Introducing: LYZZADecember 16, 2019
“Pop music is actually really fucking good,” LYZZA says to me with a smile. The 20-year-old Brazilian born, London-based DJ, producer and vocalist has been playing much bigger shows and festivals latey — Sónar, Lente Kabinet and Pukkelpop just this year. Not only has she brought her high energy sound — combining harsh, angular club music with fizzing electronics alongside plenty of hip hop singalongs and bubblegum pop — to stunned new audiences, she’s been hugely inspired by some of the names she’s seen on tour. After watching Rosalía at Glastonbury, she turned to her manager and said, “I am literally tomorrow taking dance classes and making a choreography.”
Despite her status as an experimental club-scene darling — one who’s held a residency at Amsterdam’s De School since early 2018 — LYZZA maintains she never wanted to be known as an underground act. “I’m just trying to make music that speaks to me, but also simplify it so more people can understand the language of it,” she says. “I really want my music to become more part of the world. People can listen to it in the car, or while doing groceries or have it play in a restaurant. But I never want to blend in completely. It’s a thin line.” But one she’s ready to walk.
On their own terms, singers like Rosalía have connected with fans from around the world. LYZZA has no interest in playing to pop’s cookie cutter sensibilities, “but it would be really cool to be able to make a song that connects more people than just this little avant garde crowd,” she says. “That’s why the [new] EP just kind of went a little bit more towards choruses that you can sing along to. I want to connect people.”
She’s talking about the six-track DEFIANCE EP, and the poppier direction she took while making it. Her previous releases had already set her up as a brilliant singer and songwriter, but they were darker, less spacious, and mostly club focused — she’s been remixed by Laurel Halo, Nkisi and Varg. Sure, EPs like 2017’s Powerplay have pop appeal, but LYZZA wasn’t necessarily setting out to make music for a broader audience. Recently, however, she’s turned away from teenage angst, and from deliberately rebelling against the norm. “I’m just trying to do what I’m trying to do,” she adds. “I think about where I want to go, but I don’t try to overthink what I’m creating. You know, it’s just very hard to really pinpoint what your brain is trying to throw up.”
Talking to LYZZA, it’s easy to forget she’s only 20 years old. Although young, she’s far from inexperienced in the music industry. Born and raised in Brazil, she moved to Amsterdam with her mother when she was 7. She started DJing at clubs around the city at 16, often worried she’d get kicked out for being underage. “Or people would take my fake ID that I spent €100 on,” she says. “What if somebody asked for my ID and I’m playing this party and the promoters think I’m 18 — we’re building this business relationship, and they find out that I’ve been lying to them? That could really blow up in my face,” she says. Luckily, it never happened.
While LYZZA’s not convinced DEFIANCE is primed to go off in the club, it’s not hard to picture. Pop is a key asset in her DJing, and it was an edit of “Macarena” played on Boiler Room in 2018 that helped cement her status as someone totally unafraid to have fun. I mention I’m old enough to remember when it was nearly impossible to imagine that happening in a “serious” club setting. “I think people are just thinking ‘Why so serious?’” she laughs. “And everybody likes the “Macarena.” Everybody. I want you to point out one person at this party that’s not going to do the dance. So why not? It just makes sense. Dancing is supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to have fun with people. I like to use relatable moments, relatable songs in my sets because those are the moments that people are going to remember, the moments where you look at your friends and you’re dancing together and laughing together that you remember the most. Not the moments where you’re just looking in front of you at the DJ.”
To hear her tell it, the moment was always sure to succeed. But the success of LYZZA’s approach is indicative of something larger — a changing of the guard. “In the last few years, dance music has become a lot more inclusive,” she says. “That image of this serious, 40-year-old DJ guy is starting to slowly disintegrate, and more things are coming up, which brings different crowds and different mindsets. And the future is just so desolate. People are kind of like, ‘Yo, I don’t even know if the world’s gonna exist in a few more years.’”
I ask if she’s planning to bring live elements to her DJ sets, but she strongly regards her production and DJ sets as distinct entities. “I never really play any of my own tracks when I DJ. It’s just two different things. You can be a writer and a painter, but you don’t necessarily want to make a comic book. You can do those things and have them co-exist, but not have them be the same. When I DJ I want to hear music that I want to dance to. When I produce it feels like this are the sounds that are coming out of my brain. One is more based on hedonism, and the other is more based in expression and growth.”
