Interview... Hak Baker
East Ham Working Men’s Club is a relic of the old East End. The place has an unpretentious 90s look, full of brass fixtures and worn-out upholstery with a small disco ball hanging above the pinewood dance floor. It’s the sort of place that Hak Baker feels at home in. Somewhere that’s far removed from London’s cycle of over-development and fractured communities. "You can’t fight, it’s just happening. People ain’t paying attention, or they don’t care. People are smart and they see all that, they watch it happening. The hole it leaves, it makes it easy to see people that just come in and change shit. It’s weird now, it’s all different."
The young artist so far defies categorisation. His plain-speaking lyrics tell tales about growing up on the Isle of Dogs, all-nighters in the blocks and running from the police, all laced with a soulful, folky sound. A sound that’s disarming, challenging expectations of what you think a young black musician from East London is. "It’s not a big deal though" Baker tells us, "black people have been playing guitars and singing for fucking years."
Hak dabbles on the bass guitar up on stage while a big screen plays the build-up of England vs Belgium in the corner. E.H.W.M.C followed by a big treble clef is painted in gold above the stage where he stands. Someone tests the smoke machine, covering the empty pint glasses in a light fog. It sets the fire alarm off, an old metal ring that reminds you of the lunch bell at school. Baker wears a quartz Stone Island T-shirt, Champion Shorts and some Nike Air Max 97s. "It’s like what we wear anyway, I can’t be bothered with nothing too glitzy, y’know, a nice old school Stone Island t-shirt is good."
Six cameras follow him around the room to capture film for his upcoming music video Thirsty Thursday. "I don’t really like it, I don’t like cameras" he says, as he just tries to get on with his lunch - a healthy portion of chicken wings from a shop down the road. "I feel like that will be a problem eventually if things go well," he admits, "but it’s not something that I’d like. I just want to crack on with my normal day how it is." He gets pulled back into filming, "let me just get this shit done and then we can get started" he calls back to his mates sat by the bar.
The football comes and goes. People file in for the free show Baker’s put on, he greets them all by name and with a hug. Behind the microphone he’s a different person, animated, vocal, alive. There’s no barrier between him and audience, he pulls people up on stage, arms lifted in the air. The crowd is a mixture of friends, locals, fans, all equally as vocal. An electricity runs through the air, the sort that’s only generated from seeing one of your own up on a stage. The only time he asks for quiet is before he performs Tom, an intensely personal song about the death of a close friend. A hush falls over the room, his voice cracks and the lone sound of his guitar bounces off the curves in the ceiling and then back towards the ground. Truth is everything when it comes to his music; "I don’t think I’ve ever written a song that has been fantasy."
"Anyone that’s come here tonight, you're my mate for life" he shouts to the crowd. The energy rises again. Strobe lights flash and Hak removes his guitar and t-shirt, jumping into the crowd which in turn swarms around him. He takes a long drag, blowing smoke up into the air as 'who are ya?' chants ring around the room. Everyone’s got work tomorrow, no one cares.
Thirsty Thursday is released 16/08/18
Watch our Meet Hak Baker film