The musician discusses his noisy contribution to Get Up, Stand Up Now at Somerset House

There’s no mistaking Gaika’s exhibit at Get Up, Stand Up Now, the monumental show at London’s Somerset House featuring 100 artists whose work reflects 50 years of black creativity in Britain. Keeping good company in the Mothership room alongside pieces by Mowalola Ogunlesi, Abe Odedina and Grace Wales Bonner, the musician’s piece resembles a retro media centre – a techno beast comprising wires, security cameras and screens all held together by scaffold poles and chains. You’re drawn to plug yourself into it and listen to his ghettofuturist sounds, even though it’s clear Big Brother will be watching you.

Gaika explains that this brutal construction is the physical manifestation of his recent experimental mixtape, Heaters 4 The 2 Seaters. “This work began with the idea of what mixtapes mean to me. I fell into this rabbit hole of 90s rap music and came to the conclusion that it’s 100 per cent satire on capitalism,” he says. “The way I found myself visualising it, is you’ve got a white man and an Asian man fighting over the affections of somebody to the point of tearing them apart, and us as black people, as Africa descended people, are looking on with horror and fascination and satirise it. That’s what rap music is.”

He continues: “From there I wanted to make something that was about being distracted or not examining your environment; people taking the mixtape at face value. So I built something that can functionally play the music that collides with the aesthetic of video games. And while you’re playing this game, you become blissfully unaware of your surroundings. On the surface you are listening to music but then maybe you find a message within it. It’s a convoluted way of expressing something, but that’s the point. There are layers to our music, to street music, but it gets labelled as simple, without density, and for sale. So I’ve made something that starts with this mixtape premise but looks like something from popular culture.”

Heaters 4 The 2 Seaters features contributions Dean Blunt, Spragga Benz, Azekel, and more. Its arresting sounds can be experienced on Spotify for sure, as can the just released follow on, Headlights & Heaters 8, but Gaika’s multi disciplinary mind-set and far-reaching ideas have never been contained within sonic frequencies alone, however accomplished and unflinching.

Gaika Tavares was born and raised in Brixton, south London to Jamaican and Grenadian parents. He cut his teeth in the rap crew Murkage and released two solo mixtapes before the EP Spaghetto in 2016. His 2018 debut album Basic Volume was an ode to his recently passed father and deep dived into the migrant experience via its industrial electronics and combative basslines. He also flexes his muscles as Dazed’s political editor-at-large, for which he’s tackled the Metropolitan Police’s war on drill music and sat down with Jeremy Corbyn to discuss climate change.

“What I make are sound systems that show their physical processes. They’re not pretty and they’re meant to be oppressive”

Last August he hosted System, a month-long collaboration with Boiler Room and Somerset House Studios (where he’s a resident) that took the form of a large scale sound system installation that explored the significance of Notting Hill Carnival to black British culture and marking 70 years of Windrush, subjects also close to the heart of Get Up, Stand Up Now curator, Zak Ové. Gaika’s latest immersive piece, created especially for the show, extends that conversation and even turns the satire on himself.

“I was thinking about control. Why are we hurting ourselves to get rich? I see some guy with a Lamborghini and I know its nonsense to desire that but there’s a part of me that thinks if I work more, I can buy this obscene thing. I have been indoctrinated by this system by playing this absurd game,” he reflects. “The title refers to all these sleek black objects from my teenage recollections – PlayStations, TVs, BMWs with souped up stereos. Now Apple has taken the edge off and shrunken everything and we blindly trust all of these soulless devises. But what I make are sound systems that show their physical processes. They’re not pretty and they’re meant to be oppressive.”

Gaika’s activations and presence at Somerset House speak to their location also. His parent named him after a South African Xhosa ruler who had connections to the Somerset lineage and he’s acutely aware of the significance of its current progressive programming within a building originally built on the spoils of colonialism.

“A lot of people feel like they don’t have agency to come to museums like this but I feel that they were built off of our backs so I’m going to partake. Hopefully with System being so popular, and with Get Up, Stand Up Now being here now, it will create a tradition of Somerset House embracing London’s African and Caribbean diasporic culture every summer,” he says. “It’s important to understand the gravity of the situation. If there’s ever been a time to be making your point about the political climate, it’s now. All too often things become atomised but this is a powerful exhibition.”

Next Gaika is working on his second album and is developing an audio visual live show with a 10-piece jazz ensemble and 3D renderings to take place at Camden’s The Roundhouse on 29 October. Unsurprisingly, the artist is also being drawn into the new and expansive world of Artificial Intelligence, too. “My little brother works in statistical inference so we’ve been talking about building this brazen head,” he says with a sage smile. “You ask it a question and it sings the future back at you.” Consider yourself warned.

Read our interview with Zak Ové about Get Up, Stand Up Now here

Get Up, Stand Up Now is on view in the West Wing Galleries at Somerset House, London until 15 September 2019

Heaters 4 The 2 Seaters is out now on Warp

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Published on 17/08/2019