“When I was a kid I used to buy NME magazine every week so I’m honoured I was even thought about,” says Nia Archives, nominated for Best Producer at the BandLab NME Awards 2022 tomorrow evening (March 2). “I was obsessed with NME growing up, so it’s very full circle,” she says. Even getting a spot on The NME 100 – our top tips for the year ahead – was “a really wholesome moment, too. Childhood me would be screaming!”
The Bradford-born, Leeds-raised 22-year-old DJ, producer, vocalist and label boss – who has already collaborated with Lava La Rue and PinkPantheress – has come a long way from teaching herself to produce, aged just 16. After moving from Leeds to Manchester and being inspired by Roots Manuva, Burial and Roni Size, she started to work with other producers but found that “they were being really long, so I decided to do it myself”. She became frustrated by their inefficiency and downloaded “a cracked version” of Logic (the production software), learning how to make beats from scratch. “I was really bad at the start,” she laughs, but “it was difficult to translate all the different ideas I had in my head into real real life”.
Going raving became Nia’s way of meeting people and making friends, but it was moving to London several years later that got her into the jungle and drum ‘n’ bass scene, a community she’s been embedded in ever since. “I’m obsessed with jungle and I listen to it all the time. I’ve watched every jungle documentary and one of the most important things to me was getting to know all the originals, like DJ Flight, Storm, Clipz, DJ Die and DJ Randall.”
Now, Nia Archives brings the ethos of the jungle scene she grew up loving to a new generation, providing a gateway through her music. Having gone through “some really tough times” – Nia has lived on her own since she was 16 – she describes her music as a form of therapy. Her music initially tackled “trying to navigate life as a teenager, but also having all the adult responsibilities. That was difficult, but it made me make more interesting music because I’ve got lots to talk about.”
This vulnerability and openness was evident on her debut EP, ‘Headz Gone West’, released on Nia’s own imprint, HIJINXX, last April. “I feel like I’m really real in my music – I put myself into it,” she says. “I think it’s important to be honest with people because nobody else has got my story. It’s me sharing my truth and hoping people can relate to it.”
On her upcoming EP ‘Forbidden Feelingz’ (March 10) Nia touches on topics like her own mental health and body dysmorphia; on rumbling heartbreaker ‘Gud Gudbyez’ she sings “I was giving you all this love that I could’ve gave to myself / Started working on my mental health / ‘Cos I know that I have only got myself”. The poignant guitar-loop-led ‘Luv Like’, awash with rolling breakbeats, similarly focuses on the importance of self-love, as she sings “to think that you could ever love someone like me / ‘Cos I’m far from perfection, I guess you seeing me differently”. “The EP is about where I’m at in my life right now” and “learning how to deal with life”.
Nia also sees it as her “flag in the sand” moment as a producer. “A lot of people still don’t think I produce my own stuff, which annoys me. I’m sure if I was a guy, nobody would be asking if I produce my own stuff… and I’ve had that a lot.”
As this is her most sonically-detailed and multi-layered release to date, she hopes ‘Forbidden Feelingz’ will silence the sceptics and put an end to the misogyny. Not only is it designed to be heard at sweaty warehouses on towering sound systems, but Nia is keen to “show people my growth as a producer; you’ll definitely hear how I’ve developed my sound”.
It’s not just Nia’s sound that’s evolved, though, as her live sets demonstrate. Having grown up with soundsystem culture and seen her uncles toasting at family parties, her hybrid performance incorporates DJing, singing and hyping up the crowd on the mic. “I think it makes it more interesting,” she says. “I go for it! I’m not one of these DJs that just stands behind the decks. I’m raving as well, because I’m there to have a good time, too. That’s important because, if you see a DJ skanking out, you’re definitely going to want to skank out, too!”
To now be representing the younger generation of jungle, Nia feels “honoured to be a part of the movement, especially being a Black woman producing this music, as I don’t think they had Black women producing jungle in the ‘90s. Now, I hope I’m pioneering the sound and pushing it forward.”
Nia also wants to improve female representation and open doors for other women to get into the scene: “Drum ‘n’ bass and jungle raves nowadays are always male-dominated – it’s usually loads of young, white men, which is cool but, back in the day, it was a proper mix. I’m passionate about getting black girls and young people to see themselves in this music because, obviously, it is music of Black origin, even though that’s rarely recognised.”
This ambition is already becoming reality: Nia’s noticed the crowds at her gigs being far more gender-balanced than the genre typically attracts. At a recent gig at Brighton’s Patterns “all I could see at the front was loads of Black girls, which is amazing. I hope I can help push that forward and make people feel more included and like anybody can listen to the music and come to the events: it’s for everyone.”
Nia Archives’ ‘Forbidden Feelingz’ EP is out March 10 via her own label HIJINXX