Who the hell is Nia Archives?

If you haven’t heard anything about Nia Archives then the question has got to be asked – where have you been? Arguably one of the most talked about newcomers breaking onto the jungle scene right now, at 21-years-old Nia is an exciting prospect on her way to big things.

Producer, singer, songwriter, filmmaker – you name it, Nia could be considered any of them. You may have heard her dreamy neo soul vocals flittering on top of hectic breakbeats, or you could have caught a glimpse of her nostalgic rave-style videos as you scroll through your Instagram feed. Either way, once you experience what Nia is about you’ll more than likely be hooked.

Brought through last year by the awesome EQ50 mentorship helping womxn to progress in jungle and drum and bass, Nia has since been developing into an artist with a real understanding behind her music. With a heritage founded on Caribbean sound system culture, combined with her teenage years spent writing albums worth of music for fun, it feels like music has always been the destined path for Nia – a dream she is finally living.

With her debut Headz Gone West EP now released, UKF felt it was the right time to uncover the story behind one of jungle’s brightest prospects.

As rubbish as lockdown has been, it seems like it has launched your career…

It’s mad. Sometimes I think about it and I’m like – wow… During lockdown I’ve been focusing on making music and creating. I don’t think anyone will ever have this much time again, so I’ve tried to make the most of it. I’ve been able to create lots of little videos to go alongside my music too.

That was one of the first things to catch my attention – the archive rave-style videos of you going around London.

I started doing it for fun a couple of years ago. I got this Sony Handycam and began filming everything. My memory is really bad, so I like to capture moments on video. I’ve loved making videos since I was a kid. I started adding my own music onto the videos and that allowed me to show everyone what I’ve been producing. That’s how I got the archives name. I love ‘90s VHS and rave documentaries, so I was trying to emulate that.

It’s that whole sense of rave nostalgia we’re all clinging onto right now!

Definitely. It’s a nostalgia of something I never experienced, but I feel like I’ve always been a part of. I also love the idea of documenting what my mates and I are doing in life. It’s funny because my friend Ann-Lucille is in most of my videos, and when I first met her at the start of uni I was documenting everything. Two years later, it’s so nice to look back over the footage and what has happened. It’s good to have those memories on tape.

Absolutely. Looking at what has happened, I don’t think I can recall a jungle artist who has had such a dramatic rise in a short space of time. You’ve really got the scene talking.

I know, it’s crazy! I’m still processing it to be honest… I think one of the reasons things have progressed so fast is because what I’m doing is not really being done in the scene right now. I don’t have an ego, but I feel like I’m approaching my sound from a different perspective, so that’s maybe why it stands out more.

I think so. Your blend of neo soul and breakbeats is very refreshing.

Thank you! Before I made jungle I used to make boom bap hip-hop blended with neo soul. I love the sound of jungle drums, so I try to put my melodies and sounds on top of them.

Where does this fusion of styles stem from?

In 2019, I started making the whole breakbeat / soulful jungle sound. Before, when I was creating boom bap the lyrics were too depressing. On a slow beat it made it too moody. But if I put those lyrics on a fast 170-175bpm beat then I feel like I’m partying. I love producers like Roots Manuva, Burial and J Dilla – especially the way you can hear their personality and the things that are important to them in their productions. I love the idea of using things I like to shape my sound.

You strike me as someone who is just experimenting and having fun with your music.

It’s all about experimenting and having fun. If you’re not enjoying your music then what are you doing? I see making beats like playing a video game where I’m trying to get all these little sounds to match. It’s like going through levels. Especially with the way I make my drums, I have this formula I do to create the sound I want.

I like how playful you are with your vocals too. It’s very original.

I’m glad! I always loved singing as a kid. I only started making beats because I was singing for other producers and they were messing me about. I thought I might as well do it myself. That’s when I started singing over my productions. I love harmonies and layers, so I try to use my voice as an instrument – chopping it up and manipulating it.

Making music with that sense of freedom is so important.

Definitely. I never want to force anything. When I’m not feeling productive I will go and do something else that’s not music because I want my music to be authentic. I don’t want to force a beat out. I feel like you should always vibe to your music. With my debut EP, I listened to it for a whole year without anyone else hearing it. Making sure I love my music is the most important thing to me.

It was a mega debut EP! The reaction has been great.

I’m still processing that too… I’m glad people are vibing to it. I’m happy it’s released because now I can start making new music. Releasing music is a physical process, but it’s also a mental / emotional process getting it out there so that I can move on.

I noticed your EP is linked to HIJINXX. Is this your label?

It’s a side project I started before I put any music out. HIJINXX was the name for my visual archive. My ex-step dad used to love a skater called Beagle, who did this thing called Hijinx. It’s basically documenting the good side of life, but also the chaotic. I created that name because I wanted somewhere for visual work and music. In future, I would love to put together my own mini documentary and release it under HIJINXX.

