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Bloc Party Frontman Kele Okereke Steps Out of the Closet

In a revealing interview with Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke, the Guardian notes that two tracks on the band's upcoming release, A Weekend in the City, seem to explore an interest in gay issues ("Two songs, 'I Still Remember' and 'Kreuzberg', seem to explicitly explore homosexuality. The former is about a crush between two schoolboys ('We left our trousers by the canal') The latter is about gay promiscuity.") and takes the opportunity to ask the vocalist, who also plays guitar for the band, whether this is a sign of the singer being open to talking about his sexuality, which up till now has been something he has avoided:

Keleokereke

"During the many interviews Bloc Party conducted during 2005, as their debut album Silent Alarm went from critical rave to million-selling commercial hit, from Mercury nominee to NME's Album of the Year, the subject of whether Okereke is or isn't gay was the pink elephant in the room. In a musical form that is usually beerily, boorishly white, male and heterosexual, Okereke was a refreshingly different kind of indie icon. The possibility that he was not just unusual but unique - a black, gay role model for indie kids - meant that for many fans the focus seemed necessary rather than just prurient. Nonetheless, just as he hated being reduced to 'black guy in indie band', he refused to be drawn either way on his sexuality."

Okereke says: "I think I'm going to have to [talk about it]. With the first album I didn't think it was essential to the experience. I didn't want to have to talk about it in a tabloid way. It wasn't there in the songs, so why did people need to know? But yeah, there are songs on this record that do feel like they're about desire, longing. So yeah, I am gonna talk about that."

BlocpartyOne of the gay-themed songs on the album, "For England", is an exploration of bullying which also touches on the death of gay barman David Morley and the sick phenomenon of "Happy Slapping" in which violent acts are captured on camera for sport. Morley's killers fatally beat him and captured it all on their cell phones. Said Okereke: "The whole idea of happy slapping ... Filming you causing pain to someone, for your own amusement - that really repulsed me. That song is about the fear I have about what could happen on a night out. I have the feeling that it's only a matter of time."

Another track, "I Still Remember", deals with an unspoken sexual desire between men — heterosexual men. Norman B., of SlowCode, who tipped us off on Okereke's coming out, offers it up on his site:

OkerekeOkereke explains "I Still Remember": "I can't tell you how many times I've been propositioned by straight boys...Yeah, yeah. It happened a lot before all this [the band] started happening. This is probably a contentious issue, but I swear that I could always see it in people, in the way that guys would need to be touching other guys. You could see there was something they couldn't say aloud. And I saw it when I was at school. And I guess 'I Still Remember' is an attempt at trying to confront that. I don't think that my sexual impulse is that bizarre or foreign. [But] the way that it's supposedly discussed in mainstream culture is [that] it's a crazy thing. But I know from my own experiences a lot of heterosexual boys had feelings or experiences when they were younger. And that's not really ever spoken about, that un-spoken desire. Not two gay boys, but the idea of two straight boys having an attraction, or there being an attraction that's unspeakable - that was the idea of that song. When was the last time you heard an interesting pop song that actually tried to give you a different perspective on desire? I didn't talk about it when I did interviews for the last record because it wasn't an area really reflected in the music; I didn't talk about race for the same reason. Why was that still a discussion point? The only reason it was a discussion point was because of the racial prejudice that exists in the mainstream media."

Okereke's cautious coming out is colored by the "definite homophobic bias-slash-persecution" he sees from the music press regarding out gay people. Said Okereke: "It's not something that I'd be inclined to talk about ... It isn't black and white. It isn't clear-cut. Britain has always had a love/hate relationship with gay public figures. They're treated as funny and inoffensive and camp. But then when a seemingly heterosexual person seems to display an inclination for the other team it becomes this real hounding situation. You're allowed to exist if they're [sic] seen as a kind of sub-class. Something ineffectual, a comedy Kenneth Williams character."

But he tells The Guardian the difference he could make to a young kid (as an indie rock icon of Nigerian heritage) just might trump those worries:

"I guess that's the only reason [to speak out], isn't it? To speak to young people in their impressionable formative years - and say something that could help them make sense of their lives. Lessen the sense of alienation and isolation that they might have. I think that's something that definitely ... I'd be proud of. That we could say that there are alternative ways of behaving, of living one's life."

A Little Britain [slowcode]
21st Century boy [the guardian]

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Comments

  1. hell yeah, i love bloc party - sounds like a cool guy, would love to meet him

    Posted by: Ron | Jan 8, 2007 10:22:30 AM


  2. By talking about not talking about it, he's actually talking about it, isnt he?

    I will say he's very eloquent and his reasoning for not doing some full blown coming-out makes perfect sense.

