Music is all about transition, about accepting new ideas and allowing those to change who you are, and how you approach things.
In that sense, it’s little wonder that Jordan Rakei’s music is so powerful, so fresh. New Zealand born, raised in the Australian city of Brisbane, it took a 10,000 mile journey to enable him to plug into London’s current nexus of jazz, hip-hop, and electronic musicians.
And he was writing every step of the way. New album ‘Wallflower’ is out now, an intoxicating return that doubles as Jordan’s first true statement as a Londoner.
“I only moved here two and a half years ago but I’m looking to live here for the rest of my life,” he says with a grin. “All the guys that played on it are from London. It’s mainly me and my drummer that worked on it, but I’ve got a couple of other people that have jumped on it too.”
A talent in perpetual evolution, Jordan’s music begins with the most basic of tools – a beat, a few notes – before surging into fresh areas of exploration. “Typically, I sing around beats, and then come up with song structures that way. But this way, we’d hit record and maybe jam for about 30 minutes, and then top up different sections.”
“It’s a very improvisational record, we’d just go with the flow and see where it took us. That’s why each song sounds very different from the other, but also they had this underlying theme of… chaos, in a way.”
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A freeflowing record, ‘Wallflower’ recalls the point in the early 90s where hip-hop’s dynamic flow intersected with the sheer unpredictability of jazz. Rhythmically flexible, Jordan’s songwriting is forever looking to delve a little deeper.
Working with close collaborator Alpha Mist, the songwriter was able to pick apart his experiences in a rapidly changing city. “We’ve chatted at length about concepts, anxiety, and how we can write them without alienating people,” he tells Clash. “Sometimes when you write about something personal people feel like they can’t really relate, so it was about capturing that point without coming across as too Dear Diary.”
The album is built to allow those words to seep out, to have renewed meaning amid the restricted palette. “I think it’s mainly lyricism, but also the production and the colour and the tone underneath. It’s quite dark, it’s ethereal and atmospheric. It’s very sparse. So it lends itself more so to the actual lyric.”
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Sometimes when you write about something personal people feel like they can’t really relate...
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Drawn into the orbit of Ninja Tune, the label helped connect Jordan Rakei to Dave Okumu of The Invisible. The mere mention of the genial South London soul brings a flood of pleasant memories tumbling into the conversation, as the songwriter readily attests.
“He was my dream collaboration. We were trying to get him on more tunes. He only ended up playing guitar and synth stuff on two songs. But he’s a beast, man. I sent him the tunes and he sent me back, like 14 different ideas, and I could select from which ones to pull, and which ones weren’t fitting. He’s just a legend. Hopefully on my next album he can jump on every tune.”
A key source of support and inspiration, Dave Okumu helped unlock certain aspects of the record. “I got a piano in my house and I was writing ideas. I was like, what could this sound like? I could send this to Dave and see what he could come up with. Or I could go to the studio and instead of piano I play synth, just because it’s turned on right next to the computer. And that’s how the record came about. There was no judgement, we just went with the flow and didn’t restrict ourselves.”
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A fresh, vivid experience, ‘Wallflower’ also benefits from Jordan Rakei’s ties to London’s club culture. An electronic producer on the site, he has released material under a pseudonym on none-more-cool Peckham imprint Rhythm Section, helmed by the redoubtable figure of Bradley Zero.
“Bradley was the first person I met when I moved to London,” he recalls. “I went down to one of his nights to see what was happening in South London, and I fell in love with it straight away, and that’s how I got into making music like that as well. So I do that on the side. I sent Bradley tunes throughout the album and he gives me critiques. He’s got a good ear to have.”
Drawn into the orbit of London’s incredible jazz scene, Jordan has become close to everyone from Moses Boyd to Ezra Collective, each leaving their mark. “I feel like there’s so much stuff happening right now, and maybe in a way it’s subconsciously pushing me to go further. All these guys in London – Alpha Mist, Tom Misch, they’re all my friends. It pushes me to write new music.”
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Everyone is there to lose themselves...
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It’s live where the dichotomy that fuels ‘Wallflower’ becomes most readily apparent. Completing a full UK tour with a show at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire, Jordan Rakei fuses loop-based, groove-laden music with songwriting that never fails to touch on the personal. “It’s weird because all my past music has been a bit vibey, a bit groovey, and people at the live shows getting into that element of it. Everyone is there to lose themselves on a night of vibes. But now it’s much more me spilling this heart out that I’ve never done before live. That’s an interesting element.”
“We toured America recently with some old tunes… we did predominantly an old set,” he continues. “And every night we’d do something different – like, this section in the set where it enables the freedom to maybe go somewhere else, depending on how the crowd reacts.”
The transition from studio to live has pushed Jordan still further, with the solitary songwriting process pushed into the cohesive chemistry of a live band. “What’s interesting is that since there’s heavy layers of production on the album trying to find ways to re-create that live has been fairly challenging. We’ve been rehearsing these past few weeks and it’s sounding really cool. It’s like we have to re-write the album.”
It’s a huge challenge, but given that Jordan Rakei has already crossed halfway round the world it’s something he relishes.
“I have to see something through to the end,” he says simply. “I do, I really do.”
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'Wallflower' is out now. Catch Jordan Rakei at Shepherds Bush Empire, London tonight (October 20th).
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