by Katherine Thomson
"I've never seen someone leave an art gallery like they do a club."
Grime culture still lives on through the shape-shifting music of producer and artist lloydfears. Currently based in Berlin but born and raised in the North of England, their work gleans inspiration from both UK and global dance/rap culture and focuses on bridging the gap between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.
Katherine Thompson sat down with lloyd to find out more.
Your sound comes from a mixture of genres. What did you grow up listening to? And what was the catalyst for you to start making your own music?
I grew up where everyone had some bars and instrumentals on their phones. So rap was the very first catalyst. [Influences include] UK/US rap, bassline and donk. Spitting on a beat was the first time I felt any sort of empowerment, claiming your space and holding court for your 16’s. Nowadays I’m into all the beautiful mutations of club and rap you find in small communities all around the world. It’s a fantastic pulse!
What I only became appreciative of later [after] I moved away is the massive sound system culture of West Yorkshire. I'm from Bradford, but nearby Huddersfield - outside of London - has one of the biggest Caribbean communities. So from early [on] I was also a witness to that tradition. [I heard] Dub and Reggae on custom built sound systems, mostly outdoors with big chest rattling bass, having no idea at all what any of it was. Grime hadn’t really made its way up North by then but I understood Dub and Jungle. That lust for sub bass has always stayed with me.
The big level up was discovering Fatima Al Qadiri. It was clear to me I was hearing something very conceptual - a study of trauma through this lens of grime production and video games. Once I saw you could be an artist and still make gully tunes that was it as far as I was concerned.
You're a visual artist too. So how has music become part of your practice?
I’m into spitting as a language and music as communication. I think my style reflects the isolation I felt up North. Economic situations force a lot of kids' hands. There were no youth clubs, no [elders] to teach and no clubs playing that sound; just a few close people sharing bars, aspiring to what we saw online while learning what we could from each other. This DIY style really makes you focus inward. The grime music I’m making right now sounds totally organic, no grid.
Goin t’art school was a big awakening of class consciousness for me. In Bradford I felt lucky, I saw a lot of people worse off than me, but when I got to university I noticed the level of economic privilege present throughout the UK; the secret stores of knowledge, access to cultural capital, casual appropriation without respect. I just wanted to make something that was true to my experience - something real people would respect but could still sit in a museum.
Can we talk about how you address the universal state of anxiety and how your work muses on contemporary politics and financial instability?
A friend lent me Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher; I read it on the bus to and from my shifts at Amazon. So I felt like it came at a particular time. It was vivid. After that I read stuff by the CCRU. That crew was saying how so many cultural artefacts that existed in the last few years, like I dunno, from Lord of the Rings films to Joy Division was only allowed to exist because there was a very robust socialist streak in the UK. You know, you could go on the dole quite easily, there were a lot of youth clubs, which is where grime arguably came from. There was so much social assistance that we only had because of WW2. And now we finally reached this point where, after so many years of eroding it, it's gone now. There's no social support. The NHS is next.
At first I wanted to make like cyberpunk music for this imagined future, but then really, that fucked future is already here. I’m making music for now. I don't need to pretend I live in some cyberpunk future. I do. It already is dystopian enough.
What could you see coming from opening the conversation about contemporary masculinity in your music?
That’s difficult, I feel like a lot of music gets away with not addressing its own issues and I’m guilty of it too. I have a desperate need to confess and be personal but I cloak it in language and hide behind the [masculine] mask. My performances are always a full contact sport and I get that it’s this overtly masculine presence. But the core of the lyrics, if you can see through to it, is always from a place of exorcising out pain, shame or weakness.
I hear some music in this experimental scene that still plays out these tropes and I wonder how much self awareness went into that line. For me, I’d like to think most people are trying to do better.
One of the best things about your work is that you're clearly writing from experience. How do everyday happenings translate to the page or the track?
I treat low culture like the avant garde; bassline, bikes, wandering, street chat, all of those things I treat as sacred and study. There's these bourgeois schools of thought which have explored every angle of the Flâneur in Paris. But I haven't found a book that expands on what it's like to drift between cities and suburban sprawl because there's nowhere to go. Moving as a unit, vague motivations, smoking weed. The psycho-geography is wild. I should write that essay and make a tune for it.
What about your live shows? Do you sense a catharsis there in the form of the communities you develop?
Being in Berlin has really pushed me as an MC. I’ve been doing more hosting or turning up to spit bars with Unrar and InfiniteQuest. People react to music in dark rooms, they react to it way more strongly than they do to paintings [and] other things. I've never seen someone leave an art gallery like they do a club. Wide eyed, covered in sweat. They can also fall into a trance. As an MC I try to break that down into something sharper. Being present, rallying people and putting focus to the moment. That is the shared catharsis, and it’s something very ancient.
lloydfears’ EP 'Self Soothe' is out now via Xenonyms. Listen on Spotify.