Today’s liquid & minimal drum & bass listeners will know that a tune featuring Sydney Bryce on the vocals demands a listen.
Seemingly quickly she’s made a name for herself as a new, but essential vocalist in the scene, looking to carve her place among names like Riya and Charli Brix – the unmistakable voices that perfectly complement a steady breakbeat and thick bassline.
As a trained singer and pianist since she was 5, and a raver since before she could legally enter nightclubs, her potential has been brewing longer than you’d think. But confidence knocks, spurred by a lack of visible female representation on the stage, led to her holding back.
However, with moments like incidental smokers area chats, the development of a ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ approach, and the discovery of more role models in the scene have all served her well in recent years – growing quickly to gain a solid string of releases on labels like Context Audio, Spearhead, Critical, Flexout and, most recently, Pilot alongside pyxis and IYRE on her new single Psychedelics.
Now, with an album on the way and a fresh approach to live shows, Sydney is poised to make a lasting impact. UKF wanted to discover more about Sydney’s rise, her process, and what’s next for the up and comer…
I think I first heard your voice on Act Like That with Trail – what a tune, and a great intro to your sound. How early was that for you and your singing career?
My very first release was around 2018, but Act Like That in 2021 was definitely my biggest at the time in terms of the producer and the label. I’d really loved what Flexout were doing for a long time, so even though it wasn’t that early in my career, it was a big deal for me.
It got played out a lot – so maybe if you hadn’t heard of me before, then you were hearing me thinking “where’s she come from?”. But I’ve actually been hanging about in the background for a while.
Definitely a breakout tune – and we’ve been seeing your name ever-since. So when did you start singing?
I’ve been a musician since I was about five. I started playing piano and did my grades and everything, but with drum & bass I’ve always been a raver. I didn’t really ever think I could be on stage though.
Ten years ago or so when I started going out, you didn’t really see that many females involved in the scene anyways. So for me, it didn’t really register that I could be involved in that way. But it was about four years ago, I was in the smoking area at an event in London, and me and my brother got talking to Pete Deadline, who also works at Shogun. Him and Ollie were looking to do their first release. They were saying they needed a vocalist and my brother goes “she’s a singer!”. I was a bit shy, but they took my details and we went from there.
That was my first insight into working with drum & bass, receiving a track and writing to it.
You touched on the process there… how has that worked for you? Do the lyrics come first, the instrumental, or a mix of both?
The way it’s worked for me is, normally the producer contacts me if they think I’d suit the track. Then I just load it up into Logic and do voice recordings, trying to get melodies or whatever comes to mind. I think the best melodies are the ones that just pop into your head, and you’re already finding them catchy. I’m always just recording random noises and sounds and seeing what works.
I’ve got to say, Pete was quite tough with me on that first track, but I’m glad he was – because when you’re surrounded by people who really support you, it doesn’t matter how you sing or what you say, all your friends are going to say it’s amazing. So it was the first time I actually got critiqued on it – it was very back and forth… “I like this, keep that, change this, the ad-lib into the drop needs to be something different”. So I really love him for that, he wanted it perfect which I totally understand. And I’m really glad that I got dropped in the deep-end working with someone professional who knows the scene well.
But to go back to your question – I’ll usually ask the producer if there’s a theme they want, because obviously they’re the person who’s created the first vibe. Maybe they think it should be about love, or a rave, or whatever the lyrical content is. So I normally ask the questions before I get going, and then I’ll send a little minute-long demo and we just vibe on it..
It sounds like the lyrics generally come very last in the process?
Lyrics are very important, but at the end of the day, people want something they can hum along to or sing along to, and so I think melody is number one. Once you’ve got that down you can explore lyrics or think about what’s important to say. I never thought about it, but you’re right; melody first and then work-in what you want to sing about.
I’m usually interviewing producers, so the vocalist perspective is fresh to me – quite surprised to hear lyrics come very last but when you explain it like that it makes total sense.
Have you interviewed many vocalists before?
