Focus: Otzeki

12th June 2016

Otzeki are London-based cousins Mike and Joel. They released their debut EP, Falling Out, at the end of last month and recently launched their own record label. Check out our conversation with vocalist and guitarist Mike to find out about the origins of the band and the thoughts and feelings that inspire and influence their music.
What were your formative musical experiences? As cousins, did you grow up discovering music together?
We used to spend summers as kids on camping holidays with our family; writing simple blues songs, imitating our father’s favourite tunes such as God is a Drunk by Tom Waits and Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix. Looking back on it, we were also watching comedies together like It’s All Gone Pete Tong and Human Traffic way before we knew anything about electronic music. Funny to think about Otzeki simmering in our subconscious though!
Did you always know you wanted to be musicians; what were the other options?
We had a vague idea that both of us would end up doing something within the arts but things only really started taking shape when we both realised music was pretty much all we could do. Joel got kicked out of acting school and I couldn’t afford to go to university so we just started spending as much time on music as possible, aside from odd jobs and what not.
Is there anything – maybe a show you saw or a piece of music you heard when you were younger – that shaped the way you approach and create music?
When I went to Berlin a few years back everything changed. I had a weird sentimental phobia of our own times until then. Joel was always pretty clued up on the electronic stuff, though. He knew all the worthwhile parties and DJs so brought me into that whole scene when I was back in London. It turned out he’d been to Berlin during the same week I was out there but we didn’t know until we spoke to each other out of the blue. It was uncanny and there was a big mutual feeling of needing to make something together and so we did, after Berlin.
Your press release mentions that you formed Otzeki over a mutual appreciation for David Beckham and Ricardo Villalobos; can you elaborate on this? Why did you decide to make music together?
We used to play football on family occasions and wanted Beckham’s haircuts and the Adidas preds like any other kid brainwashed into capitalism. We still love him for his effortless charm and his clear-cut simplicity – you can’t shrug your childhood heroes! Ricardo Villalobos has been the backdrop for countless clubbers bonding sessions but, considering there are happier places to be than inside a toilet cubicle in Fabric, it’s his taste in the abnormal and his artistic sense of humour that makes him a cornerstone for Otzeki.
Otzeki
Does being a two-piece mean you have to have an especially strong bond? How important is your relationship with regards to your music?
Yeah we’re fully aware of the shit we have to go through to make our music, regardless of what anyone else hears when listening to it. What comes out is deeply rooted in our humanity. Without knowing anxiety, paranoia, anger, violence, joy, freedom, isolation, acceptance, love, care or serenity our songs would be meaningless so we have to live through all of that stuff together and somehow make sense of it.
Can you tell me a bit about the name Otzeki and what that means? I know it has something to do with a ‘red Russian book’…
According to an old Chinese Arabian Jewish proverb “the artifice of eternity is in your hands but the German sniffer dogs will sniff you out”.
What’s your creative process like? Do you write songs together?
We intuitively write together and evolve the process to suit whatever mood we’re in. I write the lyrics and vocal melodies and Joel often tells me when it’s shit and vice versa depending on what we’re working on. The less intellectual and the more practical and instinctive we are, the more likely something worthwhile will appear.
A lot of music blogs are comparing you to bands like Animal Collective and The XX, is that the kind of sound you’re aiming for? Who are your biggest musical influences?
They’re pretty much polar opposite bands sonically so I don’t know if that means anything. We’re not aiming for a particular sound and instead discovering what we like within our natural boundaries. Influences for us by now are becoming a mirage as our infantile generation sits on an infinite ever-expanding plastic ocean of useable material. We’re constantly surrounded by an influx of abstract matter, natural or recorded and virtual. Our whole reality is so fucking wild it makes us numb to the true essence of life itself thinking about it. To say that any individual among this super-unnatural chaos is a main influence is not only a hindrance to our imaginations but an out and out lie!
What makes a track an Otzeki track? Is there any certain atmosphere or emotion you try and evoke with your music?
To be honest I don’t know. In the same way that humour translates really badly in text messages and emoticons, if there were to be an atmosphere or emotion we were intentionally trying to evoke through our music, the chances are it would be misinterpreted and fast become vapid.

Let’s talk about your debut EP, Falling Out. Why did you choose those four tracks to introduce yourselves? What do they say about Otzeki as a band?
I suppose we chose them because they’re representative of our eclectic interest in a wide range of genres and together create a balanced aesthetic that’s not restricted to a specific mood or style.
Is there an overall theme or meaning running through the EP? How do the tracks connect to each other?
Yeah it’s a collection of various parallel realities. The overall theme is based on the concoction of guilt and luck in us living in this narcissistic developed world and our lack of awareness due to the transparency of the evil that surrounds us. It seems we have to disable ourselves psychologically or physically in order to have any self-awareness and be reminded that we are human.
What can we expect from an Otzeki live show? Your press release describes you as eccentric…
It’s hard to come when you have expectations as you end up feeling desensitised. It’s better you come without thinking. I’m genuinely surprised our press release says we’re eccentric; that makes me feel sick and belittled like a frog cut in half and eaten alive by a smiling Japanese talk show host. If entertainment is anything beyond this mundane carcass of reality then call it what you like but to call us eccentric is like squeezing a lightbulb and feeling the shattered glass against your bones in the dark as warm blood aches onto your naked feet.
What’s coming up next for you; any tours or more releases?
We launched a record label called Discophorus with some friends last month at Off the Cuff in Herne Hill. It was huge step and the venue means a lot to us as we honed and tested a bunch of our songs there. There’s plenty more going down to commemorate the EP release and what follows but we’ll save it until then!
 
Words by Gemma Barnes

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