One’s company, two’s a crowd: how collaboration is central to Jordan Rakei’s music mandate

Scroll down for an exclusive listen to Jordan’s live beach set for NTS at Dimensions 2016.  


Credit: Lewis Khan

“Living an artist’s life in London is really, really hard”, sighs Jordan Rakei, an onerous reality under the lustrous surface that is often forgotten. Known as a hub for music from all over, London is a mecca for many music creatives, but even once you’ve negotiated its living costs, obstacles remain round every corner. “Even things like paying for musicians” stifle progress for aspiring musicians, yet with this modern “struggle” that Jordan refers to, stems a mutual understanding for the need of support among artists. It’s this commonality and the resulting communities that became the theme of discourse when we caught up with Jordan in the wake of his first album Cloak.

While enjoying many opportunities to collaborate since moving to London, this is a far cry from his time starting out his musical endeavors in Brisbane. “Before I left Australia I was living with my mum and I had only ever collaborated with one person before”, he recalls. “We worked out of my bedroom and of course living with my mum made it easier.” Paying next to nothing on rent with a housemate who didn’t mind a racket would become a distant memory very quickly when he arrived in the capital. “Everyone’s a creative freelancer so all your neighbours are at home as well”, which has subjected much of Jordan’s work at home to his headphones, leaving additional production bits for the studio.

The other visible contrast was accessibility to live music. In London it’s normal to see massive acts throughout the week, but in Australia “you only get that sort of stuff on weekends.” Whether it be watching your favourite artists or meeting up with touring musicians for a jam, the opportunities in London for Jordan are vast.

That’s not that he’s disregarding Australia’s blossoming scene at the moment, very much seeping in soul. “I feel like before I left, even the dance music scene was leaning towards more of a soulful vibe, but I think that’s because the world I’ve immersed myself in is leaning towards that.” He makes reference to Robert Glasper’s Black Radio album as one that helped connect some of the dots for jazz, RnB and hip-hop in the mainstream, “so when Hiatus Kaiyote came out shortly afterwards, this really helped shed light on Australia.”


Credit: Lewis Khan

It’s a legitimate argument too, because while Glasper’s 2012 LP wasn’t the first crossover (most notably The RH Factor’s Hard Groove and numerous Meshell Ndegeocello cuts), its success really did put neo soul and jazz back on the map. “It’s great that soul, jazz and black music is becoming cool again”, Rakei proclaims and this holds true particularly with jazz. There seems to be a level of excitement and attention being given to acts from these worlds that has been missing for a long while until now,and, according to Jordan, “Australia having that association can’t be a bad thing. It’s good for me too I guess.”

Jordan sees this progression in Australia as more unique than just an extension of American traditions though. “They have their own sound of blip blop and boom bap mixed with alternative rock”, he observes, and Melbourne is fast becoming its epicentre, with a “progressive” sound that’s making them role models for much of the country. Aside from Hiatus Kaiyote, he reels off Silent Jay, Prequel, Loreli, Kirkis and REMI – the rapper on his album – as other notable names.

This light emanating from down under is undeniable and the other side of the Pacific is keen to harness its energy. “The big thing is”, Jordan suggests, returning to a recurring theme, “it’s got all of the closet producers out of their rooms and open to collaborations.” These partnerships have been pivotal to his own musical development and, more specifically, to making of his debut album, Cloak. “I feel like it’s integral in my creative process now”, as he explains a now near-instinctual process, “I try and get the song as far as I can take it and then get one or two other minds on it”. While Jordan admits that having two different minds in the same room can be hard, he recognises the advantage of helping take it “to another level, even shine a new light on it”. This extra perspective might not always come naturally, but “that’s also the beauty of it” he explains “you’re trying to solve problems on the spot with each other, so you just have to work it out”.

Proving useful for the production side of things, collaboration has helped Jordan when conceiving ideas. Its a practice he feels provides a great way to develop and learn from one another, by acting as “creative filters”; either through ideas or just being honest about each other’s work. “They’re not necessarily coming up with a chord run or a drum loop”, simply having a different perspective provides a reality check of sorts, encouraging him to “hone it in a little”, rather than “going off into a ridiculous vibe.” Despite preferring to work alone, Jordan is aware that there can be limitations. “A lot of artists are very stubborn and only want to work with themselves playing every instrument on the album,” but that doesn’t sit right with him. “I’d rather have a better sounding album than have the ego of being the musician on every song.”


