While I wanted to capture them while they were fresh, some label things got in the way: nevertheless I wanted to write down some the memories of Outlook festival, which took place in Croatia in early September. Here they are.
I’m sure many of the regular visitors are used to it, but I was new to both Outlook and Croatia itself and the gentle green Adriatic climate and it really made the festival an exceptional environment to appreciate music in… the deep red soil interspersed with light sandy stones, the tall warm climate shrubs that enclosed the pathways to the festival, the deep moats and ramparts that contributed to a wonderful environment in which to absorb music – miles away from the concrete ex-airfield + shit food vans + perimeter fence that made up my first very festival experiences.
The experience started so well I worried I’d peaked too soon: Logos and I get out the plane in Italy and jump into the transit to Outlook only to find Wookie, Footsie, D Double E, Son of Selah and Moony in the bus. Two glorious hours later, where we’ve cut around the top of northern Italy, in and out of Slovenia and into Croatia, there’s the most amazing conversation going on, primarily Wookie and Footsie, with me edging the odd word in.
- Wookie and D Double E
Now we’re all members of the UK garage family, whichever way you look at it, so there was much common ground, but I’m more than happy to admit that Wookie is a full on hero of mine. While I don’t think he remembered, I’d interviewed him back in the day (2002?) but it was so much fun to re-connect and not only hear endless stories about eye-watering album advances from fellow garage scene acts, Soul II Soul insider dealings, but also to have the chance to tell him quite how influential his records were on the nascent proto-dubstep scene at Forward (Velvet Rooms) in 2001. I learned how “Storm” was a responses to certain mans other tunes and how he made the sucker-punch drop in “Far East”. For about 13 years I figured he’d shortened the pre-drop bar by some non-integer amount but instead the kick on the one after the drop is cut out, to lead with the snare on the two! An old hip hop trick apparently…).
But best of all was just sitting back and getting schooled by Footsie and Wookie about reggae. Both their fathers were involved in soundsystems by the sounds of things. (Oddly when we went to the hotel I opened my Pocket App and noticed this amazing piece of journalism… and Wookie’s in it!).
Outlook is a festival with a huge number of artists and the bus system they efficiently laid on to ferry us around proved to be an accidentally amazing source of experiences. On one reggae legend Daddy Freddy came sat next to me: we talked about football. On another we sat across from Source Direct chatting to D Bridge. Dusk had some comedy ride home with everyone singing at 5am: and when we arrived in the hotel I’d noticed Big Narstie and Remarc had signed in. Spyro sat checking his emails one morning when I came down for breakfast; Stanza from Scandalous Unlimited said hi. I thought to myself: “… if the festival itself is even half as fun as this then it’ll be a winner!”
It was. We played relatively early: a two hour set on the Fort stage to usher the night in. Now two hours is a really nice set length, you can really go places and find spaces with it and what was best that by half way through the narrow, stone-wall lined moat space was full… and they stayed. Time after time, I just looked out over the crowd, usually when someone else was loudly killing it, and thought to myself: this thing really works. It’s like… working. I have no idea of the capacity of that moat but since you could barely see the back lets call it 500: about 500 people “get” what we’re doing. This strange dark-but-not-dubstep, rolling-but-not-garage, grimey-but-not-grime thing we’ve been on about since “roll”, since “this is how we roll”, since UK funky fizzled out.. it’s working. That was a glorious moment of reflection.
Here’s a rough sense of what we played at Outlook, plus or minus a few tracks.
Dusk + Blackdown "Epic Jam"
Amen Ra "Surrender"
E.m.m.a. "Light Years"
Dusk + Blackdown "Wot do you mean!? (dub)"
Dusk + Blackdown "Drenched (Facta remix)"
Sly One "Cow Bell"
Circula "Deep Data"
Aphix "Sin King"
Dusk + Blackdown "Back 2 go FWD>>"
Dusk + Blackdown "Back 2 go FWD>> (Sweet 2 go sour mix)"
Caski "Tunnel Music"
Double Helix "Fugese"
Filter Dread "Stolen Dub"
Girl Unit x Cecile "Club Rez (Rizzla's "Club Cecile" bootleg)
Blackdown "Wicked Vibez (Horsepower OG remix)"
Etch "Champion Dancehall"
Balistiq Beats ft Riko "Rise the Machines [Yardman riddim] (Sully remix)"
Prince Rapid "Prince"
Amen Ra "Wet Harmonic"
Dusk + Blackdown "Peng One Two"
Blackdown "The Steppenwolf (Blackdown remix)"
Pinch & Mumdance "Turbo Mitzi VIP"
Dusk + Blackdown "Wot do you mean!? (dub)"
Bloom "Keyframe (Gage fukup)"
Pedro 123 "Turbulence"
Plastician "Spring_Roller (Roska's veggie mix)"
Detboi "Give Love"
Etch "Your Sound refix"
Eva 808 "Wannabe"
Sticky & General Levi "Pull Up"
Burial "True Love VIP"
(Why do I bother with tracklists? Is it because I love making lists and doing admin? Frankly: no. It’s because I want the people who are making sick music to get the credit, to get heard, to get where they deserve to be…)
Of course another great thing about Outlook was catching up with old & new friends: it was so nice to see Mala, Loefah, Pinch, Luke & Katya Recontrvct, Hatcha, Crazy D, Simon Scott, The Bug, Kahn and Neek, Koast, Gantz, Atlas, J-One, Son Raw, the three guys from Newcastle… damn I’m sure I’m forgetting people, not to mention all the DJs on the lineups like Wen, Etch, LV & Josh, Acre, Mumdance…
- Logos backstage in the stone fort tunnels at the Fort stage.
