The Kaptivators are a Manchester-based 6-piece. In theory a live hip hop act, the band fuse their varied influences – from funk to punk to rock & roll – and the result is a typically upbeat but complex sound that makes you move. Sarah had a chat with Kevin Harris, who fronts the band with his sister Susie, about the local music scene, and the undercurrent of disenfranchisement that affects many in the UK.
Manchester has a pretty good live scene, is it quite hard to crack into, or easy enough if you’re from here?
I’m actually not originally from Manchester, but I’ve been here about 10 years now. The band was formed in Manchester. I moved up here for city life, from down south, Northampton. I’ve always been a lyricist or a rapper on my own, and been into hip hop as long as I can remember. When I moved up to Manchester I met a lot more likeminded people, musically, and that’s how I started making more actual, proper songs on the production side. When my sister was visiting, from Brighton, we went and saw a live hip hop band, and they asked if anyone in the crowd wanted to get on stage and do any MCing or singing. I got up and started doing something, and then the next thing my sister gets up and started singing. So we’re both doing this impromptu freestyle and rapping and singing thing onstage. Everyone was buzzing off it, so straight after that I said, you know what? This is what I want to do, form a band.
What was it that drew you to Manchester in the first place? Why here, not London, or one of the other cities?
Basically, I went to university in Wolverhampton. I met a lot of people while I was there, and a lot of them were from Manchester. It just happened that when I was back in Northampton I used to come and visit these guys in Manchester, and liked the vibe. It felt like a bit more of a community vibe, and it was easier for me to break into that community as well, with having a lot of friends up here. I liked the scene a lot and gradually decided to move up to Manchester. Once I moved up it was no turning back basically, it was a really good decision. Culturally it just suited me, Manchester. You don’t get lost as much as London, there’s a lot more crossing over of boundaries and genres. We’ve played a lot of gigs, and there’ll be a metal crowd or an indie crowd, and they’ll be listening to our music. It’s a slightly different vibe to some parts of London, where you’ve got your specific crowds and specific types of music.
What kind of venues do you normally play at here?
We’ve done a lot of bars in the Northern Quarter. We started off in places like Dry Bar and Night and Day Café. We’ve done Band on the Wall about four or five times, that’s probably our best venue. We’ve done all the student venues along Oxford Road. Chorlton, we do a lot venues there, like Mono. It’s a favourite of ours, because we’re based around that area. We go out to Liverpool, we’ve been out to Leeds. We’ve been up to St Helens. A bit backwards up there, so I don’t think we’re going to be going there again.
Oh really? They weren’t so receptive?
We ended up doing this booking agency thing, and they were asking us to do a mixture of our own stuff and a few covers. So they hired us not knowing what to expect, basically. We said, we’ll go up to St Helens – why not? We’ve never been up there. And literally, it was the most racist, backwards crowd. You get on stage and before you’ve even started singing people are heckling you, shouting at you to get off. But we just handled the crowd, did our thing there and thought, you know what, we’re never going to these middle of nowhere, backwards type venues again. Prefer to do established places in central Manchester, or Liverpool or Leeds. But it was an interesting experience.
Doesn’t sound like a fun one.
No. They had their own equipment and they were making us use our own equipment, saying we would damage theirs. They were really funny about it.
Because you’re black?
Don’t know what it was but they were just being funny. We’re a mixed band, but yeah I guess so.
So, no love for St Helens.
Not for that particular venue, it’s a working man’s club or something like that. Not a classic venue. But Manchester’s got a really good vibe, a really good scene for hip hop. What we’re doing is slightly different as well. Before I formed the band, I was always doing hip hop-produced beats, it sounded typical hip hop. But with the band I felt that I wanted to mix it with a live band, a live energy. Live drums, live bass, live guitar.
What do you think about the Brexit outcome? Was it a big deal for you?
I didn’t think I would care that much, and then when I saw the result the next day I felt a bit sad to be honest. Because it felt that we’d just sort of deserted a lot of what the EU stood for. Which was an inclusive, collaborative approach to a lot of the dangers, and also the benefits of a collaborative society with all of our European neighbours, and it seems we have given up on it based on a few things that may or may not be true. I didn’t think that people were voting with the full information, that’s what I felt. I can see both points of the argument, I can see that there could be benefits of leaving as well, but my heart is obviously more in than out. But what’s happened’s happened. I think unfortunately people were scared of a lot of things, like immigration and the EU didn’t seem to be wanting to be flexible on certain issues, so maybe that’s why people voted out in the end.
I think the campaign was really mismanaged and misinformed, both campaigns were to blame really. It was quite easy to manipulate, because there was already a bit of a feeling towards things like immigration, so the Leave campaign played to the strengths of Ukip and all those sorts of organisations were popular for. They sort of cut through a bit more than what David Cameron’s Remain argument was cutting through. It’s just sad that we’ve left this organisation after 40 years. I don’t know if they actually will leave it though, it might become too much of a mess to leave. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Everything’s just gone up in the air, hasn’t it, now.
I guess it highlights as well the fact that the fears the Leave campaign tapped into are strong, and have been building.
Well yeah, I think it’s been simmering along a little bit, especially maybe with the rise of Ukip, and those sort of organisations. It’s a worrying time, I guess. I hope that everything settles down, and we manage to work out how we’re going to move on from Brexit, because these things that you hear about attacks and things like that is not cool. I have a lot of friends that are not from England, they’re all worried about what’s the future for them. There’s so many people that live here from abroad, they’re all feeling a bit marginalised.
Whether or not it actually plays out that way is another story. It might just be a really massive wake-up call for the government.
Yeah, I’m kind of split on it. I think there was a problem with the EU, with the way it’s run, and this is why it’s come to this. But my heart says that we should stay in the EU, because we want to be able to collaborate and be involved with decisions that affect Europe, not just Britain.
Does this sort of thing motivate you when you’re writing music?
I just try and get a feeling from a beat normally. Most of the stuff that I’ve written has been quite positive, uplifting stuff, or just genuinely stuff that I experience. We’ve got one song called ‘The People’, which I wrote after the riots – about two or three years ago. It was based loosely on the riots, the feeling that the people were feeling at the time, and it’s just about people gathering together in opposition to wrongdoing by the powers that be.
So that affected Manchester a lot too? I heard plenty about the London riots.
Yeah, it affected quite a lot of places. Manchester, we had looting and riots. People were just literally going crazy, in the Northern Quarter as well. It was on one of the main streets, people looting and trashing everywhere – where Piccadilly meets Northern Quarter. So I wrote that because I was seeing the stuff going on in Manchester, and people were rising together. Young people especially were disillusioned, feeling that this government doesn’t give a shit or whatever. They were taking to the streets about it. Obviously looting’s not the way to go about it, but they were uprising. I just remember getting a feeling for it, about why are people coming together, why are these people all gathering together in revolt? This song is about how people feel when they are gathering together in revolt. What drives them to the edge.
The Kaptivators are a Manchester-based band. Find them at www.thekaptivators.com.
Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.