Conner Tomlinson

Innovation & Connection: An Interview with Enter Shikari

Conner Tomlinson
Jul 4, 2024
5 min read
Photo credit: Paul Harries

With their genre-bending sound and socially conscious lyrics, Enter Shikari has been drawing listeners into their unique sonic world for over two decades. We had a chance to speak with the band about their diverse influences, the relationship between music and social connection, and what it's like to create music with other artists.

What motivated the collaborative singles that Enter Shikari has been releasing over the last couple years? How does the creative process change when you work with artists outside the band, and what sort of value do you get from these collaborations?

I did a lot of writing outside of Shikari back in 2018 and 2019. I learnt a lot from that and became slightly more comfortable creating with others. Before that, I had been very possessive with my writing, and the thought of writing with other people always terrified me. I’m a socially anxious person and my creative process had always been very slow, contemplative, and led by emotional instinct.

But when I began writing Shikari stuff again after that period of growth I’d occasionally just hear other people’s voices in specific parts of my demos. So we were overjoyed that the artists jumped up to the plate. The creative process doesn’t really change in a big way but it’s great to have another mind in the conversation and get to hear their ideas and vision.

"STRANGERS" deals with "newly found freedom from a suffocating relationship." Can you elaborate on these notions of (dis)connection and freedom, and how does this tie in with the broader themes explored in your discography (particularly the most recent album)?

I’d say that this doesn’t tie in with anything in our discography really. We’ve always sung about and lamented human connection, whereas this track celebrates disconnection! Joking aside, it’s about being in a relationship where you don’t feel yourself, and don’t feel appreciated for who you are. In limiting circumstances like that it can feel hugely freeing once you move on from that period of your life, however hard that can be. It takes a lot of courage but is always worth it.  It was nice to write something more pop-leaning about human relations and was an enjoyable experience recording down under in Australia at Aviva’s lovely home studio.

Enter Shikari has always stood out for your diverse sonic palette, genre-bending, and refusal to settle into any one formula for too long. Do you see yourselves as a musical vanguard deliberately pushing the aesthetic envelope, is it more driven by taste and personal musical growth, or is there some overlap there?

I don’t think it was ever that conscious or concerted. I simply grew up amongst a wide range of music, which only broadened as I got older. From my nan’s love of Big Band Jazz, to my dad’s Motown collection; from my Uncle handing me a Prodigy album when I was 12 years old, to my experiences in school orchestras; from discovering our local hardcore punk scene, to watching Dubstep grow during its beginnings in South London — I consider myself very lucky to have had so many influences. All of that gets put into the melting pot which I slurp about in when I write my music. It’s as simple as that.

Now having done this for a long time I now truly see how lucky I was to have all of that inspiration, because what I am conscious about with my writing is trying to represent life in all its dazzling variety. And you can only do that if you have a broad palette.

In the past, you've described the decision to incorporate rave elements as stemming from the uniquely euphoric and deindividuating effects of electronic dance music. How do these physical, affective qualities of music (e.g. rhythm, volume, the tactile force of bass frequencies) interact with the representational, symbolic qualities (e.g. lyrics, tone painting, musical references and callbacks)?

Well ultimately they both have the same affect. Flutes made out of bone have been discovered that are 50,000 years old. Pitch and rhythm have been utilised in some form by our species since we were traversing the plains of Africa as hunter gatherers. And what was music’s purpose back then? To bring people together. The same as today. The unifying outcome of music made it the perfect ceremonial tool to celebrate, to connect, to strengthen bonds. So when I write lyrics that are representational—ie representing, reflecting, and challenging our modern state of affairs, I do it with the same ultimate goal, human connection. To remind us that we are all one family on this one beautiful planet. To destroy the individual and remind them of our shared existence. That is what music and poetry have always done.

Is aesthetic innovation intrinsically linked to social change, or (how) can it be? What is the role of DIY?

Innovative art is often outlawed in oppressive societies, where it is considered dangerous, but I don’t think that means it’s intrinsically linked to social change. You simply have innovative art when there is the freedom, or at least the will for it. Innovative art can sometimes be pure escapism for example, a holiday from a tough reality, not a machine of change. Social change does usually have a soundtrack, yes, but I don’t think it has to be innovative necessarily, just rallying.

The trouble with our modern age, and art in capitalist societies specifically, is that innovative or contemporary art often becomes a sign of status, something to embellish the private life and your perceived social standing. In that scenario it often loses its primary function of enlightening the masses, and is used to separate and raise the individual instead. This is a real sordid twist on its core purpose.

I think DIY can be really helpful because it's an empowering attitude. For us music is a playing field to explore, a wonderful spectrum to get lost in. DIY says "YOU can do that". And that’s all we aim to do. We bring different styles together just as we want to bring humanity together. For too long we have separated and organised genres & styles incessantly, and that almost mimics our world today that appears obsessed with human differences and safeguarding cultures in an obsessive way, as if cultures aren’t meant to collide and evolve. This may sound like embracing innovation but for me it's just embracing the simple reality that we have been blinkered toward. Oneness. Unity.

Are there any new bands/artists or recent albums that inspire you, or that you think are pushing boundaries in a similarly powerful way?

I usually get my direct inspiration — in terms of immediately needing to write after hearing something — from outside of music. Life experiences, poetry, books, films etc.

What sort of non-music media has been influential lately? Any books, films, shows, games, etc. that have caught your attention?

There’s a brand new documentary out in the US called ‘Finding The Money’. It is made by a new school of economists that are finally properly calling out the destructive shitshow that is modern mainstream economics. I’m looking forward to being in the US so I can actually watch it myself! But I’ve read many books by some of the people involved in it and have seen some clips so I know it will be an important watch.

Otherwise, Gabor Mate’s The Myth of Normal is my favourite book at the moment. I’m currently reading it a second time. He has been a huge inspiration to me for about 20 years.

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