Most musicians are drawn to creating a certain type of music after finding comfort or euphoria in it at a gig or club night, or being turned on to it by a relative or friend. Mike Sharp, guitarist and sign- er for Otzeki, says his initial attraction to electronic music came in quite a different way. “You know that classic thing you do when you first get a Casio keyboard and you speed up the bongo track with the elephant sound?” he laughs. “That’s when I first realised electronic music is fun.”
The band is completed by Mike’s cousin, Joel Roberts, who handles synth and percussion duties. He cut his teeth in a more traditional manner, going on a journey of exploration from Aphex Twin through to experiment and minimal techno. “Joel always had a head for [electronic music],” says Mike. “I didn’t realise its potential until I went to Berlin.”
Though the band consider their official start to have been just over a year ago, that trip four years previously could really be classified as the very beginning of Otzeki. Both members were in the German city at the same time and visited the same club, all without realising the other was there. On their return, Mike, remembering the times the pair had been clubbing together in London, invit- ed Joel round for a jam and things grew from there.
Now located in Cambridge, where Joel grew up, they’re keeping more to themselves, describing their shared apartment as a “secluded base”. Since leaving the capital, they’ve discovered they thrive on a particular energy found in the city. “There’s a certain tension you receive from being in a toxic place like London,” says Mike. “People are so nice and friendly and approachable, but, for some reason, the environment doesn’t quite seem like that.”
Last year, debut EP ‘Falling Out’ first alerted the wider world to Otzeki’s existence. Four tracks of contemplative electronic rock, each are shot through with elegance and emotion. On the title track, fragmented, glacial guitar lines glide under Mike’s sombre declarations of “You’re always on your own”. Single ‘Touch’ followed months later, throbbing bass and “coo-coo” calls adding a hypnotic edge to the track while ‘Already Dead’ is a mix of urgent, rasped vocals and the soft clatter of jan- gling percussion. All six have earned the duo praise from the likes of Annie Mac, Huw Stephens, Clash and Radio X, as well as one million Spotify plays so far.
If you’ve spent any time in a railway arch in Herne Hill over recent months, you might have heard more of those grand plans. At one point the south London area’s venue Off The Cuff was some- thing of a base for them – a place to rehearse, develop their live show (their aim is to “generate a party atmosphere” and “be as light-hearted as possible”) and test out songs on an audience. There, they’d watch people’s faces as they performed, noting which sections seemed to elicit a re- sponse and then go away and hone those bits, working them into new tracks like an aural patch- work blanket.
All Otzeki’s releases so far have come out on their own label, Discophorus – a move both intended to restrict the need for compromise and teach them how things are done. “It’s a spawn of creating things yourself and DIY and liking vinyl and records, and having artistic control,” Joel says. “There are so many people in the industry who know what they’re doing, but you want to see the other side of it so, when the time does come to work with other people, you respect what they’re trying to achieve and you know what they’re talking about,” adds Mike.
The next single to come on the label is ‘All This Time’, a “rock’n’roll disco track” that sums up the duo’s songwriting process and unbridled ambition. Describing it as “one big collage”, Mike explains the song in sections. It begins by taking inspiration from Marlon Brando’s “fucked up” rape scene in Last Tango In Paris before moving into a narrative that deals with the “pseudo idea of celebrity”. “Marlon Brando was into Christian science so there’s this weird paradox where he was a sex icon and also perceived as masculine, but was actually a very, very sensitive person,” he says.
It all ends with the singer tackling themes of religion and universality. “I’d been reading the Koran at the time,” he explains. “I’m quite pantheistic so I think everything comes from the same source and has an evolution. If you think about light and colour, there are many colours, but they all stem from
the same one – white. By the end of the song I’m saying Allah is my god, but Allah is just another word for god. The weird thing about all the world’s religions are is that a lot of the oracles are women, yet all the knowledge seems to come from the man. But these men haven’t been particu- larly pleasant so, in one song, I’m trying to bring these horrible characteristics together with this kind of serenity and this clarity of some kind of universal one-ness.” It’s a bold concept that reflects their ambition perfectly.
Despite it being such early days for the band, they’re already making waves abroad. In France they’ve been playlisted by national radio stations Radio Nova, France Inter and FIP, while they’ve also found something of a fanbase in Paris specifically, with the city’s Point FMR venue packed to the rafters when they played a headline show there in November. Germany, too, is getting on board early, with influential radio station WDR1 Live championing the band.
It’s all adds to the feeling that there’s something big brewing for the pair. Armed with big ideas, a knack for writing killer songs and a unique live show, Otzeki have the world at their feet. Right now, it looks like conquering it should be no problem.