Bloc Party have lit up charts across the world, but lead singer Kele Okereke remains an enigma. We find out more
Time Out Dubai staff
Kele Okereke is a frontman whose reputation precedes him – but not for the most obvious reasons. He isn’t overtly arrogant in the way of the Gallagher brothers, and he doesn’t trash hotel bedrooms. In fact, his attitude is very much the opposite – journalists describe him as famously shy, while fans struggle to decode his sometimes oblique lyrics. But whichever way you choose to interpret him, there’s no denying the fact that this musician is more than a little media-unfriendly.
It’s unfortunate for him, really, because he’s been courted by the press ever since 2005 when his UK band, Bloc Party, unleashed their debut album, Silent Alarm. Arty, energetic and captivating, the indie LP became a massive critical success, was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize and found itself at the top of dozens of ‘album of the year’ lists. Electronica-influenced follow-ups A Weekend in the City and Intimacy developed the band’s sound, which has been likened to post-punk bands such as The Cure, Joy Division and The Smiths, and garnered acclaim while rocking high on the charts.
But with Bloc Party now on hiatus, Kele has a new focus: the DJ work he has been developing over the past three years and that he hopes will lift the roof at Alpha during a live set later this month. It’s a venue that will certainly suit his no-frills approach; for him, it’s all about the music. ‘As long as it’s intimate…’ he says. ‘I really love those shows; there’s nothing better than a room full of sweaty people getting down.’ When we catch up with him, Kele is at home in London dealing with various press calls regarding the current rumours that he is using Bloc Party’s hiatus to produce a solo album – something he will neither confirm nor deny. And that’s not the only thing he refuses to talk about: he deflects questions on his inspirations and influences with terse non-answers.
Our plan, or so we thought, was fail-safe: avoid the probing questions that are reported to cause offence (normally relating to his personal life or the tedious details of his everyday routines). But Kele isn’t playing ball. Perhaps we were preceded by a string of pushy journos, or maybe he stubbed his toe on his decks before the interview. Either way, the agenda is set and it seems there’s no getting around it.
It’s a shame, really. Having witnessed the captivating stage presence of Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan recently at a gig in Manchester, we couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the Bloc Party frontman: both are unconventional – slightly insecure perhaps – and conceal a hint of vulnerability. And they are both all the better for it: refreshing breaks from the lairy, hard-drinking blokes and strutting, immaculately bequffed art-rockers that have become the standard. But we wonder whether Kele’s decision to focus on DJing will negatively affect that poet persona – after all, he’ll be relying so much on the words of others. Has he given any consideration to the matter? Sadly, these are just more questions in a long list that are swiftly vetoed.
So, back to the agenda and the Alpha gig. ‘I mainly play electro and house, but the more classic dance stuff that influenced me when I was growing up,’ he reveals. ‘I guess DJing is just a different method of performing, you know – it’s still entertaining a room full of people for an hour or two. In my day job, when I’m with Bloc Party, I’m standing on stage with the guitar, but the mechanics of the performance are still about entertaining the crowd and the to-ing and fro-ing of energy – the energy that I give out while I perform and the energy that the crowd gives back. I definitely see parallels, but that’s why I started to treat it more like a performance and really amp myself for it.’
So does he have any stand-out, lift-the-roof-off tracks in his set list, we wonder? ‘Yeah, I have a few aces up my sleeve, but I don’t really give the game away before I start. I’m sure it’ll go off; it always does.’ And that about sums things up – characteristically, Kele once again keeps his cards close to his chest.
Kele Okereke plays a DJ set at Alpha on February 19; regular tickets are Dhs125 at www.timeouttickets.com. For VIP bookings, call 056 694 4577.
Party on (and on, and on)
Kele’s not the only celeb coming to town in the coming months. Here are five more.
Kaiser Chiefs Sadly not a live set, but two of the Chiefs – keyboardist Peanut and bassist Simon Rix – are pencilled in for a DJ set at Alpha this spring.
Reverend and the Makers There’s a strong possibility that this UK indie-rock band will do a live set here in the near future. Keep your eyes on Time Out for more.
Sting He’s stormed the charts with The Police, his own solo music and, quite amazingly, an album of 16th-century folk tunes. But expect classic hits at his gig at Meydan on March 4. See www.timeouttickets.com.
David Guetta This French DJ missed his last gig here because of private jet problems. Our hearts bleed for him. Hopefully he’ll make his rumoured June trip this year…