It’s a still surprisingly beautiful day in September as we navigate our way to a local greasy spoon in Maida Hill, West London. The streets have once again started to bustle, the return to work and normalcy for many meaning the only noticeable remnant of the still prevalent pandemic is the masks that hang off everyone’s chin like a fashionable accessory. The pang of frustration and neglect that hits as each person that passes go about their daily tasks without much of a care is undeniable – what with the government’s recent, wholly unwavering admission and suggestion that those within the live music sector (in particular club culture), should sign up for apprenticeships that they are too old for to attain “better” jobs. It hangs over those in such a position like a noose, and is in no uncertain terms under criminal threat.
It’s here we meet Loraine James – the fast-rising electronic producer who’s sleeper hit of a second record ‘For You and I’ jolted many an end of year list upon sealing it’s mark late last year. Her position on the state of society today is like many – utterly unsettled and at complete odds with our indignant government, longing to feel the exuberance the act of live performance offers, but still unwavering in hope for it to be able to adapt. Today she releases her new EP ‘Nothing’, which much like ‘For You and I’ is another deeply personal piece of work. It explores opening up one’s self to vulnerability in an attempt to find enlightenment from others. Here, James purposefully opened up her creative process to others outside of her close collaborative partnerships for the first time – and in doing so crafted an invigorating piece that navigates a narrative of grief, understanding and growth.
As we explore the Maida Hill area, situating ourselves high up against the vast, idiosyncratic view of Trellick Tower – James delves deep into opening herself up instinctually, how Bandcamp have been a vehicle of good for black artists in particular through a terrifying year, and how a new record she’s currently working on has embraced collaboration and expression in even further detail.
So, how are you, how is everything going? Would you say you’ve been able to remain creative over these last few months?
Yeah, yeah I have. I definitely have times where I’m really productive and times where I’m just not at all and I get pretty frustrated with myself if haven’t been productive when I’ve got all this free time. But I have been pretty productive. I think it helps because even if I’m not necessarily productive, when I make music I make it kind of quickly, I try not to draw it out anyway. So I guess it’s fine if I’m not productive sometimes.
It can be in instantaneous bursts?
Yeah it’s very that, very instant bursts.
Was the EP ready before all this happened, or was it made within the context of lockdown?
I think it was the first thing I did this year, I did the EP in January, finished it at the end of January, beginning of February. So it feels like a lifetime ago because I’ve done so much stuff since. So it was the first thing I did after ‘For You and I’.
Obviously before Hyperdub came in you were able to just make things and put them out quite instantaneously, obviously with the first record coming out and your music now being released within a more traditionally considered format, how do you feel with that? Do you feel like it’s worth almost holding in that creativity to yourself for that certain amount of time?
I mean even this year I’ve just put out stuff willy nilly anyway. Like Bangers and Mash was something that I did in a short space of time for Bandcamp Friday, in my mind there’s separation between finding quick ideas and then the stuff I do towards a bigger project – like an EP or an album. I do separate it.
I suppose in the end it all feeds into each other as well? Doing those smaller things can feed into whatever you decide to do for a more permanent release?
Yeah and I’m influenced by many things, things I like, things I don’t like and I’m always trying new things. The hmm EP was something completely different, I’d never done that before, and at the time I was listening to trance, hyper poppy stuff. I don’t like some of it, but I’m inspired by it, and I just wanted to do my own little thing.
That’s quite nice isn’t it, because you’ve had that chance while everything’s been going on to feed off of whatever inspiration you’ve had – you’re not taken by a rush of pressure or time?
No exactly, even right now I’m in the process of making a new album, and I’ve been taking my time with that, and it’s just nice. I like to work off when I feel inspired or in the mood – that can change pretty quickly. But even from the Hyperdub guys, there’s no pressure to bang something out. I don’t really take a massive amount of time as I said.
Obviously the last few months have had such an impact on live music and club culture in particular, where we can’t really clarify what the future for it really looks like. Do you feel there is an ability for it to recover, and will it be able to adapt?
You know it’s a hard question, because generally speaking, Boris Johnson doesn’t really know what he’s doing and this is opened and that is opened, but there hasn’t really been any mention about nightlife at all. So everything is just big question marks, venues have applied for grants, and the schemes running out soon, and there’s only so long that some venues can operate even at a reduced capacity. Even though they are charging more, it’s still not the same as normal. So I think unfortunately we’ll definitely hear about more venues closing down, but I also think their might be some new venues opening as well – I think there’s a new venue opening up in Berlin. Obviously they’ve handled it way better than we have.
That’s it, some people must be adapting in that respect?
