Known as the epitome of the modern multicultural world we live in, Olugbenga Adelekan is making waves on the electronic music scene. Also known for Metronomy, the multi-talented musician was passing through Milan whilst on tour as a DJ and Swide's Ben Taylor cornered him to get a few words from him.
Talking music backstage at Le Cannibale at Tunnel Club, Olugbenga allows me to make a fool of myself as I try to pronounce his name correctly, discuss brotherly rivalry, being on the move and what turns him off.
Although he is best known as the bassist of innovative band Metronomy, Olugbenga is proving that there is more to him than meets the eye. Programming since the age of 16, he has slowly been developing his mixing skills and, more recently, started taking them on the road as a DJ, enthralling all those that come to see him with his eclectic sense of style and mixing. When Swide met the man backstage at Tunnel Club, it is safe to say that Gbenga truly is genre dodging wonder, bringing elements of world cultures together in his own unique way.
You’re here in Milan and you’ve been on tour since the beginning of 2012 as a solo artist and before that you were supporting Coldplay as Metronmy. How is it to go form touring as a group to solo?
The big difference is, when I’m DJing, I am literally by myself; no tour manager or anyone with me. Playing in band, like with Metronomy, we have as many crew as we do band members, actually in fact, there are now more crew. We supported Coldplay at the end of their US tour, so, we’d been in the US for six weeks and there was a group of ten of us in total, whereas, when I DJing I’m by myself. And obviously, when I DJ I play a bit of my own music (as Olungbenga) but it is mostly party stuff. I throw in edits that I have made and I put in a little bit of my stuff but my music isn’t exactly made for parties.
While on tour either with Metronomy or as a solo artist, do you feel you have time to be inspired by what’s going on around you?
Yes and no. For example, last week I was in Rome and I actually had time to walk around, it was a beautiful day and I was able to ‘see’ the city. The time before that, however, Rome was practically brought to standstill by the Snow and I almost didn’t make it out of the country and nor was I able to appreciate the country. It was nuts. I had to beg cab drivers, offering them triple the fare, just to get me to the airport and, yeh, I clearly let myself get played by them…. Why was I telling you about that?
Oh, so this time I was able to wander around; I went to the grave of the unknown soldier and then just sat in a park and listened to music. It was just really nice to be 'in' Rome and listening to music and feeling like, that if I lived here this would be something that I would also do. So, I found that very inspiring but only because it was nice to actually see something of another country. Usually, when I travel, it is more like tonight. My flight got in at 9pm, I got some food and then went to the hotel and then came here (Tunnel Club) at 1:30am and I'll be here until 4-5am... know what I mean. So, i'm not actually coming to Milan, I'm coming to a club.
As a solo artist, how does it feel to be getting so many positive reviews for your work. For example, the remix that you did for your brother, Seye's, track was picked up by the Guardian as one of the best tracks from April 2012. How does that feel for you?
With that, it's great because the whole reason I did that remix was to help my brother out so, any kind of coverage that he's got from it, it's cool. Usually, the remixes are done via email and this means that a lot of the people that i've worked for i've not met and so most of my feed back comes from the listeners. Of course, there are occasions where the artist gets in contact to let me know what they think.
So, as you said, you're happy to give your brother a helping hand. Is there any brotherly competition?
Umm, no. Thankfully. The music he makes is very different to mine and the world in which he operates is quite different, too. Although, Metronomy have become more popular with this last album and so our worlds are slightly closer.
Before he was signed, he was a session musician. He's younger than me but he's been working as a musician longer than I have, as he went straight in to it. He slept on my couch for a while but then he started to get work and he kinda hasn't looked back. Seye's 24-years-old and he's been making money doing music since he was 17 or 18 but very much in the pop world; he’s played with the Noisettes, Paloma Faith and supported Lana Del Rey. I think our musical aspirations are very different and we can both win and no one has to lose.
When you joined Metronomy in 2009, after their bassist left, you just seemed to fit into the band so damn well. Has this always been the case?
I've moved around a lot when I was a kid and so it prepared me for what I do now, which is travelling every week. I had to get used to meeting new people, adjusting to new situations but also, with Metronomy, I think the stars aligned because our drummer joined at the same time that I did and everybody got on and everyone could play the music, which is kind of important. The fans didn't take a particular dislike to the new members and so I think it worked on a number of different levels. Obviously there were those that were nervous but I think that there was an improvement on the live show, making it totally different from before. People who went to the old Metronomy shows now have something special that no one else with have. We're not going to go back to doing shows that way and they've got that moment, these memories and they can say, 'I was there'.
As a child you moved around a lot. How did you wind up in London and what attracted you to the East End?
Because it's the best part of London to live in! Although I say that, I've actually just moved to Brighton after 10+ years of being in London i've flown coop, as it were. I moved two months ago and, when I did move, four days later I was tour for six weeks.... I got back two weeks ago and it's nice to see what I'm paying the rent for at last and Brighton is great... I haven't sorted it out yet but I'm going to get a residency at a club there and there is lots of interesting stuff going on that I want to get involved with.
You completed a mixtape for Okay Africa in April and you also have one that is under construction. Seeing as you are such an eclectic artist, do you find it difficult to approach a mixtape?
No, that's because that is the way that I listen to music and, again, because I am putting lots of different artist's music in there. I think that if you are a dubstep producer and you want to put a lot of your music into your mix, with a lot of your songs at 140bpm, then you're going to make a mix that is mostly 140bmp. But, because i'm picking little breaks and things from all over the place, it just tends to be like my remixes and that I don't have a genre of music that I am known for as a solo artist. When I do remixes, it is not like someone has come to me and asked for a jungle remix etc.
Listening to the Okay Africa Mix, it's only about 20 minutes long but you cram so much in to it. I had to go back over it again and again to catch everything.
It's the tardis affect. People say to me that if they don't pay attention, they have to keep coming back and they notice new things. With a mix you generally just put it on in the background whilst you're doing something else and so you don't always notice just how much has been packed in there. I like that about them.
You were celebrated as being the epitome of the modern multicultural world (Olugbenga starts laughing). What do you say when you hear something like that?
I mean, it's funny. I see what they are getting at because I was born in Nigeria, I move just as easily between Nigerians and Europeans. We moved because my dad really wanted his kids to get a good education and then, every time my father got the opportunity to travel he would take it. We lived in Holland before London. My dad never wanted to leave Nigeria and he doesn't like travelling. He still doesn't live in Nigeria as his work has taken him to all these different countries and he hasn't made it back. At the moment, we live all over the place. I understand why they did it and a lot of my generation moved due to necessity and now a lot of my friends are moving back there.
How, when you were moving so frequently, did music become such an important part of your life?
I was singing before I could talk. I have quite a big family, 6 kids two parents, and everybody is musical and my family used to get together and sing everyday and before I could really talk I used to try and join in, singing. But, seriously, I thought I was going to be a writer and music was just going to be something that I really liked on the side. It was when I went to university I got the bug properly.
My voice was my first instrument. Then I was forced to have piano lessons and that turned out to be the basis of what I know about music; chords, scales and things. Nothing major, but that is the basis of writing electronic music. I started programming when I was 16 but I wasn't very good and I was still learning.
What's a huge turn off for you?
Someone put a note under my door today that said, 'hello, sounds like you're having fun in there! Let me know if you want any company', and put their email address on it and I was just like... No!
What would your parents say if they were here with you right now?
They'd say 'It's very loud'.
For more from Olugbenga...
Interviewed and Written by Ben Taylor