Loraine James: “It’s Definitely not the Cheeriest Work I’ve Done”

Hyperdub affiliate Loraine James discusses the hope and heartbreak that went into her new collaborative EP, Nothing.

The release of Loraine James’ widely acclaimed 2019 album For You And I undoubtedly set high expectations for the future of the North London DJ-producer. But now it seems certain she was just getting warmed up. 

James has been experimenting with music since she was a teenager. Her studies at the University of Westminster led her to translating her esoteric productions into equally as esoteric and entrancing live performances — she’s been known to start these with the Hannah Montana theme tune.

For You And I had an intense first-person focus on James’ experience of being a queer woman navigating London life at the start of a new relationship. By contrast, her upcoming EP on Hyperdub, Nothing, refracts James’ own thoughts and feelings of despair, heartbreak, and rejuvenation through the lens of a clutch of collaborators. Not accustomed to collaborating more widely outside of her own circle, at the beginning of the year, James tweeted an open call for collaborators on a new project, and Nothing is the result.

The EP will be her second release with experimental record label Hyperdub. It manages to be as deeply introspective and heart-wrenching as For You And I. For instance, James beautifully expresses the cycle of heartbreak and healing via an exploration of refugee experiences with Farsi-language rapper Tardast on “Marg”. Nothing feels like a very purposeful next step for James, one that sees her stepping into her own plurality as an artist and having fun with new forms.

Previously you’ve only worked with collaborators that you’ve known quite well.

Yeah, me and [South London-based musician] Le3 bLACK went to uni together, and [emerging soul singer] feeo was recommended through a friend who lived in Oxford. I hadn’t really collaborated much and was saying to myself that I should try and collaborate more, but I never ended up really doing it. 

What was this particular experience of collaboration like? Was it done digitally? 

Usually, I collaborate digitally, so I’m used to sending stuff through WeTransfer. A lot of people I have collaborated with don’t even live in London, so it’s just easier. Sometimes when you try and organise something, whether it’s a mate or whatever, it tends to just draw out. Sometimes doing it through the internet is easier and quicker.

Having listened to the EP, it simultaneously feels personal, but also global, especially with Tardast’s track. How was that to put together?

When I begin a project, I never really know what kind of form it’s going to take. Things piece together and fall into place. For this EP, I did some demos of the tracks and I put them up on SoundCloud. I was kind of like, pick which song you’re leaning towards, whichever one would suit you better. Out of the bunch, I wasn’t really feeling the instrumental for “Don’t You See It.” When Jonnine chose that one, in my head I was like, ‘Ugh, I think this one’s going to be shit, but ok.’ She sent me the vocals and I edited the track and reworked a few things, and it was better in the end!

For Jonnine’s track, I read that her lyrics came out of a recent breakup. How was it handling someone else’s heartbreak and synthesising it with your own vision for the track?

To me, it was quite funny because late last year I got broken up with as well, so it was a similar feeling. I didn’t ask her to speak about anything specific or anything like that, so I found it quite funny that that was what it ended up being about.

Your solo production “The Starting Point” comes right at the end of the EP; talk to me about that, because it’s such an expansive track and feels almost cyclical in a way.

That track was based off one of those demo ideas I did. I ended up chopping up that whole track completely, which is what the first half is. For the second half, I changed it up and improvised this piano bit that ended up being the main bit throughout that half. It’s one of my favourite songs I’ve done. I named it “The Starting Point” because the piano and keys were the instruments I grew up playing and I don’t really do many tracks with a piano incorporated into it. I took my time with it. I just wanted to get that one right; I wanted the piano and bass to sound right. It’s definitely one of my favourite tracks I’ve done in a while.

The EP is melancholic but definitely hopeful. How do you see it in relation to ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, the recent trans pride vigil in London, a global pandemic, and the attention on refugees crossing the Channel in the past month?

I feel like the EP is really relatable in some way, which I never envisaged at all. I did it literally at the beginning of the year in January and I think I finished in January. It’s definitely not the cheeriest work I’ve done, and it’s not supposed to be. Doing this EP was an outlet for me. It’s weird; emotionally the EP doesn’t feel like a distant memory because of all this stuff that’s happened this year – obviously the pandemic, the protests.

How’ve you found lockdown in terms of your productivity?

It’s been very up and down! Sometimes I get in my head that I’ve not been productive enough because I’ve got all the free time in the world, and then sometimes I’ll be pretty productive. In terms of actually making music, the process is still pretty much the same because I’ve always worked with just my laptop anyway, so that hasn’t changed. But the only inspiration is where you live, and it’s not great! It’s very limited.

To counter the inspiration block of being around the same space, do you think you’d do more collaboration outreach in the future?

Yeah! I kind of already have and am making a new album, just generally collaborating with more people than I ever have. I don’t think it necessarily would have happened, to be honest, without lockdown, because everyone’s got a lot of time for XYZ reasons.

That sounds exciting!

Yeah! I’m really excited about that. It’s different from For You And I, and I’m pretty happy with it, which is something I don’t really say a lot about stuff. I might end up hating it as well, I don’t know. I just listen to it a lot and analyse everything, so I’ll probably end up hating that too in the next while, but for the minute I’m enjoying what I’ve done.

Jemima Skala is a freelance music journalist. Find her on Twitter.



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