Trigger Warning an interview with Loki
‘As successive political events trigger a slow breakdown of society, our sense of identity comes under threat as we fight to keep a foothold in an agreed reality.
Trigger Warning, the new LP from Scottish Hip Hop veteran, Loki, takes the concept album to another level of complexity in a fully realised story, told through rap.
The album can be enjoyed as a piece of music, or absorbed like an audio-book that rewards repeat listens with character moments, plot-points and other revelations.’
I ring up Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey a few hours after the Prime Minister has triggered Article 50, setting in motion the UK’s exit from the European Union.
“Politicians are always talking about events ‘triggering’ other events,” says Loki. “All these incidents are related according to our politicians. In reality, what we’re witnessing is chaos.”
From an artistic point of view, though, you get the sense that the Glasgow rapper thrives on chaos. His new album ‘Trigger Warning’ is the first part of a double project exploring working class masculinity in the context of 21st century nationalism and identity politics – and that’s it being put in the simplest terms.
It doesn’t even come close to summing up the vast array of subjects he touches upon. Gender issues, left wing activism, social justice and intersectionality are all simultaneously promoted and harshly assessed in a way that’s quite dizzying for the listener.
“It’s an attempt to throw it all in the mix and tie issues to different stories,” says Loki. “There’s no unified message or conclusion to all this. The first part of this project is an attempt to set up a guy’s descent into misogyny. If people listen and think it’s misogynistic, that’s what I’m trying to express, but it’s not the only thing that’s there.
“It’s a character that’s related to me but also diverges from me. I feel it’s important to draw that distinction. Like with much of my creative work, there are concessions from me about the criticisms I’ve received. But they’re also fed into the mill so I’m still creating a Loki album.”
If it seems strange that Loki defensively clarifies his intentions straight off the bat, it’s worth considering that he openly and readily contradicts himself and re-assesses his previous points of view.
He supports Scottish independence but routinely confronts what he perceives as hypocrisy from pro-Yes politicians and supporters. He’s campaigned in his local community against deprivation and anti-social behavior for many years but is critical of much of the terminology used by fellow activists. He’s long been regarded as a provocative character on social media but also calls it a source of “angst and miscommunication”.
He says: “One thing I’ve learned is that for all the confusion and resentment it creates, you may as well not bother and should just arrange to argue in real life. ‘Trigger Warning’ is an attempt to distill all I learned over the year and express it through a story.
“I ‘triggered’ a lot of people in order to create some reaction. I wanted to show how people how they engage with issues really before they sanitise their social media persona. I did a range of video blogs on the issues that were going on at the time: immigration, toxic masculinity, male privilege, and white privilege. I responded to a lot of these things. Instead of then sanitising or gentrifying my opinion in order to make it palatable, I just showed what I was thinking.
“I’m happy to admit when I’m wrong and learn from this, too. I’ve had to maneuver and change much about myself to engage with some issues. For example, I understand gender inequality, the patriarchy and the need for feminism’s expansion, but on a visceral level I find it difficult when a university-educated feminist calls me privileged. It’s my own problem.”
The way Loki balances braggadocio with withering self-critique is what makes him Scotland’s most interesting rapper. Irrespective of his political and ethical standpoints, he’s a superb emcee, with a sharp flow, vocal conviction and an ear in production that’s unmatched. Ironically, his sheer ability as a rap artist is often overlooked precisely because of the intensity of his material.
He says: “The album isn’t designed to piss people off, but it’ll piss people off who go into albums looking to get pissed off. I think hip hop is still an art form that’s considered unsophisticated and uncivilised by some who don’t understand it.
“When I was young, I found gangsta rap scary and entertaining and that added drama. You know, I thought Eminem maybe did kill his girlfriend in the track Kim. I didn’t realise it was entertainment. Art shouldn’t come wrapped in cotton wool (or a trigger warning, ironically).”
However, it’s not hip hop fans, who are well used to confrontational lyricism, that need to be converted. Unlike his more experimental recent projects, ‘Trigger Warning’ is mostly written on a traditional hip hop canvas, but with different samples and styles drifting into the mix depending on which point in the narrative he’s at.
As well as working with notable beatmakers like Konchis, Scatabrainz and Florist, Loki utilised the talents of Simple Minds’ Mick MacNeil and composer Jim Sutherland for individual tracks.
“I’m 33 in April,” he says. “I’m only really to youth culture by proxy because hip hop has that kind of spirit. The sort of stuff I want to tackle is aimed more at an adult audience that’s grown with me so I don’t feel a need to keep up with the Jones’. I’m lucky to have a bigger audience now so don’t have a problem getting my point of view out there.
“To be clear, there’s no demand for this project. If you look at it commercially, it’s impenetrable, it’s unwanted and it’s a waste of my time and money. I want people to like it and consider it, but it’s deluded for me to assume it’ll compete with other hip hop albums. I see it more as a culmination of everything I’ve learned in terms of writing, principles of writing and hip hop.”
You get the sense self-education is a big thing for Loki. In the run up to releasing the album, he tested much of his material at local poetry events, using responses as a “soundboard to work through ideas” which shaped the final product.
He says: “While I was online calling out the left and middle class artists and this that and the next thing, really getting in people’s faces, here was this really open and accepting community of artists, diverse as they come, not only trying to accommodate my work, but genuinely discussing and debating it, recognising the validity of what I was saying and appreciating that I was working things out as I went.
“They started from a position of good faith, ultimately, whereas I had started from the opposite. It eventually led to me changing my posture towards the whole thing and deciding that I couldn’t just renounce social justice – because that would be a cop-out.
“I had to find a way through and if I could I would articulate that experience to others. I think, over time, many who felt unnerved by the material, came to appreciate the intentions, obscured as they were by social media, and so forgave my work and its glaring flaws.”
To say ‘Trigger Warning’ is wildly ambitious is an understatement. At a glance, Loki appears to present a series of provocations on political and social issues, responding to what he sees as inconsistencies and hypocrisies with little more than gut reactions.
And yet at the same time, it’s a project that invites listeners to analyse their own prejudices. The logic appears to be that if he’s wrong and ill informed in many ways, then everyone else is too. I ask him how he’d respond to people who might boycott his work due to the sensitivity of certain topics.
He says: “I’d try and reach out to that person. I’m always happy to answer criticism on a public platform. I’ve decided to release the next installment later in the year but listeners should remember, as they play through, that Trigger Warning is part one. It’s the set up. The next part is when the depth of the story really becomes apparent and part two is much more emotional, personal and, well, dangerous.
“I want to create a portrait of masculinity that accounts for the good and bad men have to offer as culture and reality begins to fragment. People shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what this album is trying to say, because they really have no idea until they hear the whole thing. Trigger Warning is nothing more than a preamble, a trap for people who only listen to some things to condemn them. For everyone else, it’s a wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”
Trigger Warning is available at https://misterlokiscotland.bandcamp.com/album/the-trigger-warning-lp. Loki launches the album at the Art School, Glasgow, on April 7.