Gaika has built a reputation for making music that is ‘eclectic’ and ‘experimental’. He fuses genres, which makes most critics scratch their heads while they fail to put him in a box. Black artists often have a finite number of genres they’re assigned without any regards for the music they produce; namely hip-hop and R&B. Even as an artist that melds elements of grunge, techno, dancehall, grime, and trip-hop, people continue to stumble in confusion. It is a testament to his artistry that Gaika can disrupt the status quo while making incredible music.
Last year he was signed to Warp Records and in just a few months he’ll release his debut album on the renowned label. He’ll be making another debut much sooner, touching down in Australia for the first time performing a short run of shows where he’s looking to road test new music. “Since it’s far away, if it’s bad no one will hear it,” he laughs. While our conversation on the phone begins on the topic of White Castle’s sliders it somehow ends on overcoming the fear of death.
You’re in NYC right now yeah? What are you up to there?
I’ve just eaten White Castle and I feel weird about that. It’s awful.
That’s the weird sandwich place right?
It’s sliders. I just got excited because I’m in America I decided to go to White Castle and now I feel a bit ill.
You were in North Carolina for Moogfest, how was that?
It was awesome actually. I had a bit of a nightmare on the way there. My band mate didn’t make his flight so I had to improvise a bit [but] it worked out all right and I had a good time so it was cool. I stayed, chilled out you know, sourced some synths [laughs].
Did you meet anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
Hmm… Flying Lotus. I met him briefly. And there’s this guy called Russell Butler who I met in San Francisco and we sort of became friends. He’s kind of a modular wiz but he plays tunes, rather than just… you know how modular stuff cannot [sound] like actual music? This guy’s a violinist so it’s really good.
It seems like lots of musicians meet at music festivals and then go on to work with each other.
I think it’s funny how people think that when you make music you somehow tap out of normal interactions. Maybe some people do, but I don’t. I always want to stay at the festival and if I meet someone at the festival and we get along then naturally I wanna make music with them. So I think you’ve got all these people that do the same thing, together in the one place and I never understand why we stay backstage. I don’t understand why people do that. You don’t cease to be a fan of music because you make music. I always want to go out and enjoy the feeling. Someone’s given me a free ticket to a music festival so I’m going to go and check it out.
When you spoke to Interview Magazine last year you said you were excited to make music around America. Was it everything you hoped it would be?
I didn’t want to make a record completely in and about London, especially at a time when what’s happening here in America is so important. It was everything I wanted it to be but maybe not in the way people might think. It’s not like I was ever thinking, “Oh yeah I’ll be in big studios with big names.” Myself and Alex, a guy I work with, we were just hauling gear around ourselves and setting up in Airbnbs then getting young local talent in and working with them. Often what’s of interest to me when I go somewhere is people who are into what I’m into and who see the world the way I see it or see music in a similar way. In America those people are the weirdos, the ones who stick out. They’re not the ones who have the hype. That’s way more interesting than going from session to session looking for a big name for a radio hit, I don’t care about that stuff.
You performed at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival in New York where Bjork was sitting in the front row. Was her being there what lead to you being signed to Warp?
It’s just a coincidence that she happened to be there. Chino Amobi from Non Worldwide, I’m friends with him and I got involved with Non at the beginning of what I was doing. He messaged me saying they were doing Red Bull Music Academy so I said alright I’ll come for the party. He said that I should come perform, and he’d get them to give me some money. Red Bull gave me some money but you know if I do it—I do it properly. I topped it up myself and went with my entire band and turned it into a proper show. My instincts were right to do that. And as I was on stage I looked down and Bjork was there. It definitely made me think, “okay people are watching, people I respect and look up to, so I better not be shit,” [Laughs].
Were you intimidated?
Intimidated? Not at all. I don’t care enough about what other people think to be intimidated. I only ever really get nervous if my mum is there.
Father directed the music video for ‘Glad We Found It’, which featured an aesthetic that is the antithesis of what I’ve come to expect you. Was that deliberate on your part or something that Father came to you with?
Neither actually [laughs]. We were supposed to go in to this derelict building but no one got permission and we got kicked out after ten minutes. We had to sit in the car and work out what to do. I think it was me who said, “Why don’t we go into nature and do something in that realm,” and then we started coming up with different ideas. I was keen to not do another high fashion super abstract thing for that song because I like to break it up. It was definitely deliberate.
What made you contact Father?
I’ve been a fan of Awful Records for a long time. I just really liked what they do. I’m a fan of Abra and Ethereal and all those guys and I’ve been following them for quite a while. Then I met them in Norway and we all hit it off.
Are there more Awful collaborations on the way?
Oh definitely with Keith [Charles Spacebar]. I work with him all the time. At the moment he’s on tour but he’s been living in my studio while he’s been in Europe. As far as Abra and Father and the rest of them I don’t know, I’m not famous enough yet [laughs]. I would but those guys have some crazy schedules and big projects going. For me as well, we make quite different music so collabs would be in the visual realm and on different stuff.
I watched a video where you said, “to be a revolutionary artist you need to face your fear of not mattering, you need to face your fear of death.” At some point did you have to get over those fears?
Yeah I had to confront them pretty directly. My dad died last year. When someone is dying in front of you, you have to consider your own mortality and I did. It really occurred to me that so much of the insecurities, unquantified or quantifiable malaise, that hang over people comes from this erasure of certainty. We are unsure of our purpose, or at least a lot of people are, and it creates a fear for me. Stopping and thinking about it was like, okay, what am I afraid of? What’s the worst that can happen? Maybe no one cares? Or maybe I don’t exist? Confronting that was, and still is, liberating.
- Photography: supplied