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Still from Gaika’s Security film

Watch GAIKA’s new Akira-inspired short film

We speak to the Brixton artist about his self-directed new short SECURITY ahead of his immersive show at London’s Roundhouse

GAIKA’s SECURITY mixtape dropped in April, but since then the alternative artist, whose music is a compelling mixture of grungy R&B, dancehall, and trip hop (we could list more labels), has been busy. While his background is in film and performance art, when we first spoke to him about his debut mixtape Machine last year, he said that when it comes to his music he didn’t really “think about the context, I just think about the sound”. But things have changed, and some of his most recent projects have seen him weaving his skills together in a way that purposefully provides that context; albeit in an abstract way.

We already know that SECURITY’s dark, political themes invoke a certain type of emotional response — but CLUB 88, an immersive gig planned as part of Ron Arad’s 360 degree installation Curtain Call at London’s Roundhouse, will take this to a new level when it premieres in August. GAIKA has also been working on a film to accompany SECURITY and the installation, which he says is all linked to the “concept of fear” that runs throughout his work. A work with a sliding narrative thread and eerie, fast-cutting closeups that leave you feeling as if you’re always missing a piece of the action, it’s premiering here today on Dazed.

We had a chat about the film, his work at the Roundhouse, and the construct of black masculinity.

So I’ve just finished watching the film, and I thought it was great. Why did you want to make a longer project?

GAIKA: I started off in film, as a vision maker – that was what I was doing before I became serious about music. I guess I think it’s more interesting to try and do work with a longer format that isn’t trying to sell anything or anybody. People don’t have to watch it because they want to hear the music. I just wanted to make something that was, in my view, good. I think SECURITY as an album, as a body of work, is an all-encompassing statement in as much as it exists within itself. It’s quite an enclosed thing and I think I wanted to represent that visually as well as just in the music. It’s all about context. I think the film is quite abstract and yet set recognisably within the world.

What context were you trying to create then? As you said it’s quite an abstract piece of film but there’s definitely a narrative...

GAIKA: Well, what do you think?

I might have picked up on the completely wrong vibes, but it kind of seemed like it was mainly about the dark side of London.

GAIKA: It is, it is. It’s the speculative side of London that’s based on how London really is. London does have a dark side; it’s mainly dark side at the moment. SECURITY, the record itself, is very much about how we all live under this blanket of fear, this indiscriminate fear which causes us to be controlled. I’ve drawn parallels with that and my experiences of being a promoter. Things that actually happened during that time.

You were a club promoter?

GAIKA: Yeah. For a long time. I think you see places and experience cities slightly differently when you do it. You live in this netherworld where the law ain’t the law and people are driven to express themselves more freely because they’re mainly drunk. I think that clubs are interesting spaces, really important cultural spaces, but people kind of fight to get into places that they could curate at their homes. Often it’s then just about marketing. They anaesthetise themselves from the world as much as possible, go back to this basic sense of safety with the music, and why.

“I don’t want to make a blunt political statement, but London is pretty fucked at the moment, and a lot of us feel that way” —GAIKA

Why do you think everyone is fearful? What do you mean by that?

GAIKA: I don’t want to make a blunt political statement, but London is pretty fucked at the moment, and a lot of us feel that way. The country feels massively on edge and we’re not able to do anything about it because we’re constantly being told bad things will happen. It shouldn’t be like that in order to maintain control. You know as a promoter, you know what you do if you haven’t sold enough tickets? You make people queue upside for a bit, and then everyone walks past and thinks, ‘Oh, that must be good. That must be safe.’

Yeah I’ve definitely done that, queued up outside a club and then when I’ve gone in it’s been empty...

GAIKA: You get there and you’re like, ‘Why?’ That’s what I mean by that pervasive sense of fear. Whether it’s the the fear of death, or pain or whatever, it just hangs over us. That’s what’s represented in the film. Lyrically the record is about real things, but I’ve quite enjoyed taking that into an imaginary place that’s connected to reality. A lot of the points in the movie are driven by anime soundtracks. If you’ve ever seen the movie Akira, in it there’s a bar that they drink in. I always wondered if there was a club in that bar, what music they would play – sonically that’s how the sound was influenced. I linked that to my own experience as a fiend of the night (laughs), and with the film it’s definitely about showing that context.

Do you think it reflects other issues that are important to you? A friend said she saw you on a recent panel at Buster Mantis in Deptford, talking about black masculinity.

GAIKA: I think it’s all linked to this concept of fear. Black masculinity is almost quite a concise study on insecurity. A lot of us, even me, are hyper-masculine and yet vulnerable at the same time. If you don’t feel like you might be exterminated at any point then you don’t need to be so aggressive. Denigration and fetishisation of our bodies has an impact on how we view ourselves and how we behave. In the film I’m getting beaten up, I’m imitating violence – I tried to make something that had stylised violence in it that reflects masculinity but is weirdly nice to look at.

How important is aesthetic to you then? I liked the bit at the end of the film with the dancers and their weird tendrils.

GAIKA: We wanted to make this film about speculative London and anime because we’re both kind of into that. The storyline is all about revenge and honour. He hand-styled it and took a lot of his cues from romance culture, but through that Japanese, anime filter. If you watch those films the bad guy’s always got loads of floaty stuff hanging off him, crowns and ornate things – as a contrast to that. It was just about the meeting of minds and just us being fanboys of that style and being able to see the link with contemporary fashion.

“Black masculinity is almost quite a concise study on insecurity. A lot of us, even me, are hyper-masculine and yet vulnerable at the same time” —GAIKA

Was it all filmed in London? There were some bits that looked as though it could be abroad.

GAIKA: Nah, it was all filmed in London! I always think that parts of London at the moment make me think of that speculative, imagined Tokyo. If you go into the city at night, in the foothills of Brick Lane and the areas around there, it’s really old technology, it’s grimy and then you have all this steel and all this glass, windy, back-alley streets. I lived outside of Britain for a few years and I came back – you really realise how much Britain is really the European legacy. I was finishing this film and working on the edit and stuff during the whole Brexit thing and thought London’s really a twisted place. The film definitely is about London and the cultural fear that has descended upon it. I guess in some ways it’s a reflection of that.

How does this fit into what you’re going to be doing at the Roundhouse?

GAIKA: As I said, SECURITY, as a piece of work, as a body of work, kind of exists in this imaginary world that’s not miles away from ours, but maybe I’m crazy. At the Roundhouse we are literally going to be creating a portion of that. We are going to create the club; physically create the context in which this music exists. I think it’s necessary for me to show people that. It’ll be a big club-style event, but it’s quite stylized and very different. It’s a performance piece. 360 degree, immersive, visuals. Some of the themes that are in the record and in the film are going to be explored, in real life. I think that you should have an in real life experience connected to your art. It’ll give people a chance to be part of the conversation. 

SECURITY wasn’t written from stories of warehouse parties, it was written from my time promoting clubs that were full of gangsters and football players. Bad kids and dirty money was floating around. I want to take some of that and throw it into the future and also create and show the social context in which that exists. People can navigate their way through. I think some of the deeper levels about spirituality and that fear itself and fear of dying.

I also want to create a space for debate because I think London needs it, not just a place to drink branded alcohol and cocktails in Hackney Wick. There has to be something more interesting than that. So yeah, it’s an immersive, engaging club experience; I want people to come and dance, and lose themselves. It’s not just about watching me and an incredibly set-up. I want it to be something to remember. I want to do stuff that people ain’t really seen. It’s not enough to turn up with a DJ and spit your bars and leave.

GAIKA presents: CLUB 88 takes place at The Roundhouse, London on August 11