“I just woke up like 15 minutes ago, so you’re getting the real Kele this morning”
It’s early in the UK, and the Bloc Party front man is up and on the phone, stifling the occasional yawn as we discuss the bands’ new album, upcoming Australian visit, and an important anniversary.
2015 sees Bloc Party preparing to release a new album, Hymns, their fifth and the first featuring a new line-up. 2015 also marks ten years since the release of their remarkable debut Silent Alarm. Hailed as a defining moment in modern British music, it seems implausible that it was released ten years ago, given the influence that it still has on music, and the special place the album still has in the hearts of fans.
In 2005 the UK charts were dominated by the likes of James Blunt, Madonna, and The Scissor Sisters. In amongst the pop was Silent Alarm, reaching number three on the UK charts, selling over 500,000 copies in the UK alone, and going on to sell well over a million copies worldwide.
Silent Alarm, however, is an album that transcends mere commercial success. It was a debut that defined a moment, and a change, in the British musical landscape. Twitter didn’t exist, Facebook was just a year old, and it was MySpace that ruled social media. The now defunct site played a big role in the groundswell of international popularity for Bloc Party, in particular when they released ‘Banquet’ as part of a double A side in 2004.
We asked the singer his thoughts on the iconic debut ten years on, and his feelings towards the glowing narrative to which the album is still described.
“It’s nice that people say nice things about the record, but I also have the mindset that I have my own relationship with the record that won’t really be…affected by other people’s opinions.”
[include_post id=”448988″] Looking back to that time is a bit of a blur for the singer, however he does remember the daunting experience it was making the album, being the first time the band travelled away from home to record. It was a long cold month in a Copenhagen studio with then relatively unknown producer Paul Epworth (now an Academy Award winning producer of the likes of Adele, Coldplay, Florence and the Machine, and many more).
Like a lot of musicians, listening to any previous recordings turns Okereke into his own harshest critic.
“I’m proud of it, but to me I also hear the things that I’m not so proud of… you hear things in it that you would like to change, things that you don’t feel you achieved so successfully, but that is the same for every record I’ve made.”
The success of ‘Banquet’ in 2004 meant there was interest in Bloc Party internationally, something the band were keenly aware of. Yet there was no way of knowing the worldwide reaction once the album was released.
“We just wanted to make sure we got it down (the album) the best we could, (but) we had no idea that it would go on and connect with so many people.”
Silent Alarm was not only a success with the fans, but gained wide-ranging praise from the music media, including influential tastemaker NME. The magazine awarded it album of the year, beating some serious competition, including Arcade Fire’s Funeral and the 2005 Mercury Prize winning Antony and the Johnstons I am a Bird Now. Was such critical acclaim something important to Bloc Party however?
“For sure it was nice to have accolades bestowed upon it as a record, but it didn’t necessarily validate us as musicians. That feeling came rather from travelling the world, seeing people and performing music in front of them”
“I remember one of the first times we came to Australia after the record came out, seeing how excited people were for the music. That was the point where I realised the music had really connected with people. If we could travel all the way to Australia and elicit these kind of crazy reactions with the music that we’d made, then I realised that something was actually happening. That is where the sense of achievement came from in 2005, just seeing how the music that we had made connected with people.”
One would think that being abruptly cast into the international musical spotlight would create some difficulties, and a certain amount of unwanted attention. Yet it seems that Bloc Party have somehow managed to insulate themselves from most of the downfalls of fame.
“Of course there are times when I get stopped on the street and people want to take photos…but it’s never a chore, it’s always nice speaking to people that have taken your music into their hearts. When I’m not on the road or doing this sort of thing I live a very normal life, and that is something I cherish. If my anonymity was challenged… I don’t think it would be such an enjoyable experience for me anymore.”
With so much success from a debut album, one would imagine that whenever the band head into the studio there would be a palpable sense of pressure and expectation to again repeat what they had already done, to deliver another Silent Alarm. Okereke accepts there is a sense of expectation for every record, yet he doesn’t feel that there is any pressure to recreate where they have been in the past.“it’s always nice speaking to people that have taken your music into their hearts.”
“As a band we have always taken creative u-turns, always tried to push ourselves outside of where we are expected to be, and that’s what we’ve done with every record. I feel that at this point in our career people that have been following us kind of understand that that’s what we are about. I don’t feel any pressure to recreate where we’ve been, I think ultimately that would be quite a destructive thing for us.”
Bloc Party will return to Australia for Falls Festival, Southbound and just two sideshows. Although regular visitors to Australia, especially Splendour in the Grass, this is the first Falls Festival for the band.
Having visited Australia mostly in the wintertime, Okereke is excited to be out here for summer, which will not only avoid the start of the UK winter, but also allow him to “wear shorts and sandals and stuff, and prance around.”
Not sure what the singer of one of the biggest bands in the world looks like prancing around in sandals, but it is certainly something we are looking forward to finding out.
Australian Tour Dates
30th December | Falls Festival | Lorne
31st December | Falls Festival | Marion Bay
1st January | Falls Festival | Byron Bay
5th January | Forum Theatre | Melbourne
7th January | Enmore Theatre | Sydney
8th-10th January | Southbound Festival | Busselton
Tickets and info at www.blocparty.com