Photo by Alvaro Grozny Hires.
Since the release of his debut mixtape, MACHINE, which now feels like a lifetime ago back in the heady days of 2015, Gaika Tavares – or, simply, GAIKA as he’s better known at this point – has been set about the hard work of carving out his own idiosyncratic niche as an artist. Exactly what defines that niche, however, is less clear than the fact that it exists: dancehall, trap, drone, industrial, gothic ambience and electronica influences have all not only had their place in GAIKA’s music over the last three years but also their own moment as the centrepiece of his artistry.
Speaking now about the forthcoming release of his debut full-length, BASIC VOLUME, it seems little has changed in that sense – change itself and a need for perpetual forward motion being the only sensible way to define his work. “I felt like I got copied a lot on MACHINE and SECURITY,” he explains, self-assured but entirely without hubris. Talking over Skype, Tavares is groggy from illness but characteristically forthcoming about his practice as an artist: “I felt like a lot of people copied my work,” he continues, “That’s fine – that’s why I do it. I just always wanna keep doing something new, so I always want to switch it up a little bit.”
It’s an admirable quality in any artist – to rightfully feel so accomplished in what they have created in such a relatively short amount of time, have the peer-released receipts to prove it, but nonetheless refuse to stagnate or take the easy route of trading on what’s come before. Still, though, if the people around you are imitating what you do then you must be doing something right – right?
“Or doing something new, you know?” He pauses for a second to laugh in good humour at the idea of imitation and inherent artistic value being somehow comparable before continuing. “I did MACHINE and SECURITY and people were like, ‘Oh you can make trap music sound progressive or you can make dancehall sound different – so let’s all do that,’ but I don’t want to be playing catch-up to my own thing, so I’m trying to step into uncharted territory somewhat.”
As much as the music itself, it’s this approach that undoubtedly made GAIKA such an attractive prospect to a record label as distinguished and progressive as Warp – home of Aphex Twin and Oneohtrix Point Never, to name only two of his more illustrious enigmatic label mates. As much as the company he now keeps on WARP’s roster, the names that appear alongside his own as collaborators on BASIC VOLUME, too, are not only noteworthy for their status but also for their careful curation and for the progressive mentality that they share with GAIKA as artists in their own right and which they bring with their contributions to the album. In that sense, singling out just one to talk about seems somehow dismissive, but – given the recent release of her own full-length debut, justified shift from relative public-facing obscurity to international cover star and the quality that she brings as a creative force to any piece of work – it seems only right to mention the SOPHIE-produced ‘Immigrant Sons (Pesos & Gas).’
In keeping with his own M.O., the track – the commingling of their two distinct sounds – I suggest, might not really be like anything people have heard before. And, while he explains that their coming to work together was entirely natural, a process as symbiotic and reciprocal as the feel of the track suggest, as ever the notion of taking to uncharted waters also had an impact on his decision to collaborate. “I guess it tickles me to keep people guessing,” Tavares explains with a typically good-natured laugh. “Hopefully this album has done that. I guess that’s one of the things I like to do musically. I just think you do what you do – there’s no merit in copying what other people do: there’s one sample on the whole record.”
While the DIY ethic is in itself admirable – particularly at a time now where, as an artist, he doesn’t necessarily need that ethos to get by – that, as with everything else GAIKA does, it has its motivations in more than just being able to say he did it all alone is more emblematic of the way he works than the process itself.
“I don’t sample things, I don’t reference other stuff, I just try and make something that makes sense to me and makes people like myself want to feel something. That’s what my aim is with music all the time. This album is kind of emotive subject matter a lot of the time and so I just wanted to make emotional music and make music that reminded me of being a child – not childlike music, just something that had that wonder of, like, when you hear something that takes you back.”
“I don’t want to be playing catch-up to my own thing, so I’m trying to step into uncharted territory somewhat.”
But, then, emotion has always been key to GAIKA’s music – like all good art it asks you to take a look inside and tap into what you might already be feeling, to access it on a more extreme level, rather than telling you what you exactly what you ought to be feeling at any given moment.
And for GAIKA – and, perhaps for any artist with a conscience in terms of how they use their voice – of course, those emotions cannot be removed from politics. “I’m not someone who sits around thinking about politics all the time – I’m just someone who says what’s on my mind. At some point in the mid-80s it became uncool as a musician to talk about politics because Michael Jackson or Prince never did or whatever – and that’s bullshit. Look at the times we live in. I don’t like the term politics; I don’t want to be called political but look at the times we live in. So, no, I won’t separate my politics or my opinion from my art,” he explains, “Because I literally can’t.”
We speak for a few moments more about the intricacies of using and misusing your voice as an artist before returning to the topic of BASIC VOLUME and exactly where this genre-sweeping record sits among his contemporaries. Open and open to interpretation as ever, he pauses, “I know people always want to ask “what are your influences” or “what is the genre of this music?” but I’d rather it just sounded like it is what it is.”