Introducing: TSHA, Whose Emotional Club Bangers are Exactly What the World Needs
Introducing: TSHA, Whose Emotional Club Bangers are Exactly What the World NeedsNovember 25, 2020
UK-based TSHA was in the middle of a huge US tour when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. “I’d just played CRSSD Festival and everyone was talking about it,” the electronic multi-instrumentalist recalls. Initially, she didn’t think the pandemic was going to have such a big impact. “When we got home everything was normal,” she adds. And while the reality of her situation hit quickly, being a producer and DJ helped her to retain a sense of perspective.
“Although it’s depressing for me, with tours being cancelled, there are people just on the cusp of their career and everything’s just gone,” she says. “A lot of my friends who are just DJs or don’t make a lot of money from their own music have had to sign onto Universal Credit. They’ve had to move back to their parents.”
TSHA says she is getting by thanks to remix commissions for everyone from Lianne La Havas and Declan McKenna to Lane 8, Prospa and Griff, playing socially-distanced parties (“it’s just not the same with people sat down, drinking and chatting – it feels more like a pub with background music”) and her upcoming Flowers EP, but admits it’s been an “up and down” time. And the lack of government support for the club scene is “laughable,” she says.
“Some clubs were already struggling and on the edge even before the pandemic. I don’t know how anyone’s gonna survive the next few months. For the government, which I think is scapegoating young people, the economy is worth more than people – but only some economies.”
She thinks the UK government’s idea that people in the arts can simply retrain is “ridiculous. I did not spend years and invest my own money into my career to then be told I need to retrain for something else!” Understandably angry, having slogged her way to become one of the UK’s most exciting artists, TSHA is certainly not giving up now.
Listening to her older brother DJ house, garage and jungle in the family home growing up sparked a “fascination” with dance music for young Teisha Matthews. “When I was six or seven it would be fun because I’d come downstairs and start dancing, but other times I’d just wanna watch ‘Kenan & Kel’,” she says. Hearing her Skrillex-loving mum’s stories of going to raves, including seeing Carl Cox DJ in a field in the ’80s, had a huge impact, too. “I just couldn’t wait to turn 18 so I could dance all night,” she remembers enthusiastically.
After asking her single-parent mum for some decks so she could learn to DJ, a teenage Teisha downloaded Limewire and began making her own CD compilations of tracks. Unable to afford a DJ for her 16th birthday, her party’s soundtrack, which veered from The Prodigy to The Chemical Brothers’ ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’, came from one of her early mixes. “None of my friends listened to that stuff and they were really confused because it went real mad,” she recalls. “I was trying to make a rave!”
By the time she turned 18, Teisha had high expectations of her first clubbing experience. Instead, she was left feeling “really disappointed” by the “absolute shit” that Fareham nightspots Liquid and Envy played. “The music was just… not what I had in my head, it wasn’t what I imagined,” she considers. This disenchantment with her local scene led her to take a step back from dance music. Instead, she focused on the urban dance course she had started at the University of East London after finishing college.
“It was quite a history lesson in styles you wouldn’t normally study: hip-hop, pop, locking and breakdancing,” she recalls. But it was discovering and researching house dance that “reignited” Teisha’s love for dance music. “I loved the concept of a DJ being like a preacher and how house dance was a sort of trance where people could escape.”
Soon after dropping out of university for health reasons, she bought a basic DJ setup, “like a £100 controller”. It helped that Teisha was also making video content for Jump Off who, to partly pay for her work, organised DJ lessons with Radio 1Xtra’s Melody Kane. “From there, I just started practicing at home and blagged my first gig,” she laughs.
But she found it difficult to get any house gigs. “That world is quite shut for many people, unless you have someone to get you in.” In need of cash, Teisha was happy to take anything and started playing R&B and hip-hop events where she “knew people and they were more welcoming,” she says. Following in the footsteps of many aspiring DJs before her, she then began working as a mobile DJ, in part to fund her newfound interest in music production. “I had a whole rig; lights, speakers… I was doing weddings, 50th birthday parties, but I hated it. I had to lug the gear around myself, or wear a dress and heels for seven hours if it was a bar gig.”
Investing the money she’d made in buying better decks and equipment, Teisha enrolled in a music course to learn the basics. Before long, she was practicing an hour of piano and 45 minutes on guitar each morning, while learning the ins and outs of Ableton. But it was seeing Bonobo’s live show at Brixton Academy that formed her I-need-to-do-this moment.
TSHA was born and, having constructed a yearly plan, she spent all her savings on the mixing, press, and artwork of her debut single. Her first full EP, Moonlight, even attracted major label attention. “I think they wanted to turn me into the next Calvin Harris,” TSHA recalls seriously. “In their heads, I imagine they thought, ‘She can produce dance music and she looks okay so we could market her this way.’” Instead, she signed with Ninja Tune’s sister label, Counter Records.
Two years later and her unbreakable determination has paid off. As well as securing a three-album deal with Ninja Tune, her emotional banger “Sister” — created after Teisha found her long-lost sister during lockdown, and taken from her stunning new EP, Flowers — is sitting pretty at 1.4 million streams.
Not one to let the hype get to her head, seconds after our call and TSHA is off, humbly moving to the next item in her seemingly-endless schedule: teaching a production masterclass. After spending an hour in her company, it’s clear that nothing is going to stop Teisha Matthews from achieving whatever she sets her mind to.