And then to the boat party.
- Logos and Loefah pre-boat party queue chinwag...
Just thinking about it again now makes me smile, it was too perfect. Warm sun setting, a full boat and some up for it people. The beautiful rock formations plunging into the clear blue sea water.
Now I admit it, when a few DSF heads questioned what we’d play on a boat like this and whether our darker sound would make any sense there, I did have a ponder about what we should play, not least because Dusk and I had already prepared and rehearsed a set we were calling the “Keysound Bangers” mix. Maybe we should just play a classic house set? Draw for old garage? I certainly would be up for doing a one-off Detroit techno set sometime somewhere, just to dust off the UR/Red Planet/Transmat/Planet E 12”s. But nah, if it’s a Keysound boat party then it needs to remain “no compromise”, because that’s the ethos right?
It went off.
It went off it made me giggle like a kid, smile like a Cheshire cat,
feel that warm glow days or even weeks later. Anyway, don’t take my word
for it. Here’s the shots.
If you were there, you're Keysound Certified for life. If we never play a boat party again, I don't mind: it was incredible. "Bigup you lot" - Dusk and I have recorded an extended version of the Keysound Bangers set that will be given away free with our next release "Back 2 Go FWD>>".
Amen Ra and No Fixed Abode "Star Body" [unreleased]
Amen Ra "Entrapment" [unreleased]
Lumin Project "Roll On" [unreleased]
Low Density Matter "Hearts and Minds" [unreleased]
Double Helix and Low Density Matter "Eras" [unreleased]
Double Helix "(unknown)" [unreleased]
Double Helix "Children Of The Night" [unreleased]
Double Helix "Tempest Vision" [unreleased]
Amen Ra "2050" [unreleased]
No Fixed Abode "For The Thrown" [unreleased]
Amen Ra and No Fixed Abode "Java" [unreleased]
As part of properly getting to understand LV & Josh Idehen's album for Keysound, "Islands", I spoke to Josh. I thought I'd share the full interview here...
MC: So I wondered if we could just talk about a few of the songs and some of the lyrics that you use and the way that you write them. What does “Islands” mean to you, what was it about when you were writing some of the songs? To help with this I picked up a bunch of rhyming couplets or random fragments to throw at you. The first one comes from the first track, was “aim for the stars, sing to the street lamps”, what I liked about, what I think is different about “New Pen” is some of the songs seem to be telling stories, whereas some of them seem to be more structured, like poetry or you know, the different ideas bounce off of each other rather than you trying to tell an actual story, am I right in that?
JI: Yes, I think with the case of “New Pen” it was constructed like that, I think with some of the tracks there was… an intent to change out the writing, because when we first did “Routes” I was very much a narrator, I would either embody a character and write from their point of view, or I would write as a third person, but there was this one track that we did for “Routes” where I think it was the only track that actually had a whole body of text used as opposed to snippets, and I really enjoyed that, and I think for this one I wanted to try to do a lot of that and I was listening to people like The Streets and they often write stuff that is quite theme based, so you have a theme and you just run with that theme and its kind of like a body or a collection of phrases that all work together and really kind of expand on this one theme, so its not necessarily this huge narrative, its just like ‘what are we talking about? We’re going to talk about power’, and you write on that, and with “New Pen,” it was a sense that the theme in that it was kind of like ‘return?’ It was like the introduction to a return, so…
MC: The interesting thing is the opening lines made me laugh out loud when I first heard them, I was like… I had to get them to reload the album straight away, ‘here we are again, one MC and two white men…’
JI: Yeah, yeah with “New Pen,” there was a lot about also being happy with being self aware of who I am, and what we’re doing. A lot of times I do get very wary of relating to myself as a writer, its one of the things I’m drawn to, but I like to stay away from, and I think with that one track it was just kind of an acknowledgement that sort of in a very fourth person: yes you are listening to a guy rapping, and there are two other guys making the music, and that’s cool, you know, that’s what going to happen over the course of an hour plus.
MC: Yeah, because your not strictly a rapper, but there is something about hip hop lyrics where often to make things fit they have to put unlikely things together and then there is this sort of fun thing where two things that are probably only pushed together because the last words in the sentences rhyme, actually then have their own interplay. And presumably that different, that’s very different to the narrative style of writing. It’s fun, because they are sort of close, but then distant, as well.