    Posted by: Gregoire | Jan 8, 2007 10:25:27 AM


  3. Really eloquent account of the many complexities of coming out and how he felt the need to come out in his own time. Well done and welcome out!

    Posted by: Sean R | Jan 8, 2007 11:03:34 AM


  4. Good! We need more out rockers. Though there are a fair number of important ones already...

    Posted by: EireKev | Jan 8, 2007 11:10:21 AM


  5. I wonder why the second song is named after Berlin district 'Kreuzberg'? It would be interesting to know because I live there ...

    Posted by: ubik | Jan 8, 2007 11:46:07 AM


  6. I'm confused. Has he, at any point in this article or any other, actually said 'Yes, I'm gay.'? If so, I don't see it here.

    Posted by: peterparker | Jan 8, 2007 12:20:28 PM


  7. Never heard of Bloc Party

    But I am now going to check them out.

    Posted by: jimmyboyo | Jan 8, 2007 2:52:06 PM


  8. This story was brilliant, I'm looking forward to hear those new songs.

    Posted by: Da | Jan 8, 2007 3:32:05 PM


  9. It's exciting for me as an African American gay man who loves all kinds of music to see someone like Kele come out of the closet. He can be an important role model for many young people struggling with their sexuality. And I agree that more people in music, film, and television, if they happen to be queer, need to come out of the closet. Being queer is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. These last five years have been a very interesting time for queers, especially with the number of celebrities who have come out of the closet. More please!!

    Posted by: BigBaller | Jan 8, 2007 6:09:04 PM


  10. That's a shocker! Bloc Party is definitely one of my favorite bands!

    Kudos!

    Posted by: damien | Jan 8, 2007 6:29:50 PM


  11. Awesome. I love Kele and Bloc Party.

    Posted by: Leigh | Jan 8, 2007 7:12:09 PM


  12. Wow, I had no idea. But I'm a straight man so I'm generally clueless, since it doesn't really affect me either way. Great band, no matter what his sexual orientation is. Can't wait to buy the new CD!

    Posted by: Dread Pirate Robert | Jan 8, 2007 7:20:45 PM


  13. Love Bloc Party - never even occured to me that Kele might be queer though not sure why - great news indeed.

    Posted by: Giovanni | Jan 9, 2007 12:09:11 AM


  14. that's cool of him to come out. im bisexual and i can definitely relate to what he was saying. i loved the band before hand and i love them even more.

    Posted by: Rico | Jan 9, 2007 5:10:28 PM


  15. LOVE Kele, LOVE Bloc Party, LOVE seeing my brothers making noise in the rock world... And I especially love the added bonus of him being Gay! Best story of the year so far!! Rock on, Kele, Rock on!

    Posted by: EtotheG | Jan 9, 2007 8:33:54 PM


  16. I KNEW IT! Yeah, Bloc Party has become one of my favorite bands in the past year or two. I just got my copy of A Weekend in the City and I love it. Their last album, Silent Alarm, was also really really good. Good thinking and driving music.

    Posted by: Robbie | Jan 13, 2007 3:46:00 PM


  17. a friend i ran in to him in a club and some girl run up to my friend as they where dancing and said she was his wife! so i dont know what to think...

    Posted by: michael | Mar 29, 2007 7:50:37 PM


  18. kele okereke is NOT gay. nowhere in this article did he say he was gay. hasn't anyone here read the book "a man for all seasons". kele was once again not answering the question you all think he was. he did not say whether he is gay or not, all he said was that the song explores 2 str8 boys having an unspoken attraction for oneanother...case closed. kele okereke is NOT GAY!!!!!!

    Posted by: asia | Jul 5, 2007 5:48:38 PM


  19. he cant be

    Posted by: hitm | Aug 1, 2007 4:06:42 PM


  20. michael is right, kele is not gay. The quotes were twisted to make him seem as if he was. Although, he explains that he isn't by explaining how he was singing about "two straight boys having an attraction". That is what i still remember is about.

    Anyway, it matters not... he is a musician.

    Posted by: phil | Oct 30, 2007 2:37:45 PM


  21. WTF is he gay or not no matter wat he's a kool dude I'm a 14 black year old that is straight and I think he is a great role model gay or not much luv for kele and I think he should come out and say I'm gay so we can kno I don't care and those mother&$&@&$ wouldn't dare touch u kele cause ur fans got ur back much luv kele

    Posted by: mossy | Jan 8, 2008 10:56:58 PM


  22. Kele isn't gay. Intimacy is about his break up with his former girlfriend. He has previously said that it's not a 'black and white issue', which implies that he's either bisexual or straight with homosexual tendencies.

    Posted by: Tom | Jan 13, 2009 3:01:40 PM


  23. i love bloc party! and kele okereke! :D

    Posted by: adam | Dec 19, 2009 11:01:13 PM


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