The rise and rise of HAAi
Ikonika is really, really nice.
We chatted for about forty minutes on the phone a week or so ago, and she is interesting, charmingly giggly, self-depracating and has a brain that draws the most extraordinary links. Plus, she seemed, like all brilliant people, she’s easy going when chatting and forthright, proud and even a little stubborn when it came to what she cares about.
This personal stuff is especially important with Ikonika because her music is remarkably personal. Even among the Hyperdub set – a bunch who make remarkably vivid, honest and expressionistic electronic music – her tracks seem less beats or even songs than audio carbon copies of her emotional state at the time or recording. Take Please , released in March 2008 and her most “dubstep-y” record, it’s by turns melancholic, wistful and brazen and running throughout her chrome-sounding synths and pattering toms is a heart-wrenchingly emotional journey.
One thing she mentions a couple of times in the interview below is how subsciously she works and interacts with music. Her sound is pure, simple even, and that comes from how under-the-radar her influences are used and played upon. Interestingly, one theme running through the album is video games – the first song is called Ikonoklast (Insert Coin) and the penultimate one is Look (Final Boss Stage). As Tom Lea from Fact Magazine wisely pointed out when he spoke to her, video games are the first music that we really play for ourselves – like most people of a certain age and temperament, I had completed Sonic the Hedgehog several years before I bought my first CD and its dayglo, monophonic were heard before the age of listening, really,, and below the conscious register. I’d hazard a guess Ikonika is the same, and the beautiful, beautiful thing about her music is how she has managed to apply that native, unlistening ear to her own music. There are flashes of R+B, Garage in the textures and sound, as well as the hyperness of Bleep Techno and Dubstep’s sonic spacing. Nu-metal also has a part to play, buried deep in the emotional force and fighting spirit of the record. It’s really, really amazing.
So, how’s everything going?
Yeah, good! the albums out, and the reviews are coming in, and most of them seem positive. Some of them are negative, but most seem to like it.
Yeah, I saw you retweeting a negative review of your album. Does criticism affect you much?
Yeah, a little bit. I put so much of myself into the album, so I can’t taking it a bit personally when people having a dig it. So that was just my way of dealing with it and reminding people that I’m a real person. And brushing it off. Still, I love the varying reactions. It seems like I’ve got Marmite music – you either love it or you spit it out.
You used to be into metal and hardcore. Bit of a crude link here, I can hear a certain antagonistic sound in your music.
I’m not sure about influences. It’s not conscious, they just mix and curdle away. There’s those who wake up and go make a straight dubstep record or a straight techno record, but that’s not for me. I’m don’t really know what I’m doing to be honest. All I want to do is make music that makes me happy, and makes Kode9 happy.
Funny, everyone who I interview from Hyperdub calls Kode9 “Kode9.” I would have presumed …
… We’d call him Steve? No, it’s Kode, or 9. [Laughs] Or Uncle Kode. [Laughs] Daddy Kode.
There’s a really nice simplicity that your music has. I wonder if that’s to do with coming to electronic music from another background and not being clouded by this never-ending pool of influences?
I suppose I’m not drawing on a pool of influences, I’m drawing on my subcousious. I only really started thinking about this when I started doing interviews and you had to justify and explain what you were doing. The whole 16-bit Megadrive thing came from me telling a story about playing video games and listening to my sister’s R&B when I was a kid. My music kind is just gathering these bits of childhood and adding bass to them! And then I got into hardcore and metal, and started drumming, which is where the percussive elements may come from, things that straight dubstep lacks. I suppose it’s inevitable that my debut album is made up of my past – maybe the next one will be different.
Interesting that you mention straight dubstep – one of my questions was about how your sound runs against a lot of things that are going on in club music.
There are so many different sides to this whole “post-dubstep” scene and so much working out what we’re doing, and maybe I’m just trying to hit the reset button. It’s the thing about this whole jungle-garage-dubstep thing is that it’s all about constant mutation, and I feel a bit like I’m a branch on my own. A stunted growth! Maybe someone will come along and take it further, maybe not.
There’s also some specific things in your music that goes straight dubstep or wonky. I’ve always found straight dubstep very flat, very grey. And a lot of stuff that was coming out when you started was astoundingly un-emotional.
Yeah, a lot of that came from getting booked to play dubstep nights and getting bored with being paid to make the wobble crowd mosh and take ketamine. When I first heard dubstep, I was just floored by the power of the sound, but there’s no colour and so much violence, which are the things that made stop listening to hardcore.
Plus, as you’ve mentioned elsewhere, your beats are incredibly metronomic and forward in the mix.
Yeah, with a lot of that wonky stuff the beats are allover the place, which comes from amazing things that Timbaland and Darkchild were doing in the late nineties. And I love that, it’s just not me – I’ve got that steady drum built into me.
I suppose it’s just the thing about this nebulous “post-dubstep” sound that’s not any one set thing. We’re all just a bit confused in London. People who were heavily influenced by dubstep but also understood Funky and grew up listening to R+B and Garage and make our music out of all these bits. Our music gets played at 2am and it seems to make sense then.
How does the life of a DJ affect your music?
I live at night! I work at night, make beats and sleep during the day. It gets really disorientating actually – you never know what city you’re in because all dancefloors look the same. You get kind of hypnotised by the lights, and you do end up thinking … “Where am I again?”
I heard you talk about hallucinating during a Kode9 DJ set recently.
Yeah! It started when I listened to Glassjaw. That song, Siberian Kiss? It changed the way I felt about music. It made me just melt. And that’s the feeling I got that time when I heard Kode9 play – he was just building and building and building and then it just dropped, and that shock just shook me. The green lights framing him and I just heard these echoes of old warehouse raves and I thought he was a being from outer space.
You DJ a great deal. Do you ever think about playing a more live set?
I do! I see DJing as my live show. I’m not just there to play some big tunes, I really seeing it as a way of expressing myself. In fact, whenever I play, my first songs are often quite aggressively different to the usual ones. Me and Kode have competitions about who can clear the dancefloor first! I’ll get a text from him saying “I WIN!!!” and I’ll write “No you haven’t”
Ha! I often clear dancefloors when I DJ too. What are your tips to stop people dancing?
Cheesy R&B. Early Madonna does the trick as well. You’ve just got fly the flag, haven’t you? Say to the crowd “This is where I’m going, hope you can come too.”
Your songs are very close to R+B in their emotional weight as well s their sonic stuff, but don’t feature vocals. Is there a definite idea to make your synths “sing?”
Personally I’m not that great at talking or that good socially, which is why I make music I suppose. Laptop music attracts loners really! Music really is our way of talking. And I do want to pack it full of melody and emotion but I write much more instinctually than anything as thought out as that, and melody is just how I express what’s happening in my head. It just comes out like that.