I will be uploading interviews in a series called “Musical Chats”, so stay tuned for more interviews with great artists! Uploads Thursdays at 12pm.
Carl Anka is a London-born journalist and broadcaster, and is currently writing for The Athletic. He has written for BBC, the Guardian, VICE, NME, GQ and BuzzFeed among other publications online and in print and specialises in writing about pop culture, video games, films and football. We chatted about his listening habits, what inspires him and being a black man in journalism in the UK. Enjoy!
RS: What does a week of music listening look like for you? What role does music play in your life?
CA: I’d say I listen to 2-3 hours of music every single day, minimum! I’m born and bred in London, and in that London-type world you wouldn’t be caught dead without a pair of headphones! On the commute – Spotify playlist, headphones in. Walking around town – headphones in. I normally go back and forth through 6 or 7 playlists, and listen to my Discover Weekly every single Monday. I now make a secondary playlist which I name after the year where I take the songs I like from my Discover Weekly and just feed that into the playlist – that’s a good tip for adapting the algorithm to your needs, because it means Spotify will keep making you better playlists for your Discover Weekly!
As far as gigs go, when I was in London I’d go to a gig probably once every 3 months – that is the thing I miss living in Southampton now. It took me a really long time to appreciate that in London every major musician came to see me, whereas now I have to travel to see them more. Though my last gig before lockdown was Craig David in Southampton – that was great!
RS: London is definitely the place to go for that variety, but Southampton does have some pretty good live venues! Do you use music for writing inspiration, or mainly for enjoyment?
I’ve reviewed music for FACT Magazine and NME, so I actually write about music a bit. I do write to music; I have a writing playlist, an editing playlist, a sports playlist. I would say, the one time people would expect me to listen to music and I don’t is in the gym! Though I do have a gym playlist, which I listen to on the way into and out of the gym…!
RS: Oh, of course! At the moment you’re working as a writer for The Athletic. What about cultural journalism inspires you, and why did you choose to do that as a career?
I truly did kind of fall into it! I went to university to be a screenwriter, and then partway through 3rd year I got in contact with someone who made nature documentaries for the BBC, and when I sent him my CV. Then, he phones me up on a Wednesday night and says: “Why have you sent me your CV? This is the CV of a journalist, not a filmmaker. Go be a journalist!” And I pretty much just went from there.
At the time I didn’t know I was chasing to be a ‘culture writer’. In my case, if I find something interesting, I will try and write about it. Sometimes I write about football, sometimes I write about dance, and sometimes film or computer games. I don’t have a guiding ‘I want to be… this’; it’s always been what interests me. It does mean I’ve written for quite an interesting batch of places!
RS: On a similar note, you’ve written a real variety of articles. There’s some on music listening styles, mental health and the representation of black youth in the media. Do you feel some responsibility as a writer to tackle some of those more difficult topics, or is it a case of it just being a topic of interest for you?
CA: It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. I am black man who is a full-time journalist in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, that makes me rare. You can imagine how busy I was when Black Panther came out, for example! There was 2 or 3 times where I said: “Are you just ringing me up because I’m the only black person you know, and you need someone to write about Black Panther?!” And one of them actually said yes!
The thing is, I want to write about Black Panther – I grew up loving Marvel, and I’ve been reading Black Panther comic books since I was 15. So yeah, I will happily write about Black Panther and get paid to do it. But there was also a sense of people wanting me to write lofty, high-brow ideas about it, and sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes an incident around race will happen, and I’ll know that clearly I need to write about it because it’s in my wheelhouse. If an example of racism happens in rugby, I can probably write about it – I’m a black man, and I played rugby for 10 years. I have knowledge in that area. But on the other hand, there have been times I have passed on work because people have got in contact asking me to talk about grime music, or explain racism. I’m not the best person to write about that, I’m just clearly the only black person you know. Then it falls on me to help that person find the best person to talk to.
RS: Do you have a favourite thing to write about? Is it these challenging topics, sport, or music?
CA: It comes and goes in cycles. When I was a freelancer, I’d spend the first half of the year writing about movies, then I’d write about videogames and then it’d be movies again, a little bit about news and culture.
Now 85% of my time is writing about football, which is interesting. It’s a fun challenge! You have to teach yourself ways to keep it interesting and fresh, and try not to become formulaic. Before, if I got bored of writing about a particular topic, I’d go off and write something different. Now, I have to find all the different ways I can talk about football – it could be the statistics, sport psychology, sports and humanity. And you have to learn how to hold the attention of the fan-base! It is fun having multiple strings to your bow, but it’s been really fun just running around with one hammer for a bit.
RS: And to close up, what is your dream day off?
CA: Tomorrow is my day off actually, and I am going to sleep! I’m going to sleep, do a puzzle, drink red wine and do Duolingo Spanish on my balcony. That’s a day off in lockdown!
RS: Sounds like fun to me! Thank you so much for your time, Carl!