NIA ARCHIVES BREAKS DOWN ‘SOBER FEELS’ & HER ‘HEADZ GONE WEST’ EP
Despite the desolate wasteland that was 2020 disrupting any chance of us getting to skank, shimmy and sidestep our way through festival season, a single silverling can be seen in the number of stand out tracks that surfaced throughout the year from new artists. The woes of lockdown life were made a tad more bearable by the sporadic emergence of endlessly talented and effortlessly eloquent MC’s, vocalists, songwriters and producers across a number of UK genres. Hackney-based Manchunian Nia Archives typifies a new era of humble and hardworking producers that are breathing new like into UK Drum n’ Bass and Jungle by crafting intricate and free-forming tracks that build on the foundations laid by trailblazers of the previous generation.
Born in the rave and raised by the riddim, Nia discovered her dogmatic desire to craft downright dirty basslines whilst combing through the Root’s Manuva, Congo Natty and Roni Size CD’s on her Nan’s shelf. After moving to Hackney and immersing herself in the sounds of Boy Better Know and DJ Flight she, alongside her fellow members of the Brighter Days Family, made waves amongst DnB circles after releasing ‘Sober Feels’ at the start of 2020. Since, her debut EP Headz Gone West has quickly garnered the attention of underground giants like Lava La Rule and Junglist legends like Congo Natty as both artists join Nia on her heavy rolling remix of Lava’s track ’Magpie’.
We caught up with Nia ahead of her debut appearance at Fabric on the 1st of October to recap on the genesis of her love for music, the incredible Faithless inspired visuals to her track ‘Crossroads’, the origins of Brighter Days Family, and her plans for future releases.
First off, growing up who were your biggest creative influences? What music was playing around the house as a kid?
I grew up with a lot of Reggae, Lovers Rock, and a little bit of Jungle but at the time I didn’t really have any conception of what Jungle was I just knew and loved the grooves and the baselines. Like a lot of Jamaican people, I grew up with a sound system in my house which brought its own vibe and my stepdad at the time was a rapper and producer so that’s where the hip-hop influence first came from. Roots Manuva was always playing in our house so he was a massive source of inspiration during a time where I began learning a few different instruments myself.
Did you enjoy that sound system sound at the time or did you think of it more like ‘mums music’?
When I was a kid I absolutely loved it, my Nan was always one of my biggest creative influences because I used to spend so much time going through her CD’s and playing them on her massive sound system. Our family parties would be like a big rave with uncles toasting while someone else is DJing and everyone is dancing so that whole sound made a massive impact on me as a person and on my own music.
What was the first instrument you picked up?
I taught myself piano when I was a kid and I actually played the cornet for a little bit too alongside the ukelele, so loads of really random instruments.
How did DJing and Production first come into your life and which one did you gravitate toward first?
Production, 100%. I first starting producing around the age of 17 and in all honesty, I’ve only really started DJing in the last two months so it’s definitely still a new thing to me.
Where did your love of Drum & Bass and Jungle first originate from? Who are some of your key DnB influences today?
I moved to Manchester when I was 16 and that was the spark that really got me into making music and introduced me to going out to events and meeting different people in the scene. Jungle was always the soundtrack to those kinds of nights so my love really became Jungle and Drum n’ Bass. I really like the fact that UK Drum n’ Bass is like a big family and everybody knows each other in some way because it’s a big scene but at the same time, it is kind of small with a lot of the same faces at certain events. The raving community has always been very welcoming.
What does your writing process look like as someone who produces and lays down their own vocals? Do you make a beat first, write a melody or does the verse concept come first? Or does it totally depend on the track?
Sometimes it does depend on the track but for me most of the time when I’m making a song, I tend to have the lyrics already but if it’s a track or mixes then I usually start with the drumline. I literally will spend a day and a half just listening to drums on loop because once I have that down and then figure out the bassline then I feel like I’ve fully constructed the vibe. I make most of my music really late at night as somehow it doesn’t feel like it’s me making the music but rather this free-flowing lucid state so it tends to come to me a bit easier. It sounds mad but I always find it easier to work at night for that reason.
Do you prefer to write alone in order to focus or do you like writing collaboratively in the studio?
I think it totally depends on who I’m in the studio with. I love making beats on my own because I always find it fun and it never feels like work, I see it more like a game of Tetris or something. Working with other people definitely has loads of upsides because you learn so much just by watching and being in the presence of other artists. The moments that I’ve learnt the most have always been when I’m in the studio with other artists whether it’s figuring out new techniques or learning new perspectives on music, I tend to always take something away from each experience.
Speaking of working with other artists, I would love to know a little more about who and what Brighter Days Family is? Who makes up BDF and how did you get involved with it?
Brighter Days is made up of myself, Izco, Reeko, Sam The Man and a few other people who all contribute to this musical collective of DJ’s and Producers. We call it audio sunshine because everything we create is super sunny vibes. It really is so great to be a part of a community of people who just want to make sick dance music and bring good vibes from an array of different genres whilst trying to give something back to the community. We are all based around the Hackney area so when we do stuff we always try to bring in local charities and do whatever we can to help the area we create in. Hopefully one day it can be a label or something but the possibilities are really endless as too what we can do with BDF in the future. We are hoping to put on a festival next year, as well as a load of radio shows soon, so we are all super hyped about the future.
Your latest track is an incredible remix of Lava La Rue’s track ‘Magpie’ bringing in an all-star edition with UK dub legend Congo Natty! I feel a Nia & Lava collab was inevitable but how did this opportunity come about? Did you know as soon as you heard the original where you wanted to take the remix?
