Haich Ber Na
Interview by Bhav Bhella
Published in July 2020
This conversation took place during the development stage of Haich Ber Na’s major film and music commission with Mansions of the Future (MotF) - an arts and cultural hub in Lincoln. Titled From Then 'til Now the ambitious and multifaceted commission will be released later this year and here Mansions of the Future’s Assistant Producer Bhav Bhella talks to the artist about his impetuses and visionary approach to making new work. Ber Na’s contribution to the MotF programme is a continuation from his 2019 release Everywhere’s Home; a musical and visual project which explored autobiographical notions of alienation and isolation.
Harrison, you are an artist, musician, producer and director with a body of work that keeps expanding and becoming more varied. Maybe we could start with how you got yourself into music?
Sure. I started making music when I was 13/14. Me and my friends used to beatbox and rap, and we couldn't afford beats so I learnt to make them. I used FL Studio for a few years and learnt the basics of Hip-Hop, rap, grime production. Over 10 or so years I tried so many different styles and expanded my pallet, started producing for others, making different alias's etc and eventually, around 2015-2016, I decided to focus on the Haich Ber Na stuff.
Has the current lockdown affected your ability to make music?
It actually hasn't, I've been making more music than ever. I have a studio setup in my front room where I completed my last project Everywhere's Home. I guess seeing people and having conversations has made it harder to feel inspired on what to write about, but it's made me dig a bit deeper into my own thoughts.
Hey that’s really nice to hear man! Glad you’ve managed to be productive in all the commotion. Looking at your films you seamlessly meld music, moving image and narratives together to show us a glimpse of an often-troubled character, yearning for something more in an isolated world. Talk me through your creative process when you start a new piece of work, be it a single music video or a whole project.
Thanks man. Visual ideas still begin with the music, sometimes when it's a finished song, sometimes mid-way through producing it. I'll usually start with a visual idea in my head and I'll somehow tie that to a narrative in the song. I gather references from films, fashion editorials, real life situations etc. Still images mainly but often video too. I'll do deeper research into those references, who's the photographer? what does this mean in a wider context? What era was this from? Once I have an understanding of those things, I can bend and blend ideas together until it becomes something of my own.
I used to obsess over how to create 'original' work, but a few years ago I watched a really interesting documentary called Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson. This gave me the confidence to not be scared to borrow from past creations and give that work new context.
I can really appreciate transforming something from old media and thinking about how we are influenced by new ways of consuming digital media. A while ago you sent me some playlists of music and YouTube videos that inspired you for your Everywhere’s Home EP. Care to chat about your influences?
I'm influenced by various things, usually work I'll see, hear or read which gets me excited. When working on my last project I was obsessed with Spanish architect José Miguel de Prada Poole's work, his inflatable structures and ideas of a utopian society felt like quite a good starting point for what I was trying to do visually. The majority of research I did on Jose and other artists from that era, such as Quasar Khanwas is done online, going through archives and reading essays from other people. Forums and YouTube were also super helpful.
Although one side of my research feels quite academic, it doesn't equate to the whole process. I'm usually inspired by regular daily things; conversations, people watching, memes etc. For example the track 2, Black Box, on my last EP Everywhere's Home is a personal story about someone I'm close with going through a hard time, but some of the lyrics were heavily inspired by a video of Kodak Black I saw on twitter in passing. I don't particularly look to social media in search of inspiration, I suppose with social media being so prominent in everyday life it's definitely more of a subconscious choice.
These methods are how I've worked so far, but I'm very interested in challenging the process. I find changing the workflow can be exciting in itself. Right now, my music making process is a lot more focused rather than letting subconscious thought rule; each decision has purpose. My current visual process remains quite reference based but paired with more offline material and a much-needed social media detox, I'm enjoying it.
Yeah, I think we can all benefit from a social media detox from time to time. Saying that, what do you like to do on your downtime?
Cooking, chatting with friends, talking long walks and reading a little, although I should read a lot more. Lockdown hasn't changed my downtime activities massively, apart from being able to be with people.
Going back to your EP’s. Looking at some of your videos, for example Conversations, there’s a big sense of isolation and the gaze that’s consistent throughout your visual work. I’d like to ask if you could talk a bit about the feel of your films?
I guess growing up as a mixed Jamaican, British kid in a very white city like Peterborough, I always felt a little isolated. I had a lot of black and mixed raced friends who felt the same. When I started making the music I truly believed was 'me' a few years ago, it isolated me even more, as it doesn't really fit into a specific genre/ scene. I think embracing our individualism can be quite a powerful tool as it attracts others who feel the same. I also enjoy alone time in general, which makes me gravitate to isolated narratives - however I've recently been quite interested in collectivism, thinking about how people can link up and how to display it sonically and visually.
How do you see your practice changing going forward and what can we expect from you in the future?
I'm releasing a song called By Floras, which gives a little hint to where I'm heading sonically. I'm starting to be more interested in documenting the now rather than fetishising nostalgic things. Right now, it's uncertain, but just expect more music and visuals that make you feel a way.
Originally hailing from the small city of Peterborough, in 2015 a 20 year old Haich Ber Na attended UAL as a graphic design student, where he began taking his journey as an artist seriously. The self-taught musician began with his roots in rap and grime production but shifted into the avant-garde in 2017, resulting in his genre bending experimentalism.
This has captured the attention of both underground and mainstream music circles, from the Guardian to iD magazine. Now aged 25 with two EP releases under his belt, Haich Ber Na proves to be one of London’s most exciting artists with a focus on pushing sonic boundaries and working across disciplines. Ber Na has appeared on NTS Radio, Rinse Paris, BBC 1Xtra and more. Although primarily focused on his solo project, he’s also lent his unique production to other bubbling artists such as Joy Crookes, MTMBO and Elheist .
Bhav Bhella is the Assistant Producer at Mansions of the Future with a background as an artist and curator. His passion is in establishing dialogue between artists, be it aesthetic or in language and works predominantly in organising public talks, events and programming art exhibitions/installations.
Haich Ber Na’s YouTube Channel
Mansions of the Future website
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