“I guess at the time we were in the height of lockdown and I thought the idea of a three-person rave would be fun.” These are the words of London-based musician, Haich Ber Na; evolving from his roots in grime, rap, and R&B, his style has culminated in an avant-garde, boundary-blurring form of electronica. This is expertly demonstrated in his newest EP, From Then Til' Now, out February 17.
Guiding us through his decade long artistic progression, Ber Na gives insight into both his music and the electric visual culture which has always accompanied it. The result is cutting-edge music in which Haich, to use his own words, “looks forward” in an attempt to negate the safe hiding space of musical nostalgia.
Haich, you started out your artistic career as a graphic design student. Tell me about the trajectory which has brought you from graphics to creating genre-bending music like Think About It?
I’ve always enjoyed both visual arts and music from a young age. So, technically I’ve always been doing both. I mainly used art school as an excuse to move out and give the music thing a proper go. I didn’t particularly throw myself into uni life, but after I graduated I realised the whole arts education experience had really helped me understand out how I can build the visual world around my music.
I understand your musical style has also shifted in the two years you’ve been producing. What took you from grime-style beats to the more dance side of electronica?
I’ve actually been producing for over 10 years now. I was making grime, rap and R&B instrumentals from like 13-18. I guess as I got older, hanging out with friends from different backgrounds, we’d connect over music, this helped me discover and appreciate a lot of different genres. From like ages 19 to 22 I spent a lot of time developing a sound that felt more like the broad range of music I was listening too.
You tackled the pandemic in your recent song release 0594 Help. What was it like creating music about something of that magnitude and universal relevance?
There was a sense of comfort making that tune. Like we were expressing how we felt about a lot of the madness for the first time. Its a challenge to channel the energy of the world at the time, whilst trying to make something which won’t age badly. I try not to write lyrics which are too bait, like “I’m stepping on the train rocking my surgical mask” isn’t a lyric that will age well.
It’s always hard to write lyrics which a lot of people can relate too, but not being so vague that they feel empty. It was the moment we added the “It’s not the end of the world” vocal sample when it had that world crisis feel. I imagined that voice being Dexter's Lab computer comforting him through some sort of ordeal.
What made you want to pair the apocalyptic energy of the song’s content with visuals inspired by Jamiroquai's Virtual Insanity? I can’t quite put my finger on why the nightclub space suits the purpose of 0594 Help so well, but I’m hoping you can.
Thank you, I’m glad you thought it worked! If I’m honest not a Jay Kay super fan or anything but I have always enjoyed his music and that video in particular. I guess at the time we were in the height of lockdown and I thought the idea of a three-person rave would be fun.
Me and my friend Richard Wilkins, who produced the two music videos, we’re interested in building an exciting space we could experiment inside of, and we decided on a room on wheels. After Richard had programmed the lights it really gave the video its own flavour – it makes me want to perform the song to a crowd bad.
Under its YouTube video, there’s a long list of acknowledgements of those who brought 0549 Help to fruition. What are the collaborative processes like which took place in creating your new EP, both sonically and visually?
The music was written and produced by me and my long time friend True Diesel, who you can see in a lot of the artwork these days. We’ve got a song on the EP with the amazing Rodel who’s a vocalist and producer I’ve been working with for a few years now, she’s insane. The two videos were a part of a commission I did with Mansions of the Future, an arts space in Lincoln. They were so great last year, it’s so nice to have support from places outside the traditional music sphere.
The videos were shot in HQI, White City. HQI has been kind of been like my second home over the last two years. It’s an arts space with a music studio and insane club space upstairs, they also helped me release the music. The team who brought the videos to life were my friends. Jesse Crankson who I work with a lot did all the photography. Richard Wilkins developed, and produced the concepts and also put on his graphic design hat for all of the artwork. My brother Josif was assistant director and my young buck IVOR Alice was Director of Photography. Very much a family affair and as you can see all my friends are very sick.
One thing I noticed when scrolling through your Spotify page was how much I appreciated and loved your album art – some of your earlier covers look like snapshots from a sculptural avant-garde performance piece. Can you tell me a bit about how you brainstorm and create album art with your team? Do you employ any of your skills from your graphic design training?
