Photo: Piotr Niepsuj (Ikonika)
Ikonika quickly rose to fame during the heydays of Dubstep with a tune that was decidedly different from most of what you could hear in that time. “Please” was, unlike the sinister vibe that permeated the genre, cheerful and bright. Nine years on, Sara Abdel-Hamid still doesn’t stick to a single formula but has remained one of the most interesting UK producers. With her recent album Distractions, the Hyperdub artist has once more reinvented herself and presented an LP that drew on her own roots in R’n’B and Hip Hop while maintaining a retrofuturistic touch. Similarly, Ikonika’s contribution to our Groove podcast ignores stylistic limites, throwing together an Ariana Grande bootleg with some Gqom grooves and a fresh take on an old Opus III classic. A wild ride courtesy of a DJ who has never accepted borders in the first place.
You grew up on R’n’B and Hip Hop on the one side and Post-Hardcore bands like Glassjaw on the other one. How did you get into club music?
I grew up listening to RnB, Hip-Hop and also UK Garage, basically anything my older sisters were listening to. I got into Hardcore and Metal in my late teens, then, when I started University I got really into the backpacker kinda Hip-Hop, a lot of J-Dilla and Madlib. I started using Fruity Loops. I was making Hip-Hop instrumentals and some R’n’B that was inspired by producers like Timberland, The Neptunes and Rich Harrison. I started clubbing during the end of the champagne garage era. Slowly over time I got into early Dubstep and Grime, this was helped by watching Channel U, which is now called AKA. This is where I first heard Jammer on this interesting beat, turns out it was Skream’s “Midnight Request Line”. I bought a pair of decks from my brother-in-law and started buying records from labels like Tempa, DMZ and Hyperdub. I was going to nights like FWD at Plastic People and DMZ at Mass. It was the first time I felt immersed into a culture, so much so I wanted to become a DJ and producer.
Your early material was often categorised as UK Funky and Dubstep, but over the years, your style has changed drastically. Speaking as a producer, DJ, and music fan, what’s your relationship with these scenes like today?
I love UK Funky and still play a lot of it out. For me, there’s an energy to it that doesn’t feel tired. I don’t feel the same way about Dubstep to be honest. You’re right in saying my style has changed a lot over the years but the influences were always there, it feels very natural to me. I feel very proud that I’m now able to articulate that in my music.
After a car crash, you scrapped the idea of your new record Distractions becoming an Ambient album. Why did you so drastically go in another direction?
A lot of the Ambient stuff I made was very distorted but had an airy feel. After the crash I felt different, very cold and brutal. Having that physical pain transformed me, it made me want to work harder and care less about other things. Being in pain and having nightmares about the accident was distracting, because I couldn’t work. I needed to work, I needed this music to heal me.
Besides a collaboration with the MC Jammz, Distractions also features a track together with Night Slug’s Sweyn J & Jessy Lanza who also provided vocals for your track “Beach Mode” in 2013. You’ve mentioned that you find it difficult to work with other people. What made you get out of your comfort zone this time?
It’s taken nearly a decade for me to have that confidence and to feel like I actually do have the talent and technical skills to step up. I really have to say a big thank you to Andrea Galaxy, Sweyn J, Jessy Lanza and Jammz’s for being on the album and absolutely smashing it. I can’t wait to work with more people, it’s something I really want to continue to do. I feel like collaboration is so important. I want to support and learn from other artists.
Visually, Distractions references two recent Kode9 and DVA projects, the former’s Nøtel building and the latter’s Hi:Emotions audio-visual show. Is it important to you to artistically position yourself within the Hyperdub universe?
The two have influenced me so much. DVA’s recent Hi:Emotions project showed us a different world to what we’ve usually seen from him. A world more pronounced and the same goes for the ideas behind Nøtel for me also. There’s a sense of loneliness there and that’s trickled into the artwork. I wanted to pay homage to Hi:Emotions and the Nøtel, they’re not present in the actual artwork but they’re definitely in the city we’ve created.
You’ve mentioned that your writing is influenced by your DJ sets. What does that mean and what characterises your DJ sets these days?
I’m a hybrid DJ, I just can’t stick to one style, I need variation. I’m playing things like Gqom, Dancehall, Afrobeat and also a lot of 90’s/00’s RnB instrumentals that I’ve ripped from my vinyl collection. I’ll always play some UK Funky and Grime, because that still sounds so fresh to me and I want people to know I’m from London. Gqom and Afrobeat have influenced me in the studio. I like those beats, they’re very to the point and do not shy away from anything. I am at that point now where I am not stricken by BPM range or genre and you can see that in Distractions. it’s something that is far removed from ‘Bass’ music.
What was the idea behind your contribution to our Groove podcast?
I think it’s a reflection of my Radar Radio shows and my club sets. This is what I’m playing at the moment. There’s a few new ones from me, stuff from Helix’s four new albums and a few staples from the last couple of years.
Last but not least: Where can we see you behind the decks or performing live – and what are your plans as a producer?
At the moment I’m concentrating on producing, so you might not see me DJing as much. I want to release more music this year. You should see a couple more EPs in the next few months.
Stream: Ikonika – Groove Podcast 117
01. Ikonika – Ocean Riddim
02. Lorenzo BITW – Sauvage
03. Davido – Video
04. Popcaan – Ova Dweet (Instrumental)
05. Nguzunhuzu x Divoli S’vere – No Longer x Blunt (Mungo edit)
06. Aidonia – Jook So
07. Sinjin Hawke – Onset
08. Beek – My Kitty Kat
09. De Grandi – Global (Beat Mix)
10. SIM – Lockdown
11. Impey – Big Easy
12. Ariana Grande – Into You (Ikonika bootleg)
13. Ikonika – Manual Decapitation
14. 45Diboss – Du Di Maths feat Worldfeet
15. TD_Nasty – X Games Mode feat Neana
16. Helix – fbmflip
17. Impey – Lime Walk
18. Wallwork – Havoc
19. DJ Scriby – Igqom’Ikonika
20. Opus III – It’s a Fine Day (Burt Fox Remix)
21. Helix x D Malice – Gabryelle remix
22. DJ Lag – CTEMF
23. Ikonika – Shovel
24. Blay Vision – Dun Know
25. Ikonika – Oral Suspension
26. Impey – Verticle Slice
27. Bok Bok – Island Hopping
28. Filthy Gears – Skulls
29. Syer B – Clipzz