heard music and it became exciting again.”
Teaming up with producer XXXChange (someone he lovingly describes as a “mild crazy like all good creative types”) in New York, the beat/loop/sample experiments that he had been working in the UK finally came to fruition. But don’t call the end result a dance record: “It’s not and it was never my intention to make one” he explains defensively. “I’ve made a pop record. It was more about using the sounds and the textures you hear from clubbing and putting it in a pop format. I’ve always wanted to make songs that mum’s could like… People will see that there are other ways to be moved than a guy strumming a guitar.”
Where: London/New York
What: Dance-laden pop
Unique fact: Kele is currently working on a collection of short stories that he has “been thinking about whilst riding around east London at 4am”. It’s working title is ‘Midnight On A Bicycle’.
Get 3 songs: ‘Walk Tall’, ‘Unholy Thoughts’, ‘Rise’