Exactly, it’s the United Kingdom, I don’t know. Obviously some countries already have some sort of nightlife and here there’s just no mention of it all.
I guess this is quite a good opportunity for us as a society and culture as a whole to reevaluate itself?
Definitely, like I say I do hope we’re hear something soon. I have a gig this month at Cafe OTO, and that’s reduced capacity and social distanced, but obviously with the night clubs- they’ve been shut for six months or however long and there just doesn’t seem to be that much help from the government at all.
I guess what’s been quite nice that’s stemmed from that is listeners and consumers have been much more supportive, it’s made people realise that if we want art and entertainment then we have to pay for it and support, because else we won’t have it at all?
I also think that’s where Bandcamp Friday has come into play as well. A lot of people, even during these times, have been spending their money on artists, whether it was 50p or x amount. We need music, we all listen to music and we all go to our local pub to listen to live music or whatever it may be. We need it.
That’s why Bandcamp has been so good hasn’t it, they’ve seen the need for it and the need for people to be able to continue doing it, so in finding that middle it’s been really supportive?
Yeah, and I think people have been discovering a lot of new artists, even I have and that’s been a really cool where we wouldn’t necessarily even have that time to do that. I think that’s been a really great thing. Black Bandcamp as well, the database of all black artists of any genre. If you don’t listen to anyone black there’s no excuse. But yeah Bandcamp has been really great, it’s helped pay rent during times when our gigs have been cancelled or moved or fees cut, whatever the case.
Obviously we’re living in such an uncertain time and place anyway overall, where it’s still pretty disgusting and prevalent that someone can be attacked and vilified for their identity. You’ve spoken previously about how you’ve wanted to find yourself a safe space, within your life and within the world and society as a whole. Would you say you’ve found any sense of scope within this time?
I feel like honestly, during this pandemic and during this year, I feel the opposite – I’ve become more anxious, and more reserved. Not really wanting to stand out in anyway. It’s been the opposite, I’ve felt really really anxious. Even just walking down the street I’ve felt more anxious than I’ve ever been.
Let’s explore the EP. For me Nothing was a record steeped in grief, understanding and growth. To me it was quite startling how you were able to capture universal empathy, and through the artists you worked quite purposefully with you also captured a collective need for compassion. Would you say you personally found relief and comprehension from making the EP at that time?
Definitely, I wasn’t in a particularly great place at the beginning of the year, and music is an outlet for me and this EP has definitely been great to get all those feelings out. Also, just having the help of others as well is really cool. Obviously I’ve collaborated before, but this time I didn’t give them a brief or anything, With ‘Don’t You See It’, I wasn’t feeling it at the time, I thought it was kind of shit, then Jonnine picked that one and I didn’t tell her what to sing honestly, didn’t tell any of them anything really. But her song was about a relationship that ended, and that resonated with me because I’d been broken up with late last year as well, so I thought that was kind of funny how that resonated – because I didn’t give any of them a brief.
It just came together at that right time?
Yeah very much so, very much so. There was a few other people I reached out to, but I stuck on those three and all together it just fit.
There’s so much emotion across it within a really succinct piece.It’s pretty uncompromising and at times overwhelming. Was it important for you to be able to capture that so acutely?
Honestly I really didn’t know what shape this EP was going to take. The same with For You and I, I really didn’t know what shape it was going to take until the end. That is what tends to happen, I don’t really have a set thing that it’s going to be about. Once all the songs are done and I listen to it, the important thing is the ordering – I feel like that’s when all the emotion and the feeling comes out and it makes sense.
It’s instinctual when it happens, but then it comes together and it feels right?
Definitely nothing to overthink, you just know it instinctually like that and that’s how it should be.
Like we said, when you’re making the music itself that’s a very immediate thing, so it would be wrong if it didn’t translate into that format?
Those things I feel instantly, that’s how I feel about it. I distance myself, so I’m not listening to it in the sense of I made it, I’m just listening to it as a listener, I separate myself from the producer side of it.
That’s interesting, it’s like you’ve got two different caps on in a way? That to me feels refreshing, because I feel like other artists have one focused channel?
I feel like if I listen to it as a producer, I’d probably name the track ‘synth track #1’ or something like that. It’s good to separate.
I feel like with this EP in particular, it incorporates the space and atmosphere within it. Where the album was quite forceful and potent, and this still is – here the atmosphere illuminates the sound within it. Do you feel like your approach to creativity has developed in that sense?
I always feel my production is evolving or devolving every time. Every project I’ve done I’ve always done it differently, using different sounds or manipulating them differently. It’s not necessarily intentional, it’s just a lot of the time I listen to different stuff as well, or just experimenting and seeing what comes up. Also I did make For You and I in 2018, a year and a half ago, so I guess it would’ve changed anyway.
