The Brixton-born beatmaker just released his debut mixtape and video – listen to them both exclusively here
Hear about London right now, and it probably sounds a bit bleak; the mass closure of much-loved venues, house prices that only the rich can afford, rising racial tensions and increasingly no help for the down-trodden. However, scratch away its surface, and the deep, dark, anonymous city remains brimming with fearless art, just as it always has done – a testament to what can bleed from a gaping wound.
Enter Gaika: the unsigned underground artist making music fresh from Brixton, where he was born and raised. With a warped, electronic blend of grime, dance hall, garage, hip hop and R&B, Gaika takes the sonic textures of the streets and crafts them into brand new, glistening shapes. "I like the idea of putting these organic sounds into a weird, mechanical space," he tells me, and in his debut mixtape Machine you can feel it – the hyper-real sound of South London being transformed into something alien-like and digital, and in turn, utterly unique.
Here, we talk to Gaika about all the factors that feed into his sound, and get an exclusive listen to his debut mixtape Machine and his riotous new video for "Heco" (below).
So how did you get into making music?
I never set out to be a musician – I was more of a visual artist. But on nights out I’d end up drunk and freestyling. At some point I think I just started making tunes and people around me were like “this is sick!”
It sounds like it happened quite organically.
Massively. I think it has to be organic doesn’t it? If you put out a record, it’s going to live on the Internet forever so you should only be yourself. I made my mixtape in isolation with a few mates, and the only audience we made it for was ourselves. If people get it, then they get it.
Definitely. Your music is so full of different styles and genre crossovers. What music has inspired you?
Growing up, I liked everything that’s not in the middle. I was definitely into Bristol stuff like Tricky, and I come from the garage and grime scene in London. I was also quite into grunge music like The Melvins. I am a huge FKA Twigs fan, like massive fan. I just love dancing, that’s my favourite thing.
That seems like a pretty eclectic mix.
I think it’s eclectic in terms of people’s perceptions. But to me, making a piece of music is the same as making a visual composition – it’s all about layers. I don’t really think about the context, I just think about the sound. So a Melvins track might be the same shade of red as some trap record, but it’s only afterwards you realise they come from two disparate worlds.
Why did you call your mixtape Machine?
Because I make music at an industrial pace. Also, I come from a technical background. My old man is a scientist and my brother’s into robots – that’s what we’re all about. It might sound strange, but a lot of the inspiration for this record is how humanity is being digitalised. I like the idea of putting these organic sounds into a weird, mechanical space. So it’s a nod to this machine fetish, a nod to the streets, and a nod to the fact I rebuilt myself and made this in about two weeks, like Robocop.
Ha! What were you rebuilding yourself from?
The breakdown of friendships, the breakdown of a relationship, and also years of self-doubt. A few years ago I kind of went a bit crazy. At some point, you have to do something drastic. I have started just being me and not worrying what other people think. This is definitely a kind of rebirth. I left behind all that bad shit, bad juju and these days, being fit and healthy is important to me.
The mixtape itself is quite dark. Have you always been attracted to these sinister themes?
Yeah, I really like that gothic aesthetic – that’s how the world appears to me. It’s not necessarily frightening, it’s just the vibe that I like. It’s a cliché, but darkness is part of life and it’s everywhere; we shouldn’t be afraid of being in it or expressing it. For me, what’s actually terrifying is being over the top and super happy, like if you imagine 1950s America with everyone walking around with a fixed grin. I prefer to express the darkness of reality. I’m a ‘night’ person in that sense.
In “Heco” a lyric that really stands out for me is, “All I see if dead youth sold cheap echoing though the streets.” Would you say there’s often a political undertone your music?
Definitely. Again, it’s not that I’m trying to be – but how can we make art that isn’t political when you go out of your house in London and you see two or three homeless people by a cash point, and people like me are getting killed by the police. What are we doing as artists? I’m from Brixton, and I’ve seen exactly what’s gone on. People seem afraid and rightfully so. After the riots they threw people in jail for a long time and didn’t deal with the problem, and it hasn’t gone away. The reality is, until people are serious about taking to the streets and we mean it, nothing’s going to change.
Saying that, often as soon as you say something overtly political, you become divorced from the street and the very people that need to hear it the most. It becomes this kind of middle class fetish music and you get tagged with ‘political rap’. A lot of my work isn’t political, but there are some that are, and I’m proud of that.
What most inspires you to do what you do?
Weed. And women… I just think they’re beautiful, and I love writing songs about relationships in a kind of R&B way, as cheesy as that is. There’s definitely a way to say things to people in a track that you find too difficult to say in conversation. What else inspires me? Some of my friends, and being around dope people where I can bounce around creative ideas. Just wanting to change the world; I’m an optimist, or maybe an idealist, or a hopeless romantic, but I want to be able to push boundaries – not just in politics but in art, and why not?