INTERVIEW

“Big Brother giveth and Big Brother taketh away. But as irony heavily steeped Jade Goody’s demise on the very show that landed her at the top of every gossip column in the land, the reason for her disgraced departure left a bitter taste of realisation – such small-minded spite does still exist. Coincidently, on the […]

“Big Brother giveth and Big Brother taketh away. But as irony heavily steeped Jade Goody’s demise on the very show that landed her at the top of every gossip column in the land, the reason for her disgraced departure left a bitter taste of realisation – such small-minded spite does still exist.
Coincidently, on the same day that Endemol HQ went into meltdown over Goody’s behaviour on Celebrity Big Brother, we stole a precious ten minutes with Bloc Party’s head honcho and lead singer, Kele Okereke; author of the sometimes racially topical ‘A Weekend In The City’. As one who has experienced prejudice first hand, Okereke is a man who freely talks about such concerns, both on and off his band’s new record.

“I’m not that surprised that people think it’s disappeared,” says the front-man “but just because we’ve not got the travelling minstrel shows or shows like Rising Damp that are explicitly racist it doesn’t mean that those kind of feelings aren’t still apparent. I mean look what’s happening in the news today with the way Jade Goody is treating this Indian film actress Shilpa. Although they’re not calling her offensive names they’re making fun of her accent and the way she cooks and her culture. It’s still racist and it’s still making a point that she’s different and to be excluded. I think racism is still there in society and the whole world out there is debating it but I think that people are deluding themselves.”

As we say, our time with the returning Bloc Party is sparse (five minutes for pictures, ten for words), but expected. The arrival of ‘A Weekend In The City’ – the band’s second album – means something. Bloc Party mean something. When 2005 witnessed Okereke, along with Russell Lissack, Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong, release the emotionally charged angular wrecking ball of ‘Silent Alarm’ anyone who knew their Libertines from their Others was aware that Kaiser Chief’s ‘Employment’ was, in comparison, a Robbie Williams B-side album at best.

Still, once is never enough when it comes to proving oneself as a critically acclaimed band that fit uniquely between Popworld and the dance floor of the recently deceased Trash, which makes ‘A Weekend‚”‘ – as is the case with all instantly successful bands – Bloc Party’s most important release of their lives.

“To be honest we just really want to get on with getting the record out there,” enthuses Okereke. “Are we anxious? Yeah, y’know, we don’t really know what people are going to make of it but I’m confident of what we’ve done and I just want people to hear it really. It’s the best record that we’ve ever made, well, out of the two.”

In terms of labelling ‘A Weekend In The City’ ‘better’ than ‘Silent Alarm’, it’s harder to do than you’d think. On first listen it probably isn’t. On second it’s on a par. And on third it’s apparent that not only has Paul Epworth been swapped for Jacknife Lee at the production helm but also that this is a different Bloc Party, a Bloc Party that Okereke himself describes as “still sounding like us, in a slightly more mature fashion.”
That being the case it would seem that with age comes also the confidence to personalise lyrics in a way not visible throughout ‘Silent Alarm’; lyrics such as “The Daily Mail says ‘The enemy’s amongst us, taking our women and taking our jobs'” (‘Hunting For Witches’) clearly being close to Okereke’s experiences as a young black male growing up in a fear fed modern society.

Largely, gone are the ‘Bluest Light’s of ‘Silent Alarm’, all heart string pulling and gushing with love/loss, in their place songs of social paranoia and insecurity (‘Where Is Home’, ‘Uniform’). Russell Lissack’s guitar still squeals, rips and dives like a World War Two squadron but it’s as if producer Lee has turn him up to eleven and ordered the band’s haircut to play like he’s committing murder. It’s all just a lot meatier, a lot more angst ridden, for the better.

“I dunno’,” says an unconvinced Okereke “I think there was a certain amount of anxiety on the first records. Perhaps it was less terrific, perhaps less dramatic and less in your face, but I think [‘A Weekend In The City’] still has the emotional resonance that the first record certainly had.”

