Block rocking beats

Adam ychawski catches up with Olugbenga from Metronomy on his DJ tour

Heading out on a DJ tour, after being in a successful band like Metronomy, can be both a blessing and a curse. Anyone who’s shared much love for the electro-pop brilliance of 2007’s Nights Out will have undoubtedly been itching to hear anything now that band have gone quiet, recording their follow-up. Naturally promoters see the obvious benefit of pointing this out and hence the curse of being forever known as ‘that guy’ from Metronomy.

Olugbenga Adelekan is that guy from Metronomy, or more specifically that guy who plays bass guitar. He joined the line-up in 2009, having been a friend of a friend of singer Joseph Mount, after Gabriel Stebbing, previous bassist, left to work with his own band. Does all this Metronomy branding leave him feeling slightly used? “Oh no not at all, if anything it’s the other way round. Although when people book me I try to make it clear that it’s just me that’s going to be there.” With the new album reaching completion, Olugbenga has taken the opportunity to do a short stop DJ tour with appearances in London, Norwich, Leeds, Manchester and York’s own Fibbers (a sample of his Fibbers live set is included below). As a bassist, and also a singer for previous band Akira, DJing for Olugbenga has been something of a new territory. “I’ve been around people making electronic music pretty much since I moved to London in 2005 and it’s something I’ve listened to since I was a lot younger, so learning how to DJ and do mixes was always something I was interested in. But I always played in a bunch of bands, so never really had the time. Now I just play in one band, and we had this big break from touring. So while we were on our last big tour (October last year – Australia, New Zealand, West Coast US and Iceland), I started teaching myself how to use Ableton Live.”

Since then Olugbenga has posted a number of mixtapes on his blog, all of which are mash-ups, with samples meticulously cut from everywhere to some of the most bizarre combinations. Traditionally, mixtapes have always been full songs played consecutively, but in the early 2000s that all changed. With the advent of more advanced mixing technology and perhaps a generation’s shorter attention span for full length tracks, mash-ups were born. Cutting the best track of an album became cutting the best seconds of a track. Mash-ups might have begun as an underground movement from fear of record label repercussions, but in 2001 it became popularised by 2 Many DJs with their 2001 album As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 and also by Girl Talk’s Secret Diary released a year later, ironically on label Illegal Art. A decade later, are mash-ups still a more interesting alternative to the album? “I was having a conversation with my friend Tom from Three Trapped Tigers about why 2009 hadn’t been a good year for albums. I told him that this hadn’t been my experience of 2009, but that was perhaps because I had been listening to lots of mixtapes instead of traditional albums.” So does this mean that mash-ups translate well live? “I regard the ‘live’ DJ thing as a bit separate from what I’m doing with the mixtapes. People have a different head on when they go out. They want to hear things they recognise and I think the best DJs are the most generous ones. It’s arrogant just to play things you think people should hear, to try and educate people or show them how knowledgeable you are. Maybe that’s why Girl Talk is my favourite party DJ. And that’s why my mix from Fibber’s doesn’t have any African music on it. This will change when I’m a bit better known and I have people coming to see me who know my mixtapes, but I think the live sets will always be quite light on the ‘missionary’ side of things.”

Olugbenga’s latest mixtape ‘The ‘G’ is silent’ isn’t particularly light on the missionary side, featuring a Christian rock intro over Timbaland produced beats and even a sample of Mr Eko of Lost reading the bible. “That sample was a joke about what people think of as being Nigerian. I didn’t actually listen to any Nigerian music when I was growing up. My parents and family are Christians (I was, but no longer am) and they practice their religion with a particularly African fervour, one manifestation of which is the fact that they do not listen to non-Christian music.” One thing that most of the mixes share though, is an unashamedly self-referential sample of Olugbenga’s name, which he has chosen to keep as his DJ moniker. Having grown-up in Nigeria, I asked whether this was a way of reasserting his identity. “Yeah completely, I think that people who have African heritage aren’t really very visible in the mainstream. I didn’t listen to any Nigerian music when I was growing up. Kids growing up in Nigeria pretty much all dream about being able to move to Europe or North America, with the US probably top on the list and the UK coming second. So my friends and I listened to American hip-hop and R&B. Thriller and Bad were the soundtrack to more kids’ birthday parties than I can remember. Then when I was about 13, one of my uncles played a Fela Kuti tape in the car and my ears pricked up. I was mainly into gospel music then, but I did think ‘Ooh, what’s this?’” World music is one of those genres, that when mentioned, usually results at best with a vacant expression from most people. Olugbenga recently addressed this alienation in an article on Drowned in Sound expressing his wish for people in the West to become more familiar with Nigerian and other African musicians. “Something people haven’t heard enough of is African artists who aren’t doing ‘world music’. I think this is an aspect of what I have to ‘say’ or add to the musical conversation. And, being Nigerian, it’s something close to my heart.”

Although it seems that the West’s interest is already growing with a number of successful mainstream artists drawing influence from world music. Vampire Weekend, for example, broke the monotony of the New York indie scene by incorporating a calypso influenced sound to their music. As well as this, artists like M.IA. have gone being relatively unknown to being a mainstream hit through the introduction of Sri Lanken influences to the typical pop song. With the success of films such as Slumdog Millonaire, Hindi song ‘Jai Ho’ composed by A. R. Rahman reached 8th on the “Top Digital Tracks” chart of Billboard. It was then somewhat hijacked by the dwindling Pussycat Dolls and gave them a number 1 hit in Finland, Ireland, Australia, Greece, and Turkey and spent 25 weeks inside the UK top 100 singles, making it their second longest running hit. Are Western artists exploiting world music by appropriating it for their own success? “I don’t think there’s a problem, if they are making good music. I find it interesting though that world music is less of a sub-culture in itself now, but rather it is becoming visible in other already established sub-cultures, like artists that fall under the umbrella of indie or rap. Maybe world music doesn’t have a future on its own.” Having previously worked on the PR for the BBC Radio 3 world music awards, it’s understandable that Olugbenga feels exposure is part of the problem. “I’m lost for words that Mark Thompson [BBC Director-General] can with a straight face close so diverse and unique radio stations like 6Music and the Asian networks, but continue paying ridiculous amounts for presenters like Chris Moyles who are replaceable by any commercial radio station.” With the proposed closure of more diverse radio stations like 6Music and the Asian Networks, it seems like any voice for world music is in danger of being gagged. With the only alternative exposure for world music relying on mixtapes and its uptake by Western artists, perhaps mash-ups are once again the answer in popularising a relatively unknown genre to the mainstream.

For more on OLUGBENGA check out his blog, The G Is Silent.

Metronomy are currently working on their third album.

Download the Mixtape.

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