Geoff Barrow's Protege Anika on Politics and Pissing Off Pop-Culture Consumers

Geoff Barrow's Protege Anika on Politics and Pissing Off Pop-Culture Consumers

See also: Our interview with Portishead's Geoff Barrow

With her faltering deadpan, spare dubby grooves and post-punk clanking, Anika's eponymous debut album on Stones Throw is political, a substance-over-style snub at standard music biz fare and the many who love it.

A former music promoter and political journalist, Anika is English and has a German mother. She sing-talks in a removed and thoughtful way, like Nico, as many have too obviously said. She's not someone who feels compelled to show e-mo-shun at all times. And she figures she's finally found the right forum.

"When I was a political journalist," she says, "I got frustrated at what I was reporting about. The good thing about music is it's a good platform and you can use it in a way that targets the right people."

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The right people in her view are the younger generation of musicians and fans who've been exposed to little of the realities of modern political life, or at least can't handle it in the context of their beloved glitzed-out world of pop music. While she doesn't preach in a literal way, she would like to get the kids thinking a bit.

"I'm young myself, and I'm not certain of my own beliefs," she says, "but what I can do at this age is question why we think stuff is normal. There are a lot of musicians or people in the industry that are my age who just shy away from political issues."

Which could be why she chose to cover Bob Dylan's "Masters of War." She found its message germane to modern killing games.

"All these people say, 'Oh yeah, I'm a big Bob Dylan fan, I think he's the greatest writer of all time,'" she says, "yet they would never speak about politics. I wanted to show the missing link and say 'Right, so someone you admire actually was doing that, and doing it in a really overt way.'"

Produced by ex-Portishead man Geoff Barrow, the album also includes a cover of Yoko Ono's "Yang Yang," which wasn't chosen because it was a feminist statement, Anika having discovered the song's political import only after she'd had recorded it.

"I just liked the way it sounded," she says.

But some songs on Anika are quite literally political, such as "No One's There," which documents how entire towns of auto workers were made unemployed in the American recession of '08. Anika relates it to what eventually went down in England, singing, "The system works, the people aren't working."

"Everyone followed the lie that we could have money that we didn't have," she says. "And it isn't this massive monster that's appeared from nowhere, it's been from years of spending beyond our means, from years of just going along with it, and not questioning where is this money coming from."

 

Anika's starkly dispassionate presentation (flat-toned voice, unflashy threads and glaring lack of million-dollar videos) was a very conscious reaction to pop culture's superficiality, at very least in its condescending images of women in pop.

"When I was a music promoter," she says, "I saw how the public were consuming and the agents were selling, and I wanted to piss them off. I wanted to question why they thought some things were good, why did they think a band with the perfect stage outfit was good over a band that had something to say and had terrible dress sense. It's all advertising in the end."

So Anika wishes to draw your attention away from all that fluff, to strip it back so you can actually see it for what it is. And that could make a singer feel quite vulnerable, she says, "because it isn't dressed up, and where everything is overdone until it's perfect. But perfect usually means boring."

Anika performs at the Echoplex on October 22.


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