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Ikonika: into the fire

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  • As she prepares to release one of the year's bravest records, Ikonika talks fat kids and red marker pens
  • published
    29 Mar 2010
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Cooly G spins, Ikonika skanks

“I’m really into the way a producer can play with your emotions like that…”

I find it interesting how often you refer to Ikonika in the third person in interviews. I mean it’s not like The Rock referring to himself in the third person or whatever, but you do do it. Is there a distinction between Sara and Ikonika, and how has that changed since making music?

“It’s weird, because like I said I do try to put my personality into my music. But Ikonika is…It does have something to do with identity. I can’t quite fuse it together, I can’t become one person. There’s the contrast thing, and I do have a split personality, I think that has something to do with it. I am a Gemini as well. Maybe Ikonika’s the evil side, or Sara’s the evil side. I don’t know who’s the bad one.

Well there’s that whole second state thing…

“Yeah, maybe that’s Ikonika taking over? It’s so weird [laughs]”

With Funky, is it fair to say it’s influenced your production a lot over the last year or so?

“Definitely, particularly the more percussive side. I think that’s what dubstep lacked, particularly the half-step stuff, there was too much space. Which was fine, in like 2005, but obviously it was going to mutate and progress. I just want to explore more percussive things, and being a drummer as well, 140bpm is a pretty hard bpm to make if you want to put a lot of things in between the snare and the kick. But if you take the tempo down, then you can.

For me, a big part of your album, and it’s something that obviously you’re into, is that it shares a kind of balance with R’n'B. Something I love about R’n'B is that balance between toughness and vulnerability.

“Yeah, that’s what I love. Really big, edgy hip-hop beats with really smooth vocals; chuck a chord change in there and that’s it for me.

Also in structure, like Electrik Red’s ‘P is for Power’ is so tough and intimidating, and then it’s got that one breakdown that’s so open and emotive. Is that something you deliberately go for when you’re making tracks?

“Yeah, I was really into Rich Harrison. Like that Amerie track, ‘Talkin’ About’. You get really used to the beat, and then he smooths it out, for like one milli-second. I’m really into the way a producer can play with your emotions like that, and a singer that can understand that. I try to do that with my own music, and also incorporate their song structures, ’cause Glassjaw do the same thing.”

“You can feel something on a dancefloor, just close your eyes, put your hands up.”

Whether it’s R’n'B or Glassjaw, those sorts of breakdowns really reflect the unpredictability of real life emotion.

“Yeah, I’m really attracted to that. Dance music should be like that. When I DJ, I don’t just want to give people what they want; I wanna…not educate them, not be an authoritative figure, but show that you can feel something on a dancefloor, to just close your eyes, put your hands up. That’s what I love about dubstep, the sub-bass. That sub is the most emotional, warming sound.”

Your DJ sets have really blossomed in the last year.

“I see them as like my live set. I’m getting paid to DJ, and to me that’s really important, that I give something. I really do think about my sets, and to me it’s important that I say something with them. I don’t want to just play tune after tune, that’s not how I am, I want to try and build a story.

“I don’t think many DJs do that. They look for the glory, rather than taking parts of certain tunes and changing it, dropping it at certain bits. I’m not into jumping about, moshpit kind of stuff. If you want to do that to my tunes that’s cool, but that’s not what I want. I always say that the crowd is like a fat kid, and you don’t want to keep giving a fat kid sugar, and food that’s bad for them. If you give them good food, it’s better for them in the long run.

“I get the “when are you gonna play some dubstep love?” thing. It’s like, I will give you a good time, just give me a chance. And I’m not scared of that anymore, like I have played after some big headliners who’ve caused a moshpit, and you can smell the set, and I will make an effort to build a set.

“I dunno if I should say this, it’s pretty explicit, but from a girl’s point of view, whenever I hear really big wobble sets, I find it offensive. ‘Cause I’m picturing sex, and when these guys are playing big wobble sets it’s like coming on a girl’s face. And you’re reloading it, and you’re doing it again.”

Yeah, it’s kind of obnoxious and self-serving.

“And girls don’t want that. But whatever. I think people book me and know what I’m about – before it was just ‘yeah, this girl made ‘Please’ – that’s a dubstep song”

So you’re starting a label, right?

“Yeah, me and Malcolm have started one, we’re just shopping around for distribution at the moment. We’re going to release some of our own stuff and friends’ music, basically, or whoever we can find. We were actually going to release ‘Please’ on it, but Hyperdub’s a lot better.” [laughs]

Is there anything else due out? Contact’s only coming out on CD.

“There’s going to be three or four 12″s [of tracks from the album; first up is a 12" of 'The Idiot' with an Altered Natives remix], with remixes. FunkinEven’s done one, and Dam-Funk’s hopefully doing one. Well, he’s doing a cover of ‘Sahara Michael’.

‘Dckhdbtch’ is coming out, it’s going to be on a Planet Mu EP. We’re still trying to figure out the rest of the tracks, it might be a double-pack, it might just be a single 12″, we’ll see. Also Mike [Paradinas, Planet Mu boss] might be releasing my juke tracks, we’ll see.

So a last question, which is quite a general, hard one. Obviously it’s been quite a busy couple of years from ‘Please’ to where you are now, with the album ready to come out. What have been the most memorable highlights of Ikonika’s journey to date, and where do you envision it going?

“I guess ‘Please’, not knowing how many people would love it; not knowing what the reaction would be like. ‘Idiot’ as well, that was the first tune I made on Logic, so that was a good achievement. And then having the album in my hands; I got them on Monday, and I was just looking at the CDs and thinking how beautiful they looked, all red. Just geeky, gushy moments like that make me happy. Getting to DJ all over Europe; I love it, not so much the traveling but I love the perks.

And where do I think it’s gonna go? I don’t like thinking about the future. I want the album to do alright. I’d like to make money off records, but no one on Hyperdub does that apart from Burial. [laughs]

“I kind of think about life in terms of branches. Like if this whole UK dance scene is a tree, then maybe I’m on my own branch. And that could either stop growing, or it could start to flower. One thing for the future though, I don’t want people to copy my style. I was actually speaking to Flying Lotus this week, it was for a piece for XLR8R. I asked him, “people in the dubstep scene really liked your music, and it was a real breath of fresh air – did you ever see that coming?” And he was like, “no, but one thing I will tell you is that a lot of you UK cats are copying what I’m doing, and making beat music, and if you just do your own thing, with your own personality, then it’ll be fine.” I mean I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I wouldn’t like people to clone me, like when too many people start sounding the same, and it cuts off the scene. I don’t think it will, but there’s a chance it might.”

Tom Lea


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