At the end of last month, James Craigie, host of Absolute Zero, caught up with French-born, London-based singer and producer Oklou for an interview and to unpack three tracks that have influenced her futuristic soft-pop sounds. Oklou's most recent release, The Rite Of May, which dropped on NUXXE, is a six-track journey into a new world of playful electronic pop tempered by the reality of hard-hitting, unexpected samples.
The release is a far cry from the music Oklou came up with. As a classically trained musician raised in the countryside of Western France, her first exposures to music was a peculiar mix of “globally classical and traditional dance Irish music”, she explains. That switched in her early teens when her older brother introduced more commercially friendly trip hop and she moved into listening to a lot of rock, hip hop and techno. “I was exposed to so much – I had a rock band and I was also doing hip hop dance.” Oklou’s final break with her classical music roots came at the end of her training in music school when, at aged 18, she broke off to make her own music. “I had to choose between a professional life of playing the cello – 10 hours a day playing music that is not yours – and I just chose to not do that. I was so interested in so many other art forms as well that I didn't want to be restrained to one career”. Forever feeling like “something was missing” and wanting more creative stimulation outside of her small hometown, she eventually found herself on the musical path she’s now on; “I was watching so many things happening on the internet that I wasn’t able to touch in real life”. Oklou's move to Paris at the age of 21 and then London later has enabled various visual and sonic collaborations on The Rite Of May and the influence of both cities, which she still travels between often, can be heard and seen.
Read on for a breakdown of Oklou's favourite tracks and listen back to the Absolute Zero interview below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your first choice?
Oklou: My first track is from Frank Ocean's Channel Orange album. The name is “Pilot Jones”.
Why this track out of all the Frank Ocean tracks?
Oklou: When I knew that I had to choose three tracks, I knew that I would choose one from him – he’s my favourite pop artist. And this track I discovered again a year ago. I was just listening to the album because it had been a long time and that track played. I was like ‘Oh My God. Why didn't I notice it before?’ It was a discovery, even though I knew the album. I just love it. I love the format because it's so short and I love how he says the lyrics and that there can be several meanings to what he's saying.
You've got loads of tunes on SoundCloud under Avril23 and as Oklou. I noticed that Avril23 has got a lot more stuff on it. Where do you draw the line between the two?
Oklou: I guess Avril23 is just a place where I put things without even thinking if I should post it or not. I just do it. It's drafty things I haven't finished or I don't really care about finishing. It's total freedom that space, and, actually, you can hear on Avril23 some drafty version of what I've been releasing later on Oklou.
How old are the tracks on The Rite Of May?
Oklou: On “Valley”, the first track that introduces the EP, I recorded the vocals four years ago. The elements are actually very old – a lot of elements you can find on Avril23. I actually use it to build something new. It sometimes feels that I need so much time to digest the things I do. That's maybe why “Be With U Day N Night Baby” – I made almost two years ago now. But I just need time to do other stuff and then go back to it.
You use a lot of samples from Instagram and YouTube. What is it that you like about collage?
Oklou: I've always done it. I think the first time I did it was on my very first EP. I was sampling a short part of the movie and I put it on the track and then I never stopped doing that. I did a one-time sample on the EP – I sampled Cardi B saying something about a deer but I can't remember why I did it in the first place. I've been influenced by someone for sure but I can't remember who.
Where did the der thing come from? You use deer avatars for a lot of stuff?
Oklou: I had a lot of dreams about being a deer and shit, and most of my beautiful visual influences in movies are with the deer somewhere. Like, Bambi but also the deer in Princess Mononoke that is the spirit of the forest and the movie Fantasia, which features a deer at some point. It's always somewhere in my life and I just love what it represents – the elegance of it.
What is your next song and why have you chosen this song?
Oklou: Well, I wanted to choose something that, without even knowing it, I've been so influenced by and I think Phil Collins – actually during all that 90s period and especially this tune – is really romantic, soft and chill. You can feel the warmth. That's a big thing that I kept from that period of my life. That kind of ambience in the music and just the message – really pure and not too elaborated on. “One More Night” is just the perfect tune for that. I remember one of my first singles was a present and it was Phil Collins “I Can't Stop Loving You”, but at the time, it was just an old singer on the radio. I was more into Shakira and stuff but now I'm like, ‘Ok. That was actually a thing for me’.
Why did you move to Paris and why did you move to London afterwards?
Oklou: I love to move. That's the first thing. I went to Paris because at some point when I was 21 I was missing something. I was watching so many things happening on the internet and I wasn't able to touch it in the real life in the city I was in at the time in terms of events or even people who were trying to do something for the city. I didn't really know what I was missing exactly but I just felt like I needed to go to Paris. Which is kind of hard when you can't explain it to your family or people like, ‘Why do you do that? It's so expensive and shit?’ But I was right because I've met so many amazing people who are my friends now and after four or three years I wanted to move again to see what life bring me.
So NUXXE is also home to Sega Bodega, who you worked with on a track on your EP?
Oklou: Yeah, he helped me on the production of “Friendless”, the last track on the EP, which was actually new for that EP. I've been writing all the tracks and then I've been working with the producers to improve the drums because they aren't my speciality. I've also been working a lot with my Parisian friend, who is a DJ and producer and who has many skills really, but we've been spending a lot of time in the studio working on the production of each of the tracks.
How did you find getting into collaboration with someone when you did work by yourself for so long?
Oklou: It was really interesting because I kind of knew even more how I wanted to work with people. It was also the first time for me to work with people I wasn't intimate with and that was a very important parameter for me, I guess. That was a positive experience.
Oklou: It depends. Sometimes I have a synth and I already see like, ‘Oh. That could be great with a car driving’. But I've always loved videos and pictures and I think, especially in this era, when you listen to music you see the visuals of it. So, it is really important to me. I love it. I love thinking about and I love to work on it. I couldn't let someone else do it.
Who do you want to work with?
Oklou: I actually don't know who I'd love to work with. I know that I'm really influenced by huge pop stars like Justin Bieber. Not just because it's huge pop stars but I just love whoever writes it – all the melodies that he's singing and the way his voice is singing them. And so when I write I think I have some of these influences. Frank Ocean, but he's like a genius so I can't even think about it. I love Rihanna's work as well – I'm using their work to write my own music like catchy things because I love it so much, but I'm open to any voices.
And one last question. What is the ideal setting for Oklou? Where would you like to perform?
Oklou: Honestly, I think the best way to appreciate what I'm doing in life is to lie down. As weird as it sounds I think I would love to play these sleeping shows. I would love to just say to people. ‘You don't have to be at the front of the stage and pretend anything – if you want to sit down, I'm so okay with that.’
Let's close off with your final selection.
Oklou: It's Oneohtrix and the reason I love his work is because, alongside all this experimental work he's done, he's got this pop side to him and I think its just perfect. I can hear that in so many of his tracks and especially on “I Only Have Eyes For You”. I think it’s a really beautiful one.