Artist Feature: NTS WIP Participants

Click here to listen to the NTS WIP participants radio show.

In early 2019, after thousands of applicants and months of careful deliberation, Arts Council England, NTS Radio and Carhartt WIP announced the artists who have made it through to the first year of NTS WIP artist development program: AZADI.mp3 and Lucinda Chua, both from London, Contour from Charleston, USA, Crystallmess from Paris, Toronto’s LA Timpa, Lecx Stacy from San Diego, Manchester-based Aya and London based DJ re:ni. To introduce their work and vision, Carhartt WIP asked them to conduct a mix that showcasess their recent musical output. Only re:ni, who isn’t a producer, is not part of the show. To introduce her skills as a DJ, Carhartt WIP asked her to prepare a mix that represents her way of storytelling as a DJ, which will be broadcast separately two weeks from now. To accompany this month’s show, we talked to each participant about their work, their early steps in music and more.

Aya is a lil alien girl that was beamed down onto the Pennines and has now taken residence in Manchester. Her work is primarily concerned with the transfigurative power of experience and memory on the physical body. She holds association with Astral Plane Recordings and Wisdom Teeth through the distribution of her recorded works. Her favorite drum break is James Brown's Get Out Of My Life Woman (gross name) and her fighting style is the dance routine from the warehouse scene in Footloose.

How did you first get into music and performing?

Aya: I’ve been making music as long as I can remember and been on stage since before, I can remember. My parents are theatre nerds that love Prince. My ambition was to be an embezzling accountant.  I never stood a chance.

What are your biggest musical influences?

Aya: My biggest musical influences are probably caffeine, water and rice. I really like Show Me The Body and Space Afrika. My friends make better music than anyone else. I will fight anyone that says otherwise.

What is your creative process like?

Aya: Total myth. I can only do things to make myself more likely to write music, I have no idea what will in fact spark off an idea. It would be easy to compare the software I use to a sketchpad but I think that’s lazy and unimaginative. Luckily, I’m both of the above.

What does your current studio set up look like? You created a very detailed and unique, digital sound world. Does it come from software mainly?

Aya: I have a pair of speakers and a digital piano. There’s a tape echo on top of my piano that I don’t use often enough. The wall behind my speakers is an annoying shade of green but I get a really nice golden hour every day during the summer which makes the feature wall bearable.

Your EP from March this year on Tri Angle further explores themes of jungle and techno with a hyperactive hacker aesthetic, what music did you grow up listening to?

Aya: In my teen years I did the classic Northern English alt kid moves. Slipknot -> Alexisonfire -> Funeral For A Friend -> Bring Me The Horizon -> Venetian Snares -> Digital Mystikz. The lineage kind of makes sense if you think about it.

In an interview from May this year you mentioned that your favorite artists have some sort of narrative, a consistent identity running through their work, it feels like you do too, visually and musically, how would you describe your identity as an artist and how does it differ from your identity as a person?

Aya: I have no idea who I am or what I’m trying to do. To be completely honest, I’m just really funny all the f***ing time.

Your regular show on NTS also follows a certain narrative, how do you choose your guests and how do you prepare for the show?

Aya: On the day of the show I like to take a long bath in patchouli and rose oil. I’m very particular about this. The secret of a great NTS photo is all in smelling good for Sebastien Mariner, God of Radio.

Under the headline “Work In Progress” what is your biggest yet unfinished project to date?

Aya: lol my gender.

What are your passions/hobbies beside music?

Aya: Having a completely normal one with the lads.

AZADI.mp3 is a London based producer and singer who uses atmospheric soundscapes and densely textured visuals to explore moments of grace and failure. Her musical education was shaped by a mixture of parental car rides soundtracked by Irani heavy-hitters such as Googoosh and Shajarian, and anthems by the likes of AQUA and Missy Elliott in her headphones. As the bluetooth revolution took over, AZADI’s desire to find the rarest sounds grew, and she would spend hours during school trading and collecting mp3’s of anything from UK funky to post-punk to emo on her Sony Ericsson. Both sonically and visually she operates at the intersections of her musical and cultural backgrounds, striving to make a home for herself somewhere in the in-between.

How did you first get into music and performing?

