Shakespeare reCITED: James Massiah and Liam Hodges

We talk to James Massiah and Liam Hodges about their involvement with Shakespeare reCITED.

To mark the 400th anniversary of the death Britain’s favourite historic playwright, Selfridges are putting on a series of electrifying music and art performances to celebrate the works of Shakespeare. After selecting a group of artistic talents to uniquely rethink The Bard’s poetry, wordplay and lyricism, Selfridges paired up duos to a create collaboration based around Shakespeare’s themes.

The in-store performances from the artists will be accompanied be an exclusive drop of a collaborative merchandise collection. Acting like tour merch (something which we are avid collectors of! Hello Zayn, Justin and Kanye, we’re still trying to get our hands on yours) the mini-collections created for each event are both a fashion statement and a souvenir of Shakespeare reCITED. Inspired by the works of Shakespeare and co-created by each participating musician and designer, each event will have it’s own specially-designed merch that you’ll be dying to get your hands on. First up is poet and producer James Massiah and fashion designer Liam Hodges.

Available from 7th July 2016, when James Massiah will be performing three original poems inspired by themes and language used by Shakespeare at Selfridges, the limited-edition event merch created by Massiah and Liam Hodges (with the input of DJ Maximum BBK and Preditah who will be DJing on the night) consists of three pieces: a black long sleeve t-shirt, a black hoodie and a utilitarian black work jacket. All are stamped with bright white skull prints – it’s all quite Hamlet-y – and quotes including “would you deny yourself the chance of one last shot at immortality”, “to spend a moment in ecstasy” and “immortal”. The merch hints at supernatural, macabre elements and the difficulty in conceptualizing death that Massiah talks of in his Shakespeare-inspired poems. The date of Massiah’s performance is also stamped on – 07-07-2016 – to mark the event. On top of this, a limited edition zine will be available at every event, curated by Places & Faces and edited by Hattie Collins.

To celebrate Shakespeare reCITED, Wonderland talks to James Massiah about how he is influenced by Shakespeare, and ask some quick fire questions to Liam Hodges about the collaboration.


James Massiah

What made you want to get involved with this Shakespeare reCITED project?

I’ve been excited about the prospect of working with Ella for a long time, she’s made a lot of things come together in this city over the past few years and so I was thankful to be considered and approached with a project such as this, that not only offers a chance to showcase my own uncensored, unabridged work on a large platform but also to work alongside other artists that I respect; the likes of Liam, Rejjie, Ciesay, Hattie, Krept, Siobhan, et al are all cool and interesting people I’ve had the privilege of interacting with in varying degrees and so I was more than happy to share headlines with these truly influential folk.

And how did you get paired with Liam? What was it like to work with him?

Liam and I had a mutual connection through fellow wordsmith Hector Aponysus, we all jammed together at Liam’s “Locked Off” launch and there’s a mutual appreciation for music and culture between us. The decision to pair us was perhaps made prior to this engagement, but evidence of our chemistry was truly evident in that particular instance. Ella always had the vision, I’m a fan of his work and Ella knows us both well so I suspect it was always a rather natural combination all along.

You’ve produced three compositions inspired by Shakespeare – how does his writing influence those pieces?

I’ve gone to the trouble of including a number of the words that Shakespeare introduced into the English language into the pieces I’ve written. I’ve also borrowed some the supernatural and macabre elements that come across in a great deal of Shakespeare’s work, in some ways I suppose the sum of these pieces is a tragedy and in a nihilistic or existentialist way I’m perhaps more drawn to communicating the difficulty that we the living have in conceptualising death, as well as exploring the absurdity of life itself and the obsession many of us have with youth

What’s your personal relationship like with Shakespeare’s writing? Do you have good memories of studying or engaging with his work, or was this a chance to reappraise your understanding of it?

I most recently saw one of my brother’s friends (Ivanno Jeremiah) in Measure for Measure at the Young Vic, that was an eye-opening performance and a play that has since had a profound effect on me and my intentions as a writer. I interacted with Shakespeare on a different level when I was younger, the similarities between the language he used and that of the King James Version of the Bible (which I read a great deal of in my youth) made his work more accessible to me and so when the school plays came around I leapt at opportunities to engage with the work and show off my skills. I played Caliban in The Tempest at a performance of the play in Wimbledon’s Polka Theatre and the Puck in a Midsummer Night’s Dream whilst in middle school

Do you agree with this idea of Shakespeare as universal and timeless – I’m guessing something in it must have spoken to you all these hundreds of years later?

Well there’s certainly a thing about classics and canonical literature, it speaks to the people of the time and perhaps latches onto something that runs through the collective conscience as it were. A lot of the issues he deals with in his work a constantly recurring battles between the individuals and the wills of those around them, engaging with morality, gender, race, sexuality, war, politics and all the rest has certainly placed his work in good stead. Yet who’s to know, perhaps he’ll fall out of favour with a future generation as other newer issues come to the fore, but on a basic level their will probably always be room for Shakespeare to connect with people exploring theatre, poetry and their documentation of the human condition

BBK’s Shorty and YGG are also getting involved; talk to us about that?

With their ongoing success and the current spotlight on Grime and UK music at the moment it’s a great opportunity to align two seemingly disparate facets of the overall art of spoken word and performance at a time when there is great interest from both young city dwellers and the wider creative community in both poetry and MCing

Of the other artists performing: who are you most excited to see?

Really want to see Rejjie Snow do his thing, he’s been working closely with my good friend Skinny Macho (Blackfoot Phoenix) and after seeing them together for the first time at Glastonbury this year I’m excited to see them working again. Also a big fan of Krept & Konan, the former is an old friend and their collective rise through the charts and into the mainstream has been a huge inspiration; I wanted to catch their show in Brixton but was out of the country on the day, so really looking forward to seeing what they’ve got in store for this

Lastly, what’s your favourite piece from the collection of merch by Liam?

Huge fan of the long sleeve tee, but I could probably do with the hoodie too with the weather in London this summer being as it is!

Liam Hodges

What attracted you to this project?

IT WAS SICK! The references they first started talking about just got me excited as it was stuff I haven’t really looked at for a while, old band tees and tour merch.

And what was it about James Messiah that drew you to collaborating with him/ what was it like to work with him?

I’d already known James a while after he performed at my book launch in August. Ella put us together and after chatting it over together we had a good vibe and we’re both interested in the same ideas as we discussed it all we covered a lot of different ideas and references. Started looking at old concert footage of the up in smoke tour in 2001 and their merch, it was so stylized!

When it came to designing your capsule collection, what was the starting point and how did both Shakespeare and James inform your creative process?

We started discussing the words he created, and got into a conversation about language, slang etc. His invented words were originally slang and when someone dislikes slang and the ‘destruction of the English language’ they must really hate Shakespeare as much as someone saying bruv’ lit, Wavey, whatever—– its the same. For us that was a big connection between a lot of it.

What’s your favourite piece from this collection and why?

The work jacket is definitely my favourite. I wanted to push summin that would look sick on stage but remain really desirable outside of the context of the collaboration. I like it all to be honest but yeah that’s top for me.

James Massiah’s performance on 7th July at 8-11pm, available to watch via Periscope or the Selfridge’s snapchat as well as shop Massiah and Hodges’ limited edition collaboration, available online and in store.

Annabel Lunnon
Shakespeare reCITED: James Massiah and Liam Hodges

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