We talk to the artist blending his own guitar chords with trip hop references from Bristol’s 90s music scene ahead of his forthcoming Lucent Live performance
Words by Geralda Cela
For South London artist Sam Akpro, music is about longevity. “I just want to give it to people slowly,” the rising artist tells me over the phone in his first-ever interview. “It’s about taking your time and not being led by social media, where you feel like you have to be constantly releasing. There’s too much of that; it’s too in your face.”
Akpro brings unexpected worlds together in his work. His more recent music blends lulling guitar chords with murky, industrial trip hop. Although he only began putting out music this January, his debut release, Nights Away, has given his budding discography a distinctive stamp. A dark and introspective EP, the debut encompasses the south Londoner’s current sound: fluid-yet-sharp productions punctuated with keys, chords and live instrumentation throughout.
The south Londoner is, by his own admission, an active collector of references. Akpro’s spectrum of musical influences and desire to play with juxtaposing soundscapes come from the wealth of genres he grew up surrounded by in Peckham. He remembers gravitating towards music that he describes as “very left” of what other kids were listening to, including music from the Gambia where his family’s roots lie. “I lived in this block of flats when I was younger and the neighbours always played reggae tapes, so I grew up hearing a lot of that and old school dancehall,” he recalls. “There were Gambian compilation CDs lying around as well.”
The artist has also spent time discovering seminal sounds from Britain’s musical history as well as contemporary music from the US. Massive Attack’s mesh of sounds and Trippie Red’s work have both oozed into the 21-year-old’s self-described “borderless, pick and mix” sound. “Most of the time when I listen to music it’s like, ‘OK, I’m hearing this genre, but I want to add this and also mix this in with it’,” he tells me.
While this approach might make his music hard to classify, that’s fine by Akpro – it saves his work from genre restrictions. “It’s confusing but not in a negative sense,” he explains. “It could go either way and that’s what I want.”
Here we meet the Peckham-raised artist to talk about being a new musician in London, dig into his references and get to know him better ahead of his live Lucent performance at Laylow on 17 October.
What kind of stuff were you listening to growing up?
Sam Akpro: I actively started listening to music when I heard this band Elbow on TV. You know how you have that BBC red button, yeah? Well, I was watching TV and through that red button Elbow popped up live in concert with an orchestra. It was very left of what someone my age, nine at the time, would want to listen to, but it was cool. I used to watch TV like that and listen to the music I found through it every day because I didn’t have a computer in them days.
When did you realise you wanted to pursue music?
Sam Akpro: It wasn’t until January of this year when I started releasing stuff and people liked it. That’s when I realised that maybe I could start doing stuff. Before then it was just ‘Let me see what happens, let me see if I can make some good music’. That’s always in my head – trying to push a sound.
Is there a particular headspace or environment you have to be in to make music?
Sam Akpro: I’ve learnt that I have to be by myself in my room or the studio. And sometimes it’s when I’m feeling down but not necessarily always. Other times I’ll be listening to a song and be inspired to go make something. Luckily, that happens pretty frequently. I just have to be alone because that’s the only way I can really make music that’s 100 per cent me.
You can hear some very distinctive sounds in your work. Where did those come from?
When I started making beats here and there I was studying a lot of music and Massive Attack was one of those bands I really studied – the first few albums they released and Heligoland, which was later. I was listening to the way they mesh everything: there’s drum and bass and baselines from here and there. The Trippie influence comes from listening to a lot of trap. The rhythm is in your face, it’s in your ears and you can hear it. It just makes your head move.
You’re surrounded by a community of London artists who are your peers, like Nigz TG and Master Peace. What does that community mean to you and how would you define it?
Community is a sense of identity. And feeling secure in your place. It’s really important to me and it’s part of what I do – it’s something you can’t escape being in London. All of them guys support what I’m doing and a lot of those people are the reason why I am even trying to go and do these things. I’ll be around them and going to their shows and be like, ‘OK, well, if they can do it then I have some sort of chance of doing it as well’. So, it’s very good. Also, collaboration-wise, I’ve worked on songs with both Peace and Nigz and I’ve learnt stuff that I can take away to make shit.
What do you hope to achieve by this time next year?
I just want to get better at music. Hopefully play a festival next year, more gigs and more visual content, all that kind of stuff. But for now, it’s just not giving too much away too early. Because if you just give all your music away and it doesn’t feel finished or people might not respond to it and then it’s just… gone. You don’t want that to happen with something that you’ve worked on so, for me, it’s just about timing and really taking my time when making stuff. One project a year that you spend time with is so much better than three rushed projects a year. That’s too much. If you’re that good of an artist, you can put out an album and leave for a few years. Frank Ocean did that and you can still listen to his work now. It’s just about taking the time with your music.
Sam Akpro will perform live at Laylow in West London on 17 October. Tickets here.