Bloc Party’s City Limits

Bloc Party’s City Limits
Photo: Stephen Gullick
Kele Okereke is looking to save rock’n’roll. Okay, maybe not for the world’s sake but for his own, definitely. "Right now I’m not excited by a lot of modern rock music so it was important to make something that was interesting,” he admits. "We’re in this band to do fantastical, otherworldly rock music really. It’s still rock music that can be played with guitars, a drummer, a bass player and a singer, but it doesn’t sound like Jet.”

Being mistaken for Jet will never be a concern of Bloc Party’s, but ensuring they grow as musicians to satisfy themselves and their fans is. They’ve become one of Britain’s most successful and critically lauded bands by establishing an accessible sound that constantly wanders outside the realm of conventional rock music. Okereke, for one, isn’t about to let Bloc Party fall into any creative confinement.

If you ask the singer/guitarist about his love for R&B he’ll tell you how he took a chance exploring his "inner Timbaland” on the band’s second album, the much-anticipated A Weekend in the City. Inspired by cut’n’paste editing techniques, Okereke began fiddling with the album’s lead single, "The Prayer.” "That’s something I was obsessed with. I wanted to try and do something that we hadn’t done beforehand using a computer,” he says with more passion than his usual business-like dialect.

"We had this idea that was just a drum pattern and a keyboard and I was obsessed with just trying to get it to work, so any little spare time I had, I was whittling away at it. Because it was not the way we tend to work, there was a lot of head scratching. I don’t think the others were that interested because it was only really in the last week of recording the vocals that we were able to step back and see what we had. That song was ‘The Prayer,’ which is to me an emblem of what we’re trying to do as a band really. It’s something I’d definitely like to do more of whenever we start the next record.”

Bloc Party’s bottomless ambition was their biggest asset while recording the follow-up to Silent Alarm. Outdoing their 2005 debut — which sold over a million copies worldwide and topped many year-end lists — was no easy task but A Weekend in the City exemplifies their dexterity and breadth as musicians. "We weren’t concerned with how successful or critically acclaimed the record had been, nor were we looking to make something that sounded like what was popular,” Okereke says.

To help break new sonic ground they decided on producer Garret Lee, a gifted studio head whose C.V. includes U2, Snow Patrol, Kasabian and his own late ’90s big beat records under the name Jacknife Lee. "The way that [the album] moves sonically it has a very different count [to Silent Alarm], so it was important to have someone confident who could juggle that without the detriment of hearing the others,” says Okereke. Lee’s hand in shaping the album rejuvenated the band’s studio resonance; some felt Silent Alarm was stifling and inhuman, but Weekend is alive and kicking, like the city in which it was conceived.

Another adjustment Okereke felt necessary was the clarification of his lyrics, which in the past have been cryptic memos that only the hardiest code-breakers could translate. It results in clear, resonant themes that reflect the band’s feelings after returning to London after a lengthy world tour. Evident to Okereke was the city’s desperation to live life in a soulless, hedonistic rat race — a realisation lyrically spread throughout the album. "It’s about the living sound that cities make: lots of people scuttling over one another trying to get to work, getting drunk in bars, taking lots of drugs or trying to find someone to sleep with. The aim was to try and capture what life in the city felt like.”

Standout track "On” encapsulates what the songwriter feels is a serious problem: the recent boom in cocaine use amongst young adults. "So many people feel jaded and unfulfilled in their working lives and this allure is so strong because of its immediate optimism and confidence that everyone feels is missing from their lives,” he says. "It’s such a self-obsessive drug that I don’t think any good comes out of it. In any bar there was always someone doing cocaine in a cubicle; it’s everywhere in London.”

Okereke is passionate about the importance of Weekend’s message. "We were more determined to capture where we were mentally this time. I don’t think Silent Alarm had that; it was a great record, very frenetic, but I feel the heart of it was quite vague. With this record I wanted there to be no question about what the songs or the intentions were. I wanted it to be a real statement.”