JI: Yeah, as a spoken word artist, it’s from my own experiences as a spoken word artist, it is slightly frowned upon that braggadocio. You never find a poet, well, you rarely find a poet who is kind of like, ‘my flow is so deep,’ or ‘my rhymes are so cool,’ its just pointless. For one, you are probably not rhyming and two no-one is impressed that you have acknowledged a metaphor. It’s fundamental as a rapper that you espouse some level of self-confidence and you rhyme nonsensically and you jumble as many images together to create a deeper meaning in the interplay and juxtaposition. I had finished the Benin City album, after that thanks to “Routes” I ended up working in a lot of extra stuff, so other producers were aware of what I was doing, so I got the opportunity to write more and to work more, so I think I have got a lot more confident and comfortable with my writing and the ideas that come up, this was obviously a much easier album to write if anything, I think a lot of it just sort of came out, we did it in a much shorter time.
MC: I suppose what’s good about that is that it means that perhaps all the ideas are focused and are coherent and I think that’s interesting because it makes me think about something quite a lot, about how your voice in both these two albums is like the link that ties everything together and it allows Will and Si to go and look at different musical textures, but actually it all sounds coherent whereas with other Keysound albums I assembled these albums as an A&R with instrumental artists and their biggest problem is making it sound like its related to each other whereas you can then glue everything together and allow Si and Will to do whatever they want. It’s a real luxury.
JI: Yeah, I think its great, I do feel like they have also had a part in it, I see what you mean, its… a lot of what they have done for “Islands” does sound quite different from “Routes,” in fact when I first heard the whole mix I was like wow, we’ve totally changed now, it was like we were almost a different band, but also the way they edit my words. I think the only other person who does anything like that consciously was Gil Scott Heron v Jamie XX which was a big influence of mine when we were writing “Routes”.
MC: Which is a fantastic album.
JI: Yeah, it is a fantastic album, “New York is Killing Me” is amazing, and I think they have sort of made it their own, and they have sort of made it something… their kind of signature.
MC: There are tracks on “Islands” actually that use only a tiny fragment of your voice, I mean there is less of that than there is on “Routes”, but there is definitely a couple of tracks that use just tiny fragments and you wonder you know, I wonder what the fragment is that makes it very catchy and makes it very coherent…
JI: I think with this one they have actually used whole phrases, and I think it was partly because like you said yes, it was a lot more focused, there was I think because I recorded less material it meant there was less for them to work with also, being diverted and distracted and sort of feeling underneath this whole pressure to find something good, so they had set material and also I think the writing had gone better, I have to think that as otherwise I would feel really bad about myself, writing was better, and I think I wasn’t in like a lot of varying moods, which with “Routes” I was, sometimes I was really happy, sometimes I was really sad, with this one I was in the same sort of mood, a bit confident but I’m sure a lot of working on albums sort of made me realise my place a lot more vividly within sort of music and art, because I think I’ve always felt like an outsider, someone who is always going to be examined and appreciated only because I am different from everything else, and not in a kind of different of “I’m cool, I’m different” just actually outcast, like always on the outside looking in…
MC: Are you outside looking in or inside looking out? Because I think of that in the context of you telling stories, like “Imminent,” which sounds like you telling the story of what its like to be in the grimy bits of east London, or some other things like on “Obsessed” where there are relationship stories.
JI: This is the thing, everything I have always made I always imagined that people get it, I’m like… if you can imagine Jim Carrey learning the lines and having to do a comedy show for Martians, and you know he is writing his best material and he thinks its going to work but he’s dying out there, I think that’s sort of what happens with everything I do, with the exception of the few things that everybody totally gets and they reach some measure of critical success without actually putting anything in my pocket. I mean take for example “Imminent” …
MC: Well, lets do “Imminent,” because obviously that’s the first single and I’m very curious of your take on it.
JI: Yeah essentially I came home to Hackney one day and there was police tapes all around us, you just walk around that, and there was a huge amount of blood on the ground now, it took me a while to realise it had been a certain kid who was hanging around Hackney who was a bit of a ruffian, and there were stories about how you would walk past the balcony and you would hear snippets about how he was dating people, he was dating a few other girls, it was probably a girl thing, it was a honey trap, he was part of this gang, he was part of that gang.
I remember hearing about the gang twice from two separate people at a rehearsal space on Mare Street, and the guy, the owner of the rehearsal space was telling us the story about how he had opened up and this kid literally just ran and begged him to lock the door behind him, and he locked it and he kept hearing banging outside, and what happened was this kid had apparently strode into the wrong postcode and they got accosted by other kids who felt this was their postcode, so they had been chased all around London and they literally ran down this one alleyway, hoping they could hide, thought that it was like a cul-de-sac and then he comes up, opens up this rehearsal space and they literally just ran in, and the gang that were chasing him were apparently the same gang that this kid that died was at war with.
MC: Was the kid that died in the wrong place, was in the wrong postcode?
