By Diya Gupta for Wild City:
In an interview with Alex Macpherson at Guardian in 2010 – a little under two years after she released acclaimed debut 12″, “Please/Simulacrum” – Ikonika protests her skewed depiction in the media, saying she hates being called ‘the first lady of dubstep’ – “Some little blog called me the MIA of dubstep… people have called me a Muslim producer because of my surname. I’m not even a Muslim. Would they call Skream a white, male, Christian producer?”
Aside from the fact that the Hyperdub signee doesn’t make dubstep anymore, and that she’s taken a more politically aware stance of sexism and racism in the industry since that interview – there’s no getting around the fact that in the male-dominated world of UK bass, Sara Abdel-Hamid has knowingly or inadvertently become a proper role model for young girls everywhere. She cites the music and antics of Madonna and Nicki Minaj as influences and gives a no-nonsense interview to magazines about the current state of things in the industry (more recently telling The Fader, “There needs to be acceptance from those higher up, that this industry is both sexist and racist. I don’t wanna hear none of this ‘you’re making a fuss over nothing’ bullshit.”).
The producer carries an air of casual nonchalance, a cheeky ‘don’t-really-give-a-flying-llama’s-left-bottom-about-anything-but-the-music’ manner about her. At the same time, she’s approachable which makes her immensely likeable – but also fierce in her honesty. An icon and unassuming iconoclast who looks at the limitations of genre and gender expectations, she rolls her eyes and flicks them away like a pesky mite.
Ikonika’s kicked off her India tour with Bill Brewster in Delhi at antiSOCIAL before playing in Mumbai (for Levis 501 Friday) and Bangalore as part of our international property – Various Artists. We got in touch with her before her show tonight and spoke about her home in Hyperdub, her constantly developing sound, and future releases.
The musician was born and raised in West London – right next to the noisy, crowded tarmacs of Heathrow airport – where her Egyptian father and Filipino mother met. She spent her youth playing video games (you can still hear the 8-bit influences in her music today even though she’s stopped playing as much) and listening to music – particularly a new, emerging genre called dubstep – which formed the framework for a earlier work .
“Going to early dubstep and grime nights like FWD and DMZ changed my life. It’s one thing to listen to this music at home but it was an incredible experience going to the clubs and being part of a movement. The music was so physical. The bass would melt your insides and I felt there was a real physical connection there. It influenced me to start producing my own music and I haven’t looked back since.”
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“Although dubstep isn’t really part of my life anymore, there’s still a deep love for it because it opened many doors and allowed me to explore other types of genres in my music and DJ sets.”
Dubstep formed the basis of Ikonika’s initial music and can be heard most emphatically in her first release ‘Please’ via Hyperdub – Kode9’s label she’s now come to call home. “Hyperdub’s been great, I feel very honoured to be a part of the roster. I’m really close to Scratcha DVA and we’ve shared a lot musically, and do shows together frequently. I like that Hypderub is an independent label. This means they’re able to work closely with the artists. The music always come first and we have a lot of creative freedom.”
Ikonika’s music has morphed immensely over the years from her debut 2010 album “Contact, Love, Want, Hate” to her latest album “Aerotropolis”. But despite the attenuating sub-bass frequencies and BPM, her sound packs as much, if not more of a punch than it did before, retaining its arrogant, bold and shimmering 8-bit inspired synths, thick bass-lines and the always playful attitude.
It’s been just under 3 years since “Aerotropolis” came out, and new material’s on its way – “I’ve been hiding away for the last 2 years making new music and nearly finished my new album, so that will come out next year. I’ve contributed a track for the Night Slugs Allstars 3 compilation coming this month of November. I should have a single for a techno label called Don’t Be Afraid or DBA for short.” Ikonika also tells us that she’s produced a track in collaboration with Bok Bok for Kelela’s debut album – very exciting stuff overall!
And as to the artists on her radar and playlists at the moment – “I’m lucky to have so many talented friends, I get excited when they send me new music or I see a new mix from them. I’m currently enjoying works from Manara, Jessy Lanza, Scratcha DVA and Jammz.”
I also asked her about how our own little scene can become better. How young bedroom producers and musicians can streamline their work into creating an inclusive community of talent and a mutual desire to help each other grow. Ikonika harks back on her own youth, when she spent a significant amount of time on dubstep forums before actually making music – “Many scenes these days start with discussions via the Internet. I think it’s great to have an online forum for people to connect and share their work. It can influence you enough to start your own party, bring international guests over and really communicate and participate in the global club scene. It’s so important to support your local talent. Give them a space to create positive resources.”