When Pigeons & Planes spoke to Bakar earlier this year, he explained how Madlib has had a profound effect on his music. Fast forward six months, and Bakar is sharing the stage with his hero, performing just a few hours prior to the production legend at Appelsap festival in Amsterdam. “Being able to go places with my friends off the back of my music is the most rewarding thing,” he says of his growing success. Bakar doesn’t have management, instead choosing to make key decisions about his burgeoning career with the help of his closest friends.
When we talk over Skype it’s clear that those closest to him are the glue that holds him together. In fact, as I go to disconnect the call, he stops me to reiterate the importance of forming a close bond with your producer. In Bakar’s case this is Zach Nahome, who he affectionately refers to as his foundation. For Bakar, honing in on a niche sound with a producer who is on the same wavelength is imperative advice for any aspiring musician.
As for finding his niche, Bakar’s USP is actually the breadth of his genre-hopping sound. His effervescent material is impossible to categorize, “schizophrenic” as he labels it himself. Drawing influence from a melting pot of artists from Aaliyah to Foals to Gorillaz to early James Blake, Bakar’s niche is the fact that he has refused to pigeonhole himself. Instead, he seeks to “bridge the gap,” and to shatter any preconceptions people may have of his music.
“If people saw me and presumed the kind of music I make,” he explains, “90% of them would say rap or hip-hop.” For Bakar, the most challenging aspect of what he’s creating is his battle to break the stereotype. “I could be on every single playlist on Spotify and feel at home there,” he says. “I don’t see why that can’t be the case for other artists too.”
Born and raised in Camden, north London, Bakar has been making music for a little over two years. Although he’s grown up surrounded by musicians, spending his formative years in different studios with his friends, it wasn’t necessarily a path he saw for himself. His first forays into music were actually almost accidental. With all his friends away on a trip to Japan, Bakar found himself home alone, and bored. He found an old Bombay Bicycle Club demo, put a guitar riff on loop, sang over it, and then put it on SoundCloud under a completely anonymous pseudonym—something along the line of user12756789.
Approaching his anonymous SoundCloud account as something of an art project, Bakar began creating simple backing tracks cut from samples he’d loop himself. King Krule guitar riffs featured alongside Bombay Bicycle Club, and slowly the number of listeners began to rise organically. With a laid back confidence and an unwavering, but not at all arrogant, self-belief, Bakar tells me, “If I apply my mind to something, I believe I can do anything.” Barely six months later, "Big Dreams" was out, and traction has continued to build ever since.
On May 23 Bakar released his debut mixtape BADKID via his own label bash*. It's an 11 track effort which marries indie, punk, rock and roll, hip-hop, spoken word, and everything in between. The project is, in Bakar’s words, an introductory scrapbook. “A very high quality scrapbook,” he laughs, “I can put out singles all day long, but I want to be the kind of artist that is judged by a full body of work.” With a full length release under his belt, Bakar feels liberated, and comforted in the knowledge that there’s now an album out in the world for people to discover.
Although he’s hesitant to name names as we talk about his musical influences, it’s easier to pinpoint how each stage of his upbringing has impacted how Bakar sounds now. His mum listened to R&B in the house, growing up in London he was exposed to rap and grime, then he went off to boarding school and got into bands—he names Rage Against The Machine and Foals as live performances that have stuck with him—and once back in London he and his friends had legendary London club Plastic People up on a very deserving pedestal. “Could we play this in Plastic People?” he and his friends asked themselves, with the club, and the early days of dubstep that came with it, proving instrumental in their musical education.
Just as London has influenced Bakar sonically, so too has his childhood influenced his lyrics. “London, the shit that I’ve experienced, me growing up in my city,” he says about his lyrical inspiration, going on to explain that he anticipates future projects will be an expansion of the content in BADKID. Recorded in a tiny windowless studio in London, Bakar’s debut mixtape is real, raw, and personable, traversing everything from a desire for his music to be unique and understood—“don’t try and copy my sound” he sings on opener "One Way"—to the flourishing and disintegrating nature of relationships.
I ask Bakar what he does in his downtime and the answer is that, right now, there is no downtime. He’s either in recording mode or live mode, thinking about music 24/7, honing his craft and enjoying the opportunity to travel with his friends. If he does need to take some time away from his own material, Yussef Kamaal’s Black Focus and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill are both records he can rely on. Currently, he’s listening to Lancey Foux, Yeek, Slowthai, Shame, and Wolf Alice, as well as championing London’s vibrant neo-jazz scene, naming artists like Ezra Collective, Alfa Mist, and Puma Blue.
Although he’s expressed disdain and frustration at the people who “don’t get it,” or make naïve assumptions about his music before hearing it, Bakar is also overwhelmingly grateful for those that are on board. “There are a lot of kids that get what I do,” he says. “They message me telling me cool shit about how a song helps them, and that feels good.” In the music industry, which Bakar disdainfully refers to as “the stock market,” it can be hard to retain your independence, finding the balance between staying afloat financially and staying true to your art. “I think you have to recognize the importance in turning money down,” Bakar says, “there’s power to be gained in saying no.”
As he continues to bridge gaps, crush stereotypes and melt genres into one another, what advice would Bakar give to young musicians? “Be yourself” he says confidently, “be as authentic as you can be, attack what you want to do and stay true to who you want to be.”