JI: No, he was based in Hackney but he was, I think him and this other gang were at war and obviously girls come into this, or so the story goes, there were a lot of stories about what happened and it was part of a much larger piece which was again grime and experimenting with trying that very tight regimented rhythm, and what I wanted to do was tell a story about essentially what I thought was the norm at the time when I lived in Hackney, that is essentially what happens. When I lived there the neighbours, to this day, my mum’s neighbours in the flat that she lives in in Hackney, are junkies. They don’t ever have the keys for their flat, so they ring every bell and beg people to open up the doors, you know, there is a lot of… I think that it has got a bit better now, that we are getting slowly and surely gentrified…
MC: What year was that? The murder that inspired “Imminent?”
JI: I think it was 2009 to be honest, I think it was 2009, I’m trying to remember which relationship I was in at the time, I think it was 2009 and these were the kind of things that happened I think were… I wouldn’t say commonplace, it wasn’t like we were dodging bullets to get in, but you know, when you heard them happen, or when you saw people fighting from your balcony, it didn’t phase me, I came from Nigeria, so that actually happened a lot in Nigeria, it was commonplace, but here in England… so I wasn’t exactly, I wouldn’t imagine that, I wouldn’t say that I was on the outside looking out, because you can’t be on the outside looking out, you are always looking back in…
MC: When you say ‘in’, because maybe it’s the perception that a wider audience are looking at you as being ‘different,’ but maybe the things that are around you are different still from the original audience, so you are the conduit to tell those stories, and the stories you describe of people being shot in Hackney, they are probably not the people hearing the records but you are telling people about things that they can’t normally see, but should know about.
JI: I think the thing is even in that circle, even in Hackney, I never felt like I belonged, I had this weird experience where I was born here in London, and at age four we moved back to Nigeria, so my dad, he was quite obsessive about recording, he started the first video rental store in Nigeria, when we went back because he had such huge amounts of tapes and people always wanted to borrow tapes and he thought ‘fine, I’ll make you pay for it.’ He would record everything, television shows… so when I was in Nigeria all I did was watch TV, so I had this weird kind of like displacement, because all my frames of reference were English or American, from American films, but then I would go to a school and no-one would know what I was talking about when I would mention Knightrider, and then I grew up in Nigeria not feeling a part of it, I couldn’t speak my mother tongue, pigeon English didn’t come to me as easily as it would… I became quite a bit of a geek, so when people were into gangster rap and R&B and hip hop, I came into that late because I was busy watching Prodigy and Jamiroquai off French music channels, and you know you come back to London and I obviously feel like ‘when I get to London, everyone will get me, I’ll be complete’, you know? I will totally understand everyone, everyone will understand all the cultural references I comment, but that didn’t really happen. I walked in a bar and it took me a while to acclimatise.
When I first wrote “Routes” I think I was still coming to terms with that I would always be, whatever angle I took at looking at something, it would be from the outside looking in, I’m not going to write about something as an entrenched member of that sub sect, I could write about Nigeria, but I would still be like a foreigner writing about Nigeria, I could write about Christianity, well I’m an atheist now, so boom, and I could write about Hackney where I’ve lived for ten years, but it would still be from the point of view because you know, I never hung out with any of my neighbours, the only people I hung out with they left… no-one else, of all the levels we were on the third floor, it was a four floor council estate, I didn’t know anyone there, I kept myself to myself.
MC: It’s interesting that your twenties is a pretty key part of your life, the last ten years, being the early twenties until now, that’s a huge piece and key part of the time when you absorb things and see things and you are first an adult in that world, and its like…
JI: The noises I heard there were my keysounds.
MC: That’s what a keysound is! The noisy surroundings of London that backdrop our music and that’s why I run this label, I love that fact. Let’s return to “Imminent” quickly, what I think is interesting which I think is amazing hearing the backstory to it, is the contrast between the story that you tell, which is relatively dark, the actual story and grime itself is relatively dark and aggressive, but “Imminent” is a very uplifting, exciting track. Part of it I find very explosive and positive feeling, and I find that an interesting comparison between how positive and uplifting and energetic it feels and equally the story you tell of it being quite… its harsh, it’s a child or a teenager being murdered.
JI: I think its… as a writer I really believe in conflict, opposing forces coming together to create something you know, more than the sum of the parts, when they first sent the album to me, the songs I had the most problem with were the ones that where lyrics are depressing and sonically depressing. I don’t see the point, so you have got that song there, what’s that called, “That Old Darkness.” The beat that I wrote that to was a much more up-tempo beat, and the beat they stuck it to was… I still feel was actually quite sad, because essentially its about death, its about you know, death will come to you in the end and really what it is ‘how did you live your life?’ you know, that’s the question.
