Meet the faces of SuperdrySounds: Au/Ra, Aaron Unknown and Santino Le Saint

Promotional feature with Superdry

Superdry is bringing a summer of new music to festivals all over the world this year as part of its SuperdrySounds campaign. To help them, they’ve recruited seven emerging artists from all over the place to spread the word. As the campaign launches at the start of May, NME caught up with three of them – south London boys Aaron Unknown and Santino Le Saint, and Antiguan electropop upstart Au/Ra…

1. Au/Ra

Born in Ibiza and raised in Antigua, Au/Ra describes herself as a “huge animé nerd” with a love of Studio Ghibli and Lord of the Rings. Her stage name is an adaptation of her middle name, Aura – also the name of a character in a LOTR fan fiction she wrote aged 12 – and, if you like, the clashing chemical symbols for gold and radium. Just 15, she’s already been in the industry for two years writing and producing music: “I’m pretty sure a lot of venues that I’ve played at only allow 18-year-olds and up to be watching me,” she reflects, “and then as a 15-year-old playing I’m like: ‘How does that actually work?’”  

You’ve sampled Pink Floyd – who are your musical heroes?

I grew up with a lot of Pink Floyd, so I definitely consider them one of my heroes. But more currently I would say Lana Del Rey is someone who makes similar music, and someone that I also look up to. I just love her lyrics, the way she tells stories – and her music itself is super cool. She’s very different, and I just really love that.

How does your upbringing in Ibiza and Antigua come into your music?

Growing up in several countries definitely grounded me a lot. There’s a lot of poverty, unfortunately, but there are also a lot of wealthy people who live on islands. It’s weird being in the middle of it. Some people don’t have running water but other people have mega-yachts and helicopters. It can be pretty weird sometimes, but I’ve loved growing up there and it’s really influenced me a lot in my music and my opinions.

I actually moved away from Ibiza when I was five, but Ibiza is the reason why my dad got into the music industry, so I would say in that way it’s influenced me: he was a producer and DJ there, so that scene and the vibe of that place definitely followed me into my career too.  

Do your parents have different musical backgrounds? 

They’re definitely different in music taste I would say, but they have worked together. My mum’s probably more from the jazzy side, she’s a songwriter and she loves Amy Winehouse, Tina Turner, Nina Simone. My dad was a huge techno fan, and trance, electronic music, EDM. He brought all of that. They wrote an album together and released it – it’s under Asheni, and it’s called ‘Butterfly Survival Kit’. I love all the songs on there. It’s like my mum’s little secret, which she’s probably going to hate me for, but she needs the exposure, she’s too shy to promote herself…  

I’ve always grown up listening to her music and my dad’s, and was just watching them in the studio. I think my dad actually had a couple of number ones in the UK producing other people’s tracks, but they were always in the background working with other people most of the time. They influenced me a lot.

And you produced your first few tracks with them?

Yeah, my dad used to produce my music at first, and I’d write with my mum. It was a very tight-knit little group.

What was the first thing you did without them?

That was actually on a writing trip when I was 13 – I went to LA, which sounds crazy now that I’m saying it. I can’t believe my parents sent me on writing trips when I was 13, but they had enough confidence in me. That way I definitely learned a lot more, just being thrown in different studios every day with different people. It was like my schooling in songwriting.

What’s coming up for you music-wise?

I have a lot of music that’s unreleased and currently I’m a bit unsure of how I’m going to package it, but I think I’m mainly looking at just releasing more singles this year, and then talking about an actual piece of art, whether it’s an album or EP, early next year.

Do you like working with visuals?

For sure. I actually wrote the treatment for the ‘Panic Room’ video – I had it while I was writing the song. That happens to me most of the time, while I’m writing a song I tend to see it as a story and then at the same time a music video forms in my head. With ‘Panic Room’, that immediately came to mind for some reason, and being able to create that and collaborate with the director who understood what I was going for: that was an amazing experience. It was the first time I had written the video treatment, so I’m super glad it turned out well.

What are you up to this festival season?

I’m playing the Great Escape, but other than that I’m not so sure yet. I’m mainly focusing on touring as an opening act right now – I have a tour for ALMA coming up at the end of this month, my first US tour, I’m very excited about it. And then I have a UK tour with Nina Nesbitt in May.

What should people look out for when you’re onstage?

There’s a lot of me moving, I wouldn’t call it dancing. I’m kind of a horrible dancer, but when I perform it just turns into me moving to the music, I don’t understand it myself. So that. And a lot of me being awkward.

