Slikback The Uganda-based producer talks groundbreaking China residency, drawing lines between Shanghai and Kampala

The sound of Kenya-born, Uganda-based producer Slikback may be hard to describe, but one doesn’t need to be a scholar in Boomkat or a specialist in East African music to be immediately smacked in the gut by it. Although the young producer has been making tracks for only two years, he’s already churned out over 400 of them and made recent appearances at Unsound in Poland and CTM in Berlin. With a slot booked at Sónar in Barcelona this summer, Slikback is a name you’ll probably be seeing more and more of if you pay any attention to fresh tremors from the global bass music underground.

To date, Slikback has two EPs out on Hakuna Kulala, a spinoff of long-running Kampala, Uganda-based label, collective, studio, and festival Nyege Nyege that Slikback co-founded with two other like-minded artists last summer. His own rapidly evolving sound was actually a catalyst for the label’s birth, according to Nyege Nyege co-founder Derek Debru:

Hakuna Kulala was started when a few of the young producers we had been working with for some years started to blossom and make more and more interesting music. They needed a platform that was also more free, hence digital only, and so Slikback, [Rey] Sapienz and [Don] Zilla launched Hakuna Kulala. It features less endogenous scenes as on Nyege Nyege Tapes — like singeli, acholitronix, electrokadodi etc — and more music from the NOW, what young producers are making in this moment and can bang right into any club.

The way Slikback’s sound moves fluidly between influences like trap, gqom, footwork, and a number of East African regional styles bears a passing resemblance to the sounds that have emerged from Shanghai’s underground club scene in recent years. The genre-evasive output of the Genome 6.66Mbp and SVBKVLT labels in particular resonate well with Slikback’s omnivorous sonic diet, and he name-checks Shanghai-orbiting producers Tzusing, Osheyack, and Hyph11e as artists who’ve entered his headspace. Although half a hemisphere apart, the Kampala and Shanghai undergrounds rhyme by being both deeply community-rooted and radically open to all global sounds.

This border-agnostic cultural affinity is currently being cemented in a series of offline exchanges. Slikback touched down in China last Friday to kick off a two-week tour/residency, playing some of the country’s most forward-thinking clubs — ALL in Shanghai, OIL in Shenzhen, and Loopy in Hangzhou, etc. — and jumping into the studio with luminaries of the current Shanghai underground, including SVBKVLT/Genome artist Hyph11e and Nanjing-based producer Dirty K. While SVBKVLT handles the China-side operations, Nyege Nyege/Hakuna Kulala will host on the other end: a number of studio exchanges and festival appearances for Chinese artists in Uganda are planned for later this year.

While we wait to hear what hybrid sounds will be formed by these unprecedented collisions, here’s an interview to drop in to the mind of Slikback.

Where in Kenya are you originally from? What was your childhood like?

I’m originally from Nairobi, a place called Kabete. Growing up was pretty chill there, though we moved around for most of my childhood, not really settling anywhere. I got to meet so many different people and experience various cultures because of my mum’s work as a househelp. Music-wise, all I really listened to was radio.

When did you move to Uganda? Why?

I moved to Uganda toward the end of 2016 for study. I got enrolled into a university there. It was there where I met someone who showed me the nightlife in Uganda and ultimately told me about NyegeNyege festival. My musical career was basically cultivated there.

Are you currently based in Kampala? Can you describe what makes the music scene there so vital at the moment?

Yeah, I am currently based in Kampala although now I move around a lot. The crews there are really what make the scene so vital, the biggest one being the Nyege crew. They give a platform for forward thinking music and allow people to express themselves freely without judgement. The result of this is young producers from around the region making interesting music and having a platform to share it.

You’ve only been making music for about two years, right? What genres, artists, clubs, or labels first interested you in music? What gear were you playing when you first started?

I first got really into trap music and gqom. As I listened to more and more music, I found other genres and artists I never knew existed but absolutely loved. Some of them were Errorsmith, Jlin, Tzusing, and Amnesia Scanner. Labels like PAN, Planet Mu, and Hyperdub became my go-to for music. That led me to search for my own musical freedom, just making whatever I think sounds cool without thinking of genres.

All I have and still use for production is my laptop, no real gear.

How has your approach to making music changed over the last two years?

I have become more aware of the spaces my music might end up being played in. I try to push my sound now more for the clubs while still trying to make it interesting enough for someone listening on headphones.

I read something from November that said you’d already produced about 400 tracks. What are you up to now?

Now I am trying out more sound design for visuals while still making more tracks, always trying to explore every aspect of sound whenever I can. I also listen online to a lot of different producers that inspire me and looking for some to release on Hakuna Kulala.

You recently made your first trip out of Africa to play at Unsound Festival in Poland. How has that experience affected your music? Any new sounds or artists that you discovered there?

Unsound really gave me a new perspective on music from the performances. The trip influenced some tracks on my latest EP, Tomo, as I learnt a lot about textures in relation to space. It was there where I discovered artists such as Renick Bell and others with very unique takes on music.

You’ve started a new project with Polish producer Morgiana Hz — how did that come about?

My collaboration with Morgiana Hz was a result of her residency at the Nyege Studio in Kampala. She is one example of an artist with unique views on music and I was curious to collaborate with her.

Are there any African styles of music that have influenced you in particular or that you try to incorporate to your sound? What about foreign sounds/genres?

There are a lot of influences in my music, from traditional Ugandan music that I heard during my stay there, to Gqom from South Africa, and even Trap. The list is endless, because I believe that every genre has something unique to offer.

What are your expectations or hopes for your China tour? Are there any Chinese producers or DJs that you’re especially looking forward to playing/working with?

I hope to interact with amazing crowds and make people go hard on the dancefloor. I am really looking forward to working with Hyph11e and hopefully Tzusing and Osheyack.

In general, what stereotypes or ideas do you have about China? I know that China has invested a lot of money in building projects in Africa over the last several years — what is the general feeling about China in Uganda or Kenya?

Kenyans only know about China from movies but link the Chinese community to road construction, as China has plated a major role in Kenya’s infrastructure. The general feeling towards China is friendly in Kenya, although some might not feel the same.

Anything else you want to add about your music, your local scene in East Africa or your upcoming China tour/residency?

Only that I am really exited for the tour.

If you happen to be in China, catch Slikback on the remainder of his residency/tour:

04.25.19 - Shenzhen - OIL
04.26.19 - Nanjing - Monohouse
04.29.19 - Beijing - Dada

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