There was this brilliant scene, in this television series ‘From Dusk Till Dawn,’ TV series, and there is this character who actually knew how many days he had spent with his mother, and how many days he spent with the people he considered important, and he would say that only in the last three years I have only spent twenty-six days with my mum. It was like, I just need to spend more time, I cannot take 365 days, and the person I love who is my mother, I am spending only twenty-six days with her, that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. For me, I think I feel like some of my favourite songs are always songs that take two opposing forces, its either the song itself is complex, or the lyrics are very simple, or the lyrics are very complex and the song is simple, or the lyrics are dark and the song is very light hearted and up-tempo, when you have that kind of conflict between melodies and lyrics, I think that can bring up something really, really beautiful, you know, you have stuff like “Hey Ya,” the lyrics are actually quite dark, in terms of relationship, you listen to “Crazy,” the lyrics to it as well are about madness, and here is everyone going “that makes me crazy” ‘cos you know its got a nice little harmony there, and its quite banging.
MC: A bit of contradiction is always brilliant.
JI: Yeah, and I think with “Imminent” Will and Si were attempting to do because well, for one I wrote it to a grime beat, 140 bpm, and I think, that’s what I intended, I don’t actually know, and secondly its… something like that would be too depressing if it was just for slow and it was just kind of like maybe something like 90 bpm, just drums just really loud and everything just drags and then there’s verses about how his brains were splattered all over the window, and the window his mother opened up and then screamed and then screamed up at the heavens and you could hear the last sound of him begging as you know the sound turned up to eleven and the rain came down and all you heard were the sounds of the sirens and the silence, and the violence. We can all kind of like brush our chins, stroke our chins and be like, ‘oh yes, that was nice, that’s really good, that’s such a deep track’ but what does that do, you know? You are essentially preaching to the choir, everyone who is down with that kind of depression is into it, but everybody else, the kind of people you want to reach, which is I think everyone, anyone who wants to listen to it, they are frozen out, I think whenever you are trying to put something heavy, its always nice to present it in a way that people can actually… it’s a sort of stealth form of delivering it to someone.
MC: What is quite fun as well about “Imminent” is because you are talking about the fact that he needs to realise the fact that his life is imminently in danger, and he gets the sense of the drums, you know, because they are those sort of UK funky drums, and there is a sense of rushing, of energy, like he needs to know his time is limited. There is an urgency to it, and that I think makes a lot of sense.
JI: “Imminent” was one of the most difficult tracks to get right, I’m sure you heard the different versions we had of it.
MC: I didn’t, just the end.
JI: We recorded it several times, not re-recorded or changed anything, just really because of the tone of my voice and I felt like we hoped to get it right, and to make sure that the right kind of energy was being put into the vocals, especially the chorus. I hope I done a good enough job on it, right now.
MC: We’ve played it in loads of places: Outlook Croatia, Recontrvct Brooklyn and it tore the roof off.
JI: I see, that’s good, that’s good. It feels weird, I have to admit, its really weird with the “Routes” album, I felt like Will and Si really knocked it out of the park on that one, and it was, you know, I wouldn’t say it was a pain, because that pain has left me now, its gone, I would say it was quite eye opening to sort of see, listen to something that you thought was game changing, and I mean, god help me, there were times I would listen to the album and I would be like fuck, my life is going to change, my life is genuinely going to change because “Melt” and “Northern Line” and “Primary Colours” were just like, ‘fucking hell’ they were huge, and you were putting so much behind it, I mean especially because I had done some research into kind of everything that you had done, so it was obvious that you were kind of pushing this beyond what usual remit was, that sort of thing, we got as far as we could. We learnt a lot form the release…
MC: In some ways I feel like, I mean from a label point of view, this is our unfinished business, I feel that sense of loss about “Routes”, I think it’s possible it is the best thing I’ve ever released and I’ve released nearly 50 releases, but I think it didn’t reach a big enough audience, and partly, there were a bunch of reasons for that, but partly I feel a sense of unfinished business, and one of the reasons, one of the things I’m hoping we can do with “Islands,” is get it right this time, and the key to that I think is in many ways a discussion we are having, can we crystallise the stories behind it, and what “Islands” is about, and find ways to share those stories with other people, because that, if we can do that, I think it can move beyond just perhaps the choir, preaching to the choir, I think its these stories, the things you tell me and you know, when you are talking about the song “Island,” and he might do a runner, but why is he going to do a runner? Why is she on an island with her mum, or her lover? I don’t know: these are the stories that I have to help you tell.
JI: Well, with the case “Necklace” I found this necklace I got, that one is actually a true story. I brought this girl this necklace and in trying to be the clever bastard that I was, I tried to hide it in her room and she never found it until we broke up and she sent me a text message saying “I found your necklace, oh my god I’m so sad”. So I replied: “do you want to get back?” And she answered: “No! But it’s so sad, you bastard!”
But the song “Island” was… I don’t know how best to describe this…
MC: Where is that island Josh? Where is that Island situated?
