Hackney vs Brixton:
a conversation between Dean Blunt and GAIKA
During a year in which ‘British Values’ – Theresa May’s sinister slogan loaded with undertones of race and segregation – have been established as toxic and exclusionary to people of colour and immigrants, Dean Blunt and GAIKA have made music that examines what exactly it means to be a black man in the UK. Hailing from Hackney and Brixton respectively, both artists’ work is steeped in Britishness even as it rejects the concept entirely. GAIKA’s sound is a conduit for the dystopian now, while Dean Blunt’s new output with Babyfather combines London slang with hip-hop, industrial noise, a narrative steeped in national identity and album art that depicts a Union Jack hoverboard. In this unmoderated conversation for Crack Magazine, the two discuss micro-aggressions, hyper-masculinity and resistance in post-Olympics London.
GAIKA: I agree with what Lil Yachty says about Biggie or whatever, I get it. I get what he says about Drake, and I see what he says about Biggie. From our side, we definitely see both perspectives.
Dean Blunt: Yeah, I do think there should be like a bridge between those generations, or else both never connect.
G: If you’re 18 and you’re coming up now, it’s the same way your early Bush era or your Reagan era and post- Reagan era was a bit fucked. But me and you had our formative time during this other period, which is kind of hard to define. So actually there’s a dearth of artists who can even communicate to both generations, who are conscious, or even aware of the cyclical nature of this culture. Do you know what I mean?
DB: Yeah exactly. We’ve seen something flop, seen the cycle. It’s hard to articulate it, but we’ve seen it. Or seen nothing.
G: And as a result, there is a cynicism there. If you think about it, the Twin Towers got blown up in September 2001, and we lived in the shadows of that.
DB: We’re like numb, like this numb generation, like the numb post-nothing [generation]. Post-conspiracy. But the trauma’s all still there.
G: Like when the [financial] crash happened, who was surprised? We weren’t surprised. Even though we had just got the end of free education – or not free education but, like, free loans and all of that before the crash. We were still living in the shadow, in the long arm of some terrible shit that’s going on in the world. But now, I don’t know, what do you think is next? Donald Trump is fucking president bro.
DB: I mean… the Trump ting, I think that once again, just like Brexit – America is just showing itself for what it is. America has always ‘been’ Donald Trump. Donald Trump is just an American without the fourth wall. And I think that’s tight, it’s great. I think it’s heavy man, there’s no fallacies, so people can progress, we’re not living in this charade.
G: This fake shit.
DB: Yeah, it is what it is. America’s been like this, so it’s boring to hear people to talk about it now, or even when he was running like ‘Ahh I can’t believe what he’s saying!’ Like, bruv, these other fuckers are saying this shit anyway. Like in America, everyone’s crying. Like it’s shit, yeah, but people should have been had a survival kit years ago, you know what I mean? Now, I think shit’s actually going to progress, like in real time.
G: When I said Donald Trump could win, they were like ‘no he could never win’ and I’m like ‘yeah people are gonna go that crazy’. There’s no point in lying anymore, there’s no more faking. They went out and voted for someone who’s gonna slap everybody in the fucking face.
DB: I was like ‘this is deep, the fourth wall has proper peeled back.’ Like if there’s any kind of conspiracy theory or whatever, them man are on some next level novelist shit!
DB: Their wrestling’s like that. With wrestling when you think you’ve peeled back the true story, they write another story line that incorporates reality. Donald Trump has been Stone Cold Stunner-ed bro, Donald Trump has been in wrestling, he’s a big part of WWE, they’re all really connected, it’s all the same shit – America, wrestling, hip-hop, Trump – all a beautiful pantomime.
G: When I make music, I don’t make music in the fantasy world. I make records that sound like what’s inside my head, and what’s inside my head comes from what’s outside my head, which is the sound of the city – it’s the sound of real things. It doesn’t come from an abstract place of like ‘everything’s going to be ok’ and ‘ah I just love this girl, I’m gonna sing a load of lyrics that don’t make no fucking sense and play the fucking guitar, and that’s it’. It comes from a real, actual place to me. But by making music like that – then I’m weird. They say this is the sound of ‘dystopian London’. Listen you fucker, London is dystopian now! There’s cameras everywhere! I’m not making it up.
