Alongside the perhaps anticipated touchstones of pop music excellence – the Stones, Krautrock, Madchester, the rhythmic lyricism of Kendrick Lamar and Courtney Barnett, psychedelia – Akiva are also happy to acknowledge the impact of cultural references less readily associated with rock’n’roll, namely UK current affairs programmes Newsnight and Question Time, and the trusty BBC Radio 4. For here is a band who believe that music is a medium for a message, never more so than in these troubled times. “Our songs tend to have a heavy theme of conflict and aggression running through them lyrically,” says frontman Dave MacKenzie. “Grab a beat, a bassline, add a view of the world, and you’re on the right track.”
Three quarters of Akiva – Malcolm Carter (guitar, vox), Rob Mercel (bass) and Dave Mercel (drums) – have known each other since their schooldays at a Bedfordshire comprehensive, variously soaking up the delights of warehouse raves, classic guitar riffery and grunge. Singer, guitarist and synth programmer Dave MacKenzie then arrived from England’s northwest, bringing with him a passion for breakbeat, the Madchester scene and anything with a bit of groove and swagger. Honing their art in a dingy south London rehearsal room, Akiva found themselves sharing the studio space with Kasabian, whose processed beats and retro licks weren’t a million miles away from where Akiva themselves were heading. Throw in shuffling broken drum beats, rolling basslines, twinkling analogue synths and punchy, percussive lyrics and you have the Akiva sound, fully formed.
Those punchy lyrics, of course, have political intent. George Orwell is a band hero, and his writings informed much of Akiva’s first album, ‘Can’t Buy Revolutions’. Themes of war, conflict and turmoil remain prevalent in the quartet’s output and, sadly, there’s no end of material to draw on in 2017. “We’re generally fascinated and a bit terrified at the current state of the world,” says Dave, “and how it resembles the periods running up to the two world wars in terms of huge inequality, segregation and racial tension, and politicians using people’s fears and financial insecurities to whip up a culture of division, mistrust and discrimination.” Akiva are aware that only a rejection of these divisive forces, a recognition that we are all one, will turn things around. They have an internationalist message to spread, one that reacts against the fear and division. And you know what they say about rebellion informing the best art…
Akiva: M.O.D. (Official Video)
“As we stand on the brink of nuclear Trumpageddon with terror on the street and meltdown in the corridors of power, it doesn’t feel right to be listening to homogenous vocoder disposable pop featuring nobody special. That’s why we have something to say.” – Akiva
A triumphant taste of the heavyweight synth-based electro that marks Akiva’s live sets, ‘M.O.D’ melds a strident musical backing to a fierce polemic on war, all brutal groove, pulsing analogue, fierce guitar licks and anthemic vocal. It is a song written about past events – namely the juxtaposition of the Ministry of Defence’s ‘Be the Best’ recruitment campaign and the funeral cortèges on the streets of Wootton Bassett – but, indicative of this Bedfordshire band’s unflinching take on the state of the world, seems increasingly relevant now, as the clouds of war gather.
“The lyrics reflect the hypocrisy of the political class sending the soldiers out against the public’s wishes, while simultaneously praising their bravery on national television,” explains frontman Dave MacKenzie. “They also highlight the pointlessness and futility of the deaths and trauma inflicted on so many soldiers.”
The stunning video, its narrative arc illustrating those lyrics’ passion and despair, is the work of Berlin-based British animator Wayne McCauslin of the animation group Backyard Society. Wayne has previously worked on music videos for Crystal Fighters, Husky, Morcheeba and CHAMPS.
‘M.O.D.’ itself was recorded in Angelic Studios, Oxfordshire, before the sad death of its owner, and former Jamiroquai keyboardist, Toby Smith, earlier this year. Produced by Jake Gordon (Skepta, Emeli Sandé, Everything Everything), ‘M.O.D’ will be released on 13 October.
Akiva – ‘M.O.D.’ Lyrics: