Slikback, the Kenyan producer bringing gqom to Europe

By Rachael Morrow on July 29, 2020

This experimental producer is creating some of the most entrancing, yet gritty music being heard in modern club culture. Slikback (Fredrick Mwaura Njau) is a Kenyan DJ and producer using elements of noise, grime, drum’n’bass and African rhythms to create these layered and gripping tunes. His work dissects the textures of sound, forming intense dance beats that keep you moving long after the track is finished. With unforgettable sets and performances in both his hometown and the Ugandan Nyege Nyege festival, Slikback is now making ground in the European club scene. His partnership with the Hakuna Kulala label has grounded his presence within the gqom genre, giving him the space and freedom to further explore his alien sound. We had the opportunity to talk with Freddy about his creative process and the struggles he’s faced, branching out of his musical community.

Tell us why you love music?

Music for me (and I’m sure for a lot of other people) is a perfect emotional outlet. Whether I’m making it or just listening. It helps me get through different low points or even enhancing high ones. It’s an intangible pure force.

Who was your biggest musical inspiration as a kid?

As a kid I listened to a lot of Kenyan rappers and pop but never really had access to music to be able to find specific artists to follow (no phone/internet, just radio). Growing up in an all Christian home was also a factor in what I was able to listen to.

Talk us through your creative process?

The main way I make music is by feeling out different sounds in my library, then when I begin manipulating them one by one, I kinda get a picture of what goes with what and what doesn’t work. I then begin mapping out rhythmic patterns and just listen to them over and over and begin building the track from there. I try to make my music not too “loopy” so always try to tell a story through the sounds.

How do you feel our concept of the musical genre has changed over the years?

I feel like now more than ever, the amount of experimentation is immense. Because of this people find it harder and harder to place most music in this space in specific boxes which is amazing. Even though people still find similarities between tracks (for example in articles people compare my music to trap or techno) they still see these sounds as individual and inseparable from the artist.

What is your go to artist/genre when dealing with heartbreak?

I always found myself listening to ambient music when going through stuff dealing with the heart. Usually a hypnotic looped melody or phrase that I can just get lost in always gets me. Another go to is Swedish rapper Bladee (also quite hypnotic in his own unique way).

What has been the biggest struggle in pursuing your dreams in the music industry?

Being placed in boxes. A lot of people and festivals would place me in the African/East African box and I would play in stages where my music is super out of place. It had been a huge problem at the beginning of my career but I gradually made my way out of them. Over time, opportunities came along where I began to play alongside people whose music is more in line with mine. Even though I’m not fully out of these categories, I still feel super blessed that more and more people see me as me.

What are the some of the challenges you’re facing during Covid-19?

Lack of shows, which are big part of my income, has been the biggest one. It’s been a crazy and quiet time because of this but I at least have more time to work on different projects and I’m adapting to life online.

How do you personally navigate the creative industries as a POC?

I had always tried to avoid the subject of being a person of colour at the beginning and just let people enjoy my music. Over time I realized how hard it was to separate music from identity. As I continued to grow I decided to embrace all of what being me comes with and I honestly felt more free. I can always try to break through musically and perform in spaces I feel my music belongs, but I will always feel proud and at the same time humbled to be who I am. I don’t hide my identity/heritage because it’s a part of what makes my music.

Who do you think is currently changing the music industry?

I feel like artists in East Africa, East Asia, Mexico and other places pushing for local sounds are making huge waves in the industry. It’s amazing to see local sounds becoming the norm in the electronic music world.

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