DB: It’s the end of the world, really man. I mean the Olympics was the end of the world. Before the Olympics, we were leading up to Armageddon and after the Olympics the world ended. The riots happened – that was a battle. The Olympics happened – that was the big parade. The world is over now. And London, it’s like, it’s done. We’re living in Armageddon, we’ve all been in a zombie like existence since London 2012.
G: I’ve come back to it, feeling the same way, that dread. I came back to it with that feeling: ‘What the fuck is this?’
DB: I came back just after the riots, like the ruins…
G: I was in Manchester, then I came down. And I was walking around like ‘What the fuck is this?!’ Then I went out the country, and I’ve come back now and I’m like ‘this all seems like it doesn’t make sense’, the paper is talking about like measuring immigrants’ teeth and that’s, like, a legit thing. That’s a headline.
DB: We’re living in that kingdom now. When these things become news stories it can be irritating because you feel this stuff way before it becomes a headline, it’s in the air. And it’s always felt. On a ground level, that’s where it exists daily and that’s where it’s felt.
G: With the Bristol show we played, was it a particular thing which made you feel like ‘nah’? Because I have a feeling about playing some UK shows. Like why the fuck would I wanna go to some place where, ultimately, I’m not welcome?
DB: Yeah, they like to ideally consume what you do, but not necessarily have you be there.
G: So like ‘We’ll have your shit, we’ll take your shit, but you can’t be here’. Like you say, it’s in the air. It’s bear faced.
DB: All I know is that in certain places I’ve played, if I was in attendance, I’d still feel just as off-key as any black person in a white space does. So why would this feeling still exist even when I’m the person on stage? That just shouldn’t be the case at all. And why am I feeling like I’m having to justify the fact that what I’m doing [with Babyfather] is not a joke? Why is it funny I have a bodyguard? Do you know what I mean?
G: They can’t understand that, the nuance of it…
DB: Why or how the fuck would I make a parody of grime or hip-hop, do you know what I mean? That’s offensive in itself.
G: It’s such a deep micro-aggression. It’s like, ‘Let me try to explain it, because I get to explain it’. When I watch your show bruv, no part of it is satire, it’s just a sick rave. You understand what I’m saying? That’s what it is to me. Rather than say, ‘I just don’t know what this is’…
DB: Which is fine.
G: Which is fine. I hadn’t seen Babyfather before. I wanted to watch as a fan. I was like ‘this is just sick, I wish I could be on stage spraying bars’. Like not making some ironic work, but it’s just sick. I was just like, I didn’t know Escrow had bars like that.
DB: Exactly. He’s got bars.
G: All day long. And if you don’t get it, just enjoy it. Stop trying to make it about you, that’s the thing it comes down to.
DB: Yeah, I’m just done with playing in the UK. It’s not like a big deal or anything, I just told my agent I’m not playing here anymore. There’s a certain arrogance that comes with accessibility to our culture, and when we give this access to certain people, there’s a look in their face that makes you wish you never… It’s less an issue about the UK and more to do with the same old white privilege I guess.
G: The thing is, it’s weird, because I really identify with what you’re saying about that feeling of micro-aggression, and stuff like that. But I think maybe my work isn’t as nuanced, it’s like there’s not so much to ‘get’ in that way, this element of humour that they’re trying to second-guess or take ownership of or whatever. Maybe because it’s like I’m not as far ahead or I’ve not been out as long, I don’t know if that’s it, but I never get that feeling. Like [if] I see it in the room, I almost like try and burn it out of them, do you know what I mean? With thunder and lightening. Maybe it’s my way of trying to maintain power in that situation.
DB: So – you been to Miami, swamp land. That is the devil’s town bro. Seriously man. Cocaine city.
G: [Laughs] I’m into it, I don’t know why. I try and explore it, but I do it with sweet melody. There’s something about the concept of like, smiling satanism, the concept of that is just…
DB: It’s beautiful man. But you can only be in that for so long. It’s a dangerous, dangerous, dangerous town man.