What’s your favourite Superdry stuff to wear?

I love all of Superdry’s comfortable wear. The sweater-dresses, sweaters and hoodies and all of that. Comfortable pants. I don’t really wear things that are uncomfortable for performances, so I’m usually wearing baggy pants or something I can move easily in. I definitely am going to be wearing a lot of the sweatpants onstage. And because I’m from Antigua, I’ll be using the swimwear a lot too.

2. Aaron Unknown

South London born and raised, rapper Aaron Unknown first came to prominence in a 2015 SBTV Warm Up session and has since performed alongside Stormzy, started his own label and released a load of music. “The views were like a whirlwind,” he says of the viral clip that launched his career. “That’s what got me on the ladder”.

How did you get your first SBTV video?

I’ve got a mutual friend with [SBTV boss] Jamal Edwards who told him that I’m a rapper. It’s so hard to get hold of Jamal, he’s a very busy guy, but he reached out to me, asking to hear my stuff – so I did a phonecall session, spitting bars at 4am. I had to leave my house because my mum was asleep: I was like, “Look, I’m gonna give you the full passion here”. So I went to my car, round the corner, and after that he asked me to come in and do a Warm Up Session. It was a dream come true – since I was a kid I’d wanted to be on SBTV. The views were just like a whirlwind. That’s what got me on the ladder I suppose, just the response from that. It was so spontaneous as well. I met up with him, didn’t plan it. He asked if I had some bars and I was like ‘Yep’, but it didn’t even have a name, so all those things added to the rawness of it. People just picked it up and it’s insane. People still message me now, like, ‘I still remember your Warm Up, I know every word, I play it every day’.

A few months later you did another with Stormzy, D Double E and Lady Leshurr

Yeah, a little cypher on the rooftop. That was insane, working with people like Stormzy. For me, I followed Stormzy since I was very young, before he was mainstream, on all the underground channels. Although we’re the same age – in fact maybe he’s even younger than me – I’ve always looked up to him. It still hasn’t even sunk in for me.

How have things changed since then?

I’ve definitely grown a lot as an independent artist. I run my own label, which is stressful, but it’s taught me so much about the industry. I’ve learned a lot about myself as an artist. Back then I’d have considered myself a grime artist, and I was boxed in to that. Obviously doing the particular things I was doing, it was pushing it all into that. I’ve broken out of that box now. I’m just an artist, I do music. There’s no genre, there’s just whatever the vibe is, whatever I’m feeling. From then to now I’ve had my EP, ‘2 Sides’, which was just to show the diversity – there’s rap tunes, there’s grime tunes on there, there’s a bit of jazz somewhere. We’re just mixing up the genres. And I’ve just released a single with Santino Le Saint, so that obviously infuses a bit of R&B, heavy metal, he’s doing mad solos on there. I don’t want to put a boundary on it, I just wanna say: ‘this is me, this is what it is, vibe with it if you vibe with it’.

How did you get into music?

I remember being in the classroom at school, and academically I was always pants. In my English lesson we was doing Anthologies, Shakespeare and things like that. I’d be at the back of the class, and in my blazer I used to wear headphones going down my sleeve, so I’d be leaning on the table with my hand over my ear listening to tunes all day. Instead of doing my coursework I was listening to Nas, 2pac, Eminem, Dre, Snoop Dogg, NWA. All the original legends. I’d illegally streamed them from Limewire against my mum’s will – she was like: ‘no you can’t have any swear words’. So I actually remember I had a separate MP3 player just for all my bad ones that I’d hide away. The other one was on show with like Adele, and Ed Sheeran, things like that. So yeah, the original legends – it all spurred from there. I realised that I could rhyme, but only to music. I didn’t know I was gonna be a rapper but I knew that would be my field. It always gave me this feeling that I just can’t describe, it’s really weird. That feeling of euphoria, it’s mad. As soon as I connect to the rhyme, to a beat, that just thrilled me so much more than any kind of school work.

Who are your musical heroes? All the above?

There’s a few more. Definitely reggae artists as well. People like Bob Marley really shaped my childhood. Both my parents love Caribbean culture, so just the music, the food – we’re always just vibing to that stuff. More recently Chronixx, Kabaka Pyramid, artists like that – which are reggae artists but they can rap as well – they sing this sweet reggae symphony and then come with a killer verse.

Have you got more music coming this year?

