“Art before artist.”
It’s an ethos that South London’s sonic artist GAIKA repeats no less than four times during our conversation at Crack’s shoot in Bethnal Green. A few months prior to our meeting, GAIKA released his debut mixtape MACHINE, which has paved the way towards a forthcoming collaboration with Mykki Blanco. The mixtape’s cover art shows a mouth covered by mesh and what appears to be the heel of a Nike AirMax 90, accompanying music that floods the brain in biodiesel, with snares sharp enough to crack a Segway clean in two; wires stripped bare and sparks still spitting.
The word GAIKA itself has origins dating back to 1846-47, referencing one of the tribes known collectively as part of the Xhosa, who fought the imperial British in the seventh Xhosa War, which took place in what is now known as South Africa. The Xhosa had, by that point, replaced their traditional weapons with firearms. “I knew the name had that meaning, and it was the name of those people that had been resistant,” he explains. Along with having a nod to his father’s technical work, this also what inspired him to choose the title MACHINE.
“To me, it’s not about horror. It’s about gothic in the true sense of the word,” GAIKA tells me, referring to the aesthetic that pervades his work. “Like the architecture and the style, as opposed to how people have taken that to mean something terrifying because it’s not to me. I don’t sit at home thinking about ravens.” He continues on, telling us he will happily admit to making ‘soundtrack music’ as he’s also a visual artist, citing Masamune Shirow’s masterpiece Ghost In The Shell as one of his major influences.
Branching out on a global scale, GAIKA’s track Chrome recently featured on African music collective NON’s Worldwide Compilation. Founded by Cape Town producer Angle-Ho, Virginia’s Chino Amobi and London’s Nkisi, the intercontinental collective are “committed to exploring the realities of Pan-African identity in the twenty-first century.” Their work has struck a chord with GAIKA. “I’ve never met any of these people but I feel super privileged because I feel what they do is really important,” he tells us. “It’s one thing having that ideology; it’s another having that ideology and execution. A lot of people who have something to say don’t execute art at the level it needs to be at. All the records that come out on NON, irrespective of what people have to say politically, are dope.”
GAIKA’s music has often been described as ‘weird’, ‘alien’ and has been associated with grime in the past – labels which he frequently resists. “I’m never gonna be like, ‘I agree with you’,” he says. “Who are those people to define what ‘weird’ is for black music? The black people who make the music get to define what it is.”
Photography: Elliot Kennedy
Styling: Luci Ellis
Words: Akash Chohan