G: I went there for a few days, I was booked for this Caribbean Film festival. Imagine like loads of cool black people, and like…
DB: I saw no black people in Miami bro, I was obviously living on the Babylon side.
G: The wrong side of the river!
DB: The wrong side of the waters man!
G: I went to South Beach for like one day.
DB: No sak pase for me man, I got none of that. You were up in the Haitian area right?
G: Yeah I stayed up there, that’s sick.
DB: Sak pase. You know I told you I played at that party man? And the guy who I played for is one of the early inventors or investors in e-cigarettes and he had this birthday party called 50 is My Fantasy. I had to play on the first day on the Friday and on the Sunday, and stayed the whole weekend. He just hired all these girls to be in the yard – just like, you know, just dark American shit. And on the second day he hires this island, and he like has this big mansion and he gets the women to get on this big boat with all his boys.
G: He living that rap life sunshine.
DB: That rap life is whack man, the rap life is the African American male – like whatever, all the negative bullshit that comes with the black male identity over there – being sold the white American dream. And that is one of worst combinations. The music people I know who are sensitive, people who’ve dipped into that world, don’t really fuck with it too much on a personal tip. They’re like ‘cool whatever, but it’s not really for me’. Because it’s just gassy. That party, it was just this guy, he basically set all these women ‘free’, and they ran through this forest to hide and the men just run to chase them. The guys had like army paint, like these were all lawyers, like guys who worked in Florida, like high high profile senators, all sorts of shit. I politely declined the invitation. Billy Joel blasting – best music for that kind of shit. As HD satanic as it gets. It was pretty deep bruv. And he has a friend who worked as a Florida paramedic to come and do IV, to clear everyone’s blood so they could keep taking more drugs, to keep carrying on.
G: Fucking hell man!
DB: People talk about taking yay for days, that was the first time I’ve like taken yay and gone through and not gone to sleep, and it was pretty psychotic. Like three days. And if you come home and you feel shit inside, then obviously it’s not…
G: It’s not blessed!
DB: Obviously it’s not blessed!
“It’s mad to be making music or art in this era where telling the fucking truth automatically makes you different” - GAIKA
G: With the rap life, why the fuck are you gonna take on the fucked-upness of the wealthy white America? Are you gonna mix up yourself, do you know what I mean? Which is what the rap life does.
DB: Like you watch Charlamagne Tha God like – a voice in black American hip-hop culture, and look at how he speaks of, like, white people who are above him. That guy buns everyone, and I’m not even talking about Charlamagne being ‘controversial’, that’s a boring conversation. It’s just like how he’s very selective, because he knows, because he says it, ‘that’s who pays my cheques’. Fuck out of here man!
G: You’re exactly right. If that’s your position, and you are the people that decide what is or isn’t paramount in this culture, but yet your opinion is driven by the desire to hate yourself and destroy yourself – then actually, no your opinion doesn’t fucking matter. I literally couldn’t give a fuck about what any of those people have to say, because like as you say, it’s kind of mad to be making music or art of any kind in this era where basically, you can make your point heard by just telling the fucking truth, because that automatically makes you different. What are you doing, are you recording anything?
DB: Yeah, I’m doing this film, Hollywood Re-Shuffle, and it’s like – have you seen Hollywood Shuffle? It’s this film by Robert Townsend.
G: Oh, ok yeah.
DB: It’s about the Hollywood scene with black actors in the 80s, and stereotyping and shit like that. But anyway, I’m doing like a remake called Hollywood Re-Shuffle with a British actor that goes to Hollywood. So yeah, I need to finish it basically. I’m going to work with some people back out there, I need to finish some things… writing an opera with a friend also.
There’s a lot to be said for what your brain does when it reacts to unfamiliar surroundings, like there’s something about being in a transitional state where I get the most clarity. And it can even be a transition where you’re having a comedown. I sometimes work the best after we’ve gotten twisted. On a comedown, when you’re blazing up and taking valium to come off it. I’m not saying that’s when music happens, but I get some clarity that’s not affected by anything else. At least in London that’s the way it works. London’s too familiar in general, so I don’t really work here any more, apart from when you and I link up. At the moment it’s definitely when I’m out of this place that things happen.
