Ultimately, Tricky and trip hop can be treated synonymously. After the release of his debut, Maxinquaye, the man and the genre were irrevocably linked. Don’t get the impression, though, that this is some kind of standstill situation. The Bristolian liked to dabble in punk, 2tone, rock and hip hop in the past as well. After moving to Berlin, he started working on his new project Skilled Mechanics, which was released at the beginning of 2016. It’s a loose cooperation between him and artists DJ Milo, Luke Harris and Chinese rapper Ivy. Now Tricky returns with his 13th album, ununiform, out in September 2017 on his own label False Idols via !K7 Music. It’s a delicate, storming, intricate album that sees Tricky take perhaps his most radical step yet – a journey into happiness and contentment. It’s a record that shows the legendary British producer confront his legacy, history, family – even death itself. And in all of this, he finds the strangest, least familiar thing – peace.
This is the first album-proper made since Tricky moved to Berlin, three years ago. While many people move to the clubbing capital of Europe to party, this was a clean break, in every sense of the word. “I like it here because I don’t know anybody. I eat good food, I go for walks, I’ve got a bike. I’m trying to look after myself. I don’t drink here. Some people call it boring, but I wake at 9am and I’m asleep by 11 o’clock at night. I’m looking after myself.”
Though most of ununiform was made in his adopted capital, four tracks were recorded in a city further east, the capital of Russia. “Moscow is my favourite city in the world,” he says. “I didn’t want to spend Christmas at home, so in December 2016 I spent three weeks there recording and eating Russian food.” The four tracks made in the dead of winter in Moscow feature collaborations with local rappers and producers. “I’ve been listening to Russian rap for 20 years. I love those accents – I don’t need to understand what they’re rapping. I could just feel it. People live like everyday is their last day, and I like that.”
Though the album is more settled and at peace with life than any other that Tricky has recorded, it’s also one shot through with references to the end of life, from the raving, synth-led ‘Dark Days’ to the single ‘When We Die.’ “Word to the wise: I don’t want to die young,” Tricky explains. “But my first memory was seeing my mother dead in her coffin in my family house. I’d go in, stand on the chair and look at her. So I’m saying to that kid on the chair, ‘it’s going to be OK. You’re going to tour the world, you’re going to make music, and the good life is going to come in.’ If you don’t accept death, you don’t really accept life.”
Tricky also credits much of the freedom of ununiform to something more grounded: “This album now is the first album I’ve made (in years) which isn’t going to pay off some kind of debt. So it’s more relaxed!” Referring to his previous albums, False Idols, Adrian Thaws, and the Skilled Mechanics project, he says “I was doing these records thinking ‘the quicker I do this album, the quicker I pay off the tax people.’ So ununiform has been very chilled out. Now, I own the label, I pay for everything myself. I’m a truly independent artist. Now I do what I want. Freedom is a beautiful thing.”
Interestingly, the effect of this new-found financial freedom, and a newly healthy lifestyle, has led to Tricky turning back to his classic sound – perhaps the final frontier for such an inveterate experimentalist. “I’ve got nothing to prove now, and I’m comfortable with referencing myself.” Indeed, he’s since described lead single ‘The Only Way’ as “Hell is Round The Corner, Part 2”. This sensation is perhaps a response to a wave of artists referencing Tricky’s ‘90s records and his approach, from The xx to boundary-pushing London rappers Gaika and CASisDEAD, the latter of which Tricky recently collaborated with. “I’ve got a really wide audience. So I’ve got nothing to prove. I feel like sometimes it’s OK to do it again.”