“Today was my day off and I had a lot of things I wanted to do, but then the sun came out and everything changed.” The evening sun shines brightly on 22-year-old multi-instrumentalist AMIQUE, and you get the feeling that his world might be full of distractions.
Working as a music-based youth worker, Amique uses both the history and the performance of music as a tool to help young people develop, alongside their education. “A lot of the kids we work with are a bit disillusioned, so we use it [music] to get them creative and to get them focused.” Writing and performing since the age of sixteen, he found solace and inspiration through his parents’ record collection: “My folks have a wonderful taste in music, which is something I’ve always given them a lot of credit for. My mother was always listening to people like Sade, Kate Bush, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, and then my Dad would be playing Robert Johnson, Talking Heads, Bowie.” Between this, his vocation and his regular involvement with Parr Street’s Soul4Soul jazz collective, Amique has immersed himself in music, allowing it to drive how he sees the world and how he sees himself.
Amique vehemently resists classifying his music, and you’d be a brave person to give it a go yourself. It really is all over the place, and I mean that as the greatest of compliments. It’s soul music but it isn’t aiming for the hips. It’s gospel but it doesn’t belong in the church. It’s jazz but it’s fiercely choreographed. You will find five demos on his Soundcloud page, all providing a snapshot into the creative process of an artist very much still trying to define his sound, as he bounces between Lauryn Hill-esque moments of quiet introspection, Tom Waits’ brash bravado and the proto-ambient brain massage of late sixties Miles Davis. There is a breadth of focus, sure, but between that is a poise, as Amique meanders through his songs with remarkable grace, playing with tempo, pull-backs; I mean, this is a man who is very comfortable with his idea of what music means to him and his ability to express it. “The demos on SoundCloud were all made at different points of my life. I’ve got a very short attention span when it comes to music, and I couldn’t imagine sitting down now and going ‘for the next six months we’re only going to play this’”. As he eulogises the malleability of his heroes Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis, it’s clear that moving, improving and progressing is at the core of Amique’s existence as an artist.
Fresh, the lead single from new EP Conception, sees Amique abandon the mellow, more sombre tones of his demos and move further towards soul and R&B. His broken vocals weave their way around a walking bass and woozy, hi-hat-led percussion, allowing a refrain of “for those who know the reason/for those who know the vibe” to dance imperturbably above. As is always the case, the EP bounces between genres, almost to the point of bewilderment. What’s remarkable, though, is that it does so without compromising quality or cohesion. Every musical and conceptual element drafted in comes out just a little bit skewered, until we’re left with a performance that is unmistakably different and unmistakably his own. “It’s probably a blessing and a curse. I just go where the spirits tell me. The thing is, I just don’t know how to make one track sound similar to the next.” I know it might all sound a little unfocused, and there will certainly be those who find it too disorientating, but fuck is it exciting.
There is a flamboyance and extravagance to Amique, both in his recordings and his live shows. The scatting on All 4 U, the ludicrously overdubbed vocal arrangement on U Will Know, the frantic abrasions on the EP – all contribute to a persona that is extremely difficult to get your head around. It is a balancing act, though, when tackling such ambitious subject matter. Make it too relatable and it can sound obtuse, but make it too guarded and it’s dehumanising. By placing his songs in wider social contexts, Amique puts himself on the most exposing of pedestals. This is hardly Gil Scott-Heron, though, and by keeping it lively and accessible, we are left with an EP that’s reachable, yet still too much to take in all at once. This is a concept Amique relishes: “I want to get the second EP out in a couple of months. I don’t really want to give people time to take my music in. I’d prefer to just give them everything all at once and let them experience it in their own time; allow people to build their own relationships with my music.”
There is an impalpable stimulant flowing through Amique’s veins, something that drives him in both his recordings and his performance. “For me, the ability to play music is a gift from god. It’s not something I’ve created; it’s something that I was born with.” His self-assurance is striking, both in his vision and his ability. This is an artist who, through his exploration of faith, of death, of human emotion, is deeply invested in archetypes rather than the daily details of modern life. It certainly is an ambitious approach, this notion of tackling and confronting only the deepest states of being and ignoring the noise the makes up the rest of the world. Whether you’re a spiritual person or not, though, this belief that music can hold an inherent position in people’s lives and maybe even change them is what has – and always will – drive great artists. “If you have to explain your actions then I think you’re doing something wrong,” he says softly. By his own measure, in Amique we have an artist with no explaining to do.