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Bakar and cityboymoe on the importance of being earnest

The London musicians discuss the vitality of vulnerability, city-wide creativity and getting a shout out from Elton John

As part of Dazed's partnership with Spotify's Our Generation playlist, Spotify have invited slowthai, Bakar, and Arlo Parks to introduce us to their favourite upcoming artists. In our second piece, Bakar selects cityboymoe.

Bakar and cityboymoe are two artists completely comfortable in their discomfort. It’s the chaos and the vulnerability of growing up, life and London that powers their creativity, and what brought them together as friends. “The artists that I like the most (are) the ones who are most vulnerable,” moe says, in the second installment of our Head to Head series.

Bakar’s music is typical of a new wave of stripped-back guitar-based songwriting, guiding somewhere between the south London jazz-soul of Moses Boyd, the crooner-pop of Mustafah the Poet and the post-emo of Deb Never. moe is similarly positioned: his video for February’s “Turned out Alright” sees him and his friends huddled under the sodium glare of Wembley Stadium: it feels honest and raw.

Here, the pair reunite to discuss the importance of being earnest, London out of lockdown and, obviously, Elton John.

Bakar, what is it about cityboymoe’s music that inspires you?

Bakar: For me, the thing I really like about moe is he tells stories, that‘s what I‘m into. I like storytelling a lot. I think it’s super-important, and more importantly, he’s telling his own story in his storytelling, which is even more important. So it‘s super authentic, raw, I can relate, so I’m drawn to it, that's probably why I picked him to come hang out. It was a no brainer. But yeah, but I love how he tells stories about things that people don‘t always talk about, especially from our kind of background, too. I think it‘s important - otherwise, no one else is gonna tell it. 

How would you describe your sound, and how important is storytelling in your music? 

Bakar: Even when I was at school, the thing I was good at was English Lit, and storytelling and all that. So I think that‘s something that naturally came to me – and the artists that I naturally listened to, it was always like some form of that. There‘s a million ways to tell a story, so it‘s not as linear as it sounds.

“Bakar comes at music with a whole different perspective - he has a different identity... it's brand new – cityboymoe”

Do you feel connected to a creative community in London?

moe: I feel there are definitely different communities, but we‘re all kind of coming from the same place. Like, I know that there‘s a drill community that I‘m personally not a part of, but I can relate to that and I can appreciate that community as well, because we are coming from the same city. 

Bakar: Yeah, I would echo that. There is loads of different things going on and probably loads of different scenes, some you can relate to some you can‘t. There's a jazz scene in south London there‘s drill going on, (but) I don‘t think it's as connected as it could be, and it probably should be. It‘s not even necessarily (a) lack of togetherness, but I feel like people support each other, but people just do their own thing. And you know, that might be to our city's benefit or detriment, I don‘t know. I‘d like to think that if more people were in studios together doing things in a more flowy way, more shit would happen. More cool shit would happen, and more sounds would cross. It would be a bit more fluid.

moe, what is it about Bakar’s music that you like?

moe: Personally I just know that a lot of where Bakar’s from is the same kind of place that I‘m from, but he comes at music with a whole different perspective. And musically, he does that as well – he has a different identity, and I’m always a fan of new perspectives. Sonically, as well, it‘s amazing. Bakar’s taste in fashion and things like that, it‘s brand new.

How important is it to connect to our own personal experiences in music? 

moe: You have to, you have to push that along. You have to tell that story. 

Bakar: Music is storytelling. Like, even if it's not, you know, I went to the shop and bought a drink. It’s (about) however you’re trying to chop it up.

Can these stories ever feel too personal to write about?

moe: Yeah. It gets like that. Even the last song that I put out, I felt so nervous when I was putting it out – not the song or anything, but because I was like, whoa, this is kind of personal. But it's the truth, do you know what I’m trying to say?

Bakar: The key word is always truth, right? I think truth is the most important thing – is it ever too personal to write about? I don’t know. I personally think not, but I understand why people would say it (can be). I always feel like the more personal it gets, the more someone out there is gonna connect to it. The more honest I am, the more (some people) gravitate towards the music. The more human it is, the more likely someone's going to feel it. 

moe: That’s the music that I like the most, or the artists that I like the most – the ones who are most vulnerable.

“The more honest I am, the more (some people) gravitate towards the music. The more human it is, the more likely someone's going to feel it” – Bakar

Do you ever find yourself holding back a little bit, when you feel you're being too honest in your lyrics? 

Bakar: Personally, I’ve always gone for it. I’m gonna go for it to the point where it’s gonna tow the line. On the cover of Bad Kid I was toeing the line. I put a demon’s face over my dad’s face from our family portrait. No one was happy about that, even my mum wasn’t happy about that. But when the dust settles, the art, or what the thing is, remains, and leaves people feeling changed.

Do you feel it's important for artists to raise each other up, especially when they have bigger platforms?

moe: Nobody’s obliged to do anything. If I’m genuinely enjoying (some music), I’m gonna post it, but that’s just how I operate. Why am I gonna hide that I like something that could be the catalyst to making a person continue to do it? 

Bakar: It’s an artist thing. It’s more of a peer-to-peer thing. It definitely gives them the courage to know that they are on the right path. I was in Selfridges once and this kid came up, it was a teenage black kid and I could just see myself in him so much. But on a secondary scale, the memory with Elton John was cool. He gave me a shout out on the radio and sang the lyrics to my song too. He was like, “I heard the song ‘Million Miles’ by an artist called Bakar” – people take the piss out of me to this day because he said my name wrong. He’s kind of becoming almost like the UN for new music.