Lava approached me and asked if I would be up for doing the remix and I was such a big fan of the original tune that I knew instantly that I wanted to create a slower Jungley flip on it. I love playing around with string instrument elements in my own production so I already knew that I wanted to remix something that had those sorts of stems. With remixes in general i tend to have a rough idea of where i want to take it so it feels like I’m putting together a jigsaw composed of loads of different layers whilst also trying to work my own production style into the track somehow. I find the whole process of taking things out and digging around in an original track in a constant process of experimentation until I find something that I like so enjoyable. The best way to describe my approach to remixes is putting together the pieces in a puzzle and ‘Magpie’ was absolutely no different.
Do you ever find it tricky to balance keeping the core elements of an original track that everyone loves whilst also adding in your own sound and secret sauce?
I think it can be but for me, I try and simplify it by, and this may sound bad, taking just the elements of it that sounds good to me and then adding in some new elements that I feel best to accompany the original stems. If I’m trying to add in my own sound the elements that I tend to pick are a big baseline and some sick drums, that all I need and then I’m happy, you know?
We have touched on this a tad already but what was the experience of working with Congo Natty?
It was unbelievably surreal, we went to Promise Studios and his energy is so unmatched and he’s just such a cool guy that it evolved beyond a studio session and into more of an education session. He was giving me so much knowledge and educating me on Jungle culture and wider Jungalism so having the chance to speak to him was invaluable. He said to me when he arrived that he didn’t even know who Lava La Rule was or who I was and that the ancestors for some reason just told him that he needed to come to that session. He had no preconceived
knowledge of the track that we were making and yet he still was so up for getting involved with it and I just found that the coolest thing. It wasn’t a case of capitalising on a certain track or having something arranged by management, he purely just wanted to be a part of it so that made it really special for all of us involved.
We obviously have to touch on your absolute smash ‘Sober Feels’. Where did this track begin? What was the concept behind it and did the track evolve out of a certain sample or lyric?
I made ‘Sober Feels’ around May of last year, I wrote the lyrics down first and I was going through some stuff at the time that was a bit of a madness. It was one of those late-night sessions where I just started making a beat and it all came together. I really wasn’t expecting anything to come from the release because it was just something I had created in my bedroom and uploaded onto Distrokid and then people started to really like it which at the time I found crazy to get my head around. I’ve played it a few times live now and it still blows me away whenever a crowd signs the lyrics back to me because everything I’ve created has been during lockdown so getting to see real live people reacting too and knowing my music has been a surreal experience.
Personally, I’m a massive fan of Don’t Kid Urself, is that a BBK or Wiley sample that the whole track grows out of? Are there any key members of the UK grime scene that you would love to work with on a track?
That’s so funny because I’m always a bit critical of that track because I made it while I was at uni and it was really one of the first tracks I produced in that style so when I go back and listen to it now I always think it sounds so bad. Before I did Jungle I was actually producing hip-hop beats and fell in love with grime and the whole UK rap culture. Dizzie Rascal was a big production influence on me I think his way of thinking about a track is so unique and then when it comes to BBK I have always been a fan of JME, Skepta, and of course D Double E from that era too. D Double especially would be incredible to work with because I know he already loves the Jungle sound having worked with artists like Watch The Ride. Maybe one day!
Then with ‘Crossroads’, I know that track was something you’ve been sitting on for a while, is it true you write the lyrics when you were 17? How long after that did the instrumental come into existence?
Yer that’s totally true, when I was 17 I was going through a bit of madness and basically wrote a whole album of songs that are still sitting there. Sometimes I think that I could still go back and rework them but ‘Crossroads’ it was one of those trucks that were so deeply personal and special to me that I felt like I had to take those lyrics and put them on a wavy dance track. I feel like my lyrics can be a bit deep but then when you put it on a dance beat it becomes this cool ‘cry in the club’ kind of track that is sad but can work really well in a rave. I was 17 when I wrote the lyrics and then the instrumental didn’t come about until last year so it took a good 3 or 4 years for that track to fully come to fruition.
I would love to get some insight into how your curate your visuals for that track, wasn’t the black and white quick-cut style inspired by ‘Insomnia’ by Faithless?
The visuals were massively inspired by ‘Insomnia’, I absolutely love that video and the black and white palette used in it as it makes the track timeless in a way, in ten years you won know what era the video comes from and I like that a lot about it. It was really cool to work with Delphino Productions on that whole shoot after I came to them with rough treatment and concept and they totally brought my ideas into reality. I’m working with them again soon and will be for a long time because the things there are to do is just insane. I don’t know if you have seen the movie ‘Groundhog Day’, but the video was also inspired by that as well and this idea that you’re always trying to move forward and end up in the same spot.
What is the hardest thing about creating music in today’s music industry? Is it social media? Is it streaming services or perhaps something else altogether?
The hardest thing for me is probably not getting caught up in what other people are doing or creating and trying to stay as focused as possible on what it is you do. The social media side of things is also difficult, a year or so ago it wasn’t as active on socials as I am now but because of the nature of the industry it has become something that I have to do more of in order to push the music out there.
If you had to pick one Nia Archives track to show someone who has never heard your music, what track are you showing them that best summarises you as an artist?
I think I would probably pick ‘Crossroads because it’s got the softer vocal elements but also this darker side to it which really shows the detail in the production that I’m trying to improve on as much as possible. I think that track best represents me at the moment.
Lastly Nia, what’s the plan for the future? Any plans for an upcoming album or is it all about shows right now?
I’m definitely going to release some new music soon so keep a lookout for that and then potentially releasing a project at the start of next year before I start thinking about an album!
Listen to Nia Archives latest track ‘FORBIDDEN FEELINGZ’ below.
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See also: MEET GARDNA, THE BRISTOL DUB ARTIST EXPLODING THE SOUND SYSTEM