JI: Where is that island? I think that island is situated in basically the… if I can take anything out of “Island” as a track, I think it really is just down to me coming to terms with myself, I think a lot of the tracks and I love what I have put into the tracks, is sort of me feeling like I am happy with who I am, and with “Island,” when I wrote that story, I wrote three different versions of it, and I was work-shopping it, over Facebook with a bunch of friends of mine, and every time I sent a version of the story, this was like years ago, I sent versions of the story on Facebook, and people said ‘oh I don’t like this version, I don’t like this version, I think this version is actually quite, you know, a little bit…’ and at one point I put other versions up and I noticed that with all of the versions, every time I have written it I try to be someone else, I tried really hard, one version I tried really hard to be more of a rap song, and with the last version, I literally just thought, you know what? I am just going to write what I feel is the funniest, darkest, what I would be happy to read, so I felt comfortable with myself and not give a fuck about what anybody else thought, and just come to terms with it. And it mirrors that in the story, in the sense that here is this person, and she is dating this other person and even though he is sort of dating this other person, there is this sort of rumour that he is dating her and he says she is not dating her, that doesn’t change in my mind this character, it doesn’t change what she wants to do, from the beginning of the story to the end. She kind of lives on this island, and at that point the protagonist has already figured out who she is, what she is going to do and that she is going to leave the island and leave him alone and be herself and do everything that she wants to do, and I think that sort of mirrors my own sentiments with the beginning of the album, where I’m sort of like, and here is me again, its me, and this bunch of white men, you know, we are going to tell these stories as fast as we can, and we are going to be totally happy with where we get to, so we aim for the stars but we are going to sing to the streetlamps, you know.
MC: You know, the island narrative almost sounds a bit like someone torn between England and Nigeria, Josh…
JI: I think you could read into that, I mean essentially, you could read into that, but at the end of the day, it’s still the person does choose, so to speak, and I think I have chosen that regardless of the fact that I’m sort of this drifter, and this person always looking in, I’m totally happy with that, I’m, without trying to sound confident, it still comes at its own worries and doubts and you know, the same kind of process that I have to go through, trying to deal with myself as a writer, making sure that I’m actually quite good enough to do what I want to, write for a living, but at the very end the person is happy and the person makes that choice and the person moves and he you know, he goes on, if you listen to “Necklace” again, you know, I found this necklace when I broke up with you, and I don’t know, the last words are “I don’t regret it” because essentially you’ve made these difficult choices in your life, these difficult choices which further entrench you in isolation, loneliness and separation and uniqueness and diversity. I’m a thirty-three year old man doing spoken word with a bunch of post-bass post… what do you want to call themselves? I remember the first person whoever called themselves a manager speaking to me and going… “I really feel like we need to release this track because I’m, you know…” at the time I think I was twenty-seven, twenty-eight, he goes “your no young guy, when you hit thirty this might become a bit of a problem for you being a rapper, you know, being a poet and doing your stuff.” I remember my first English teacher telling me, and we were talking about careers, and he was talking about you know, I’m lively enough to be a teacher, I should really consider teaching, and I was like “Well I was thinking of being a poet or a writer” and he was like “Nah, I don’t think your that good.”. That was hard, I mean…
MC: You’ve had to bounce back against those kind of put downs.
JI: You always have to bounce back, you know, in my career has been studying the makeup of a footballer and mirroring it bounce for bounce.
MC: If you look at that album as a whole, and the bit I’m trying to resolve in my head is the balance between where you are telling the stories of others, perhaps in “Imminent” and “Island” and some of these other ones, and where they are more biographical, so you are talking about the “Necklace,” where they are more about you, how do you balance those two sides of things?
JI: With everything that I write, and I say, I’m on the outside looking in, but also, to help myself write something, or to come to terms with what I’m writing, especially if its something that I feel is quite deep and quite sad, I have to take myself out of myself and look at myself in the third person, and I write as an ‘I,’ but as a disembodied ‘I,’ so when I wrote “New Pen” I kind of imagined myself…
I listen to a lot of instrumentals of The Streets album, I sort of imagined myself like, oh, if The Streets never existed, and I was going to be The Streets, sometimes I just kind of see myself as a kind of… watching myself so to speak, and I use an eye to describe what I’m seeing and everything that comes. Also going with the theme that I’m doing right now, and just sort of going through my life, I’m picking out certain moments in my life that I’ve described that I feel, and in a way it is third person really, to put myself in either the third person mode or to see from somebody else.
“Imminent” for example, the lines ‘he didn’t know his time was limited,’ that was what the girl said on the balcony, they were all laughing and she was like he was going out, you know, he was going round like he was king of the castle, he didn’t know his time was limited, and they were all like oooh, you know, I went off to the laundrette, having written it on my pad and using that to kind of construct a whole story around it and build it into something that I felt is a decent narrative. I think in a sense there is a part of me that loves writing something that feels like its going so well, like it’s a journey and there is obviously, like every writer, there is a part of yourself in it, and with “Routes”, with everything that I wrote for “Routes”, every part, every track, everything that was coming up through “Islands” does ascribe to a part of me, and you know, part of that feeling of being an outsider and being isolated and this kind of sort of lonely story teller, whatever you want to call it…
MC: What I think is interesting is everything in it relates to you, but some of it might be… relates to you and who you are, like you say, the ‘disembodied I,’ and in some ways what’s nice is its harder to tell whether it’s a story you have seen or a story you have lived through or a story you were in and you stepped back and looked back at…
JI: I think with this album I pretty much kept it true, I think I just, I just kind of went with it. There is a line in “Talking Trim” that goes “a full time me so I can’t be him” and you know, you saw from the verse for that at the live gigs, a lot, I’m sure.
