Refections on decolonisation and sauvage curatorship in the current BOZAR exhibition
Shygirl, founding partner of the NUXXE label, makes music for the kind of ultra-hedonistic future dystopia you secretly hope might actually come about. It’s night music, imbued with all the tension and temptation of a nocturnal ride through the glimmer and grime of a sinister, swarming metropolis – all black chrome and smeared neon. So it is with EP Cruel Practice, which refines the blueprint set by earlier singles like ‘Want More’ and ‘MSRY’ to devastating effect. The combination of the London vocalist’s cold-blooded delivery and frequent collaborator Sega Bodega’s shadowy, exoskeletal production is a lot for a human body to handle – our feeble physiology just isn’t yet equipped to resist club music this narcotic. Take note.
Text by Deva Rao
Photos shot by Kamila K Stanley in London, UK
Okay, before we get into things, I need to disclaim pretty extensively. I’m currently hidden away in an obscure meeting room at my office, and it’s my penultimate day here because I’m leaving the company.
Oh cool! I literally quit my job like the other day.
I actually know that, I’ve been lurking your Twitter quite shamelessly.
Oh god… that’s like the inner recesses of my mind. Any random thought, so stupid.
Yeah, I did not restrain myself. I really dug, went almost embarrassingly far back.
Oh my god, I dread to think how deep. Anything interesting that caught your eye?
Yeah, there were a couple of sidepiece-related things…
Oh yeah, the inspiration to my music.
You seem pretty forthright about your romantic life.
I think if you keep secrets, there’s shame in that. An openness is a sense of acceptance, there’s no shame in that. I’m still cautious about certain things, and how I say things, but that doesn’t mean these things shouldn’t be said. If I only have myself to talk to and I don’t get things out in the open, then I’m probably going to make some dumb decisions.
Air it out. Do you have any tips on maintaining healthy sidepiece relationships? I say this theoretically, but I couldn’t do it. I get way too easily attached emotionally.
I get attached too. I have sidepieces but I’m attached to every one of them. What I’ve come to enjoy is connections. I don’t think those connections need to be confined to one person.
I enjoy it when I know a person’s going to be really bad for me, but it’s going to be good along the way
I think that’s really intense, I think I can be quite an intense person. If I focus all my energy on one person, I don’t leave room to breathe and live. But if I accept I can have connections with different people, I have way more opportunities to have fruitful relationships.
These relationships, good or bad, are really formative. I enjoy it when I know a person’s going to be really bad for me, but it’s going to be good along the way. I don’t believe in 100% bad. If I didn’t encounter bad things I wouldn’t have anything to be happy about. I can’t write about happy things, that’s boring.
But yeah, I think a lot of it is selfishness, like it’ll make me feel good to be with this person. It all comes down to me [laughs].
So how do I establish a sidepiece relationship? What’s the protocol?
It’s all about spontaneity and being instinctual. You have to be able to recognise a vibe between yourself and another person, and not wait for another person to make a decision in that moment.
I think that’s what the Shygirl project is. Just having no restrictions, or the ultimate me
Got it. So speaking of sidepieces, did your former coworkers know about Shygirl?
They knew I did music and stuff, I’d keep booking days off to do shows, but I didn’t really talk about it all the time, it felt weird. It’s like talking about your mistress. It’s weird to talk about it, like you don’t really do it justice. And vice-versa, I never really talked about my job while talking about music because it’s irrelevant. It’s two different sides of me, where you don’t need to know one to understand the other.
Did it ever feel like you lived a double life, sort of?
Definitely, but I do that kind of often. I feel like it’s a good way to organise myself, to compartmentalise different attributes of my personality. And then each one can thrive in their own field, if given time to shine.
As far as compartmentalising different aspects of yourself, what is it you get out of Shygirl?
