A talk with Jane Penny, TOPS’s vocalist, at her home back in Montreal
Two self-released mixtapes and one EP on Warp Records have made GAIKA one of the most exciting prospects in modern electronic and pop music. His solo work stands out for its daring emotionality, sound design and mix of registers. GAIKA is an outspoken interviewee who, in life as in his music, likes shifting where ‘normal’ is – or is supposed to be. The result? An interview about influences and artistic perspectives
Photos by Guillaume Blondiau in London, UK
Interview by Rafael Severi/DJ Sensu
Your music is often described as dealing with issues of race and masculinity. But often it seems to transcend those things.
I don’t really fit into a box so people who interview me ask me about identity politics and I then say how I feel the world is today – not how I feel the world should be or how I want the world to be. I try to make art that is utopian or ideal, but my philosophy is not caught up in identity politics. I make my music to be transcendent to those things, but in doing so it then means I have to have a conversation about them. In interviews they then ask me about race and masculinity. Of course I have a political opinion, but that’s not all I have to say.
I try to make art that is utopian or ideal, but my philosophy is not caught up in identity politics
Is there a science fiction influence on your work?
I think I make music that is a reflection of my reality. I’m not a science fiction nerd. My dad was a scientist so I’m more interested in science fact. But I do dream of tomorrow. My work is kind of based in a speculative world, but that doesn’t mean science fiction. Most of my music is made on analogue equipment and on real-world instruments when it comes to percussion, for example. I don’t have the newest plug-ins. I do a lot with my voice which I then manipulate into textures just to give it humanity. What I am not into is that really perfect pop music sound. To me, that is science fiction and it terrifies me. It’s about frequencies that are supposed to have an effect on your body but that don’t actually mean anything. Given that I use quite old-school equipment, the fact that I often get asked about science fiction I find quite ironic.
There’s something unashamedly romantic about your music.
My music is unashamedly romantic and that is because I am. With my music I try to represent who I am and what I do. I am out in the world. I have my loves and losses. We all do.
And what about the grunge influence?
I only try and make stuff that takes me back to that pure feeling of being young with everything being new and incredibly intense, as if I’m trying to recreate the feeling I have when watching this movie about my life, about my prepubescent and teenage years. Sometimes some of those influences come out. It’s definitely there. I don’t necessarily know where it comes from.
Do you remember the first music that had an impact on you?
That would have been Berlin with ‘Take My Breath Away’ from the movie Top Gun. Or Roxette with ‘It Must Have Been Love’. I’ve been pretty much making that record over and over again. [Laughs]
Shabba Ranks with ‘Ting-A-Ling’ was also one of those first pieces of music that impacted me. Those are the things I grew up with, the things my parents listened to or that people would play at family parties. When you’re a small kid and you watch Top Gun, you have no idea whether the music is cool or not. It just has a big emotional impact. Overblown rock ballads and the beginning of dancehall, those are things I remember.
My music is unashamedly romantic and that is because I am
Is there more to GAIKA than just the music?
For me there has to be more than putting a record out and then doing a show. I want to engage with people, stimulate them and make a point. An artist functions as society’s conscience. If not it’d be simple self-indulgence, which is something many mainstream artists of today do. I want to do stuff that is musically interesting with lyrics that matter. I don’t know if I’ve been successful but that’s my aim.
GAIKA plays Different Class at 019 in Ghent on 26 August. The festival is free for members. Join here.