AZADI.mp3: Both my parents love music, so they’d always have something either playing ambiently in the house or they’d have a bunch of cassettes all lined up and ready to go whenever we had a car journey. It was mostly Iranian classics like Googoosh or Ebi, and then occasionally there’d be a curveball like Eurythmics or Tracy Chapman. I first started performing music in scrappy punk bands that I’d started with my friends when we were 15/16, it was a lot of playing instruments badly and shouting which was fun.

What is your creative process like?

AZADI.mp3: It can be really fluid. I usually start with producing a handful of beats until there’s one that really stands out to me. It’s not necessarily that the others aren’t promising, but there’s just a certain feeling that I catch when I’m producing where I can kind of envision where the song might end up. At that point I just keep at it and then usually the melody comes.  Other times I’ll just be walking down the street and whip out phone notes cause some juicy hook will have jumped into my head.

In your video “WHO IS AZADI.mp3?” you introduce yourself to the audience, can you repeat in words the themes of the video and who Azadi.mp3 actually is

AZADI.mp3: What’s funny is a lot of people think that the words in the beginning of the video is a poem, or some kind of sample. It’s actually a recording of me and my grandma talking. We were talking about freedom and what it meant for each of us, and our different perspectives on what freedom could be. It was at a time when I personally felt very constricted by myself.  I felt viscerally aware that I kept falling into the same cycles of bolstering myself up before this inevitable descent into chaos and what was making it worse was that outwardly I was trying to maintain an absolute facade of being ‘perfect’. I kind of wanted to peel back the mask a bit with the video, just for my own sake, I wanted to be like ‘look! I can be all these things and I’m still me’.  I’m kind of a loud goofy gal, but a lot of the time that ends up being the perfect defense mechanism. AZADI.mp3 is me trying to tell myself to strip that all back and get to the root of what I’m trying to convey, is it irrational? is it ugly? is it euphoric? To truly understand yourself you have to be prepared to look at yourself unflinchingly, so it’s almost like a mirror image, but one with no pretenses.

What was your involvement in Pagans like, a short film premiered on Dazed earlier this year with you as one of the main characters? The acting and vibe of the film was very natural, was there a lot of you in it?

AZADI.mp3: I’d say so, yeah. Lucy (Luscombe) wanted us to be super natural so a lot of the dialogue was just all of us girls riffing off each other and totally improvising. It was really method and it was so much fun to do. Definitely one of the most unique productions I’ve ever worked on, especially given that it was Lewes Bonfire night and people were literally marching down the streets with pitchforks ablaze and essentially throwing fireworks at our heads. Yeah, given the circumstances acting like I was losing my shit came pretty naturally!

What are your plans for the future, more acting, more music?

AZADI.mp3: Definitely. I’m going to be dropping my debut EP SUMMER IN THE CRYPT very soon, which will come out alongside a video I’m making for the whole project with NTS which is super exciting. I’m always working on music so more is definitely on the way, potentially some more acting stuff too - so keep your eyes and ears peeled! 

Under the headline “Work In Progress” what is your biggest yet unfinished project to date?

AZADI.mp3: Ahhh man. I’ve been working on this other EP for about a year but situations in my life changed and I hit a big mental block with it so I’ve put that on the back-burner for now. The working title is LEO SZN IS OVER which, in hindsight, seems pretty apt.

The “mp3” in your artist name indicates your fable for collecting mp3’s energetically if you trust NTS’ info text about you, how big is the collection by now and what is the genre in your collection people would at least expect?

AZADI.mp3: This is a hard question, just because I feel like it’s got to a point where my friends aren’t surprised by my eclectic tastes anymore. Recently I’ve been into listening to traditional forms of singing so I’ve been listening to a lot of old-school vocalists, which has been ranging anywhere from Umm Kulthum, traditional Beijing opera, and Japanese folk singers.

What are your passions/hobbies beside music?

AZADI.mp3: I like reading, cooking, and re-enacting my favorite fight scenes from Hunter x Hunter.

Khari Lucas is a South Carolina based artist/producer who writes, performs and DJs under the moniker Contour. Moving between solo and four-piece formats for the project, he works across various mediums to present his creative vision. Current musical output exists somewhere between jazz, soul, and psych rock, but he considers himself a student of all areas of music, and intends to cover as much sonic and thematic ground as possible over his career.

