After nearly five months being locked indoors, it’s a pleasure to meet our upcoming guest artist, AKIRA, in the back garden of his second home, the notorious Southampton Arms on Highgate Road. A born and bred north Londoner, Akira is constantly greeting the characters who float in and out of the pub on this sunny afternoon. ‘All the locals are mad tight,’ he tells me. I notice how everyone seems to know everyone; it’s almost as if nothing has changed.
But for Akira, of course, quite a lot has changed over the last year. ‘So I had a free house for like, three, four months,’ he says. ‘It was the most productive I’d ever been, it was the happiest I’d been, so, the lockdown changed everything for me to be honest.’ After hopping onto London’s underground scene as a young teen, where he had his first tastes of drum ‘n’ bass, Akira has finally had the time to develop his work ethic and his passion for music beyond the rave. ‘You wouldn’t really see me at a squat rave now,’ he laughs. ‘I mean don’t get it twisted, I wouldn’t change it. It’s definitely impacted how I am today,’ he tells me. But ‘the scene changed massively, like people were just starting to get robbed left, right and centre. It just turned away from the music, it just became like a…just like a gang hotspot almost, it kind of lost its touch.’ Before the lockdown, Akira wasn’t sure how to break onto the music scene. ‘I was definitely always interested in the scene but decks were just so expensive,’ he explains. But just before the pandemic hit, the 22-year-old was lucky enough to cross paths with fellow arts collective and long-time inspirations the NiNE8 Collective. ‘A couple of them were in here one night. I’d been to their shows and stuff, but I kept it super chill,’ he recalls. ‘Then they’re inviting me back to the studio, and one of them gave me his decks! This happened about a week before lockdown.’
Now, after months of hard work, it’s still the music that gets Akira out of bed in the morning. So what’s he got to show for it all? ‘I know it’s hard, especially like male drum ‘n’ bass DJs in the scene, cause there’s so bloody many!’ he laughs. ‘Like how many bedroom DJs are there? The list goes on. So how do you step it up from the crowd?’ The sheer number of DJs spawned by the lockdown is almost an epidemic in itself. But as an all-rounder, Akira’s been channelling most of his energy into the launch of his music & fashion label, Buntai. ‘Buntai is the Japanese translation of squad,’ he explains, ‘so it’s a kind of family orientated name, a type of generation.’ The other half of the project is made up of long-time friend and designer Mia. ‘She’s fifty percent of this, like my creative director. I just tell her what’s in my head, and she just does it.’ His tight support network is clearly indispensable. ‘Everyone I’m using is my friend. So any DJ I’m booking is my friend, the photographers for the shoots, the models, they’re all my friends,’ he says. ‘That’s where Buntai stems from: who’s actually in my squad, who’s in my circle, you know? So, it’s cool.’ The label – ‘I don’t really know what to call it, a brand? Fuck knows’ – seems to represent a collective ethos, a local community, which still sustains a solid work ethic, which will hopefully grow into something self-sustaining. He’ll be releasing the first EP under Buntai later this spring, by fellow producer Zyzz. ‘I’m very lucky to have him,’ he says. ‘He’ll send me like two songs a day, he’s non fucking stop!’ He’s also expecting to release a bigger LP, ‘Too Close For Comfort’, later this year with a variety of other producers, and will be dropping a special collection of garments in the early summer. A lot to do, then. ‘Eventually, you get to a point, where you’re not doing sets for free, and it does become, like a workforce,’ he admits. ‘And you know, fair enough. These big DJs have spent years perfecting their thing.’ His love for music means the motivation comes easily: ‘I’m DJing like six hours a day solidly, like minimum, every single day,’ he says. But ‘if you’re putting so much into your craft you [eventually] need to get something back for it.’
His own mixing style is technically tight, and full of dark rollers and perfectly-curated drops. ‘My sets are veryorganised,’ he says. He gestures a pair of DJs chatting in the other corner of the garden who he’d greeted earlier: ‘I know these two can just slap something on for whatever vibe’s going on,’ he tells me. ‘But with drum ‘n’ bass, you’ve gotta be chopping, bringing, contracting rollers, to make it kinda sound brazy.’ He was invited to play at the Wavy Garms popup in Soho in December, and is planning on playing more sets as we move out of the lockdown. ‘I’ve got a couple things in the brew,’ he says, cryptically. First off will be his live guest appearance for us on Monday (26th April), for which he has something very special planned, though he won’t give too much away. ‘Just dark and fucking minimal man just, get you feeling all nasty and shit,’ he grins. ‘I’m just trying to make people move in their room, you know what I’m saying?’
Akira seems to have a level of organised dedication that can be rare in a DJ, and I don’t doubt his capacity to transmit that work ethic post-lockdown. ‘These days I’d just rather go home, and be able to wake up early for the next morning,’ he tells me. ‘Unfortunately a lot of the drum ‘n’ bass scene is all about seshing, and fair play like, I get it,’ he says. ‘But I’ve kind of gone past that need to constantly be getting on it, [in order] to vibe with the music. Like I can go to raves sober now, cause I love drum ‘n’ bass.’ Fashion and music are spurring him onwards and upwards, whilst representing the community he knows and loves: ‘I just wanna be playing, a couple sets here and there, a couple good parties, in my t-shirt, in my hoodie. That’s the idea.’
We can expect a guest mix from AKIRA on SUPER Bleached later down the line, and keep your eyes and ears open for special treats on Buntai. But for now, tune in as he joins us live from Let It Roll Records on Monday 26/4 // 19:00 BST.
Instagram: @akirrbo @buntai