• Date: Tue 5th October 2021
  • Doors Open: 19:00
  • Price: £8.00

SJM Concerts Presents:

ATO

Live at The Grace, London

 

14+ (under 16s to be accompanied by an adult)

As a child ATO spent a lot of time on his own and would use his imagination as a means of
communication through difficult times. These periods of time spent came as the UK-born rapper
travelled the globe alongside his Danish mother as she pursued an education across continents,
visiting South Korea, South Africa, and New York before he reached secondary school age. “It
was basically just the two of us and I found home in her,” ATO says now, looking back on an
early childhood defined by freedom and exploration.
It was only when he settled in York, a historically storied but predominantly white city in the north
of England, that ATO began to feel unwelcome. Singled out for racist abuse at school, ATO
would escape into writing lyrics and making music as a means of transporting himself to a
parallel universe. “I found it difficult to negotiate these feelings on my own,” he says looking
back. “Race became something I was conscious of 24/7. Naturally I gravitated towards writing
music as a form of therapy.”
This cathartic form of writing is apparent throughout ATO’s latest mixtape I May Be Some Time.
Split into two sides, SIDE A opens with Ziamonds !!, a lyrically abstract song that utilises his love
of fantasy and allegory as a means of escape. Muscle Twitch, meanwhile, taps into the anxiety
of growing up as an outsider in a close-minded environment. Over a claustrophobic beat, ATO
bleeds melody into his bars as he opens up about feeling so anxious about his appearance and
how he is perceived by others that it manifests itself physically.
The mixtape represents ATO’s most grounded and truthful work to date. Escaping York as a
teenager he moved to London to pursue a music career but discovered that the process of
breaking into a notoriously cut-throat industry was a tricky proposition. Finding himself
compromising artistically, feeling a loss of identity, and even questioning why he wanted to make
music in the first place, he decided to return up north to begin studying at Leeds University.
Shortly before his course started ATO took a fortuitous visit to Ireland where he met
Dublin-based producer EDEN. The two connected both personally and musically and soon
joined forces to release 2015’S ATO X EDEN project as well as on 2020’s EP3, featuring Vic
Mensa collaboration Falling. “He was able to help me deliver feelings I hadn’t been able to
express because I was trying to make music that wasn’t a reflection of how I feel,” ATO says of
their relationship. “He helped me rediscover the reason I made music in the first place – to
express myself in an honest way.” The pair have continued to work together almost exclusively,
with I May Be Some Time representing an opening up of their partnership with the introduction
of outside producers, including New York’s Steve Cooper and Tokyo-based Singular Balance,
for the first time.
Meeting EDEN and returning home to Yorkshire proved a turning point in ATO’s career. The
move to London had left him feeling distant from his family but he was able to be close to both
parents as they battled ill health, including a period when both his mother and father were
diagnosed with cancer. Both parents have thankfully since recovered. Having found home to be
a place to escape just a few years prior, suddenly being closest to those he loved proved to be a
source of clarity in his musical quest. These conflicting feelings about home are represented by
Garrowby Way, a dark and heavy interlude that underscores ATO’s feelings of isolation but
named after the York street on which he spent happy times with a Christian Nigerian family as a
child. “That period of time felt stagnant,” he says. “Me and my friends had a lot of great times
but we weren’t really sure who we were and we didn’t really like ourselves that much.”
“Coming back to Leeds has been a huge part of my journey,” he says of leaving London.
“Family is the centre of my life, completely. In terms of making music it’s just been a different
experience. Everything has become friend orientated and done in-house. Everything just feels
close to home now.”
Home is a subject close to ATO’s heart. As a second year university student the renewal of his
Danish passport was rejected on the basis that he had not spent enough time in the country. An
application for a British passport was also rejected, leaving him to spend almost a year without
citizenship while appealing to both the British and Danish authorities. Eventually ATO was
granted Danish citizenship but, having spent the majority of his life in the country, knows himself
to be British. This unmoored experience is reflected on the mixtape,with its themes of identity,
isolation, Black mental health, his search for security, and how all of that feeds into a wider story
about the Black British experience. “I was left stateless for a year despite feeling completely
English. I only knew York, but wasn’t made to feel welcome there or the country by the state. It’s
hard to be confident in that situation.”
Not being restricted by society’s perceptions of who he is defines ATO’s creative output. “It’s
about trying to transcend those rules that have confined black Britons and be comfortable and
confident to completely express myself and reclaim English identity as a black person,” he says.
SIDE A closes with Nobu, a romantic song boasting a lightness that nods toward a change in
mindset from the artist. Lines like “Lies weighing down on me heavy, as it happens I could fly”
acknowledge a sense of personal growth and learning to look to a brighter future rather than
ruminating on the past.
Over time ATO says he has begun to feel more confident than his younger self, finding a home
in his music as well as a close group of friends, family, and collaborators. He says he can now
overlook the ignorances that some people have and wants to make a difference by uniting
people. “I’m not consumed by the trauma any more, I’m passionate about there being more
opportunities to voice the opinions of young Black people across the country. I hope this tape is
a voice for those unheard experiences and be the start of something that has a social impact.”

ATO ON SPOTIFY

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