How did you first get into music and performing?

Contour: Earliest in doing choral music and musical theatre as a child, then as a DJ in my late teens. I wrote my first original music around the same time, and have been developing that practice ever since.

Biggest musical influences?

Contour: It’s very nebulous for me. The stuff I’m inspired by shows up in my work in ways that I’m not always explicitly aware of, and I’m always trying to listen to a variety of things. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of singer-songwriters (mostly the kind of sad, spacey stuff. Grouper is a good example), jungle, Prince, spiritual jazz, and Brazilian music (which really seems to never phase out of my inspirational listening).

What is your creative process like?

Contour: At my best disciplined and almost ritualistic. Think about what area of my creativity I want to explore, research and find inspirational materials in that area, experiment and then execute/refine/polish. Repeat.

You have 12 LPs uploaded on Bandcamp, the first one dated back to 2015, with more of a beatmaker approach, the newest one from this year being a soul rock and pop hybrid with a psychedelic feel to it, that’s about 3 LPs a year, where do you take your energy and creativity to such immense output?

Contour: I’m kind of just obsessive. I get excited when I find a new way to use my creative voice and then I run with it. I’m a little more focused on giving my projects the space they need to flourish these days, but when I was being more prolific, I think that way of doing things was very rewarding. I also think it's shifted as my goals have just shifted. I still make as much music as always because I am always trying to find things to inspire me and refine my process, but now it's a bit of a different approach to the releasing aspect.

Can you tell us something about your band members? Are there people you regularly work with, how does the process of doing music together look like when you work with somebody else?

Contour: Often times when I bring a demo to the band to play my band mates will help flesh that demo out into a piece that works well for the band format by making arrangement suggestions or just generally helping tweak things. It really helps me to get fresh ears on things like that and has definitely expanded my writer/composer’s toolbox. They’re the only people I consistently work with at the moment. I definitely want to be more collaborative, but I prefer to work in person, and finding people where I live who I feel creatively aligned with can be difficult. Remote work is okay if I'm just sending production off, but I'm thinking that even with the next person I work closely with from a production standpoint I'd like to spend some time doing the work in real life.

What was the process like when you recorded Interim Report, a joined project you did with rapper Garrott Odom?

Contour: We started when we met for a show I threw in 2015 and just immediately connected. The process was pretty straightforward from there. Sending packs of beats to him and him writing and selecting what he thought stood out. We became really good friends over the course of that project. I think that was as much a part of the process as making the music. Having a kind of rapport with the people you create with definitely makes the music better.

NTS wrote that you consider yourself a student of all areas of music, what did your latest study look like, any unexpected genre/style journeys?

Contour: The past two years has seen me really try to develop myself as an instrumentalist. Me getting to the style I currently have was unexpected to me. I picked up bass because I wanted to not have to rely on synths for my low end when making beats and it kind of just evolved into me wanting to be able to do everything I could by hand. That’s how I ended up with the record that will most likely be my next record. Now it’s kind of come full circle and I’m getting back to wanting to experiment more with electronics and figuring out how to get that same level of engagement out of myself through sound design/sequencing, etc. Not sure where that’ll take me but I’m having fun.

Under the headline “Work In Progress” what is your biggest yet unfinished project to date?

Contour: I’ve been working on a house record for years at this point at a rate of about one song per year. I think one day I’ll just find myself in a zone where I can explore that zone of my creativity fully and finish it. I suppose that’s up to me though.

What are your passions/hobbies beside music?

Contour: I like reading. Mainly nonfiction, historical stuff relating to popular culture or social issues. I also just like to be engaged in anything art related that real people are doing in any medium. Being present in the world that exists now.

Lucinda Chua is a cellist and singer-songwriter based in London. Her debut single Somebody Who was accompanied by the release of Strings Mixtape, a 30 minute mix, seamlessly weaving together ambient pop, introverted hip hop and iconic classical works, all underscored by her own string arrangements, instrumental compositions and collaborative sessions.

How did you first get into music and performing?

Lucinda Chua: I started very young, I had my first piano lesson aged three, I was so small my feet didn’t touch the ground. I learned to play music by ear, I didn’t do exams or go through the grade system. My first concert was when I was four, playing the right hand of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Biggest musical influences?

