“Ifeel like I’ve just woken up, and I was always waiting for us.” This line in TSHA‘s rapturous recent single ‘Sister’ is a particularly personal one. While the coronavirus pandemic has been a sobering and tumultuous time for everyone across the globe, the London-based DJ and producer came out of the other side of lockdown with a startling personal revelation.
Back in the first phase of lockdown, TSHA received a friend request from her estranged father on Facebook. Upon visiting his profile, she saw he had also recently become friends with another woman who, after reaching out, TSHA discovered was her half-sister.
“We had a phone call and then just started texting all through lockdown,” she recalls. “We got on really well, and we seemed to connect quickly and easily.” The two then met for the first time when lockdown restrictions were lifted in the UK in the summer. “I met her son: it was nice to meet my nephew for the first time, he’s two. He’s big into diggers, so I bought him this big JCB digger toy.
“We’re still chatting and getting to know each other more, but we got on really well straight away,” she adds of her sister. “I don’t know if there’s something in genetics or not, but…”
This discovery of a new connection is splashed all over ‘Sister’, the lead single from TSHA’s stunning new EP ‘Flowers’. It’s reflected in its artwork, too: a floral burst of colour that visually translates the record’s life-affirming attitude. Right around the time that TSHA discovered her sister she was working on the instrumental for the track, and the story developing before her eyes “made sense and fed into that song”.
‘Sister’, the highlight of the new EP and TSHA’s most exciting statement so far, is based on a house beat that’s punctuated with a joyous, reverb-drowned synth line — the kind that The xx utilise so well. Stabs of psychedelic noise and a whirling string section wash in and out over that chunky beat, but the sense of forward movement and new revelations is undeniable.
Over the past few years, TSHA has gradually developed her reputation as one of the UK’s most exciting new producers. Co-signed by her hero Bonobo (who included her 2018 single ‘Sacred’ on his ‘Fabric Presents’ compilation and previewed an unreleased ‘Flowers’ track on a recent NTS show), her previous singles vibrated with excitement and youthful exuberance. “The emotion in the songs reflects me and how I’m feeling, or how I want to feel,” she explains. “If it’s uplifting, I’m trying to lift myself up.”
Following on from the pulsating beginnings of ‘Sister’, ‘Flowers’ pushes TSHA forwards into supremely exciting new places. A palm-muted guitar riff snakes its way through the dark and dangerous ‘Renegade’ before joyous house returns on new single ‘Change’, which is bolstered by vocals from Gabrielle Aplin, who TSHA met while at a writing camp last year.
“I’m not normally a fan of engineered situations. There were some big people at the camp, and it felt like we were put in the back room, which you had to walk through the office to get to,” she recalls with a laugh. “But we all got on and took our time, and we were so chill about it. Gabrielle’s got a beautiful voice.” The vocals that Aplin recorded that day ended up on a new instrumental of ‘Change’, which was written during lockdown.
“When I’m missing the endorphins of DJing, I’m left with a hole”
Then there’s closing track ‘Demba’, a carnival of celebratory dance music with vocals from Malian singer Trio Da Kali. Across these four tracks, TSHA puts down her marker to be London’s next DJ hero.
Alongside the EP, TSHA has also become the go-to producer over the past year for indie bands who are on the hunt for a danceable remix makeover. Reworking tracks by the likes of Declan McKenna (“I love his quirkiness, he’s so different”) and Foals (“[Yannis Philippakis] seems like a huge electronic music fan”), her versatility as a producer is also coming starkly into focus.
TSHA and the dance music scene at large, however, remain in a desperately difficult time. While 89% of the grassroots music venues in England who applied for their share of the government’s £1.57 billion arts bailout received significant funding, culturally vital dance venues such as Printworks, The Egg, Studio 338, Oval Space and The Pickle Factory were unsuccessful. Though some singer-songwriters and bands have been able to return to a semblance of live music normality with socially distanced sit-down gigs, the idea of cramming into a club still feels a mile off — and TSHA is getting the itch.
While live streams hosted by the likes of Boiler Room had been a vital part of dance music culture for years prior to the pandemic (and have continued to do so throughout this year), the replication of a sweaty club environment can only translate online for so long. Having been a shoo-in for success back in March, it’s cruel that the pandemic has denied TSHA the chance to become one of this year’s great “after-hours” finds at festivals across the country.
“I’m quite an introvert, so unless I’m forced out, I don’t really go out,” she says. “But having been in this situation now for so long, I realise how important interactions are. When I’m missing the endorphins of DJing, I’m left with a hole.”
TSHA has instead taken to hosting her own private dance parties to accompany techno live streams. “Before [the pandemic] you just watched them, but now I sit there like: ‘Let’s go out! I’m ready!’” she laughs, pumping her fist.
TSHA’s friend and fellow London DJ Effy has taken it to the next level, with the former revealing through fits of laughter: “She was at a food market, and they had a DJ pumping some techno from the speakers very quietly. She just went and stood next to the speaker for 30 minutes because she was so happy to hear it!” Whatever works in 2020!
When raves, gigs and festivals do return there will be no better song to soundtrack our deep dive back into the culture than ‘Sister’, which deserves to be the euphoric, life-giving anthem of festival season 2021. Until then, though, TSHA will continue to pine for the club with her living room raves and press on with work on her debut album.
“I’m listening to a lot of music and drawing inspiration and ideas from people, and trying to think what I want the whole thing to sound like,” she says about the album’s current progress.
But, most importantly of all, TSHA says she “wants to make sure that I’m always changing: because of the EPs, people shouldn’t be confused when they hear the album.” Bring it on.
TSHA’s new EP ‘Flowers’ is out on November 13 via Ninja Tune