Ah thank you, I appreciate that. I change my methods with every project. For example, the 2018-2019 stuff I did a lot of mood-boarding using Are.na, the website, and research into different movements, architecture films etc from different eras. Whilst with this new project, I didn’t mood-board much at all, most of the ideas just came from conversations and reacting to those initial thoughts quickly, which was much more of a challenge (laughs). One thing I learnt in university was to "Take inspiration from everything, including day to day things," not sure if that’s the exact quote, but I definitely live by that sentiment.
It was this initial study of graphic design which spurred your move from Peterborough to London. Has this move from a relatively small town to a sprawling metropolis influenced either your music or your process? Is it easier to produce and put out work like your new EP in a space with a larger creative community?
When I moved here I started working with people in ‘proper’ studios a lot more. I even rented a studio in Hackney with my friend for half a year. But I always come back to the home/living room style set up; one because paying for a studio can be expensive, and two... Maybe I can’t let go of the childhood feeling of the home studio? I always feel like I’m in my own head when I’m making music, so the city hasn’t influenced my sound directly but likely it has indirectly, through what friends play me or whatever I’d hear out (back when we could go out!). Releasing music since I’ve been here has definitely been easier due to the relationships I’ve made and the communities I’m apart of. But with the Internet,I think you can kind of be anywhere and release music at this point. If it connects with people, it’ll reach them and you’ll keep growing.
Haich Ber Na Metalmagazine 2.jpg
I personally view influences as quite a fluid concept, would you agree? Either way, do you have any artists/genres/spaces/eras you continually look to for inspiration? What were the influences behind your new EP?
I was listening to a lot more pop music whilst making this EP. I’ve been trying to understand why some pop music feels so good, and figuring out the science of it all. I was listening to a lot of Blur, Prince, Gary Numan etc. Generally, I don’t have one place I’ll go to for inspiration when something moves me and I’ll get slightly obsessive with it. Basically, I binge-listen to a specific artist's whole discography, watch all their documentaries and interviews in a week. Once I have a general understanding of them and there work, I’ll chill out and maybe just enjoy it for what it is. But like I mentioned above, I’ll try to find inspiration in everyday things and conversations more time.
I gather you’ve titled your new EP From Then Til’ Now. You’re obviously hinting at a sort of temporal progression here; can you develop upon this?
Yes, you’re right. This EP feels like the space between where I’m at musically right now and where I want to be on my debut album. The other meaning behind the title is based off a long phone call I had with Richard about visual work, Instagram and nostalgia. We were talking about how a lot of artists, especially in music, hide behind nostalgia (me included).
I mean, there is no way of understanding the future without looking back at the past right? So we always need to look back. But I’m making more effort to look forward. Or at least extract the energy from the past, rather than borrowing the aesthetics and sound of that time. I’m not quite there yet, and maybe I’m a big hypocrite… Just watch the 0594 Help video. It’s a discussion which never quite had an ending, and although sometimes it can feel bleak, the future of music and visual culture still excites me so much
The focus track from this album, 87 Days, is one of my favourites. It’s so fresh and balances being innovative without being difficult to listen to. Is this a tension you explore across the EP?
Thank you! It’s one of my favourites too. I wanted to make something that’s catchy and clear but at the same time fucks with your brain a bit. You know? My last projects were so fun to make, but I realised my own friends weren’t even wheeling the songs back. They’d tell me they’ll listen once a month or so because the way they were structured we’re so 'intense.' That was such great feedback, and made me start to find that middle ground between the weird and consumable.
Is there a particular mood you wanted to invoke with From Then Til’ Now? I know it left me feeling pretty uplifted so I’m curious as to what your intentions were (if any).
That's so nice that you felt uplifted! I’ve never heard anyone say that about my music. A lot of my previous music was very introspective and dark – borderline depressing. I never really plan a ‘mood’ for a project/song, but I think uplifting and fun is something we need more of right now. Not taking ourselves too seriously, especially since the world feels very serious right now. I like that the music can provide a momentary escape for people, that’s kind of been my goal from the start.
Aside from releasing your new EP in the midst of a global pandemic, do you have any other goals for 2021?
More music, more visuals, hopefully, some live gigs if the universe permits it. Personally, learning to cook more dishes, I’ve fallen in love with cooking over the last two years or so. Hopefully, I'll be able to work with other artists too, collaboration is something I don’t do enough of!