That would be wicked! So tell me more about the EP. What inspired it?

The whole influence was breakbeats and old school jungle, but I wanted to fuse the sounds with my own spin. I love all genres of music, including guitar-led ones like indie and rock, so I wanted to bring that influence across into jungle because it’s not something I hear much. People don’t really use guitars in that way, but I think they’re such a beautiful sound. On a breakbeat they slap differently! It’s all a case of experimenting, chopping up sounds and trying different things.

Crossroads is great example of that.

Yeah. I wrote Crossroads when I was 17-years-old. I’m not sure what was going on at the time, but somehow I wrote enough tunes for a whole album. I’m slowly trying to rework all those old lyrics. Crossroads was originally written over a boom bap beat. It was one of the first beats I started, but the final beat I made last year.

It’s quite mad you were putting so many beats together at that age… How come you were so inspired?

I moved out when I was 16-years-old and I feel like that inspired my journey a lot. It was a transformative period. I went through a lot of stuff at that age and needed an outlet to express what I’d been through. It sounds cheesy, but music did save me in a way. I’m not good at expressing myself in other ways, so I started writing. That’s why I have so many lyrics from that age because I was very emotional. I started creating as a form of escapism. That period showed me what I wanted to do, because before that, I was just going through the motions. People told me music wasn’t realistic, but now I’m getting to a point where it feels like I can really do this.

So rolling back the years, where do your musical influences originate from? I see you’ve got a Jamaica flag behind you!

I’m half Jamaican, so that heritage has been a big part of my life. I went to Pentecostal Church as a kid, so I’ve grown up listening to gospel. Reggae was always on in my house too alongside hip-hop, lovers rock and bashment. Even jungle was. My Nanna loves jungle, so our family parties would go from lovers rock to jungle… Back then I was around all this music, but I didn’t really know what it was. I’ve always had those cultural influences. Moving from the north to London has been a big influence for me too. I get a lot of my sound inspiration from being in the city.

I find it very cool your nanna listened to jungle…

Haha, yeah! My nanna influenced a lot of my early music because I spent a lot of time with her. I used to go to her house and she would have a big sound system. In Caribbean culture everyone has a sound system in their house. My nanna would always show me tunes. She put me onto bare disco, rare groove, soul and funk. It’s mad how all these little influences changed the way I listen to and write music.

It sounds like you had a really inspiring upbringing.

Definitely. Going back further, my ex step dad was a producer/rapper, and when I was 12-years-old I used his Logic to make really bad beats. Before that, I used to be in an orchestra. I played trumpet. I was in a choir. So I feel like it has been a natural progression into making my own beats. I’ve mainly learnt how to produce by watching YouTube tutorials, but going to uni has helped me to improve.

Speaking of improvements, it seems like EQ50 was the big moment helping you to reach the next level.

I was so grateful to get that opportunity. I feel gassed to be working with V Recordings as artists like Lemon D and Roni Size are my icons. But for me, the best thing about EQ50 is being around a community of other women. Especially in jungle and D&B, there aren’t many of us – particularly black women – so meeting people like DJ Flight, Chickaboo and Mantra has been great.

So have V Recordings been mentoring you?

Yeah, I’ve been working closely with DJ Flight and Bryan Gee. It has been great sending beats to them to get feedback on. A lot of the material I make I don’t think is good… But then someone else might listen to it and tell me with a few tweaks it will be the one. I find it really helpful to get constructive feedback. Out of all the labels who joined in with EQ50, I feel like V was meant to be for me.

Awesome. Looking ahead, what’s next for you?

I’ve got a couple of remixes coming up and I’m working on my next EP. After that, I’d love to start looking towards an album. Next year, I want to really delve into gigging and continue creating. I’ve got so much music in the archives ready to go, it’s just a case of working out how I want to present it. I see each music project like an art piece. It’s not just the music, it’s also the visuals complimenting it.

I’d also love to start DJing vinyl. I want to start collecting loads of sick jungle records as I think it would be a great experience. I don’t think a USB slaps the same as holding a vinyl. If I play on vinyl I can get a little effects pedal too.

Have you played any gigs yet?

I’ve not done any gigs as Nia Archives… Not gonna lie, I’m bare nervous. But in some ways it’s good as there are no expectations. No one knows what it will be like. I only started teaching myself how to DJ last year. I’m literally learning as I go.

I feel like you just typify DIY culture.

It’s all very DIY! I’ve been independent since a young age and have had to do things myself. With my music, there’s no big label or anything. I’m just doing what I know. It’s not perfect, but I enjoy it. It’s all about having fun right now.

Nia Archives – Headz Gone West is out now

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