You’d be my first!
Aw yes, wicked!
Moving onto a couple of tunes I wanted to ask about. The first is Strawberry Fields – is there a background to the lyrics?
Dan Structure and I have worked together for quite a long time now, we have a good working relationship, it always flows very well, it’s always easy – I like easy processes. But he sent me that track during lockdown when we weren’t able to see any one. And me and my best friend are very, very close. So in that period, to not be able to see her was the worst thing in the world. She’s just one of those people where you don’t realise how much you see them, or how involved they are in what you’re doing, until they’re not there.
We’ve got so many nicknames for each other… and this is going to sound so silly… she loves strawberries, and so one of them is Strawberry Jam.
Hahaha – I love that.
And with the tune I was just vibing on it for a while, and then I was thinking about her a lot – so I wanted to work the tune around how it was feeling about not seeing her all the time.
So when I sing: “I’d like it, if over time, you could come over to mine…” – that is literally me saying I can’t wait to be with you again, and have a dance and a laugh like we normally do. So yeah, it’s a tribute to my best friend.
Amazing – and that’s definitely a familiar feeling for a lot of people during lockdown I think.. The second tune I wanted to ask about is Psychedelics – how did this one come about?
I’ve got to admit, It was the easiest track I’ve ever done – flawless process. I’ve known Pyxis for a while and she’s got me involved with a lot, and is a massive support. She connected with IYRE and they sent me the track. I thought it was really nice, but nothing came to me in the moment.
Then they told me the name and theme of it – so this is one of the situations where the theme was there already. It has kind of a trippy instrumental, and they said they wanted a really soft vocal, so Mel (Pyxis) thought of me. From there it took me about 20 minutes to do, and then the tune got signed that afternoon!
Wow. Plenty of extra time to make a video for it.
Yeah the music video is so cool. Billy from Bones Productions did it, who’s a good friend of mine actually. It’s such a vibey tune and I thought if we could have really sick visuals to go with it, it would complete the whole thing. With Billy being a good mate of mine it didn’t take too much time or money to get it done either. Then it got put on UKF, which is just unreal. It looks like people are really enjoying it, which is amazing.
So going back to my first question about linking up with Trail – how do you make these connections in the scene? Is it a lot of networking?
I’m a very ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ type of person – so I like to just message people. I go out to a lot of drum & bass events too. They’re just the best place to meet people – I don’t even smoke but I’m always in the smoking area.
That’s funny – I’m the same.
You never know who you’re going to stumble across! And once you make that conversation or little connection, you’ve sparked the relationship and it’s a lot easier to get in touch or collaborate.
But anyway, that Trail tune was through Flexout. Tom (Bassi) has been amazing, he’s really mentored me. I know that he’s been a massive support for Charli Brix’s career, and I’m a massive fan of her. So when he contacted me about a year ago it was really exciting. I didn’t know he even knew about me, but I really wanted to get into that Flexout side of drum & bass. I think everything they put out is sick, high quality.
When he got in touch he said he could connect me to producers. I think he sent me like three tunes, and I sent the demos back straight away, and he was like “ok sick, this is going to work”. That Trail tune was one of the three. So I owe a lot to Tom at Flexout because he really bridged the gap for me.
I was about to say to you, the first person I thought of when I heard your voice was Charli Brix. You both work so well on those silky rolling beats. So she’s a big inspiration for you?
Yeah massively. When I was much younger, maybe like 14-15, the women I was hearing were Lucy Kitchen, Katie’s Ambition, Colette Warren, Riya – they were always in my ear. But then when I matured a little more and found Charli Brix, it was next level for me – it just resonated. Her voice is so soulful, she’s got great range, her lyrics are sick, her melodies are sick. She’s just pure class. She’s always been way up there for me.
Totally. So she was key for you in realising that you could combine your vocal ability with your love for the D&B scene?