Shygirl is like an exaggeration. I take something like a feeling or a mood or a decision and really run with it. This idea of like, if I let a feeling live longer, what would it have been like? Jealousy or bitterness, ego or confidence. Each one in a moment, a feeling that didn’t really get its time to shine in that moment or that I decided against acting on. I think that’s what the Shygirl project is. Just like, having no restrictions, or the ultimate me.
I feel like if your sole exposure to a person’s being is their art, it can frame perception of them in a distorted or oversimplified way…
I’m fine with that. That’s what I’m giving you, you can only base it on what I’m giving you. And then someone else might get a totally different side. But that’s the relationship I want with those people, so it’s still a choice.
Ever been negatively affected by preconceived notions?
I think maybe not so much because of my artistic persona, but in life, yeah definitely. I definitely experience that, partly, I think, because of my race or my economic background or even that I’m from London, the accent, whatever. You can sense when you’re with someone and they underestimate you. And that’s a good thing, there’s room there for you to, without pressure, be what you want to be.
Tell me about ‘Want More’. It’s my favourite track of yours.
‘Want More’ was the first thing I made, ever. We literally made that in the studio in one day and put it out. I’ve been working on more songs since then, but the music I have out… those are the first things I ever made. So it’s weird looking at it now as something that ‘says’ something about me.
When Sega Bodega first made that I was like ‘we’ve made this thing together and it’s sick’. I still feel that, but I’ve obviously heard it like a million times. But I still feel really good about it. I don’t look back at is as a cringe song. I like how the lyrics are exactly what came to my head that minute.
It’s good to have songs like that that are reactionary, but I also appreciate the stuff where it means a bit more in the lyrics, like ‘MSRY’. With that song, it was like writing a diary you know someone’s going to read. Where you just write in code a little bit. That’s why I like ‘MSRY’ more.
I was like, ‘oh my god, that’s a dream job’, telling people they’re worthless over the phone and then going about your day
How would you describe your new music?
It’s a big jump for me. I refined my style a lot more. It’s very much like the stuff that’s out, but it’s a lot more intelligent, lyrically and in the ways I used my inspirations. Now I’m getting to this weird point where people show me old tracks and I’m like, ‘ah, that’s cool’… but I don’t really want it to be ‘me’ right now.
Your music has a darkness to it but it’s playful too, it makes me feel like I’m being taunted or disrespected or something. The first time I heard your stuff it sort of… hurt my feelings.
[Laughs] Good. There’s this program on Channel 4 about these girls, like, students and stuff who were using call lines to fund their degrees, chatting to guys over the phone. There was this one girl who was a dom, being like ‘you’re worthless’ to guys over the phone. I was like, ‘oh my god, that’s a dream job’, telling people they’re worthless over the phone and then going about your day. This is my equivalent right now.
It stings… okay, you can play one song at your funeral, what’s it going to be?
I was thinking about this recently… a funeral is not for [the deceased], I really could not care less. You’re dead, and I’m too selfish. I don’t care. Whoever’s left behind, they can deal with it, they can choose what they think I would like. It’s for the people you leave behind. And maybe by the time I die I’ll hate music and just not want anything to do with it.
So like… field recordings.
Yeah, just… silence. Listen to the blood pumping through your veins.
Chumbawamba’s ‘I Get Knocked Down’ versus Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’. Which is the best?
I don’t know what either of those are… what are they?
No way, of course you do… *sings both*
Ha, I just wanted you to sing them.
Damn, played right into your hands…
It’d have to be ‘I Get Knocked Down’. It’s pubbier. I’d love to hear it in the pub. I’m a lager lout.
Fair. Any shout outs before we bring this to a close?
Shout out my team, always. NUXXE family and friends. Everyone else is irrelevant. Nah, I’m joking.
Nacht Van De Beeldende Kunst
Shygirl LIVE + Mechatok DJ +
Romi Luna + Yunobi + 9M-MRJ
18 May – DE Studio, Antwerp
Free for Subbacultcha members. Join us here.