On his love for writing, reggae and the SE postcode.
Photograph courtesy of Rebekah Elizabeth Harris.
Aaron Gatward caught his modelling break starring in Dior Homme’s Fall/Winter 2014 campaign, shot by none other than Karl Lagerfeld. Pretty casual. Around the same time, he started making music, showcasing his talent on SBTV’s “Warm Up Sessions” segment. Stage alias Aaron U.N.K.N.O.W.N was born, and shortly after, he featured in a freestyle rap collab with heavyweights Stormzy, Lady Leshurr and D Double E.
Since then, the South-London rapper’s been developing his voice as an artist, which so far has culminated in last year’s hugely popular six-track debut EP “2 Sides”. Soulful, purposeful but unhurried, Aaron raps with emotion that’s palpable, over steady beats infused with piano melodies and percussion. His lyrics are intimate and introspective, reflecting on love, social issues and his own internal struggles.
Aaron’s also utilised his influence online in a refreshingly uplifting way, speaking earnestly about anxiety and mental health. We sat down with him to talk collaborations, community and what he’s been working towards…
Hi Aaron! Can you tell us what U.N.K.N.O.W.N stands for and how the name came about?
U.N.K.N.O.W.N is an acronym for: Under New Knowledge Now Overcoming World Negativity. The name came about spontaneously in the SBTV HQ. Blessings to Jamal [Edwards], Isaac [Densu] and Xavier [U.N.K.N.O.W.N] for being present.
Congratulations on your feature on SAZ’s new track “Chasing”. You’ve collaborated with loads of talented people, including a Cypher for SBTV with Stormzy, Lady Leshurr and D Double E in 2015. What’s the best advice you’ve picked up?
Thank you! ‘Chasing’ is a bespoke song, quite personal to the three of us; and was a purge of emotion that we all seemed to feel at the same time, quite beautiful really. The best advice I can say I’ve picked up from these household names would have to be: ‘Be Yourself.’
Who else would you love to work with?
I would love to work with Loyle Carner. He’s a massive inspiration of mine. I know we would make a hit! Also crossing the pond I’d have to say I would be honoured to collaborate with J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar.
U.N.K.O.W.N x Loyle Carner would be insane, you heard it here first… You also released “How Do You Feel”, a single with Santino Le Saint, in April. What’s the reception been like?
This collaboration was a beautiful accident. Santino and I had known each other for the best part of a year when we both signed partnerships with global powerhouse Superdry. We thought it only made sense to chill together and “How Do You Feel” happened. The response has been major, and the single reached Top 10 in the iTunes Charts. Gassed.
We saw you perform the song at Field Day – you talk about performing with a focus on the collective experience. Is that when you feel most connected to your fans?
I have to say I feel so connected whilst performing. It bridges that gap between artist and supporter, allowing engagement. I seize the moment! As someone who is sensitive to energy, the collective amplification makes such a difference. The energy is real.
How was performing at such a big event in an area where you grew up?
I keep reliving that moment in my head. I literally remember running round Brockwell Park in my dungarees, happy as Larry. Fast-forward 20 years, now look. I’m so humbled, I have to say. I’m connected to that soil in many ways.
What do you love most about South London?
The thing I love most about South London is the ‘live and let live’ mentality. There is so much diversity in all senses of the word, and there seems to be an unmatched open-mindedness towards personal expression. No boundaries. The flood of creative content is evidence of these energies.
Has the area influenced your music?
South London has definitely influenced my music. From seeing the rise of many household names from the same postcode really gave me a boost. From street cyphers to No.1 hits, South London has it all.
What else has influenced you?
I’d say my upbringing has really influenced my music, as most of my lyrics come from past experiences. I express the struggles we faced as a family, but also what I’ve witnessed from my perspective and unfortunately a lot of that had been hardship. Looking now though it’s amazing to see the progress made, amongst the abundance of creativity.
We spotted a fab Reggae playlist on your Spotify page…
Reggae is literally all I grew up listening to! Feel-good music, but with a message. And the only message I’m trying to get across is overcoming world negativity. Show. More. Love.
You seem to focus on lyrics that have substance – is writing something you’ve always done?
Yes. I have an eye for injustice to match my voice for calling it out. I can’t help but write about actual matters. I started poetry in school whilst studying Shakespeare, and even my work was off-topic.
As a model too, how do you see the relationship between fashion and music?
The bridge has never been more secure. For me personally I feel like I’m at the pinnacle point of the merge. Many artists end up in brand campaigns, but not many models have taken to the mic. It works for me though.
What clothes do you like to perform in?
Whatever is most baggy and comfortable. Anything to cool me down to be honest.
If you could provide the soundtrack for any fashion show, who would you choose and what would you play?
It would have to choose Givenchy. It was the first major show I walked. And it would have to be a tailormade piece.
Your debut EP “2 Sides” was really well received last year. Is there any more music in the works?
Considering the only backing I’ve had is my own, it was very well received. I’m happy with the response from a debut project especially lacking major label boost. I am always writing, let’s just say it’s going to be a loud summer.
And finally – what other festivals can we spot you at this summer?
TBA. Patience young ones…