NME Radar: Breakout

Skaiwater: Lil Nas X tourmate has the scope and ambition of an EDM pioneer

The Nottingham-raised artist on working with Lil Uzi Vert, the influence of Jersey club music and keeping it DIY

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

By embracing a DIY mindset and cleverly combining rave-ready beats with emotionally charged lyrics, Skaiwater is quickly becoming a dance music superstar in the making. The 22-year-old seamlessly combines a cluster of sounds to create music that taps into a range of emotions and narrates the experience of adolescence. “I go from an emotional standpoint rather than going with what sounds hardest,” they tell NME over Zoom. “It’s all that I feel at the time. I look inward.”

Having just released their new mixtape ‘Rave’, Skaiwater (real name Tyler Brooks) is at the forefront of a new wave of Gen Z producers and lyricists who are defying genre and fusing a multitude of sounds together. Skaiwater grew up in Nottingham and was surrounded by UK club sounds such as garage and bass music. “I guess the whole of the UK has a lot of rave culture, especially around multicultural communities of colour,” Skaiwater says. “I try and take everything like this into account when recording.”

They also credit the internet for introducing them to the music that influences their current sound, including US rap, Jersey club and EDM. Skaiwater’s tracks ‘#miles’ and ‘Eyes’ mix these sounds together, and both songs have since gone viral on TikTok. The former even caught the attention of Lil Uzi Vert, who features on a recent remix of the track. “My first Uzi interaction was surreal for sure!” Skaiwater recalls. “I was still in Nottingham when we first worked together, which added to the surreal element of working with Uzi.”

The internet is also where Skaiwater met Lil Nas X, who they just supported on the latter’s UK and European tour. “Touring [with Lil Nas X] was a learning curve,” they explain. “I had a wild experience the other day: I saw one girl singing every word of my songs. I had to go into the crowd and sing with her because that was the first time I’d seen and experienced something like that. There were 11,000 people [there], and I had to go in and share my love with her.”

As well as working with these two big names, Skaiwater also tells NME about getting emotional in the club, finding like-minded creatives on TikTok and keeping it DIY.

NME: Growing up, where did you find your musical community?

Skaiwater: “Definitely online. There wasn’t much for me in Nottingham coming up, [but] I met a lot of my good friends who I still work with now through the internet. I think it was a slow burn. But slowly I’ve been meeting people that resonate with me in real life.”

How did you first discover EDM and Jersey club music?

“For EDM and just dance music in general, it was hearing a lot of similar music growing up that had an impact [on me]. I started getting into like Skrillex, Knife Party and Nero, then I completely got out of EDM and dance music and listened to a lot of Drake and Travis [Scott]! I then properly got into Jersey club music last year. When [New Jersey rapper] Bandmanrill first put out ‘Heartbroken’ [in March 2021], that’s when I first clocked what Jersey club was as a culture, and it’s what educated me. Working with DJ Sliink really helped, he educated me a lot, [and] I did a lot of my own research into where it comes from. I love looking into all the dances, like the DollarBoyz: there’s so much culture. I feel like it needs to be more appreciated.”

Skaiwater
Skaiwater (Picture: Joe Perry / Press)

It’s fascinating to watch Jersey club influencing popular music at the moment.

“100%. There’s a real movement of people who created this sound, and they deserve recognition. The fact that it was its own culture with no outside influence, that’s what made me resonate with this sound. It’s like pirate radio stations: the family and community aspects of all of these things connect with me because those are my values in life, and not just in music.”

What are you typically like at the rave?

“It depends. If I’m with my friends in Nottingham, you don’t wanna know! I go to parties and events with different circles of friends, so every experience is different. I make sure the music I go out to is good, too. I go to experience the room, I like learning from it. I even cried at the club like last week, just before I left Nottingham. I have cried in the club bare times. Sensory overload.”

Did you expect ‘#miles’ and ‘Eyes’ to take off in the way that they have?

“It was a best-case scenario in my head. Obviously I was considering the virality and business model online, but I was really just trying to build my own community [with the songs]. I like looking at the edits of the songs [on TikTok], just the random stuff. I didn’t expect that at all! You really resonate with artists who create new content around your music. The aim was to grow my community, but I didn’t expect it to be those songs.”

“I’ve cried in the club bare times. [It’s a] sensory overload”

Beyond music, did you find a new community on TikTok?

“Yeah, definitely. I found photographers, videographers and a bunch of artists who I’m now really close to. I’ve met people who make t-shirts for me on TikTok! It’s all your own content, so you can see exactly what they’re about.”

You’re pretty low-key on Instagram, though. Is that intentional, or just a case of social media fatigue?

“I guess it can be both: I don’t need it, I don’t feel like I need to post [on Instagram]. I have a private Instagram I post [on] twice a day, but my main page is just a billboard-type platform. I can’t post what I want on it: it’s definitely corporate. I think [Instagram is] still essential for a lot of people, so it still has some relevance. If I interact with people it’s also on Instagram, especially other bigger artists.”

There are so many TikTok videos of you singing with your fans while performing live. What goes through your mind when you’re on stage seeing people singing back at you?

“At the time it’s a complete impulse. I just like seeing people happy, and I want the audience to be having a good time. It’s different in every situation, but most of the time I just love seeing people happy and in that human moment. I want to give everyone who paid for a ticket a good experience.”

Skaiwater
Skaiwater (Picture: Joe Perry / Press)

Did you teach yourself how to produce?

“My dad showed me how to use some software when I was younger, but I went back and learned how to make sounds that appeal to me. I played around and found what I want. He showed me what production was, and mixing and recording. But I took that and learned how to do it. I definitely get it from him.”

Why is it important for you to uphold a DIY ethos in everything you do as an artist?

“I try to take things into my own hands if I know they won’t be handled by anyone else. With videos, before ‘#miles’ and ‘Eyes’, I didn’t get much of a budget – I was in Nottingham by myself. But the pandemic and a lot of stuff just forced me to do it myself, and that came with a lot of figuring out myself as an artist, too. A lot of people forget that you need a lot of help, and everyone that I’m surrounded by now is great and enthusiastic. It won’t be as DIY in the future because I have more of a support system now.”

Skaiwater’s new mixtape ‘Rave’ is out now

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