Words: Ashleigh Kane
Photography: Machine Operated
Styling: Ade Udoma
All clothes: Telfar Global
Amongst a labyrinth of hallways in a set of south London warehouses functioning as everything from a co-working cafe to a casting call, I walk past a flurry of anxious models to an empty corridor where a rack of Telfar clothes and accessories are being packed away. Ushered into a room with nothing but two chairs, Bakar is wearing a black hoodie sporting his name alongside a little demon similar to the one now synonymous with his debut album, Badkid. After a long day of shooting, Bakar seems restless as he swivels rhythmically from side to side in a desk chair.
His phone rings and, as he fumbles in his pocket, I ask if he wants to answer it. He cancels the call and shoves the phone back in his trousers: “Nah.” He stops twisting and I just about have his full attention.
For the uninitiated, the Camden born and raised artist arrived out of the blue off the back of his single Big Dreams, released at the beginning of 2018. Then, the UK was grappling with a hangover of a hopeless year, the Brexit referendum result casting a long shadow over the future of the country’s youth. With its unapologetically catchy indie pop sound, Big Dreams felt like a revolt, a reminder to keep dreaming. In the accompanying low budget, fast-cut music video, Bakar – dressed in a Fred Perry track jacket and skinny jeans – runs through east London’s streets and estates with his friends. The track took Bakar from SoundCloud, where he’d been quietly posting tracks, to London’s airwaves as he was crowned indie’s revivalist.
“It’s all bullshit,” he says, abruptly. “People were like, ‘Oh my god, he's bringing indie back!' But that wasn’t what I was trying to do at all.” Instead, Bakar was pulling on a handful of genres that he’d been exploring since his mum sent him to boarding school at 14. Then, his dorm mate introduced him to the likes of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Madlib. In interviews, Bakar revealed he’d written the song for his little brother as a beacon of hope. “Big Dreams has a huge message and that was the whole aim: I want to make big songs which have big messages, no matter what category.”
Badkid, the 11-track debut album which tapped influences such as Test Icicles, The Kooks, Bloc Party and Gorillaz, followed in May. By June, as Virgil Abloh prepared to unveil his debut collection as the Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton, Bakar was invited to Paris to walk in the show. He later became the face of the SS19 campaign. Badkid was there too, being played loud on speakers inside the historic French fashion house. “V always got it,” Bakar beams. “We were in his office, Kid Cudi was there, Mos Def was there, and he was just blasting Badkid. It was a mad experience.”
While he initially began work on a follow-up album late last year, Bakar took a detour and turned out a six song EP over the summer instead. “I like to call it a short story,” he says, speaking of the recently released Will You Be My Yellow? “I did this painting in 2017 and it was called Will You Be My Yellow? I didn't even know what it meant, but I always knew I wanted to do a short story and it just felt like the perfect time.” The EP’s infectious lead single Hell N Back has already racked up over 1.5 million streams on Spotify. “It's actually quite a dark song. That's the best part of it. As an artist, you have these little things in yourself where you're like ha, ha, ha, ha. Where you feel like you cheated the system. It appears sunny but underneath it's a whole different thing.” He adds that Will You Be My Yellow? was completed in just eight weeks, with Bakar bringing back producer, collaborator and friend Zach Nahome, as well as Matty Tavares of BadBadNotGood, to work with him.
Rounding out a milestone year are tour dates at Electric Brixton in London, Rough Trade in New York City and LA’s storied The Roxy Theatre. While Will You Be My Yellow? is a natural progression from Badkid – and sees him invite his first-ever album artist feature in the form of Dominic Fike, who graces the bittersweet Stop Selling Her Drugs – Bakar’s intentions haven’t changed at all. “I want to be represented by a body of work,” he replies, when asked about the mindset that drives him. “And I want to make the best project possible.”
Will You Be My Yellow? is out now on Black Butter/September Recordings