Lucinda Chua: Sharing music with friends is really important to me, my musician friends are a big influence. I also live next door to a cinema, so I end up there a lot.

What is your creative process like?

Lucinda Chua: I write, record and produce music. I self-released my debut EP Antidotes 1 earlier this year. The creative process for song writing is so hard to explain. I guess I’m starting with something inaudible and expressing it through music. Because I started music so young, it’s almost like a language, there is no translation into words - that’s why it comes out in music. That’s partly what inspired my “Strings Mixtape” series, it was supposed to be like a sketchbook or an artist statement that could help explain the EP and where I was coming from. The process for making that was very different, I’d be starting with a lot of music and sounds I was attracted to, and then using them as materials to build something new. Still composing, but the session is mostly in the computer, not in the room. I’m cutting things up, editing, layering, processing, carving out space for solos, and at the end I’m using the cello or whatever instrument, to add arrangements over the top. The other part of my musical practice is the collaborative work I do with artists and musicians. Sometimes I might end up contributing in a very explicit way, other times, just being present and supportive is enough - so mostly my process is to listen.

In your NTS show from June this year you put together a tour mix, music you are listening to while touring I assume, you featured music by the likes of Gaika, Oneohtrix Point Never but also Stevie Wonder and Jaco Pastorius. What music did you listen to growing up?

Lucinda Chua: Yes! I made the mix whilst I was on tour with Twigs and the FKA fam. It was a way of trying to describe my experience. Again, it can be really hard for me to describe in words, so I tried to catch the feeling and put it in the mix. The music we listened to, the people we met, the landscape of some of the places we visited. Thinking back about the early music I grew up listening to, it was mostly the pieces I was learning on the piano because I started so young. My parents played music in the house - my dad had CDs of piano music (Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Bach) but also, Otis Redding, Toni Braxton and the soundtrack to West Side Story.  My mum played vinyl - Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre (which Nina Kraviz played at Primavera after our set!) and Dave Brubeck. From my grandparents, I think of the Lark Ascending and Spem in Alium playing at breakfast. I’m sure there was more, but that’s what sticks out.

Last year’s Boiler Room Performance in London was very moving, you performed a cello solo show inside a church and you seem very touched by what you play yourself. It seems you improvise freely, do some emotions hit you by surprise when you perform?

Lucinda Chua: Thank you! That show felt like a big step for me, I was testing out a lot of new ideas in real time. I don’t know if I am conscious of the emotions whilst I’m playing, I am just in it. When I’m improvising, the music just comes out. A lot of the time, I am straight up freestyling these melodies in my head and my hands are making it happen. When I do my set that is more song based, the material has a defined form and duration, there are words to sing and chords to play, so I have a heads up about what’s coming. But with the improvised cello set can be a bit of a wildcard. I think the emotion hits me by surprise once it’s over. That’s when it feels tangible because I see it played back by the audience, in their faces and their body language. That is the thing that is touching, it’s not really about me.

Especially around the 20 min. mark, when it gets very epic and psychedelic at the same time, you seem to feel the music very much, do you mind sharing such intimate moments with an audience?

Lucinda Chua: That was the first time I’d ever played a show like that before, I had no idea how or where it was going to go. Maybe the audience sensed that, I don’t know - but I really felt their support. They are a really integral part of the show, it’s something we are making together. With a different audience, it might have ended up somewhere completely different.

What’s your favorite album of recent times?

Lucinda Chua: I don’t have a favorite, but lately I have been listening to the Orlando soundtrack by David Motion and Sally Potter, When I get Home by Solange, Sega Bodega’s self*care and all the music from the FKA Twigs Magdalene tour.

Under the headline “Work In Progress” what is your biggest yet unfinished project to date?

Lucinda Chua: Life!

Hailing from the Banlieues of Paris, Crystallmess operates from a place of generosity. She’s a DJ, producer, writer and mixed media artist, keen to shed a light on past and present subcultures. Growing up in a French Caribbean and African household and having to sneak out to be a club kid has directly informed her approach as DJ and producer, and her eclectic yet cohesive style goes from abrasive zouk and dancehall to afro-trance and Detroit techno. As a mixed media artist, she tackles the subjects of club culture, colonial alienation and alternative temporalities. Last December; she self-released her first EP Mere Noises, which oscillated between raw rave energy, dark dancehall and melancholic ambient. She will be releasing more music later in 2019, stay tuned.

