Kele Okereke


The often criticised, lamented and unfairly labelled Kele Okereke is still a person to pull no punches. With his debut solo album ‘The Boxer’ receiving critical praise and his commitments to Bloc continually in doubt owing to scathing comments in the press and a planned move to Manhattan later this year, fans of the band might feel they have a lot to worry about. Kele, however, remains fiercely independent and not at all flustered by mounting speculation.

“We decided when we on tour in 2009 that we wanted to have a year off and that’s where the idea for a solo album came from really, I felt like doing something by myself. I’m just recording some stuff this afternoon, I usually am when I have some free time. It’s just for myself really, just ideas I have,” he explains, unwilling to link current projects to any specific plan or record label. “When I went into the studio there was no real preparation and I didn’t take any ideas forward from recording with Bloc Party. I just went in with an open mind and started using these machines which I had no idea to work and thought I’d see what came out.”

The results of this in his solo effort is a mixture of the more electronic-progressive sound of Bloc Party in the direction they have been heading for a while (‘The Other Side’ could quite easily have been a ‘Weekend In The City’ / ‘Intimacy’ era B-side) and a far heavier 90s house on tracks like ‘On The Lam’ (vaguely reminiscent of ‘T2 ft. Jodie – Heartbreaker’). The key idea Kele picks out as an influence is ‘gestation’; “It was recorded and then I went out on tour for a month and came back to listen to it to see how I felt. That was kind of the way it worked, the biggest thing was letting things simmer. I think that the music of Bloc Party was quite melancholic and anxious and that’s what people liked but with this I wanted to do something joyous and celebratory.”

Those acquainted with the album or the live shows would probably have to agree. The timbre of ‘The Boxer’ is still urban and full of shadows and that melancholy rears its head relatively frequently, ‘Everything You Wanted’ another delicate exploration of a broken relationship. Okereke, though, has always been a vibrant live performer with or without his band and the further step taken in his solo work is to develop the art of the ecstatic epilogue as ‘Everything You Wanted’ explodes into a chorus of “Day-o, Day-o” backed by Kele’s lamenting vocal “I could have given you everything you wanted / Everything you needed.” ‘Walk Tall’ is a pseudo-military call to arms but where, on a Bloc Party record, this might have been a lethargic criticism of a police state, this opening track is a statement of independence and an opportunity to dance. In live performance, Okereke has always been vibrant and mixed grandiose displays of brilliant pop music with tender ballads to great effect but with a personal edge which leaves traces of sadness. In his solo work, that impression of giving too much of himself to his music has relaxed and although this album lacks the depth of previous efforts, it certainly makes up for it with a more comfortable nature and a greater appreciation of rhythm.

“I think it’s just being old really, I’ve being doing a lot of stuff for the past five years. It just feels fun now. It was fun working with [producer] XXXChange and he just helped me re-jig things when I went to New York and organised things better through the record.”

There has been something of an 80s revival with We Are Scientists and the Arcade Fire both proclaiming dramatic Bowie, Springsteen and Eno influences in recent works but Kele, perhaps not surprisingly, remains a child of the 1990s. “It’s from DJ-ing a lot recently really, a lot of classic vocal house, 2-step and garage and drum and bass which I used to love as a teenager and all the kind of music that makes you want to dance really.” This, in fact, is one of the great ironies of the album in that by stepping away from his hugely successful band, Okereke has created a more musically relevant album than ever which evokes the nostalgic club sounds his fans have grown up with whilst retaining his emotional perception which makes it a hell of a lot more interesting than, say, Tinie Tempah or N-Dubz.

With work like this though, there is a nagging feeling that it gives a striking amount of potential for any future Bloc Party work; surely these beat-laden, electro dazzlers would get even better with a classic Lissack guitar line, Moakes bass riff or some Tong drum crashing? The “Hmm, I think so, maybe, I think so, hmm” before Kele tackles the issue of his band and friends is telling. “I think we needed the time and a different perspective from things. We work really hard, toured pretty much non-stop for five years and it was important to have some time to enjoy life.”

So, speculation of turmoil and disturbance in Kele Okereke’s life seems largely unfounded. He states that he has “never had a single problem with [record label] Wichita” and appears relaxed, continually creative and comfortable with where he is at. The media perception of an arrogant, closeted artist can be hard to dismiss with a person who does not give information away readily but Okereke does the business where he needs to; ‘The Boxer’ is a real opening up of his true influences and should these be worked back into work with Bloc Party they will continue to go from strength to strength