Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Speaking with Olugbenga (Olugbenga Adelekan) on the day of the release of his first solo EP ‘Hafiza [INNOCENCE]’, I’m surprised about how calm and generous he is to talk to. The release of ‘Hafiza [INNOCENCE]’, available on 12” vinyl, is the culmination of a long career as a much-accomplished jobbing musician, vocalist and producer.
Born in Lagos, Adelekan moved to Holland and The Hague with his large family when he was 8. There he began forming his musical tastes through a combination of a best friend that was a huge fan of Nirvana and an older brother who listened relentlessly to NWA and Naughty by Nature. After moving back to Africa in his teens, he finally settled in the UK at 16 and later attended Cambridge to study English Literature. To date, Adelekan is probably best known as the bassist in electro-rock group Metronomy, but a break in the band’s schedule has meant that for the first time he has had the opportunity to create something that is distinctly his own voice.
And what a voice it is: of the three tracks that make up ‘Hafiza [INNOCENCE]’, each one is clearly stylistically tied to the last, but all are completely different in form. He is making forceful, dreamy music, filled with beautiful breaks and changes in tempo that inspire imagination and energy, filtered through influences from hip hop, gospel, techno and post-rock. All the tracks on the ‘Hafiza’ EP feature his own voice as lead vocals, yet each is indistinguishable from the last, emphasising his chameleonic abilities as a musician and producer. Here’s what he had to say about his plans for the future, his time in the Mercury-nominated band and how it compares to working alone.
Hi, Olugbenga. What are you up to this morning?
I am working on mixes for my next EP. I am about 80% finished with it. I’ve been in the studio since 8.30 this morning. I always find the first few hours of the day are the most productive so I try and get in there early.
Good work. You seem to be churning tracks out pretty fast. Is making your own music a quick process for you?
No, no it’s actually the opposite. I finished those tracks on the EP in November last year. Then it took me a long time to play around with the final mixes. Elements of those tracks had been knocking around for quite a long time. The vocal on Hafiza is from a really old song that I thought would fit when I made the beat. But Hafiza is in a totally different key, so that is why the vocal is weirdly pitched up and pitched down.
I always go back to fragments of old things. You can almost approach it like a remix because you can use something in a totally different context. Stuff that was recorded a long time ago can also be like working with samples. I like working on stuff and then just leaving it and then maybe three or four years later just finding a way to use it with something new.
It sounds like a kind of patchwork way of making music, where you have separate entities that come together rather than making something as a whole at one time.
Yes, that is true. Although some of the newer stuff that I have written has been more of a continuous thing. I’ll have a vocal idea and then build something around that, but then other songs come from things I have had going for a long time. I guess it is kind of half and half for me. Another thing that happens when someone wants me to do a mix and I want to put something of my own music into it then often I will use the beat and find an old vocal over that.
How much overlap is there for you between making your own music and making music for other people? How different are these processes for you?
I always start off thinking that I am doing something for myself. That is the main driving force. When I am doing something for myself all the BPMs are different. It is never just a hip hop thing or a techno thing. If I have a track where I have a new idea I might leave it and send it to someone else. But I always start off thinking it will be something I will use for myself.
“When I was touring with Metronomy it kinda became a joke among the group that when everyone would be going out for a beer I would always be at the back of the bus on my laptop putting ideas together or working on my own stuff.” – Olugbenga
How have you found that process of going from working in a band situation to being in the studio on your own?
Aside from the fact that in Metronomy Joe [Joseph Mount, lead vocalist] writes all the songs; and even though we in the band are involved in creative elements, it is not really the same process at all. For me, this is all me and so there’s a different pressure there but also the potential to get so much more out of it.
Are you good at compartmentalizing your own work while you are working on other things?
Actually no. When I was touring with Metronomy it kinda became a joke among the group that when everyone would be going out for a beer I would always be at the back of the bus on my laptop putting ideas together or working on my own stuff. By the time you are on tour all the creative process is done so it is easy to work on your own things at the same time.
Where does your incredibly diverse sound come from?
I can produce music at any BPM so I am not limited to one sound. I have never been tied to one particular scene and so feel free to move about. There are elements that I like from so many things. I like how in post-rock they can make these incredibly cavernous pauses that I can just keep going back to time and time and again. And how in gospel music they are singing to uplift themselves to God, and even though I don’t believe in God, that is something I can really relate to. And the repetitiveness of techno is something that I can really feel.
“I always think of myself as a vocalist. I started in music as a singer so I do plan on making songs that are more vocal-heavy.” – Olugbenga
How do you feel now that the EP is done? What do you think about when you hear it?
It feels great, but to be honest I am so busy and distracted with the new work that I haven’t really taken any time to think about it. I guess when I was making Time Dollars [the third track on the EP] I had just bought this new synth. It’s this really cool 80s sounding synth called a Roland JX-3P, so when I hear the song I’m thinking of that really.
I noticed in ‘Time Dollars’ at about 2 mins 30 sec there is a break where the drums drop out and there is this moment of lightening or lifting that I found really satisfying. Is that because of that synth?
Ha! Yeah, exactly. When we were mastering the record that was one particular moment that I ended up being kinda proud of. I love when the bass drops out and the song just builds itself back up again.
Olugbenga live at Boiler Room London.
The second track on the album, I Can Be Whatever You’re After, I thought might be a reference to your ability to be all things to all men in the music industry. Does the title have any relation to your roles as a writer, producer, vocalist and musician?
No, that was not what I was thinking of when I was making that song but I guess that is a bit true of me. I always think of myself as a vocalist. I started in music as a singer so I do plan on making songs that are more vocal-heavy. Not just traditional chorus-and-verse set ups, but vocals are very important to me. Having said that, I am also really proud of making a song that doesn’t rely solely on vocals. I think it is such an achievement to make a song that is satisfying to listen to without a voice being the primary focus.
So what is the grand plan? Do you want to be doing the same things in 20 years?
I don’t think being a musician or a producer has a shelf life but I do think being on tour and DJ-ing does. When you are 50 you want to be going out to do it because you really want to instead of needing to have to do it to pay the bills. I guess the long-term plan for me is to have a studio and be working from there.
Finally, where did you get your love of singing and being a musician?
I have a weirdly musical family, we used to sit around each night and sing Von-Trapp style. My dad would play guitar. It was super cheesy but a great introduction to music.