Notably ‘A Weekend In The City’ comes without a ‘Banquet’ or a ‘Helicopter’ that instantly leaps out of your speakers. Instead the record opts for more of a slow-start-now/disco-freak-out-later policy. But if any track on ‘A Weekend‚”‘ does threaten to be mashed up by Erol Alkan and Justice, it’s recent single ‘The Prayer’, 3 minutes and 45 seconds that alludes to the title of the album being something of an unwanted inevitability as opposed to an all smiles mini holiday away from the norm.

Whereas the issue of race influences the likes of ‘Hunting For Witches’, it’s the band’s experiences as four friends caught up in the egotistical and ultra competitive world of music that gives ‘The Prayer’ its euphoric edge as the album’s instant stand out track. An army of military boots stomp the breadth and depth of Matt Tong’s drumkit as Kele sings the cocaine-deranged plea of “Tonight make me unstoppable”. His delivery is landed with such want that if it isn’t he who has at least entertained such thoughts while tempted by too much tour support, then those he has come across surely have. So, seeing that ‘A Weekend In The City’ is clearly not too pleasant in its portrayal of London life (“East London is a vampire/It sucks the joy right out of me,” goes the opening ‘Song For Clay (Disappear Here)’), have Bloc Party fallen out of love with their very own metropolis?

“I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the capital,” says Okereke. “I’ve lived here pretty much all my life so a lot of the kind of excitement that people have when they move to the city, a lot of that exuberance left me a long time ago really. The flip side of that exciting anticipation of life in a big city where everyone has their own concerns is that it can be quite an isolating experience as well. Life isn’t particularly welcoming and I think the sense of community is not as apparent as it is in smaller towns. I find myself wanting that more and more these days; wanting to live in a place that has a sense of home about it.”

The last time anyone saw Bloc Party live was at last year’s V Festival. They were sandwiched somewhere between Daniel ‘Bad Day’ Powter and a rather odd puppet show that accompanied Beck. There, many thought that the main stage would be too big for a band notoriously shy when playing live. The fact that Bloc Party had hardly played on home soil for the whole of 2005 simply added to the scepticism. But something had changed. The band, and their front-man in particular, seemed to exude a confidence that they’d lacked before. Okereke addressed 30,000 Essex punters as if they were a small table of regulars in The Dublin Castle. The band played hard and fast as if they’d simply spent the eight preceding months practicing for this one moment in Chelmsford. The truth of the matter is that Bloc Party had been combining writing ‘A Weekend In The City’ with tours of America. We’d seen the same almost cock-sure performance in May at California’s Coachella Festival.

“As musicians we are a lot more confident about our ability than we were when we recorded ‘Silent Alarm’,” says Okereke when discussing the band’s forthcoming UK tour “and that’ll be the same in a year’s time. I do enjoy it. I really enjoy playing live. We’re ready to do some touring and see people eyeball to eyeball.”

With our Kele time nearing its expiration (the singer has a dinner date this evening whom is due to call him any second) I have just enough time to let him know how I see things, not only as someone who has heard his new album but as someone who has suspected this since hearing ‘Silent Alarm’ alongside Bloc Party’s peers back in ’05.

Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park and old touring pals The Rakes all also return this year with their second albums, and yet, as far as I can tell, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone counting the days for any of them. And it’s for a simple reason: predicting their sound is too easy. Like Franz before them, Kaiser Chiefs’ follow up to ‘Employment’ will undoubtedly sound uncannily like ‘I Predict A Riot, mark 2’. And the same goes for Maximo Park. Partly you have to think ‘good on ’em, they write for chart number 1s and they get them’. But whereas Kaiser drummer Nick has one writing formula up his sleeve that he can probably milk for another 2 albums, Bloc Party show no sign of slowing in capability. If all fingers didn’t point to them being the true survivors of artrock before the release of ‘A Weekend In The City’, afterwards surely they will.

“Well I hope so,” admits Okereke “because as a band we’ve always been sceptical about being seen as part of something, so when in 2005 we got this artrock tag we were always suspicious of it. But more importantly I didn’t think that a lot of the bands that were being talked about were any good at all. I think that the real test of time will be decided in a years time. Will this be a record that resonates with people in an emotional way? I hope so because I’ve put everything I have into it.”

« Previous Interview
Next Interview »