And being back here, I’m happy to connect with a lot of people but a lot of the brothers who try to connect – I just don’t have time for people who haven’t actually put the work in, like in real life… I made up a slang word years ago, and I’ve heard it said by someone else, someone I don’t know. It’s ‘Claf’. ‘C-L- A-F’. A Claf is just an idiot. Claf sounds like an idiot. Claf.
"We still have black hyper-masculinity as the dominant image in popular black music. I’m done with it” - Dean Blunt
DB: Did any slang originate from south [London]?
G: South is more just how they say things.
DB: South has a different pronunciation or accent.
G: People will take on Jamaican directly. They finesse it man, they finesse it.
DB: You know what? East is more cockney, we got all these pub cusses. Proper outside the pub cusses, gobby cusses.
G: [Laughs] I think south in general, culturally are quick to take on Americanism.
DB: South in general reminds me of Harlem, and I’m talking as far as the black community, because it has more of a West Indian community than Hackney does. Or we’ve got more Turkish.
G: Yeah it is like that.
DB: East London’s gentrification had many different phases, that’s the thing. The first wave was the one where I met a few interesting people.
DB: That place Alibi used to be called PIER 1. Akon used to come down there a lot, Ja Rule used to go down there, it used to be a proper African hip-hop spot. It used to have a boat sticking out, it was the spot! If it just went through that wave where black music wasn’t being so rinsed round here like it is now, it would have still been a poppin’ club in the area. Because people would have still gone to it. It didn’t survive the wave.
There was a time long ago when I used to put on nights and they’d be like ‘don’t play hip-hop because it brings in the wrong kind of people’. It happened all the time, any time we’d DJ round there the venue owner would come down from the social club upstairs and tell you off for playing hip-hop because it attracted, you know, ‘trouble’. And it’s funny, because that’s all you hear coming out the same clubs now.
I would like another form of popular black music to not be hip-hop, grime or dancehall. Or for there to be more variation of sensibilities. RnB is unfortunately not as popular as it used to be. And there was a time when RnB and hip-hop both co-existed. The fact that we still have black hyper- masculinity as the dominant image in popular black music is just like… I’m done with it man, I’ve been done with it. RnB is not looking like it’s going to have a resurgence in that way because that kind of black communication is just… people don’t really want to hear that.
G: It’s been obscured by capitalism. I’ve kind of moved my own work away from hyper-masculinity.
DB: It’s toxic, because in a short space of time, I mean it’s always been mainstream, but there’s something about it, the performance has become so… normalised. At the same time I don’t think politically about lyrics or whatever, partly cause I think black artists should still have the same freedom as white artists. Warts and all. And they should always exercise that freedom.
You know we’re doing that festival innit? In the beginning of May, three days. Got nuff people playing. Pressure and repetition is the main thing, and both help communicate the same thing. The pressure opens you up for the message to come through, and that can happen with different types of music, it doesn’t matter the genre. Just get blazed and go within. Shit is fire. Communicating with the congregation, like a church and it’s just three days of that, with a bell hooks lecture also. And we’re going to do an African martial arts, self-defense class for all black teenagers who want to come get free self-defence. [Babyfather member] Triumph Allah is going to run the classes.
When I was a yute, I wish they were teaching that in school. Some agency over the fear. Like growing up in the city, when you were young, and all that shit was going on, if we just knew we had the skill to deal with situations. Imagine in school if that was taught? Just a couple of simple disarming moves? That’s how I got into boxing as a yute. Serious man, it’s essential, the yutes need it b, simple disarming techniques man, just simple tings.
G: You’ve got your mandem yeah?
DB: Triumph is a master and I still have some boxing friends.
G: I’ve got some karate and kickboxing people…
DB: Let’s do it man. And teach some yutes how to deal with these punks.
G: This time now, times like these – do that bro. Just make people know so they’re ready.
Hear Dean Blunt and GAIKA’s collaboration at hackneyvsbrixton.com
GAIKA appears at Sónar Barcelona, 15-17 June 2017