Command For Change: Blackhaine Interviewed

“I am the hangover in the morning, that’s what I think...”

Escapism is never as straightforward as it might seem. On the one hand, there’s the glossy sheen of a pop fantasy, offering both artist and listener aesthetic utopias, a distraction from the dullness of everyday life. Braggadocio rhymes and anthemic hooks manage to crack the most stubborn of their sense of self, steering into new and sometimes unexpected directions. Yet, escapism’s malleability also chooses to amplify the voice of the mundane, reaching into the overlooked sentiments that connect even the most unfamiliar of strangers. It’s in the latter where Lancashire musician and choreographer Blackhaine resides.

The grittiness of everyday Northern life forms the spine of the 26-year old’s work, making for a bold exclamation mark across the experimental. Born in Preston, raised in Chorley, Tom Heyes stumbled across his entrance point into creativity from a book on Butoh, handed to him by a friend. Characterised as the “dance of darkness”, the Japanese art form draws Blackhaine towards physically exhaustive movements, flitting between erratic contractions, shapes and formations that teeter on the edge of the evocative and disturbed. It’s a vision that has appealed to the likes of Kanye West. It’s no surprise then, that Blackhaine was called upon to choreograph the divisive genius’ ‘DONDA’ listening parties.

Blackhaine – Prayer ft. Iceboy Violet & Blood Orange

“I used to go to raves a lot; the 70s dub sound I was really into,” he explains. “Taking a turn to harder drugs, it ended up with me going to Manchester and being in my room.” He pauses, choosing his words carefully, before continuing: “The music got a lot harder. My tastes, less about love and just about a void I was trying to fill. The dance was still there and it’s a kind of groove that I found in them dub raves and Chapeltown. That same move just ended up as a tool to access some kind of pain or stress.”

A collage of oversea architects, realist painters and sculptors are amongst the string of hashtags Blackhaine follows: #yojiwatanabe, #andrewweyth and #tadaoando. These come to form just one angle of influences the ominous performer shares, detailing an adolescence spent around “donk” – a UK sub-genre that arose in the late Noughties, quick to be scolded by publications and outsiders. Although contrasting in sounds and textures, it’s this same murmur of societal rejection that finds solace in the Lancashire rapper’s work. Debut single ‘Blackpool’ drips in melancholy, embracing a subdued drill beat that writhes beneath fluttering keys, glitches and streams of consciousness. “I’ve taken it in a different way, but I don’t necessarily think that means that fucking donk isn’t high art. I think everything’s valid.”

When asked about the hyper-local focus of 2021’s EP ‘And Salford Falls Apart’, a bleak interpretive cry and simultaneous love letter to the rapidly changing city, the answer is simple: “Because I like it.” In its intense outpouring, the presentation of Blackhaine is an instinctive one, devoid of over-explanation or, to some extent, understanding. “For whatever reason, we’ve all come together to highlight this thing, which is bigger than me…Who even knows what I’m trying to say? I think a lot of people know it, and it’s almost beyond words.”

In a distinctive Lancashire twang, Blackhaine’s reality freely spills across the weighted production from Rainy Miller, positioning Tom Heyes and his artistry as one and the same. “There’s this grandeur a lot of people put on, put forward in music and I’ve not really heard many people that talk to me personally.” Clear in his intent to offer a window into the deeply personal, the recent months have enabled Heyes to embellish his recorded projects in the live experience, leaning towards the avant-garde in his approach. A shifted focus towards the senses, elsewhere from the visual, sees a Leeds venue with blacked-out windows and cranked-up heating, left in a curated flurry of drones and harsh noise prior to Blackhaine’s arrival to the stage. “Sometimes it’s really aggressive and I’ve maybe lost it a bit, but it’s masked under the performance. Ultimately, it is actually me just having a breakdown but I’m getting paid for it…so, fuck it.”

With ‘Armour II’ expanding its predecessor’s narrative, the multi-disciplinary mind races to an album in the distance. Standing in the face of an increasingly commodified world, the voice of Blackhaine commands for change.

“We need to be pushing to create something more intelligent.”

Words: Ana Lamond

Photography: Timon Benson and Luc Jones

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