On Representation: Otto Hashmi, the Musician Blurring Boundaries

On Representation: Otto Hashmi, the Musician Blurring Boundaries

As part of the ‘Representation Issue’, XXY wants to give this generation of young creatives a voice to speak for themselves about their work. Today we meet with Otto Hashmi; a musician currently based in London. Hashmi’s work centres around the idea of blurring boundaries, through which he has created a surreal blend of modern trap and electronic with progressive influences. We spoke to him about the issue of representation.

What does the word representation mean to you?

I think representation is one of those things which is hard to give an exact definition. Coming from a multicultural area of North West London, I’ve always been in an extremely mixed environment and have grown up surrounded by people from all walks of life. It’s easy to forget that people aren’t always exposed to this kind of environment, and that so many of these people aren’t always given the same opportunities to make themselves seen and heard. For me, representation is about opening a dialogue, working towards breaking down the barriers caused by lack of opportunity and prejudice.

What informs your work the most?

The way music and culture progress and develop over time fascinates me, as well as how individual genres come to life and coexist, often from places of hardship. Taking influence from the things I enjoy listening to and the culture that I engage with, and mixing it with elements of more complex music theory is honestly the best way to describe how my sound comes about! In terms of themes, my music at the moment tends to be very personal whilst remaining somewhat dark and cryptic. The past year has been a rollercoaster for me and I think this comes through in my recent music a lot more than perhaps I’d like to admit to myself sometimes.

When you create, do you have an end goal/vision in mind beyond the creation itself?

At the core of it, not really. I’ve always been making things since I was little, so for me the creative process is something that often happens without much thought. I’m always thinking about what purpose the music will serve once it’s done and how to utilise it. At the moment all of my creative energy has been on my upcoming EP “Turbo Island”, which is looking close to completion and hopefully will be released later this summer.

How important is representation in music?

I think representation is extremely important in music, and it’s key to be aware of all the issues surrounding genres. For me taking influence from Hip Hop and early dance music, as well as the wider context of genres with African-American roots, you really need to be aware and sensitive of their history and cultural context. My goal is that my music comes across as something which has come from engagement with current culture and serves as an active homage to the roots of my influences, rather than as appropriation that takes from them without giving anything back.

Image by Ellie Connor-Phillips

Image by Ellie Connor-Phillips

What is most important to you generally within music?

I want to be engaged when I listen to new music, and I’m always looking out for new sounds that I haven’t heard before. Progression is what makes the arts great, and it can be frustrating to see people cling to yesterday’s trends because they are what feel the most comfortable. As a teenager I was listening to lots of metal, harsh noise, and other generally intense stuff, but honestly I can’t see much long term progression in that sort of thing nowadays, and overall with guitar music. That being said, I do occasionally find myself loving newer guitar centric music and surprising myself.

What do you think your industry could be doing to be more representative?

I can’t speak on behalf of underrepresented groups, but I’d like to think music fairs somewhat well in being a representative medium, but to a much lesser extent as an industry. Struggles and frustrations tend to bring out some really exciting things creatively though. An example that comes to mind is Dizzee Rascal’s “Boy in da Corner” (2003) which is one of my favourite albums and perfectly conveys issues of societal alienation and personal worries from Dizzy’s point of view, particularly the track “Brand New Day”. The task at hand is for the music industry to provide more opportunities for these voices to be heard today, but with the industry’s primary incentive of making profit, I think this is something that we’ll be struggling with for a long time to come.

Is there a particular issue you feel strongly about highlighting or better representing?

For me personally, there are a number of issues that I feel strongly about, however, I admit I’m not always as active as I could be in highlighting them. Animal rights and a move away from animal products is something I feel is very important. Although I am aware many have strong opinions on the matter it just means a soft approach is needed to bring these issues into people’s consciousness. It’s not really something that comes out in my work and music, despite all the Morrissey comparisons people make!

Do you have any tips for younger emerging creatives who find it hard to sync their activism with their careers?

I think it takes a different approach for everyone! I’m only 20 years old so I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of experience to gain about what the right approach is. I’m sure I’ve got a lot more mistakes to make along the way too. From what I’ve seen, using your art’s exposure as a vehicle to indirectly raise awareness, rather than the art’s overall theme being to do with your activism, seems to be an approach that works for many. The inverse is also true though, with groups like Pussy Riot springing to mind. I guess I don’t feel qualified enough to give a definite answer, but your gut feeling is never going to lie to you. Stay true to yourself no matter what!


Interviewed by Ellie Connor-Phillips

Fashion Assistant

Header by África Pombo

Visuals by Ellie Connor-Phillips

You can see Otto Hashmi’s website here, or catch him headlining at Nambucca on the 11th of August.

Image by Ellie Connor-Phillips

Image by Ellie Connor-Phillips

Image not owned by XXY

Image by Ellie Connor-PhillipsImage by Ellie Connor-Phillips