Urban poet, musician and cultural figurehead Kate Tempest’s Let Them Eat Chaos is more than an album: Styled as a series of vignettes, an unnamed street, at 4.18am, Kate guides you through the bedroom window of seven different people on the street, awake for their own different reasons. Questioning why these people are awake, who they are, what has brought them here. “It’s all set at this specific, time, just before dawn – there’s a vulnerability. I didn’t want to make an album of vaguely connecting songs.”
Playing the traditional part of the narrator, Kate interrupts the segue between the tracks with a narrative – tiny details of each person’s life, the way Pete holds a cigarette, moments of Alesha’s dream. “It was weird getting into every one’s room – but theatre is ancient, it’s conventional, introducing a narrative at the beginning. It’s like a play, a voice addressing you directly.” Stealing details from real life, her friends, her own, as well as people she’s never met, Kate takes moments of truth and uses her life up to that point – everyone she’s ever loved or hated, everything she’s ever seen or felt – and gives it an outlet. “I think every single person in the world needs to have some kind of creative moment just to get those things out,” she says.
Setting the scene in each room up with her near Shakespearean cadence, South London accent uncompromised, Kate sees herself as being in service to language. “I’m in love with language and literature and music. It’s the most beautiful thing in my life. It’s opened the universe to me and invited me into the world.” Her command of lyrics is unparalleled – “I generated loads of stuff and then ditched it all. This record was like a long, messy poem until I applied the same principles of editing a poem that I had learnt from my poetry editor.”
Working once again with producer and mixer Dan Carey (Bat for Lashes, Chairlift, Franz Ferdinand, Sia),Let Them Eat Chaos had a largely synergetic working process, with every lyric and beat being written together. “Dan hears an idea, a million drafts of the same lyric – over and over, my voice and the lyric instructs the beats he will make, and vice versa.” The album refines the duo’s previous work – beats worthy of an early Wu Tang album and places them with haunting, juddering synth lines, and big, sloppy bass sounds. Picking up where 2014’s Everybody Down, Let Them Eat Chaos leaves no room for choruses, with a much cleaner, sculpted sound – It’s much more London 2016, at times touching on the big, bold production values of Skepta or Wiley. It’s not just the music that has progressed. Kate, the youngest winner of the Ted Hughes Award, has spent the last two years working on her already muscular like use of language – flexing her ability to tell an intimate and heartfelt story without sounding trite with the antagonistic and uncompromising energy of a rapper, dealing with poverty, class, socio-economic issues, life, in a way that could just as easily be Nars or Cicero.
“The first batch of songs were not driven by character, We Die was originally dealt with death, but it wasn’t looking for the listener. It was about me, reaching in and purging.” The final song is a hymn to Alesha’s waking moments, filled with anxiety and depression, describing her bad dream – hearing the voice of a dead lover, who tells her that the point of living life is live, love and pass it on.
Pushing herself to constantly finesse her work – “each time you have an idea it should be a better idea, cleaner, sharper, more direct,” Kate’s 2016 novel The Bricks That Built The House, acted as way of instructing the narrative of the album. “You’re creating a universe, and it’s really fucking difficult. Writing a novel was instructive in terms of the journey you have to go on to be able to create a character. Getting to the end of writing a book made me realise how hard it is to begin.”
It wasn’t without poetic flow that the album was written: “I had a big outpouring of material but the concept wasn’t clear, the idea was there but it didn’t hold it’s shape. I spend long days, long nights and get everything out and then leave it to breath, work on something else; tour. You’re constantly nurturing an idea when you’re not with it: How can I get into these people’s rooms without interrupting the album. An idea is perfect, beautiful. The finished thing: Bollocks. But it’s what pushes you to have another idea and try again, there’s a very interesting moment of making the idea into the real thing, knowing that it will never be perfect. The difference between an artist and someone else is that the artist finishes the idea. Everyone has ideas but to actually have a finished idea, to have gone through the agony, that will teach you humility.”
At just 31 years old, the playwrite, author, and poet has also been announced as the guest director of Brighton Festival – curating the three week event shows that her creativity is limitless.