How did you first get into music and performing?

Crystallmess: It sounds really corny but I’ve always been into music and performing. I just got into it through other fields: As a kid, I was taking acting classes and going to dance school. I started DJing five years ago and got into producing few years after. Starting making music because I pretty much needed to express myself, I’m a very literary person. I love to write and picture but at some point, words weren’t enough to express what I had on my heart.

What is your creative process like?

Crystallmess: Mostly based on frustration and helplessness. Great things happen with constraints and restrictions so basically a lot of that is involved in my production. I title my track super early in the process so it can set the tone for it. I always ALWAYS started writing the drums before and the rest operates and follows on top.

How do your Unleashed Radio shows differ from your DJ-Sets in the club?

Crystallmess: My Unleashed radio show is like a laboratory I test stuff - I digress. It’s 100% mistake-friendly and that’s exactly what’s interesting. It’s like a cook testing his sauce. Also Unleashed comes from a place of raw introspective sincerity when my DJ Sets are more informed by the energy of the crowd, the space I’m DJing in, the pace of the night.

LA Timpa, a Nigerian born producer and songwriter, immigrated to Canada as a child. He spent his formative years shaping his craft, surrounded by farmland, religion and static suburbia. As foreign seasons drifted by, endless hours were dedicated to dreaming up sounds, characters, art and films. In 2015, LA Timpa began diving into field recordings he’d collect from aimless walks with a tape recorder. Everything from a cat meowing to a spoon falling was recorded and then sampled into his productions. The same approach was applied to soundtrack visuals he would record with a video camera. This was the beginning of the project. In 2016, LA Timpa released his debut EP Animal on Toronto label Slow Release. Animal garnered critical acclaim and was featured on Pitchfork, i-D, The Fader and more.

How did you first get into music and performing?

LA Timpa: Throughout most of my life my older sibling and I would story-tell on a daily basis - allowing our imagination to really stretch places I still can’t even really fathom now. By doing that we created an extremely detailed world - the kind we never really existed in. And sometimes we’d be on walks or at home or in a car singing/creating and performing with or for one another songs the different musical artists in this world would be making/releasing; this spanned from genre to genre. Some of these artists had really long careers…When I consciously started to get into it was when I discovered the iPhone DJay App and Virtual Dj and I’d make EPs of random mash-ups, edits and remixes. I was addicted - I’d be Djing every chance I got; I would just grab the AUX cord in the truck and go.

Biggest musical influences?

LA Timpa: Growing up in the church and realizing I would / could feel something whenever the choir would sing and there wasn’t a concern about what equipment or set-up they had. Being able to channel this genuine belief in the most-high was key to the equation and nothing could get in the way of them expressing the / their truth. Also, Todd Rundgren’s a wizard, a True Star appeared to me as freedom while flexing a strong sense of musicianship.

What is your creative process like?

LA Timpa: A lot of bouncing around and cut-throat decision making. Always leaving room for “the unknown unknown” to manifest itself and meaning into whatever is created. 

In an interview you mentioned how going to church in Nigeria, where you were born, listening to the music helped shaping what you like, what was the first thing you remember when you moved to Canada a couple of years later that has influenced you in a similar way? Do you remember the transition?

LA Timpa: I was definitely tuned into whatever was presented on BET. I do remember Three Six Mafia - Ridin’ Spinners hitting me differently than most songs at the time. I would literally wait watching BET Now everyday hoping it would come back on. I’ve always felt that and a lot of other rap I listened to in the foundation in a lot of what I do now. It’s the one true genre I studied.

Your EP "Animal" from 2016 features a strong and unique fusion of “out of space” pop and drum machine experiments, how did you record the music, how did the process differ from more recent projects like Garden?

LA Timpa: Truthfully, it’s understanding the instrument(s) readily available and figuring out how we want a story to be heard / consumed through slowly building an intimate relationship with whatever medium is being used. Really understand how it speaks, how loud, when it doesn’t want to speak and vis versa. Garden is a project I’d been working on before I even started recording Animal…that relationship involved a lot of courting.

