Seen The Road To Guantanamo? Seen Shifty? Seen Four Lions? If not: do so immediately. They all star Riz Ahmed and they’re all excellent. In his latest film, Four Lions, he stars alongside Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker, Facejacker), Nigel Lindsay, Benedict Cumberbatch and Arsher Ali in a story about a bunch of incompetent, young British jihadists. It’s written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (Peep Show), directed by Chris Morris (Brass Eye, Nathan Barley, The Day Today) and is ruddy funny. It’s just come out on DVD, as films do, so we thought having a chat with Riz Ahmed might be nice. And it was.
Hello Riz Ahmed. Four Lions. Good film. Chris Morris. Good man. You get a lot of good work.
"Yeah, I guess I’ve been lucky, I’ve kind of done work with quite established directors and people like Michael Winterbottom. I guess what I’ve managed to do in the early days of my career is work on projects that are a bit unexpected and a bit edgy and a bit independent minded and independent spirited. Working with Chris felt quite natural because we got to know each other over three years leading up to making the film. When I released my first single in 2006 it was called Post 9/11 Blues and he got in touch and we met up. Every couple of weeks we’d meet up and chat utter bollocks or just talk around the subject of terrorism or whatever and a lot of the time we were just meeting up and cracking jokes. So when it came to actually working together with him in an official capacity as an actor that felt quite natural."
Have you always been a politically charged person?
"I don’t know if I am a politically charged person. What do you mean?"
Well, aware. Not everybody sings about 9/11. You could have just ignored it.
"Well in terms of my music, I just tend to write. The thing that separated me from other people is that I write about things that maybe are unexpected for most rappers to write about and often it’s just stuff that’s on my mind at the time. Things that I’m working out or picking through in my own head and that can be quite personal or it can be about contemporary culture. I guess at the time the post 9/11 circus was part of our pop culture and the song’s very much from that point of view."
What’s film/music balance do you strike in your life?
"My year ends up splitting itself up between the two. What’s going on with the music at the moment is quite exciting, ambitious and unique. I’m releasing my debut album in January, but to go with that is a completely new kind of live show. It’s an interactive immersive gig so it’s kind of performed on all four sides of the audience with massive video walls and performers concealed within the audience and there’s a storyline joining them all together and the audience actually interact with the storyline and move it forward. We’ve previewed it at Glastonbury, Fabric and Latitude this year and we got some great responses. To go with that we’ve got this insane website (CLICK) that just won an FWA Award for Innovation In Digital Design and that’s kind of a web game where you can experience the story world of the live show."
In what ways do the audience participate in the live show?
"Well they have to complete certain tasks and make choices."
So they decide what you’re going to do?
"Nag, we decide. It’s kind of about music and sound and how that’s used to affect us emotionally. It’s been happening for years, that kind of ultrasonic, high pitched mosquito noise they have in bus stations and in public places so people don’t gather. It’s kind of like corporations deploying sound and music as a mechanism for population control. It’s quite an interesting, mad fucking idea and it’s happening around us and riot police now use infrasound guns to unsettle and create anxiety in crowds of rioters. They did that in 2009 in the Pittsburgh demonstrations for the G8 something. It’s really interesting how music can be wielded. It’s such a powerful weapon. Do you Kode 9? He’s written a book called Sonic Warfare so I’ve been chatting to him about it and talking about ways we could link what he’s doing and the ideas behind the show. It’s about sonic warfare, it’s about the Department of Culture and Communication, this shady government organisation which has been disseminating sonic viruses in catchy music, in advertising jingles, in ambient sounds. So we’re kind scientists from the DOCC who defected and started a sonic resistance. That’s what the theme is. Each gig is like an initiation of new recruits and you’re being orientated into the resistance and immunised against sonic viruses and we expose you to our counter sonic vaccine. And by doing that we’re immunising your brains. We’re always being hunted by the DOCC so we have to work fast and it often means they try and sabotage us."
What do you do if you get people who go along to the shows because they like the music and have no idea what’s about to happen?
"I want that. When we trialled it we didn’t even come on and bow ant the end or anything. It’s just about taking things up a level, giving people something they’ve never experienced before. Some people left the shoe in hysterics. I’m not joking. Other people were just like “oh my fucking god, why has this not been done before?” I think it will be done again and I think it will be copied and I’ll be proud when it is. But it’s time-consuming and difficult and it’s a fucking labour of love. You can’t be doing stuff like this for the money."
When you see, say, Gorillaz live, are you thinking “you just wait”?
"Haha. Mate. I think it’s wicked seeing people like Gorillaz and anyone doing something different. I’m not setting myself up as some messiah of new shit. I’m loving it. Any people doing new, mad, different, creative stuff are giving me a buzz man."
Four Lions is out on DVD right now
Riz MC’s single Get It On is out on September 27
His tour dates are HERE