Yeah, I mean I never used to see the women on stage. Back when I started going out around ten years ago, you only had male MCs hosting. The females on stage just weren’t really there. But on the tunes I was finding and listening to, they were there. So it all felt quite distant, and difficult to figure out how to make a start.
Plus, confidence was a massive issue for me. When I was growing up I used to write songs for my friends, but I’d shit myself performing to them – I really held myself back for years. I don’t want to say I regret anything, but I’m 27 now and I really wish I’d done this ages ago. Once I started singing for people and getting feedback, that’s when my confidence was gained. Also, my boyfriend is a producer, and when he encouraged me to sing on his tracks, that’s when I was able to hear myself recorded.
So it was a mix of confidence, and not knowing where to look that delayed me getting started. Like I said, I’ve only been releasing for four years, but I’ve wanted to release for like ten years or more.
At least you’re here now and making an impact. Looking forwards – who would be your dream collabs?
Yeah, makes sense.
I recently went to Phonox for his residency and fell in love with him and his music even more. I booked tickets straight away for the next week because I was like, I’ve got to do that again.
So he’s number one, but I bet he’s number one on everybody’s list. Pola & bryson would be a duo I’d love to work with. And a collab with Fox would be amazing – I’m a massive Fox fan and I met him recently, and it just made me more of a fan. There’s so many, my list is huge really.
And what’s your plan for playing out more – do you see yourself hosting and performing more nights soon?
So last year I had quite a few bookings, and I was really excited for this year – but I’ve not really had any to be honest apart from working with Unorganised Ostrich, who are a Bournemouth based label. I work quite closely with them and they’ve booked me a couple of times. But the way it works is that I don’t know who I’m hosting for, I don’t know anything about the set, I don’t even know if my own tunes will be played – and this makes it difficult. It’s not a great way to showcase yourself as a singer, or even a host.
I realised the other day that I don’t want to get booked with random people anymore though – what I want is something similar to what Charli Brix has with Bassi. I’m hoping it can change to where I can go with my own DJ, really know the set and plan it out nicely, so that it just flows a lot better.
My brother DJs and produces, and we have a show on SelectRadio every third Saturday night (Sydney Bryce & Tones). So that’s the plan moving forward – I literally just had the conversation with my brother James the other day.
Nice, that sounds like a good approach moving forward. Looking back, what’s been your career highlight so far?
Honestly, probably getting the Psychedelics music video on UKF – that was really crazy for me, I’ve followed UKF since I can remember, when it all started. I also just love going into raves now, and having that connection on another level – just being in the scene is a highlight for me.
When I first started raving, I couldn’t believe that this music got played out. At the time, I was hanging around with people that really weren’t that great for me – so when I started going raving it was like wow these people are like me, and they listen to the music I love. So my one highlight is that UKF video, but just being in the scene and actually being involved is the coolest thing ever.
Totally agree, just to be involved and contributing is so wicked.
Everyones so nice, chilled, talented, creative. You can go in and wear what you want, be who you want. I think that’s quite rare these days. Even though we’re in a really accepting world, I find that everyones just so worried about what people think about them. But in drum & bass, it’s just this little world that doesn’t fall into those negative ways, and yeah, we need more of it.
Well said. So the final question I’ve got for you is: What’s coming up next?
Well I’m buzzing because Flexout is doing an LP with me. I’ve now got two producers involved, Atlantic Connection (under the new alias Nathan Hayes) and Jackie Marua, who is actually a hip-hop producer. It’s going to be a nice multi-genre album – garage, house, drum & bass, afrobeat – whatever we make and like, we’re gonna put it on there. Other than that, I’ve also got an EP with Primitive Instinct also coming on Flexout. Lots with Flexout, which is pretty surreal.
Also, talking about highlights, Atlantic Connection is one of my all-time favourites, so to have him on my album and to become good friends with him is pretty amazing. Everytime I talk to him I feel like I’m living in a dreamworld – but he’s the most normal, nicest guy.
An album. On Flexout. Nice one! When’s this due?
It will be completed in 2023 – that’s all I can say for now.