Over the past 30 years, garage has become an integral influence on areas of the UK music scene. In 2001, So Solid Crew’s pacy MC-ing on ‘21 Seconds’ led them to topping the charts; a year later, The Streets’ seminal ‘Original Pirate Material’ cribbed from the funky sounds of old-school ‘90s garage to craft a generation-defining debut record. It’s not a surprise, then, that we still celebrate the sometimes forgotten genre by way of homage. Making sparky renditions of the hidden sounds of garage, drum and bass, and jungle is 20-year-old PinkPantheress, whose songs have become some of the most popular sounds on TikTok and beyond.
Fans from all over the world have spent the past year (virtually) documenting their lives to her music, however, it took PinkPantheress some time to allow the world to catch a glimpse of her. Being a part of a digitally-savvy generation, she has managed to shelter under a cloak of invisibility online – all because she wanted people to hear her music before seeing her. And with the music video for recent single ‘Just For Me’ (produced by hitmaker Mura Musa), the Bath-born artist offered her first face reveal, though she insists that she is “enjoying the limelight right now” with the current level of privacy that she has. Even with her penchant for mystery, she’s become one of the UK’s biggest breakthrough artists of the year – despite the fact that people barely know who she is.
Until now. Finally ready to talk to NME over Zoom, PinkPantheress tells us all about her TikTok fame, her garage expertise, and why she believes that Americans should dig deeper into the UK’s musical history.
For a good amount of time, you kept your identity hidden. Why?
“I think it’s down to how much you put out there. I wanted this to be more about the music than how I presented myself. It’s about how much you can control, and you can’t control everything, but I’ve decided that I can sometimes be incognito. It’s nice that people are interested, but also feel like, ‘Well, I can only give them what I want to give them’. I love the privacy I have as of right now.”
Did you think you’d ever be in this position?
“I’ve wanted to be an artist my whole life, but I kind of suppressed it because I thought that the chances of it actually happening were slim to none, and it also wasn’t really in keeping with what I was doing at the time. It’s been something that I have wanted to do since I was 10. When I was in school, I was leaning more towards a career in film. I’m still at university to do film – and I’m not planning to drop out. I’m going to stay here as long as I can, yet I do feel like film is a closed book for me. But it’s not fully closed because I still love it and I want to direct videos.”
What was the moment in which you wanted to become PinkPantheress?
“I’d say it was when I saw Paramore live at Reading Festival when I was younger, and I saw Hayley Williams on stage. She was doing something that I wanted to do, so I thought I’d better start manifesting early so I can get there.
“Performer-wise, Hayley Williams is a big influence; she’s amazing and one of my favourites in this game. I have never seen someone have so much fun on stage and look so effortless while doing it. I was so jealous of her.”
What has been blowing up on TikTok done for your career?
“I tried all the other options in terms of getting my music out there – and I feel like TikTok was my saving grace. I was using TikTok anyway just to watch videos, but the idea of it being used as a music-sharing platform struck my mind one day when I made a video with zero followers and it kind of did well. I don’t want to use TikTok to promote my music forever, but as a leg-up, it’s truly amazing for a new musician.
“I wanted this to be more about the music than how I presented myself”
Central Cee recently sampled you on his new single, ‘Obsessed With You’…
“I’m not going to lie to you, I am such a big Central Cee fan! And when I saw his message I was like, ‘You know what? Obviously, it’d be a yes’. I’m super excited it’s out. I think it’s great. I’ve always wanted to be a sampled artist, and I’m glad that process starts with an artist like him.”
Where does your love for the garage and drum and bass samples you use come from?
“If you’d listen to my music and think, ‘No one’s done that before’, then it’s probably because of my melodies. Typically the people who sample garage are rappers, which is super cool; artists take modern songs and make them garage hits, like AJ Tracey’s ‘Ladbroke Grove’. I’m a big fan of that.
“For me, what I want to do – because I’m super lazy – is to take a garage beat that I really, really like and chop it down a bit, make a loop out of it, and then sing on top of it. There’s no one in the UK that doesn’t like garage, so it’s that with a twist.”
Do you think that your music is a gateway to garage and other UK club genres?
“My music isn’t the standard for garage. It also isn’t the standard for drum and bass, or jungle. I don’t even want to box my music into any of those genres for many reasons, one of them being that I believe that what I’m doing with my music and the samples is just me dipping my toe into the pool. If you want to dive in, you need to look at the earlier drum and bass, garage, and jungle stuff.
“You can’t just listen to my stuff and think, ‘Yeah, this is it!’. You have to go back to the roots and listen to Shy FX, Adam F, Shola Ama – you need to listen to all of them to get a taste of what it’s all about. That’s something that’s super important for me to share with everyone – I don’t want to act like I’ve done anything that hasn’t been done before.
“UK garage has been around forever, but I don’t know if Americans grew up with it like we did. A lot of them might think it’s a new thing – take a dive and listen to some old records.”
How did you learn about these seminal UKG and club artists?
“It came from three things. One: YouTube. Two: my mum’s car. Three: from being a British teenager and being in London a lot, even though I’m not from there. I found that going to parties and being in the car with my friends, who are really into garage, exposed me to this music.”
And what comes next?
“There’s definitely a body of work on the way, so watch this space. There are a few things in between that I shan’t give away since you know that I am a lover of mystery. The project is a bit of a mixtape, more than an EP, but all I can say is that it’s coming out some time next month, and it’s a bit dark.
“Eclectic? You can be the judge of that. But I hope to have the same amount of love for this record as I’ve gotten already at the start of my career. It’s been really nice to see everyone react this way to my music. I just hope that I’ve just created a moment.”
PinkPantheress’ latest single ‘Just For Me’ is out now