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Hak Baker on ‘World’s End FM: ‘I just want to make people feel good’

Hak Baker's debut album might tackle the loftiest of subjects, but the man himself says he's here to keep dancing through the darkness.

By Nick Reilly

Hak Baker (Picture: Nadine Persaud)

It’s the day after Hak Baker has released ‘Doolally’ – a frenetic Streets-esque ode to the joys of large in the city – and the London singer is feeling the effects of doing, well, exactly that the night before.

“Oh man, I’m not feeling me best, but I’ve got this,” comes the honest admission from the East Londoner, who is nursing a smoothie to help his hangover.

“I was out with my friends last night and they’re just a bit nuts. I just got caught up in it, but the trouble is that I love it!”

Suddenly, he realises that last night’s antics are entirely in keeping with the spirit of his most recent song.

“I’m living through it,” he cackles in a distinctive Cockney accent. “At least no one can tell me I ain’t fucking real!”

These vivid observations of wild life in the capital form a central part of Worlds End FM, the remarkable debut from the Isle of Dogs born star which arrives this Friday. Anchored by Baker’s role as the DJ of a fictional pirate radio station, it’s a record which uses the clever framing device to present a number of heavy issues.

Observations on the bleak reality of gentrification, the despicable treatment of the Windrush Generation and our depressing reliance on modern technology all play a central role in the album, while sitting alongside party-starting odes to the good times.

“When I walk down the road in London now, I see nothing but strangers and uninteresting people who think that the sun shines out at the backside,” Baker concedes.

You can read our whole Q&A with Hak Baker below.

Congratulations on the album, Hak. In a way, it feels like a real London record. Tracks such as ‘Lost London’ offer a real snapshot of how gentrification is destroying communities.

London used to be my home, but it don’t feel like that no more. When I walk down the road and see nothing but strangers and uninteresting people who think the sun shines out their backside. They’re a bunch of tyrants really. They’re like pirates that come and nick anything. They don’t appreciate the real side, they’re just here to take pictures.

To me, London isn’t about that. It’s about about home and family, you know, multiculturalism and, and freedom and acceptance. But it ain’t like that no more, it feels like a big show and dance. There’s people who put their noses in the air and it’s bloody boring. It’s horrible.

Do you think that pockets of the old London remain?

There’s baby pockets, but even my manor ain’t got it no more. I won’t even lie. There’s just a few of us left who can keep it double old school. But everyone else don’t want to listen, they think they’re too much the guv’nor. There’s no respect for elders and no respect for morality. It’s finished.

On Telephone 4 Eyes too, there’s frustration with our dependence on our phones

Yeah and even I’m not dodging the bullet there. I’m trying my hardest, but it was fucking sad when I realised that likes and all that bollocks actually has reactions in your brain that make you feel good. It was fucking sad to realise that. Like, just go out and drink a beer. High five your mate, that should make you feel good!

Back in the day, you wouldn’t have been able to turn a corner without seeing a group of ten kids doing something and I don’t even know where that is anymore. They’re wondering why we can’t talk to people. Innate human contact is diminishing by the day and we’re not pushing kids to go outside.

Do you think it’s part of something bigger? The idea that kids are glued to their phones because youth clubs and services are being cut and there’s little else to do.

One million percent. Whoever is in power, they don’t care about kids having a laugh. All their kids have got big country estates over there and the first place they always cut is the youth clubs and the youth services.

If kids had hubs where they could go and meet other people, people that don’t necessarily look or sound like them, they could establish connections early on and they wouldn’t want to fight or cut that geezer. They cut the money and then they wonder why this keeps happening.

They really just don’t give a shit about us and they wonder why the place is in tatters, but they don’t care it all feeds into their system and their privatisation of the systems.

Look, I recently found out it cost 30 grand to keep a prisoner in jail, so that’s a laugh. I’ve been twice, so they must have spent a lot on that!

You’ve spoken about how you first picked up a guitar in prison. What’s your experience of the prison system?

I was in for armed robbery and drugs, but I was a tearaway. I left my home at 14 and I ran away with the other lost boys on the street. We went through that story and we never cried and we never wanted someone to lick our wounds. We just got on with it and that’s what happens, you come out and you learn things and that’s that. I won’t hide from it at all. I was living on my own at the end of the day and I had to fend for myself, so I did what I knew and what I saw.

Did music provide respite and something to funnel your energy into when you were released?

Not really, you know. It’s always been second nature to me, but I’ve wanted to make myself a better person and music is just what I’m here to do. It’s what I’ve always done. Amongst the hubbub of whatever I was getting up to, I always had that as a bed anyway.

But it was great picking up a guitar for the first time and once I touched it, it felt like a match made and something that really worked.

I was really struck by ‘Windrush Baby’ and the way it hails the people who came over from Caribbean countries and helped build the UK up again after World War Two.

Yeah, but nothing’s really changed in the way they were treated by the government. You get people that sit there and try and argue these points that are just completely uneducated and it’s shambolic.

They need to be paid their reparations for everything that happened with that scandal. Everyone else gets paid their reparations, so why can’t my people? There’s been far worse scandals elsewhere too, King Leopold of Belgium butchered 10 million black people in the congo. It’s the same old story mate.

Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey is on production duties for several songs. What was it like working with him?

He’s just the man in so many different ways. I was so lucky to work with him. When I found out he was working alongside King Tubby in Jamaica doing the dub stuff, it felt like he really was the man. Like in his studio and how he runs it too. That was a fucking joy, I had to stop and think ‘how am I working with such a legend?’. The youth he still has in him too as an older gentleman was just fucking amazing. Number ones all over the shop with bands like Wet Leg too. He can’t miss at the moment.

There’s positivity on the record too, which comes across in your live shows. Are you excited to take the record on the road and to the masses?

Yeah. Playing live is where I have it. Sometimes the studio is a bit sad and I’m crying or whatever and I’m releasing certain things. The show is where we can come together and make everyone feel good. I’m blessed, and in my low days I can’t see it, but when I’m in a good state I can see how blessed I am. People don’t understand how good the record is, but I’m actively going out there to make them feel good and challenge certain mindsets. I want people to look at strangers and ask how they are. I’m just hoping that’s what it does.

I’m just trying to build something where I can create a worldwide community, I’ve got big aspirations and they’re not for gold. I just want people to feel good, cos it’s hard out there. I want people to talk and to free themselves of their demons!