Photography Kay Ibrahim

meet bakar, london’s next gen rockstar with skepta’s seal of approval

And get an exclusive peek at his new video while you’re here, too.

by Douglas Greenwood
15 May 2018, 2:12pm

Photography Kay Ibrahim

Right now, London’s rock and roll scene couldn’t sound more stale. Stuck in the past, painfully unprogressive and, despite being a genre pioneered by people of colour, sorely lacking diverse voices. If there was ever a time for musical anarchy -- now would be it.

Just as the genre feels like it’s on the verge of being shelved by tastemakers (with grime shaping the political conversation in rock’s semi-embarrassing absence), there’s a new kid who could bring the genre screeching into 2018 with his own punkish sound. Born and raised in Camden, his name is Bakar -- and like every good rockstar, he’s woefully hard to get hold of.

Unlike most fledgling stars these days, Bakar’s fanbase wasn’t built on shameless social media promo -- he says he’s barely on it. Instead, Bakar made his name the way most rock icons of the past did: he made music; people listened; and they passed it on. Over the past year, songs like Big Dreams and Scott Free, which he performed for the cult Berlin music series Colors a little while back, have introduced Spotify deep-divers to his stuff. More recently, he made waves with All In, his infectious, self-released single, and he’s now working on his creative direction with streetwear’s man of the moment, Jordan Vickors.

Quite refreshingly, Bakar doesn’t have a phone, and so I’m passed two mobile numbers before eventually getting him on the other end of the line. I’ve caught him at a mad moment: he’s on a bus to Leeds for a gig, with 10 of his closest mates -- Jordan included -- occupying the other seats. It sounds like he’s calling me from a cupboard at a house party; yells of laughter and conversation in the background, but would you expect anything less from a guy who seemed to burst into music with a miraculous kind of confidence?

After all, his work has made its way into the hands of some of the most prolific people in music and culture right now. At the time of writing, Skepta, Virgil Abloh and Elton John have all professed their love for this kid. So early in his career, that must be strange to him? “It’s energy, but at the same time it doesn’t really mean anything,” he admits, somewhat unexpectedly. “I’m so happy to be acknowledged, but it can be dangerous.“ In what way? “It’s why I’m not on social media really. Every day, you just get people telling you how good you are. But shouts to Elton John! It helps me!” He backtracks a little, as if he’s just realised it might sound like he’s dismissing the praise of legends.”I don’t want to be snobby about it -- it’s super nice, but you’ve got to keep it moving, and take it as a sign that what you’re doing is working!”

All of the love so far comes full circle with the arrival of his first full length project, BADKID: the product of spending 18 months in a tiny London studio, recalling the past few years of his life. Capturing everything from his desire to do something greater with his life, to both broken relationships and flourishing ones, it takes the sonic tropes of rock and roll and twists them into something obscure, fascinating and wildly contemporary. Tracks like the hazy and skittish 4am sound like they could’ve been produced by Andre 3000, while BADlands has so much streetwise energy it could’ve come from Mike Skinner himself.

“Nothing is new at this point -- we’ve heard it all before,” Bakar reminds i-D. “My producer and I thought about how we could innovate things that we love already, and so BADKID is a scrapbook -- an intense half hour of different moods and ideas. Sonically, it’s the sound of London right now. I think that’s why people are gravitating towards it.”

The Max Robson-directed video for BADlands, which premieres here exclusively on i-D, sees Bakar bounce around Camden Town trying to outrun some policemen, winding up in some alternate, fantastical world of his own imagination instead. Like a musical middle-finger, it sounds like a statement on society’s obsession with racially profiling young black men, the pressures of life in London, and the relevance of the monarchy in the modern age. “The song sums up the last four years of my life,“ Bakar claims. “It’s a kind of social commentary, I guess. Hyperrealism!”

Despite the fact his lyrics often take lengthy stabs at the establishment or the disenfranchisement of young people trying to make it big today, Bakar says his music isn’t purposely political. “It’s not really important to me,” he shrugs, “I’m not a politician, but I’ll say what’s on my mind.” Perhaps that intrinsically vocal approach to writing came from his adolescence. Having been, in his own words “sent to the country” after a rebellious stint in school, his music taste expanded, from rappers like Jay Dilla and Dipset, to more indie-rock like Foals, whose album Antidotes was the first to “fuck [Bakar] up”. Those contrasting genres have given him a singular sound that’s uninhibited, loud and hard to pin down.

If the seismic rise of grime has given young people growing up in London and other metropolitan cities something to aspire to, thanks to Skepta, Wiley and Stormzy’s success, then it might be that Bakar could just be the pioneer of a new rock and roll era. “I’m trying to be in a whole different world,” he tells i-D. And what about the idea of being hailed a rockstar? He laughs, and repeats my question to the friend sitting next to him. “I am a rock and roll star!”-- he punctuates each word, his smile audible from a sweaty bus halfway up the M1. “That’s a fact!”

Bakar’s debut project BADKID is out on 22 May. Catch him at TGE this Friday 18 May.

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Virgil Abloh