Credit: Lewis Khan

This drew parallels to another soul man and one of Jordan’s influences: D’Angelo – specifically his creative development between Voodoo and Black Messiah. While making the former, D’Angelo worked almost exclusively with ?uestlove, playing pretty much every other instrument. When it came to the long awaited Black Messiah however, he brought musicians like bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Chris Dave into the studio to join the creative process and you can definitely hear the fuller sound palette as a result. “I think one of his massive influences is Prince, who literally did it all,” Jordan remarked. “I think on his first few albums, Prince played all the instruments, which I also did on my first two releases and I can tell there is a massive difference in quality compared to my album.” Letting other figures into the picture, like drummer Richard Spaven, Jordan admits dropping his guard and letting “better players play the better parts”. That, he believes, helped him make the transformation “from bedroom producer multi-instrumentalist to producer and with only vocals, keyboard and guitar.”

Having arrived at this point after the release of Cloak, Jordan doubts he can go back to his previous way of working. “I used to just programme drums, play a neo soul baseline, play some nice jazz chords, sing a few harmonies and that was a track.” Nowadays that can take him less than an hour, but there isn’t the same satisfaction he once had. Rakei feels he’s “changed as a person and what I want to speak about,” and also as a producer. “I might go back and make a folk album in a couple of years to get back to the bear bones of songwriting, but my head right now, is very much in a production headspace”. With this mindset, his intent is to “create a wall of sound in every song and overcomplicate everything. It’s all about experimenting a lot now.”

This same willingness to experiment was on full display as he treated Dimensions Festival to two contrasting sets this summer. The first of which he performed with his band on the NTS stage (which you can listen back to for the first time below), then subsequently, at the Rhythm Section stage, he adopted an MPC, laptop and keyboard combo for a more dance-oriented set. It’s not the first time Rakei has performed his material in this manner and this affinity with the dance floor – especially a certain Peckham one – has created an exciting versatility to his music.

Funnily enough, this journey with Rhythm Section came about off the back off a tweet Rakei posted about a Prequel release. Bradley got in touch and said they should catch up when he can to London, which just so happened to coincide with the Rhythm Section NYE party. “My body clock was obviously all out of it, but I loved it. We don’t really have that sort of vibe in Brisbane. No-one was worrying about anything,” he recalls with fondness, “they were just dancing to the music which was really cool. Bradley and I have been fairly close ever since.”

One of the first sets he played in London was at Canavan’s and, despite his sound not instantly lending itself to a Rhythm Section dance at peak time, it couldn’t have felt more at home. Those astute enough will have spotted Jordan continue this dance floor exploration into deep territories at a recent Rhythm Section under another alias and apparently we can expect this to be a more regular spectacle. “It’s really fun when people aren’t rocking up with the expectation to see me, they just think it’s this guy”, he says, clearly revelling in the mystery around it and the extra freedom it beings. “I can just get lost in the moment and not worry about anything”

Rakei certainly hasn’t shied away from his love for dance music. Rather he has added the style to a wide confluence of influences he has showcased in his material over the years and now finds himself sharing in their London based communities. “I’m really, really lucky”, he asserts, although we would argue his obvious talents have a large part to play. “I’m lucky that I know some of the tiny little pockets of a lot of different worlds”, he says, counting  Yussef Kamaal and Richard Spaven as close friends, then there’s the Are We Live Collective he’s co-created, with Tom Misch, Barney Artist and Alfa Mist. “It’s amazing because you hear so much about London before coming.” Not just the talent, but the variety – “the South London scene, the beat making scene, lots of singer songwriters as well” – have all been new and unexpected discoveries. “You can’t really do that until you move here,” his excitement audible he reflects on his move to the capital with satisfaction. “That typifies London more than anything, having all these little scenes that I’ve managed to find myself squeeze into.”

While it’s been a successful time for the Brisbane raised multi-instrumentalist, he admits it doesn’t always turn out as planned. “I’ve had a very lucky experience,” he started, “I’ve known others that have come for a couple of months, couldn’t handle it and had to leave, but I see myself living here for a long time,” We’re pleased to hear it.

Jordan Rakei’s Cloak LP is out now.
Photos show exclusively for STW by Lewis Khan
Register for Dimensions Festival 2017 from their website.


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