‘I want to bring the party up north’: Nia Archives on unleashing a Yorkshire rave revolution

Estimated read time 7 min read

Nia Archives is a loud and proud junglist. When you dive deep into the West Yorkshire DJ, producer and singer’s discography, you might assume she was around during the genre’s mid-90s golden era. But being born in 1999 hasn’t stopped her from being nostalgic for an era before her own. “I love making the beats. I love making the drums. I’ve always loved the chaos of jungle,” she says. The 24-year-old’s recent rise has largely been down to the way in which her songs capture the energy and euphoria of the genre without being considered derivative or pastiches. It’s why drum’n’bass great Goldie refers to her as “one of our own”.

Since bursting on to the scene in 2020 with the melodic and soulful Sober Feels single, which she self-produced and promoted using her student loan, Archives has released a string of critically acclaimed EPs and been dubbed by the New Yorker “one of the brightest talents to emerge in the once again burgeoning field of drum’n’bass”. She has gained respect far and wide, collaborating with supergroup Watch the Ride (consisting of DJ Die, Dismantle and DJ Randall) on the club banger Mash Up the Dance and seeing her remix of Jorja Smith’s Little Things blow up on social media.

Archives became the first electronic artist to be awarded the coveted BBC Music Introducing award for artist of the year, and opened for Beyoncé’s 2023 Renaissance tour in London. “I didn’t know it was happening until the day,” she says. “I was anxious, but I was very grateful to be taking my underground genre to such a huge audience.”

Now she is about to release her debut album, Silence Is Loud. Not only is it her longest work yet, but it also serves as an evolution of her sound. The kaleidoscopic flair typical of an Archives recording is still there, but there’s a new rawness and tenderness to her voice. “I did a lot of the clubby stuff on earlier projects because I wanted to prove to people that I can produce. That I can make sick tunes,” she says. “I love rave music, but I don’t necessarily listen to albums that sound like that. I love albums that tell stories.”

Listeners can still expect to hear high BPMs, deep synths and rapid breakbeats, but Silence Is Loud has more melody, alt-rock-inspired guitar riffs and passionate vocals. Archives has talked in past interviews of Amy Winehouse being a big inspiration, and you can very much hear it in her voice, while elsewhere there are nods to the Beatles, Blur and Natalie Imbruglia. “I’m a bit nervous, because the sounds are a bit different from what people are used to from me. But sometimes you’ve got to take risks.”

We are chatting over a video call. Her camera is off because she’s getting ready for an important meeting, so all there is to engage with is a black screen and a northern accent. It is rare but refreshing when talking to artists to hear a voice that sounds like mine. Archives was born in Bradford and raised, like me, in Leeds. She is half-Jamaican, half-English, and music runs deep throughout her family history. “I used to go to church with my nana. We’d always sing gospel.” Her grandmother ran a pirate radio station in Bradford as well as a sound system that introduced Archives to genres such as dub and soul.

Nia ArchivesView image in fullscreen

So Archives is keen on affirming dance music’s history within Black culture. In 2022, she wrote an open letter to call the Mobos out for not having an electronic/dance category (when they did finally introduce an award, she became its first winner). Why was she compelled to speak out? “I wrote that letter honestly just as a bit of a nudge,” she says. “For some reason in the past 10 years, people [don’t] associate Black people with dance music. The Black community distances themselves from raving. I’ve always found it so bizarre, because their parents were literally out at raves in the 90s. Funky house is Black music.”

Archives lives in London, but she is deeply proud of her northern heritage. “A lot of people assume I’m from London when they first meet me.” That assumption is evidence of how London-centric the creative industries are. It’s not often that you see Black working-class northern women receiving as much attention as she has. The north-south divide is something she is keen to dismantle: “I’m hoping in the next few years we see more northern creatives who are not just rich kids with parents who are going to pay for their gap year in London and their rent.”

Archives likes playing in London, but she loves playing up north: “It’s about creating those opportunities and bringing those events to people that is not the norm for them.” Once she’s done with the album, she wants to do DJ, production and visual art workshops with working-class kids. “I love working with people. It’s one of the amazing parts of my job,” she says. “And that’s definitely my future goal – to bring the party up north.”

Growing up there wasn’t easy for Archives, however. “It made me who I am. But it’s a tough place to come from.” She lived in Horsforth, a little countryside town on the outskirts of Leeds; it was a very white area, and she and her brothers were the only Black kids in her school. She was told her musical dreams were unrealistic. Whether it was coming from a place of tough love or lack of belief, she was frequently advised to focus on getting a “real job”. “But I’m a bit delusional,” she says.

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She admits to having a weird relationship with Leeds today. Archives moved to Manchester by herself at 16, and although she has never explained exactly why, her track Family on the new album sheds light on some of her personal struggles. “Seven years, I ask myself how this went on for so long,” she sings. “Sometimes family ties do not always survive.”

Today Archives will not talk about her family. But what she does make clear is how she uses music to work through her feelings about them. “When I started producing at 16, it was definitely my coping mechanism, just how I express myself. I’ve always found it quite a healthy way to express happy emotions, sad emotions. I like that I can have really deep songs on jungle beats and people won’t necessarily think I’m being deep unless they are really listening. It kind of protects me a little bit. If I wrote a ballad, it’s really [exposing].”

Music isn’t all about processing her melancholia. Archives also sees her music as an expression of her Britishness. “I am Black and I’m half-Caribbean. But I am also just a British girl,” she says. “I wanted to make a quintessentially British record.” Its artwork features a union flag because, says Archives, “it’s punk. And I’ve always thought of jungle as really punk.”

Archives is changing the landscape of dance music at an uncanny speed. Her dreams are big and beyond herself. Silence Is Loud might be a new experiment in sound and style, but it is rooted in the age-old ideals of music being a force of connectivity. “I’ve always loved the unity aspects of [jungle]. No matter what you look like. No matter who you want to date. Just come have fun. Listen to the music. That’s why I love jungle. It’s just so inclusive,” she says. “We’re taking it back to that attitude of what it was like in the 90s. That one-love vibe.”

Silence Is Loud is out now.

Source: theguardian.com

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