His first album, "When We Were Young," was actually out on Interscope records in 2006, and featured the song "Oh! (What A Glorious Thing)" which has appeared in a film and a couple of commercials, and keeps him afloat. The album failed to make an impact, and Interscope dropped him not long after, which was probably for the best, as Akira (born Adam Narkiewicz) has become something of an internet gadfly since then, doing a lot of his best work when freed from things like commercial viability and rules. Without having to worry about what he can and can't release, Akira's turned into a guerrilla sound chemist, which has been fantastic to listen to.
The Mixtapes are generally where Akira's trying things out, seeing what works and what doesn't, playing with sounds and samples to see what connects, usually a mix of his own stuff and things he likes from friends and colleagues, but occasionally includes stuff from outside of that. And a shitload of samples from all sorts of sources. One of the most recent ones was called "Mangamusic" and you can imagine where he drew a lot of that from.
|ZION 2012: The Apocalypmics|
A lot of the ZION mix relies on an interview with a young conspiracy theorist named Rik Clay. Rik Clay, by most accounts, committed suicide in 2008, but before he did, he was talking a lot about how the London Olympics was filled with symbology and was indicative that it was part of a global agenda to create a new Jerusalem in London. Clay sounds passionate about what he's talking about, but in many cases, the whole thing feels like grasping at straws, drawing any thread he can in hoping to prop it all up. The Mayan calendar, alien invasions, numerology...
You won't find much rapping from Akira on ZION 2012: The Apocalympics (with the exception of "Where Were The Heroes?"), which normally would be a negative, but there's something magical about this whole mix, as if you're getting a window into what a part of the world thinks on a daily basis. And Akira offers no judgement of them, because there's parts where the argument starts to make some sense, only to push just a little too far and lose you again half a step later.
It's easy to just think of Akira as a rapper, because that's the focus of his career, but I think it's incredibly important to pay attention to how great a producer and mixer he is. He's got so many wonderful sounds blended together, so many voices, so many snippets of music, pianos, drums, choral tones, sparse electric guitar... it's an audio collage in the finest form. Akira's got a real knack for blending things together, and ZION is the mixtape where he's firing on all cylinders.
Some of the music from ZION is used again by Akira in other projects. The majority of the background music from "11:11" is used in ATD28 as the backing track for him and rapper Envy in "Give Me Something." The phrase "give me something I can hold" is from the original "11:11" and here is applied as Envy talks about losing her mother in the new song. Both versions of the song are excellent, although I have a slight preference for the original. This is standard operating procedure for Akira, who is happy to double-dip with a good collage or beat, and rightly so.
ZION 2012 wraps up with the song "Occupants," which showcases the optimism of even the conspiracy theorists, an upbeat tempo and a chipper voice saying "holding on" over and over again as the talking heads point out that, despite all the things they've pointed out, we shouldn't expect to see anything obvious or big happening at the 2012 Olympics, although the implication is clear - it could happen and if it does, we will be there telling you we told you so. The New World Order is clearly going to enslave us all, and we really can't do anything about it, but we won't see it coming, and we may not even notice when it does happen, so don't panic, because panic doesn't do anyone any good. On with the show!
the ZION 2012: The Apocalympics mixtape from Akira's website for five pounds (which is around $8.50 as the time of this writing) and you can get the albums "When We Were Young," "Living In The Future" and the essential "The Life Equation" from iTunes for $8 each, as well as a bunch of his other singles and EPs. A lot of his mixtapes you can listen to for free on his site track-by-track, such as the ZION mix, although some of them are purchase only at this point. Of the mixes, the most recent ones have all been pretty solid, although Unkillable Thunderchrist (the second to most recent one) can be a bit heavy handed in spots, although that's forgivable for the moment of teenager life called "This Is So My Jam." Although, in classic Akira fashion, he revisited the track in the most recent mixtape, ATD29, with "OMG (This Is So My Jam)" that takes the quiet mellowness of the original and amps it up with a techno beat, synth sizzles and turns it into a party anthem. The first version is more of the teenager alone in their room, ecstatic about a new discovery they're keeping to themselves and the second one is the teenager at a club or concert cheering as loud as they can when their favorite song hits the air like a wave of joy breaking just above their head, throwing their hands up to brush their fingertips against the feeling of it.
I gave Akira a copy of my first novel when I saw him perform live at a comic shop in San Francisco. Never heard what he thought of it, but hope it brought him at least as much joy as his music's brought me...