Yeah, I can’t wait to announce it, I’m not stopping. Single, EP, but I won’t give the dates away.

What festivals are you playing with Superdry?

I’m doing Field Day on the Friday. I’m in talks about doing a couple more – I really want to. To know that Field Day is in the park where I grew up: Brockwell Park is in Brixton, it’s a massive connection to my childhood. All my family used to have family picnics like 30-strong there, and it’s so nice to be asked to play there. I feel rooted to that park. I’m so excited. Roll on June.

What’s your favourite Superdry item?

The Surplus Goods cargo pants. I love khaki. They’re fucking awesome.  

3. Santino Le Saint 

Mixing influences as divergent as Nirvana and The Weeknd, producer, guitarist and singer Santino Le Saint is another self-made south Londoner who taught himself to use recording software aged 16. In the last yaer he’s put out an EP, ‘Cloud 304’, several singles, and covered Paolo Nutini’s ‘Diana’ for Mahogany. “No one can ever guess who my idols are,” he says.

How did you get into music initially?

My dad’s a musician and he plays loads of instruments – he used to be in a hip-hop group in Brixton called The 57th Dynasty. He kind of brought me into it and pushed me down the right road. I started writing songs on guitar and piano when I was about 13, so I was always making music, playing in school. I actually fell out of love with playing guitar when I was about 16, but I remember just before I turned 17 I watched a Jimi Hendrix video and I was like: ‘Why am I not playing guitar?’ As soon as that happened I started producing and making music. From 16 until now, 20, is when I really focussed on it.

What was it like starting out as a producer?

My dad’s a producer as well, so I’ve always been around him producing, and also loads of different music – he plays the saxophone, but he produces hip-hop, and he raps, so I think it shows through in my musical heritage. And when it came to me making music, I was like: ‘Well I have to do everything.’ He got me Logic one day and was just like ‘Yeah, these are the buttons – use them’. I wanted to make music but I didn’t have the space or the time or the money to have a band or anything like that, so I was like: ‘Well I might as well just produce’. And then I got better and started making everything myself.

You collaborated with Aaron Unknown recently – how did that come about?

I knew who Aaron was and he knew who I was through our managers, who are good friends of his. We actually bumped into each other at his headline show, and he’s on the same [modelling] agency as me, Select; we ended up doing the Superdry thing together and I was at his show, and we were like: ‘This is mad, we haven’t done anything together, and everything else is aligned’. So he just came round one day: I remember on his way round I already had the song and the beat and the hook, and he came, laid down two verses and it was basically finished in a day. We went through loads of stuff and retouched it when it was finished, but it was really quick.

How Do You Feel?

How Do You Feel?, a song by Aaron Unknown, Santino Le Saint on Spotify

Will you do it again?

Yeah, we already have. We have a couple of songs. We’re actually making music constantly – he was at my house last week. It’s been very good.

How come you chose to cover Paolo Nutini recently?

My manager loves Paolo Nutini and I didn’t really know who Paolo Nutini was, but it was a name that I should have heard before. We were driving to Denmark to shoot a video to one of my songs, called ’98’ and he just played the song, and he was like: ‘This is the best song of all time’ – and it was ‘Diana’. We listened to it and for the three minutes and 50-whatever, the whole car was just silent. Then the ‘Covers’ thing came about and I had to do it.

Who are your musical heroes?

No one can ever guess what my idols are. The Weeknd was obviously a massive influence on me when I started making music, his first album ‘Trilogy’ was crazy for me, made me look at music differently when I was producing at 16 – but I grew up on not only old-school hip-hop like Wu-Tang and stuff like that, I grew up on Slipknot and Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses. If I had five I’d say Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Guns N’ Roses, The Weeknd and Paul Simon.

What have you got coming out this year?

I have an EP coming out in about a month, and then through the summer period I’m going to drop a couple of singles and hopefully at the end of the year I’ll have a mixtape-type thing coming out. I don’t want to call it an album, I don’t want to be too official.

How about festival season?

I’m not sure. If Aaron is doing Field Day there’ll be a strong chance I’ll appear and do our song! But I’m not sure yet.

What’s your favourite Superdry stuff to wear?

There’s this arctic jacket, which I got two sizes up. It’s massive and the hood comes over my face – it’s cool, but it’s getting a bit hot to wear now. I also have a bomber jacket I really like. Me and Aaron always end up wearing it to the same place. We had a shoot at my house and both of us were wearing it.