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Bloc Party's Kele Okereke sings grime's praises

Legendary Scots The Vaccines open at the Vogue on Sunday


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Two tweets were sent out last week by Bloc Party's official account, saying, in full: “Following the state of North Carolina's decision to enact House Bill 2, which serves to discriminate against transgender people, we have invited Matt from Equality NC to speak at both of our shows there next week. We will also be making a donation to Equality NC.”

Bloc Party fans in North Carolina surely sighed a heavy sigh of relief that yet another performer wouldn't be canceling their booked shows in the state in the wake of HB2, a bill that seeks to force transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with the gender their birth certificate identifies them as, and eliminates anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ persons in the state. HB2 is a bill that opponents say is punitive, discriminatory and dangerous, and that the Department of Justice filed suit against.

The cultural fallout in in the state includes show cancellations by Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Cirque du Soleil, Ringo Starr and Boston; Cyndi Lauper, Tacocat and Mumford and Sons donated their show earnings to local LGBTQ orgs. Add Bloc Party to the list of bands donating to equality-minded nonprofits.

When NUVO spoke with Bloc Party lead singer and rhythm guitarist Kele Okereke last week after Bloc Party announced their donation and speaker, he was reluctant to speak much about the decision.

“I don't feel comfortable talking about that stuff, only that it was obviously an issue that we all had to speak about and discuss for quite a long time,” Okereke says. “It's still kind of a little bit raw.”

We respect that very much and move on: Okereke's band's latest album is Hymns, a collection of lower-key groovy jams that showcase Bloc Party as a much different band than the group that blew up radios with “Banquet” from Silent Alarm in 2005. It shares musical DNA with his recent solo releases and pulls influence from his time as a dance music DJ. As one might guess, Hymns' central lyrical concern is religion, no doubt influenced by Okereke's Roman Catholic upbringing. Okereke says that while he's not currently observant, religious texts have always informed his writing.

“I'm not a religious person, but I do like stories. I like fables and I like myths,” he says. “I've always been moved by allegorical stories. I remember being very much into classical great myths when I was a kid as well. Currently I'm reading up a lot on West African religions and how those sorts of stories went on to effect African cultures. It's something that I've always found interesting. I think it's the idea of there being an element of education in these florid, descriptive stories that might appear like a fantasy, or might appear to just be kind of decorative, but underneath there's some kind of lesson or teaching about human nature.”

Although influences have stayed consistent, recent years have brought changes to Bloc Party in lineup (Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong out; Justin Harris and Louise Bartle in) and location. Okereke relocated back to London from New York a few years ago. He says he's seeking a quieter type of life these days.

“I feel like moving back from New York to London, I've kind of been avoiding nightlife and avoiding the scene, really. I moved from where I was living in East London in a very busy, young, hip part of town to a really quiet part of town, a very green part of town,” he says. “I have a dog.”

But even removed from that hip, young neighborhood, Okereke keeps tabs on the massive rise of grime music in London, something that no doubt influences his frequent DJ sets.

“I guess one of the most important things about grime to me is that it's a form of music that has it's roots in Black British culture,” he says. “Grime isn't the only type of music coming out of London, but it's something that is very British, and specifically London-based. I've always got a fondness when I hear grime, because I feel connected to it. It reminds me of home. That fact that it's becoming bigger and bigger and bigger is exciting, really. I want to see what it's going to turn into.”

If you go: 
Bloc Party with The Vaccines and Oscar
Sunday, May 22, 7 p.m. 
The Vogue, 6259 N. College Ave
$25 in advance, $29 at door, 21+ 


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