Her early experiences in Amsterdam’s club scene would go on to influence much of her current musical philosophy. “I never went out before I started DJing” she says. “I started playing these parties called Lean, which were thrown by Jarreau Vandal and his best friend, then I ended up in the ballroom scene. So I really expanded my mind on different sounds and the queer community. I was backstage doing stuff on my laptop while everybody was putting on makeup and doing their wigs.”
Community is important to LYZZA, and like many her age, a lot of her community was forged online. “I remember I saw this meme the other day. Somebody was asking, ‘how do you know all these people?’ And somebody was like, ‘Girl, we went to SoundCloud High School!’” Before she had an agent, SoundCloud was how she put together her first European tour — sleeping on couches of people she knew through the streaming platform in Poland, Berlin and the Czech Republic.
“There’s so many people that I’ve literally been friends with since I was 15 online, and we’re all touring now. DJs like Jasmine Infiniti, Badsista, LSDXOXO, BbyMutha, and Ariel Zatina. Now everybody’s doing all this crazy stuff and I’m like, wow, it’s so sick! We all really came up together.”
She’s since relocated to London, primarily to connect with younger people with similar interests. “There’s people in Amsterdam I could relate to, but they were all a bit older. When you’re into contemporary stuff, a lot of 20 year olds aren’t really into that.” The move has worked out well. “It’s such a cool city. Amsterdam is a cool city too, but it’s fairly small. You can walk through the centre in 20 minutes. I love coming back from Gatwick and taking the bus from London Bridge crossing the bridge to South London and just seeing all the skyscrapers, the reflective windows. It’s very alive.”
Although most of LYZZA’s output is largely written and produced by herself, she’s no stranger to collaboration. And DEFIANCE contains her most high profile collab to date with “Neverland,” which features Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Tom McFarland from Jungle. “One day I was invited to [Joe’s] studio, and then he invited [Tom], which was crazy because I used to love Jungle,” she says, beaming and animated. “I saw him play at a festival when I was like 16 — when “The Heat” came out.”
She relishes recounting the experience, and says the track came together in just a few hours. “I’m a huge nerd, and I don’t think people really realise that I love gear and analogue equipment and technical stuff. I walked into Joe’s studio and my hands started itching as I’m touching everything, and we started jamming. [Joe] started cutting stuff up, parts that sounded good. And he was like, ‘Yo, this is sounding like a song.’” With lyrics she’d been scribbling down, LYZZA added her own vocals before Tom sang background harmonies and added effects. “And then we had the song,” she says.
A previous interview floated “experimental anxiety pop” as a tagline for her music. I ask her how she feels about that phrase. “The term experimental I kind of hate because it’s not like I’m doing some little experiment or staring into a cauldron. I’m actually sitting in a studio, working on a piece of music that’s not just a silly experiment, you know? So I like contemporary better.”
LYZZA understands that placing artists into genres or boxes is sometimes necessary, especially for the press. But she also thinks it’s outdated, and perhaps unimaginative. However, the “anxiety” part of the tagline does ring true. “I have a lot of anxiety and I think it’s an important topic to talk about, because a lot of people deal with it. I guess I sing about my insecurities, which then relates to people as anxiety. It’s never been in my nature to front. Maybe that’s also an insecurity, but I’ve never been one of those people that say, ‘yeah, look at my money, I got bitches’ — because I don’t!” she laughs. ”Maybe if I have them at some point I’m gonna flaunt.”
But she’s keenly aware of the inherent problems associated with lyrics that reinforce stereotypical class divisions. “I didn’t grow up with a lot, so I don’t like pushing things into people’s faces. That creates a hierarchy. I feel like I’ve been at the bottom of certain hierarchies my whole life just because of the way I look. So I don’t like pushing that onto people. Even though it’s fun — I understand it’s really fun to flex — but I don’t know… I’d rather talk about how I can’t stop thinking about somebody, and I don’t know what to do. Because I feel like a lot of people can relate to that.”
In our hyperconnected, hyper-exposed modernity, overthinking is difficult trap to escape. But LYZZA is a potent reminder that having fun — no matter what others may think — is often a recipe for success. Especially when it comes to working hard. “Certain things seem impossible,” she says. “If I was able to not have rich parents and do this, you can also. Working hard pays off.”
Hugh Taylor is a freelance journalist living in London. Find him on Twitter.