Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke Is Just Getting Started
BY Matthew Breen
May 14 2012 6:00 AM ET
Okereke describes Bloc Party’s first songs as naive, scrappy. “Although we could all play quite well, I don’t think as a band we had a collective discipline,” he says. “We were really just kind of railing against all the other guitar bands we heard in Britain doing a safe, singer-songwriter-y kind of sub-Coldplay sound, and we just didn’t want to do that. We wanted to make something that had a bit of fire in it, and we just kept that up until making the record Silent Alarm.”
The band got its big break when its demo of the song “She’s Hearing Voices” made its way into the hands of a BBC 1 radio DJ. The band was signed to a record deal in 2003. Silent Alarm was released in 2005 and reached number 3 on the U.K. charts. It was a critical smash, hailed as mature, expansive, arty, and the 2005 answer to Franz Ferdinand. It achieved gold certification within 24 hours of its European release.
But until the band had been signed, Okereke, then an English literature student at King’s College London, kept his musical ambitions hidden from his parents. “I didn’t tell them until we had a record deal, because I knew they’d freak out. But I knew what I was doing.” He took classes until it was clear the band was going to be signed, at which point he stopped attending lectures.
“The one thing that guides you is a very intense sense of passion about it,” he says of starting a band from scratch. “There are no rules, but you learn because you have to, because it’s important to you. And I’m still learning now. We’re making this record now and we’re still learning about things. It’s a very peculiar experience. It’s like a marriage between four people.”
Bloc Party released A Weekend in the City in 2007 and Intimacy in 2008. Both albums performed very well on U.K. charts, peaking at number 2 and 8 respectively, and Intimacy entered the Billboard 200 charts in the U.S. at number 18. At the Reading Festival in 2009, Okereke told audiences, “We won’t be back here next year…or the next few years after that.” He’s candid that the band members’ relationships weren’t really in their best condition by the end of the last record, and initially none of them was sure if or when there’d be another collaboration. The band took a sabbatical.
In June 2010, Okereke released The Boxer, a solo album recorded as Kele, no surname. It was well reviewed, both at home and stateside, as a pop-rock album with driving dance beats and more lyrical complexity than the bulk of dance albums. In the video for “Tenderoni,” the album’s first single, Okereke’s hands are taped, and he’s hooded, a boxer training for the ring. He told New York magazine that the name of his album “came to me last year when I was thinking about making the record…I definitely had to toughen up in certain ways and be focused on what I wanted to achieve. Someone standing on his own has no one to rely on but himself.”