- Photography by Mr Angelo Pennetta
- Styling by Mr Dan May, Style Director, MR PORTER
- Words by Mr Tom M Ford, Features Writer, MR PORTER
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The week leading up to meeting Mr Kele Okereke is eventful to say the least. Shortly after MR PORTER hears "Ratchet", the breakneck single off Bloc Party's new EP The Nextwave Sessions, the lead guitarist Mr Russell Lissack announces that the band will go on an indefinite hiatus after their headline slot at the UK's Latitude Festival later this month.
This is the second break of their 10-year career and, known to be a reluctant interviewee, it seemed to be a testing time to speak to Mr Okereke - and that's without mentioning a quote from a recent interview: "I try to avoid fashion people, to be honest." Taking a seat after our shoot, however, he appears warm and open, yet shy, with a manner more thoughtful than thorny. "It was a laugh, actually," he says. "It's nice to be pushed out of your comfort zone." Any self-awareness ("I understand what the goal is - it's an advert. You've made something you're really proud of. You're not my shrink, this is about selling records") is tempered with mirth ("I know this is going to sound awful, but I've been wearing tracksuits recently... a velour one for flying. It's so comfortable!").
From left: Messrs Lissack, Tong, Gordon Moakes and Okereke
Hot on the heels of Bloc Party's biggest world tour, the first single from the four-piece since 2012's LP Four packs the punch of platinum-selling debut Silent Alarm - and then some. "I think 'Ratchet' is actually a bit misleading," explains Mr Okereke. "[The EP] was about letting things simmer more organically. It feels like the next step for us as a band. If Four was lots of confrontational colours such as black and red, then I see this EP as more of a watercolour. The ideas are a lot softer and transparent. I'm really proud of it."
The story-telling, seductive "Montreal" and the offbeat drums and discordant guitars on "French Exit" are classic Bloc Party, with added maturity. "Children of the Future" demonstrates lyrical daring and an expanded vocal range. Over six tracks, The Nextwave Sessions shows growth and evolution - with highlights being "Ratchet" and "Obscene", which were produced by Mr Dan Carey, who has also worked with Bat For Lashes and Hot Chip.
The ability to reinvent themselves is the reason why Bloc Party are a more intelligent and lasting product of the early 2000s post-punk revival (see The Futureheads and Kaiser Chiefs). After signing to Wichita Recordings in 2004, their outstanding debut - full of social and political wit - was followed by 2007's A Weekend in the City - a successful experiment with electronica. Glastonbury, a world tour and US success beckoned. Intimacy, released in 2008, was their third LP, and sought to combine Mr Okereke's varied musical tastes, including R & B, on a more personal record. While touring that album, "things", Mr Okereke has said in the past, became "toxic".
Whereas other bands might either plough on or split in a slew of catty comments, a time-out in 2009 improved creativity. In 2010 Mr Okereke released electro-pop solo album The Boxer (the record he is most proud of - a "watershed moment"), and Bloc Party came together for aptly named Four - a joyous return to raw production values. "We were excited about getting into the studio again after our break. There was lots of energy to expel."
The Nextwave Sessions is out on 12 August
With collective creativity still evident on The Nextwave Sessions, one wonders about the basis of the approaching hiatus. "I don't know exactly what Russell said. I don't know any band that..." he trails off. "The issues we have as individuals are pretty common. It's a collective identity versus a separate one. Every band I know reports the same feelings. I think there's something to be said for not airing your dirty linen in public. But then I think there's something to be said for being truthful in every situation."
Surprisingly for a man who likes to keep things private, Mr Okereke stands by this when talk turns to more personal influences. "At the moment, I'm kind of in love again, and I haven't been for a long time. So it's something that is in the back of my thoughts the whole time. That's the thing that I'm dealing with in my writing now - how we exist separately, but together..." he snaps out of this stream of thought. "That sounds really naff," he says with a smirk.
Mr Okereke is experiencing "an exciting time" musically as well as personally, rediscovering the two-step grime, soul and funk music with which he grew up. "I don't know what's next for us as a band, but I know what's resonating with me."
So, after Latitude Festival - what's the next step? "I don't know how honest I can be. Look at me - what a liar I am! The only concerns are getting this EP out there and playing the songs. I have no idea about the future, but I'm a creative person." And, it's fair to say, someone quite comfortable on his own? "I think that's probably where I should leave it!"