New Bloc Party album brewing. Kele Okereke is so fantastic I don't even know what to say. Although it's funny, these issues seem familiar somehow...
In the Shoreditch pub, Okereke gulps at his glass of wine. He is, justifiably, nervous about all this. A Weekend in the City is his unflinchingly honest depiction of a world of drugs, racism, religion, suicide, gay sex, violence, youth in hoodies and white vigilantes. This is London, it says, and this is now. The record doesn't presume to have all the answers; it is as confused and confusing as life is for young people. It also sounds terrifically exciting, a crunching mix of guitars, electronic beeps and multilayered vocals; a great leap forward for British music.
Here is London--giddy London
Is it home of the free or what?
'I just feel that every non-white teenager will know what I'm talking about when I say that certain avenues in this country are closed to you. Whenever I walk into a pub in London I feel frightened. There are certain activities that are still more predominantly white.' He and his flatmate, a white Austrian girl, have been abused by bigots who thought they were a mixed-race couple. The multicultural melting pot, Okereke concludes, is unworkable.
The lyric 'the buses have become cruel' in 'For England' was a reference to his memories of catching buses to and from school in Essex, and the terror unleashed by his fellow pupils on the top deck. The song then moves on to the horrible fate of David Morley, the gay barman kicked to death on London's South Bank - his teenage killers capturing his death on their mobile phones. The lyric 'England is mine, I'll take what I want' pinpoints a feral youth underclass for whom normal rules of civil society don't apply.
I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving
England is mine and it owes me a living
Also, as part of his stated intent to create a 'warts-and-all account of where my mind is right now', there are the songs about sexuality. Is 'I Still Remember' autobiographical?
'Not really,' he replies, before adding: 'I guess, partially.' Can we call it a gay love story? 'Yeah, but is it a love story? It's one person longing for somebody they can't really have. But it's not consummated. It's not a mutual thing. It's weird - a lot of straight women that I know have confided that they've got it on with other girls. It seems quite a healthy part of their sexuality. Whereas it seems that the same impulse is apparent in heterosexual men but there's no ...' He stops again. 'I can't tell you how many times I've been propositioned by straight boys.'
'Yeah, yeah. It happened a lot before all this [the band] started happening. This is probably a contentious issue, but I swear that I could always see it in people, in the way that guys would need to be touching other guys. You could see there was something they couldn't say aloud. And I saw it when I was at school. And I guess 'I Still Remember' is an attempt at trying to confront that. I don't think that my sexual impulse is that bizarre or foreign. [But] the way that it's supposedly discussed in mainstream culture is [that] it's a crazy thing. But I know from my own experiences a lot of heterosexual boys had feelings or experiences when they were younger. And that's not really ever spoken about, that un-spoken desire.
He'd love to touch
he's afraid that he might self-combust
I could say more
but you get the general idea
'Not two gay boys,' he continues, 'but the idea of two straight boys having an attraction, or there being an attraction that's unspeakable - that was the idea of that song. When was the last time you heard an interesting pop song that actually tried to give you a different perspective on desire?'
All the streets are crammed with things
eager to be held
I know what hands are for
and I'd like to help myself
you ask me the time
but I sense something more
and I would like to give you
what I think you're asking for
you handsome devil
'One of the things I was most disappointed about with Silent Alarm was I was hiding behind abstraction,' Okereke concedes. 'Then I really got into the Smiths. The lyrics were amazing, so focused. There's no worse sin as an artist than hiding behind cliches and abstraction. If you have something to say, it should be able to be understood by everyone.