That album was really steeped in a place and time, so do you feel the EP was you finding your way to the next chapter, as in towards the new album you’re working on now?
There wasn’t particularly a sense of new start, new me. Even this Nothing EP and the new album sound completely different. Even with the new EP and the EP’s I’ve put out this year, they all sound different. When people ask me to describe my music I don’t really know, I find it difficult to. I just say electronic as an umbrella term.
It does make it easier because Electronic has such a wealth of different ideas going on I think as well. It’s such an umbrella.
That’s it, it’s hard to pinpoint stuff. Sometimes does it matter? Just enjoy or don’t enjoy it, that’s all cool.
I suppose talking from a more personal aspect of it, the work you’ve been creating has been quite deeply personal. How do you feel about listeners having their own interpretation and making something individual to you relate to them?
I love that, I think music should be interpretated in that way. I don’t like to make things too obvious anyway, how you feel about it is how you feel and we all think differently. You’ll listen to a track and certain emotions will come out, and I’ll listen to that same track and feel different. So I definitely like to keep it kind of vague, not like this is about that time, on December 2nd. I’m not really about that, so I like to keep it open.
What I quite like about the music as a whole, especially your approach to it technically, is how much personality is imbued within the music. Does making the music so instinctually offer a physical catharsis?
Yeah, I’m not the best speaker in the world and I’m not a massive fan of talking too much. So definitely putting all my feelings into music is a really good outlet for me. It’s weird because before ‘For You and I’, I didn’t really put any emotions into it. It was all just very much about the technicality of it, and this was the first personal thing I ever did.
Do you feel like you want to carry that forward? That’s your style now in your way?
Yeah I feel like that’s kind of what’s been happening. I feel like for a random EP there wouldn’t be that much emotion or time put into it, but definitely in the bigger projects. Also you are with it longer, so more feelings are developed.
Let’s talk about the new record you are working on now, how are you feeling about it? What do you want to put into it?
I started it earlier than what I planned in my head. I guess with all this free time what else would I do. It’s nearly done and I’m really liking what I’ve done, I listen to it a lot and analyse it a lot, so I probably will end up hating it very soon, because I usually do. Even with For You and I I can’t listen to it, but I am really enjoying where that’s going, and there’s others on that as well. I’m really excited to share it, which isn’t something I usually say about anything. Even when For You and I was coming out, I was really nervous and was comparing myself to other Hyperdub artists and listening to all their stuff. So I do this stupid thing of comparing myself to other artists which isn’t good. At the minute I’m liking it. It’s nice but if you ask me next year it’ll probably be a different story.
Would you say you always listen to it that intensely when you are making it?
Yeah I listen to the music a lot, not even in a fun way. I’d do something and put it on my phone if I’m travelling and I’d just listen to it. I just try and imagine it in different contexts, or how I would perform it live, or if listeners would like it. Analysing it on the go, it always makes me not think about travelling because I get travel sick.
Let’s talk about live, what’s your approach to it? Do you feel like there’s a different personality?
I like playing live, I’m quite a shy and reserved person so playing live is the only time I really let go and don’t really care as much about what I’m doing? So I really miss it. I was really looking forward to this year, because I didn’t really get to play For You and I as much – people didn’t really pick up on it until the end of year lists. So when the album came out people didn’t immediately know who I was, so I was really looking forward to playing it this year. The Cafe OTO thing, was meant to be in March, then August, and now this month. So yeah it’s been really shit honestly. So I’m praying for this event but I’m stressed because there’s so much music I’ve made, I’ve got the EP and then I’ve got all these other random bits and bobs I did, so I don’t really know how to prioritise? I think Nothing would suit more of the Cafe OTO vibes, as opposed to Bangers and Mash, or a more club orientated vibe. I think I’ll prioritise that.
To close up, what would you say you’ve taken personally from making Nothing?
You’ve got me there, I wasn’t expecting that. I really don’t know, I don’t know why. I really didn’t listen to it until ‘Don’t You See It‘ was released because it was so long between. So it does feel weird listening back to it because it feels like a lifetime ago, because I’ve done so much since. So it was making it relevant in my head again. I hope people will like it, if not that’s also groovy. I was kind of worried because I’ve put out so much shit this year so I was wondering if people would be bothered, if not that’s cool. I’m looking forward to people listening to it and hearing what they think. It just does feel like a lifetime ago, so we shall see.
Loraine James’ new EP Nothing is out today via Hyperdub. Today, Bandcamp are once again waiving their fees – with all profits going to the artists.
Words: Ross Jones Photography: Willow Shields