Kele Okereke’s journey from indie kingpin to dancefloor titan has been an unexpected transition. Sure, the Bloc Party singer’s solo record was a flamboyant electro work out, but eyebrows were raised when the producer unveiled a new, club-ready EP via the esteemed Crosstown Rebels imprint at the tail end of last year.
Yet Kele Okereke is more than worthy of his place on their roster. ‘Heartbreaker’ was an assured fusion of house textures and sprung UK garage rhythms, hinting at a mis-spent youth soaking up new sounds in London’s network of clubs, soundsystems and pirate stations. “I think that I’ve always been a fan of house music and I’ve always been a fan of garage” he insists. “When I was a teenager the first clubs that I went to were garage clubs in East London, so y’know it’s always been there, I’ve always had an affinity with that kind of music. It’s nice to see the resurgence that it seems to be having, how those sounds are coming back into popularity. Although it is making me feel a little bit old!”
Continuing, Okereke defines the appeal of those decade old sounds. “I grew up in Essex where every other club was a garage club, so I just have lots of fond memories of going out and just raving, I guess. That’s what it means to me,” he continues. “It’s almost a nostalgia thing”.
With ‘Heartbreaker’ winning acclaim, the producer agreed to take part in Bacardi Beginnings. A bespoke series of collaborations, Kele Okereke went into the studio with vocalist Bobbie Gordon to record the sizzling, soulful, 2-step infused ‘Down Boy’. “I’ve been a fan of Bobbie’s for a long time” he says. “She sang on my solo record and I’ve always loved the quality of her voice, so when I was approached about this project I thought that she’s someone I would definitely like to work with on some original music.”
“I think every creative venture I’ve undertaken – being part of a band or making a solo record is a collaboration of sorts” Kele muses. “Even when I’m making records by myself I’m working with an engineer or other musicians. I’m not afraid of the idea of collaboration, it’s a way in which you can learn stuff which you don’t already know.”
The results are startling. If Disclosure represent the new breed of pop-oriented garage production, then Kele Okereke can certainly stake a claim for the old guard stealing back their crown. Out now, ‘Down Boy’ comes equipped with a sleeve designed by Kate Moross. Pressed using a 3D printer, it’s an ambitious project that emphasises that lingering lust for the physical format.
“Obviously I still recognise the importance of people owning the physical thing” the singer says, before adding: “It’s just, for me, with all the music I listen to, it’s be crazy – it’d be loads of rooms and I don’t have that much space.”
“I must be honest: I’m not a big believer in owning the physical artefact. I don’t know, I used to be and it pains me to say this out loud because I used to obsessively horde records, CDs and tapes as a kid. I moved house last year and I realised that I didn’t actually own a record player or any CDs anymore. Somehow, I’d completely phased out owning the physical, musical artefact. I listen to all my music now on my laptop or on my iPod. So it’s weird.”
All funds from the project go to Nordoff-Robbins, a charity which specialises in music therapy. “I think it’s incredible that the proceeds from this endeavour are being funnelled into a music therapy charity, I think it’s quite nice to give something back in that respect. Music being used to heal people. I feel very honoured to be asked to be a part of the project”.
Spreading his wings still further, 2014 could see Kele Okereke move in a literary direction. “I’m going to catch up on the TV that I haven’t had a chance to see, first and foremost” he explains. I’m thinking about learning a new instrument and I’m thinking about getting a bulldog! I think the New Year will be quite domestic”.
“I’m writing a novel at the moment. I just wrote a collection of short stories but I’m going to try something different. So I’m kind of working on a novel which I started about six months ago. Maybe that’s what I’ll do next year,” he says. “I’m lucky, I guess, in some respects because if I want I can take a whole year and do nothing except write, which is a good position to be in as a creative person. But we’ll see. There are so many interesting, different things which seem to be coming up on my timeline at the moment, I’m just kind of along for the ride, really.”
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'Down Boy' is out now via Vinyl Factory. Check out Kele Okereke's 'Heartbreaker' EP on Crosstown Rebels.