MC: What does “keeping your talking trim” mean?
JI: Keep myself true. When we performed it live it was… it felt like the beat was good but you can’t just keep performing an instrumental track live, over and over again, it felt like there was a lull, every time I stepped on the stage, especially because I had been on the stage for so long, and so the idea was to let the beat run for a while and then come in and do a beat, and the track was called “Talk Trim,” so when I wrote the verse I felt sort of keeping myself succinct. Again, it’s one of the things people say about me, personally, I like to talk, and I do like to talk a lot, and I do like to kind yatter and beat around the bush before I get to the point, so sort of me talking to myself again, disembodied again: “you should keep your talking trim.”
MC: To be succinct about it.
JI: Yeah, be succinct; get straight to the point.
MC: Haha I like the idea that you are talking to yourself, like a memo to yourself.
JI: When I write these kind of… I end up writing a lot of what seems quite self-helpy kind of lines sometimes, and a lot of times its just me talking to myself, its just me disembodied going out and going “Oh yes, you are talking to yourself, you are a full time you so you can’t be him”. Obviously kind of “Routes” was a whole badge of being compared to everyone to Gil Scott Heron to Dizzy Rascal to Ghost Poet to Spoek Mtambo and it is quite kind of annoying after a while… I mean its great, I feel very honoured I get compared to people who have done very well and are quite distinct, and I understand you know, two black men in a room, of course you sound like Ghost Poet or of course, you sound like Spoek Mtambo ‘you even wear glasses like him and you are African’ and what not, when you are that much of an anomaly in people’s lives, then they will find the closest thing to compare you to.
Also in my own way a lot of my writing, when I am less confident, I do tend to go ‘okay, what has that person done? Lets dissect it and lets see what works,’ and I think that with that, when I was writing that rhyme I was thinking ‘you can only really be yourself, and you might have to accept that what is cool about yourself you don’t know, but the more comfortable you are with being yourself, the more that thing will shine.’ You really cannot be anyone else, I can’t be anyone else, I can’t, you know, I can’t sound like anyone else, no matter how hard I try. There’s this joke my girlfriend Charlotte have a lot where when I’m thinking up melodies I tend to listen to another melody and then take it in a different direction and then that will become my song that we build, and we did that a lot with the Benin City album, and there are a lot of songs on the Benin City album where I felt like it sounded like someone else, and then I played it to Charlotte and Charlotte would be like, ‘it doesn’t sound like them, I don’t know why your worried.’ No-one else, the entire album is just a compilation of songs I really like and I have ripped off.
MC: Mentally remixed.
JI: Mentally remixed and no-one can tell!
MC: Tell me about “Waiting for the Night?” That seems like you are speaking about a scenario or social event that many people can probably understand or relate to.
JI: Well, Martin, you know how much I love London haha. I spent ten of my years in the UK from 1999 to 2010 I was, actually, no 2011? That is when we met, isn’t it? 2011? So 2011 as a barman, so a lot of my life has been either working in bars, going to bars, because when you work at bars, you are afforded the opportunity to go to a bar and drink yourself silly for no money. Which was odd, because I didn’t drink at all for a very long while, but I would go there because my friends would go there.
MC: So you could see people out?
JI: Well yeah, you would see people waiting outside, that essentially was my life, I would finish at three o’clock, and people would be outside waiting, a large part of that night out would be you sat up the bar, you were waiting for people to come in, you sort of see the sun dim down, and you get to watch the DJ go from pleasant, background music to really pumping, to ‘OK its time to dance’ music, and everything just sort of comes in and builds up and becomes a huge massive, everyone’s partying, everyone’s social, everyone is friendly and everyone is cool, and me going out, I have to admit was the weirdest, the oddest and the most anti-climatic experience nine times out of ten, it always was.
MC: Because you didn’t drink?
JI: Because one I don’t drink; two you know, you are going up to girls and you are going “Hey, your necklace is awesome” and they are going [unimpressed voice] “thanks”, and turning away. You are like, ‘shit, I’ve blown that,’ and you know, I’m quite forward, I used to be quite forward with my advances, so I’m not somebody who plays the game or does chat up lines very well, I just stare really, really hard and ask people to dance, and so there were a lot of nights where I would end up, in fact, I don’t think I scored a single one night stand from clubbing, at all. Not ever. Either I went there with someone and me and that person left…
MC: So you spent all that time waiting for the night and in fact it was very unfulfilling.
