From: London via Dublin
Sounds like: Badass, kaleidoscopic electronica with the vocal clout of Yukimi Nagano and Missy Elliott
For fans of: M.I.A., FKA Twigs, Björk
It’s hard to believe Bonzai when she says she “had no real plans” motivating her move from Dublin to London aged 17. Straight out of school she enrolled in a music college in the capital and within a year she was doing backing vocals for Nao. From there she was introduced to Guernsey producer prodigy Mura Masa (aka Alex Crossan), now a great friend, with whom she’s collaborated and toured numerous times. Autumn 2016 saw her reaching even greater heights, playing to upwards of 10,000 people while supporting Aussie electro experimentalist Flume on his European tour, and releasing ‘Lunacy’, her third EP of juddering, shape-shifting electronica. It’s been a speedy ascent for this striking new musical personality.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise: Bonzai has iconic mavericks for heroes. First up she names Björk – “she doesn’t really seem to care about structure, she just does what she wants” – then Erykah Badu, whose records her Irish dad and American mum used to play at their home in Ireland. Rihanna, too, gets a namecheck – “what she puts across is who she actually is” – and so do Death Grips. “Death Grips,” she says simply, “just don’t give a fuck”.
You get the sense speaking to the 20-year-old that neither does she, except where it counts. Bonzai is signed to a major label, Sony, and has concerns that “it might be a bit of a struggle” keeping creative control there. “I said to them that I’m not really going to come out with any bubbly bangers,” she recalls, “but we’ll see. They’ve been really cool so far.”
In a similar vein, she wants the focus to fall on her music, not her appearance. Her friend Mica Warren animates her videos and designs illustrations for her artwork – because, she explains, “Too much lies on looks, especially with female artists, and I didn’t want to do that for the start”. So when it comes to her “weird, cool” forthcoming album, she says, “I don’t think I’ll be putting my face on it.” With vocals this insistent and production this deft, there’s really no need. Larry Bartleet
My goal for 2017 is: “To make a really interesting album. I’m going to put a lot of time into it. There’ll definitely be a few different elements in it, but the goal is to tie them in nicely together.”
The one thing you need to know about me is: “I’m doing what I like and I hope people enjoy it. My music isn’t really like anything else – it might have elements of M.I.A. or Missy Elliott or something, but I don’t really feel I’m like anyone else. I’m just doing what interests me and I hope people get that.”
See them live: Dublin District 8 (December 30)
Essential track: ‘I Did’