Interview: Otto Hashmi

Interview: Otto Hashmi

Otto Hashmi is a Bristol and London based solo artist. His energetic, genre blurring sound is most aptly described as ‘a mixture between James Blake and Death Grips’. Alongside his solo work he’s busy recording as a session musician, touring with Suzi Wu and finishing up a degree in Music at the University of Bristol. We spoke about his upcoming mini tour and his Stokes Croft-inspired new EP Turbo Island.

You’ve just come back from touring with Suzi Wu, how did you start playing together and how’s it going so far?

I’ve been friends with Suzi for about two years so when she asked me to be her bassist I was very happy to get involved with that. We’ve been playing shows for the last 4 months or so now and we supported Dream Wife a couple of times on their tour. There’s lots more exciting things to come in 2018, I think we’re doing some stuff in Eastern Europe soon which is going to be great.

How has the experience of playing with Suzi affected your solo music?

I’ve been doing it DIY for the last couple of years and have really been involved in that scene so to watch something happen with a lot more backing has been a really insightful experience for me. Seeing how it can be done properly has given me lots of ideas after how to work on my own things. At the moment though Suzi’s stuff is one of the most important things for me, being able to be part of her musical world is something that I’m very honoured to do. 

How would you describe your own music?

I normally say somewhere between James Blake and Death Grips. Someone I look up to a lot is Young Thug. On the surface there’s not that much resemblance but I really like the way he just doesn’t care what other people think. His style of delivery influences my stuff in some ways. He’s rapping but lots of his stuff is melodic. Some of it is amazing, some of it is terrible and he just doesn’t care. Even things like wearing a dress on his album cover is a big middle finger to lots of stereotypes in hip hop. I guess I’m still trying to find my place in everything, certainly mixing a lot of trap influences and UK hip hop influences.

You’ve worked with UK rapper and producer Denzel Himself too before, how did that come about?

We met a long time ago… I think I was 17. I used to go to a lot of hardcore gigs at this venue called Power Lunches and he was supporting a band called Rough Hands. We just stayed in contact since then. We’ve done a few things together. He’s an extremely busy guy, he’s been doing so much recently and it looks really exciting. It was really cool to be in his music video last year for ‘BANGIN’. In the future I’d love to continue to work with him and other people on the Set Count Worldwide label.

Turbo Island cover Otto Hashmi.jpg

You’re also a multi-instrumentalist, how did you first get involved with music?

My first instrument was tablah, I used to have lessons in Hendon and then ended up going to a Hindu centre in Edgware. We used to have these group lessons and it was quite tied in with religion. They had this idea of me being a tablah playing child prodigy and it was a bit weird. They wanted like 5 hours of practice a day from a 5-year-old. It got really intense so I gave that up. Then I started playing recorder at school and having drumming lessons. I’ve been playing bass guitar since I was 11, I play keyboard and oboe and I’m a classically trained singer. I kind of dabble in lots of things, it’s a bit of a mess.

I’ve seen you play the spoons before… what’s the strangest instrument you can play?

Hmm maybe the bass recorder. No one really sees that, it’s a good party trick to pull out a meter-long recorder if I have it on me. Or mandola which is like a big mandolin.

What was the first band you played with?

I’ve been in bands with mates since I was 12/13. I think I realised quite early on that I can work with other people but the stuff that’s really important to me I’d rather do by myself. Fourier Set was a collective of old school mates, we played a lot of jazz and funk stuff. They were very into their mechanics and maths, hence ‘Fourier’. I think we might have some projects later this year but it all depends on when people are free, one member’s at Cambridge doing pure maths so is extremely busy but we’ll see how things pan out.

When did you start performing on your own?

In about 2014 I started writing stuff alone with a piano. I realised it was really quite personal, so I felt there wasn’t any better way to carry it off than to do it on my own. I did my first gig in summer 2015 at Power Lunches. I was really happy I got to play there before it shut down. I organised it myself, booked bands, didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Just went DIY but tried to pretend I was a promoter. It kind of worked out because you learn really quickly when you’re face to face with money and real-life situations.

What can you tell me about your newly released EP ‘Turbo Island’?

It’s named after the infamous Turbo Island of Stokes Croft. It was recorded over the past 2 years since I started studying at Bristol University, it’s influenced by a lot of events that have taken place over my time at university. It’s a funny metaphor because Turbo Island was the first place I heard about in Bristol, I’ve no idea why. I thought it was the exciting heart of Stokes Croft and then found out its an island where there’s a lot of drinking on the street and homelessness. That’s quite a bleak metaphor and I think I’m quite a bleak person in many ways. It’s very pessimistic.

Where are some of your favourite places to hang out in Bristol (apart from Turbo Island)?

I like Café Kino. I played my first Bristol gig there back in 2016 and it’s been too long since I’ve played a show in Bristol, despite being at university here. The White Hart pub near the coach station has a lot of memories for me. A lot of memories of friends in bands coming in and going for a pint as soon as they get off the coach. It’s probably my favourite pub in Bristol.

What’s up next for you?

I’m doing a mini tour of 4 dates across the south of England. Starting at the Quadrant in Brighton, then the Stag’s Head in London, the Blue Moon in Cambridge and finishing up at the Crofter’s Rights in Bristol. Most of the dates are with wuuad too, they’re also touring for their EP so we’ve managed to cross over some shows. Brewer are playing in London too, I’ve worked with them many times as well as a bunch of other groups. After the EP I’m really interested in focusing on more of the production side, working with lots of rappers and doing some new solo stuff. 

Otto Hashmi will be playing at the Crofter’s Rights on Wednesday the 21st of February supported by wuuad and La-Z-Eye. Check out his new EP Turbo Island below

Interview by Sam Stone @babbikat