JI: It was terribly unfulfilling, I mean, as a bar tender, walking behind a bar, that was great, I was brilliant, as a punter, it was a terribly unfulfilling experience, until I decided that I’m just going to go to dance, but again everything changes, it don’t matter how much you feel like I’m just going to go to dance and have a good time, you’d always go and dance and you would see someone dancing that you liked and you would ask ‘can I dance with you?’ and they would be like, ‘no.’ Then you would be like [joking] ‘fuck you then, racist’ Haha.
So I think in it informs the middle of that verse, so you are waiting for the nightlife, and you dress in your wildest jeans or you start off with all that confidence, and believe that tonight is going to be the one, its going to be the one, but you are going to wake up in those same jeans, on your own, with nothing but a whiff or smell of either someone else’s vomit or your own cigarette, your own desperate loneliness, and your ears ringing with whatever beats which was essentially kind of like the thing that I would always take out of it and be I’m so glad I went out and listened because that song that this guy played was brilliant. You know, as well as when I go to festivals, and the last act that performs, the DJs come up and they take over, I remember when I was single and I would go to somewhere like Glastonbury or Latitude and I would walk round to the gigs and I would look at the party tents which were terribly, terribly displacing experiences, you do not want to be in the space where everyone is having the time of their life with their friends, and/or is alone and absolutely hammered and drunk out their day so they can make friends like that, and you are sober and self aware, and you can’t even let yourself go.
MC: It’s more strange alienation again Josh, you not fitting in again.
JI: Yeah, it’s a reoccurring theme, it’s a reoccurring theme.
MC: Let me ask about “Obsessed” as is a different one, so rather than the scenario of late night clubs, or the story of “Island” itself, I suppose it connects a little bit to “Necklace,” but this is more about relationships and perhaps the way they go kind of a little bit wrong…
JI: “Obsessed” was again, its about… like I said, I tend to be a bit full on, its something that… I’m quite happy I’m dating Charlotte now, because we were put in a place where we could both be absolutely full on with each other and not play around, that’s the great thing of being an adult. When I was younger, you know, I think I went through that ‘I’m a good guy’ phase. [puts on Kermit the frog nerd voice] ‘I’m a good guy, why don’t people want to date me?! I’m a good guy, I open doors for girls and shit, I pay for the drinks and stuff, What’s wrong with me, huh?’ and and then you end up dating someone which is usually before you have slept with them for the first time, and way, way before the… no actually its after you have slept with them for the first time, but before they have sat you down and had the conversation where they think you are a lovely guy, and really think you are going to find someone who is going to totally get you… but it’s not them.
I often could be quite obsessive. I think it was because when I was in Nigeria, lived in a very catholic house, where I didn’t have sex until I was twenty really, so you can imagine me coming to London, it was like all of the toys and all of the candies, all at the same time. All given to me. Mobile phones had just become a thing, so here I was having this thing, this mobile phone, and I was earning money for the first time, it was to plough the money into the phone and then text someone repeatedly, like ‘hi, what you doing? What are you doing now?’ Obviously it wears down over the years, but…
MC: Sounds like quite a strategy there Josh.
JI: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was quite the Casanova, I was quite… ‘I’m going to give her all the attention she needs and she will never want for any, ever!’ Hahahaha. It got so bad with this girl, that she just stopped answering and the relationship got really, really weird, and a friend actually had to stop me and like, she knows where you work and right now, she has your number, she does, if anything, she has your number, so if she ever wants to contact you, she will. Then I just stopped, then she sent me a text message back going yeah, I don’t think that we could work together, good luck with your life. Then I sent a really sarcastic one going ‘ha ha ha good luck with yours.’ Then she sent me like ten text messages and I didn’t respond to a single one, she sent me ten where she was just really pissed off and she just cussed me out, and cussed everything, and I was just like, this was over the course of three days, and I think what I took out of it was I had texted her so much that she had developed some kind of Stockholm syndrome, where she had gotten used to it, and the mere fact that I decided to casually just stop had pissed her off, and that was quite interesting, an inside look into the minds of the opposite sex, which I will never understand and I have learnt to be happy with that.
“Obsessed” is essentially about that. Its me sort of again stepping out of myself and looking back on that time, or that part of myself that is quite addictive, because I do have a very addictive personality, which is why I don’t do drugs, because I would do all of the drugs. All of the time. I would cause a shortage of drugs, I would consume until there was nothing, like, everything that I like, I am really obsessive about: video games, books, novels, comic books, music, I just take as much as possible.
LV & Josh Idehen "Islands" is out now on vinyl (w/free digital), CD and digital.
Here's a little bit about how the transatlantic collaboration happened, by Moleskin himself:
"'Winterplains' is a part of the 'Satis House' project. It came about when me and Leo from Ao-Ao were talking about Oakland and Main Attrakionz winter 2012. He was showing me a couple other Oakland rappers and he showed me this video:"
"I really liked it so got in touch with Rob and it just rolled from there really. It wasn't too hard to get in touch. I think I got in touch on Twitter. This was maybe the 2nd or 3rd beat I sent? "Winterplains Feat. Rob The Kid" is just cold to me, like the wind in the background."
Buy Moleskin's "Satis House" on vinyl now and get the digital free here.