In an interview with i-D you mentioned you used to wait until everybody fell asleep to work on vocals (…) because you were so nervous to perform in front of your friends, has that changed over the years?

LA Timpa: I’ve grown much more confident in doing a lot of things regarding music over the years. I guess not enough to have open recording sessions…

How does your live set up look like? Do you enjoy playing live? DO you play live?

LA Timpa: A bit of improvisation and knowing exactly when to trigger something. Timing is a huge part of it and everything. And imagining everyone in their underwear, oh God…Ahaha. I usually enjoy it the more I channel inwards, and everything specifically vocals feel good. I am working on a new live set up - throwing the old one flat on its face… but it is to be orchestrated to hopefully allow me more freedom. To answer your question on if I play live - Its complicated…lols but yes, we do.

Your Vulgarteen Radio Show on NTS features the live soundtrack to your film “Circle”, not the first visual project you will find when looking through your Youtube channel Vulgarteen Group, what can you tell us about this new film in particular and also the soundtrack?

LA Timpa: The soundtrack was made in a strange two-day window when I was between my apartment at the time and the suburbs. Created out of over 30 cassettes - sampled. It was a sort of factory moment - where I was just running through cassettes and painting with whatever colors I found interesting; constantly dipping in and out. It was fun - a very specific musical experience… but the same. The film is probably not going to be available anytime soon but It does have a killer score separate from the soundtrack material I’d like to someday share with or without the film. I’d say the film is a continued dialogue around themes stemming from an entire musical project I’ve been knee deep in and finishing up.

What are your passions/hobbies beside music?

LA Timpa: There’s always been a constant in working on video/film work and photography projects whiles also recording. Skateboarding is always good exercise. Oh! Recently I’ve been interested in researching and compiling all sorts of hand gestures. I am open to suggestions, point me in the right direction!

Lecx Stacy is a multifaceted songwriter, producer, and visual artist hailing from sunny Amber Sky, California. Lecx’s creations are distinct representations of personal escapism and conceptual world-building, often conceived in daydreams and bouts of deep introspection. These compositions are informed by a diverse range of influences, which include a musical palette spanning from My Chemical Romance and Bad Brains to OutKast and Wu-Tang, 80’s arcade games, and the ever expanding universes of comic books. With his upcoming debut concept LP, Amber Sky, California, Lecx is diving deep within his psyche to construct a whole musical universe of his own...

What are your biggest musical influences?

Lecx Stacy: My Chemical Romance and Ennio Morricone.

We can hear some King Krule influences throughout the album, is there any other standout influences you would like to mention?

Lecx Stacy: The universes and worlds created in well-written comics, movies, and cartoons / shows actually have a bigger influence on my music than music itself. As a kid, my favorite part of watching Cartoon Network would be seeing those promos where all of the CN show characters would be hanging out with each other and existing within the same world. I wanted my album to feel like those commercials. I wanted my album to feel like you're being immersed into a universe that felt oddly familiar.

Do you feel like this mix between punk, pop and trap is a natural result of your musical upbringing or was it more of a deliberate plan?

Lecx Stacy: I started making hip hop beats when I was in 7th grade and prior to that I’ve wanted to start an emo / punk band since I was in 3rd grade (which never happened) ... I started incorporating more of my musical influences into my beat making process and that resurfaced my repressed punk band ambitions and brought me where I am with my music.

In your NTS show you mention that you might be the biggest My Chemical Romance fan ever and you played music by the likes of Bad Brains or The Spits, is this music you grew up with, what other band or acts have you listened to growing up?

Lecx Stacy: I used to carry around my Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge CD like it was a bible, but also, I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music. I was heavily into bands like Hawthorne Heights, From First to Last, and early Escape the Fate. While I’d be shuffling through these bands, my dad would play Neil Young, John Denver and The Beatles and my brothers would play Bone Thugs around me. I used to burn CDs with mixes that would go from Avenged Sevenfold’s Unholy Confessions into Mike JonesBack Then.

What are your passions/hobbies beside music?

Lecx Stacy: I like creating things and exploring new ways to express myself creatively. Some of the artists at the residency at Villa Lena introduced me to paper-making and ever since I’ve been back I’ve been making paper and binding my own art journals. I’m also starting to build modular DND/table top gaming sets with some of my friends.

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