NME Radar: Breakout

Venbee: thrilling, cathartic drum ‘n’ bass from ‘Messy In Heaven’ hitmaker

Following years of health issues, the planets are finally aligning for Erin Doyle as her thoughtful and dynamic tunes race up the charts

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

“Writing songs has always been a way for me to feel, not normal, but like everyone else,” says drum ‘n’ bass artist Venbee. Unable to read properly until the age of 18 due to her dyslexia, the Kent-based musician – real name Erin Doyle – would freestyle and memorise lyrics “to not feel debilitated with something,” she says. “It also gave me a burn inside, like I had a point to prove.”

This personal health issue isn’t the only challenge the 21-year-old has had to overcome, though; Doyle has battled with her confidence since her teenage years, to the point where she nearly gave up on pursuing her songwriting dreams. “As I got older, I was told I needed a backup plan because it all wasn’t going to work out,” she says, having juggled music with working as a personal trainer, and doing shifts in her local pub. “But I don’t give up on things – I never had a Plan B.”

Instead of letting the naysayers win, Doyle took to TikTok earlier this year, in hopes that her neon-hued sound would reach a global audience. Back in March, she uploaded a clip of the then-unfinished ‘Low Down’, her collaboration with songwriter Dan Fable. Despite depression being its central lyrical focus – “I’m in the deep end / It’s dark and it’s scary in here / Treading water is hard when you’re chained to the pier”, Venbee sings over brooding breakbeats production – the track became a hit on the app, and allowed Doyle to progress from working as an independent artist to signing with Columbia Records, home to Lil Nas X and Grimes.

It’s no exaggeration to say, then, that song – which has racked up over 21 million streams on Spotify alone – changed Doyle’s life. As her second single, the “anti-drug anthem” ‘Messy In Heaven’ (with Northampton producer Goddard), breaks into the UK Top Ten, she talks to NME about the power and limitations of TikTok, and leading the new British drum ‘n’ bass scene with her friends PinkPantheress and Piri.

‘Low Down’, your debut single as Venbee, went viral in March. What’s the story behind that track? 

“I wrote the lyrics at 3am lying in bed, and got inspired because I had my old iPhone 4 to hand… I used to voicenote my thoughts as a diary because I couldn’t write them down. When I found [my old phone] that evening, I realised I was in a dark place back then. The song is so raw; the verses really go into how low I was feeling at that time, and I think that translated – lots of people have felt like that, and that’s why [the track] worked.

Why did you decide to post the track to TikTok?

“I’d just eaten a sandwich and some crisps, and was sitting in my mom’s garden wearing a bucket hat, charity shop clothes and some Air Force [trainers] – and then I filmed the video. I don’t know why I thought I would put it online despite it being unfinished, but because my posts were only getting two likes, I put it up. I checked back [on the app] and it was on 10k, then 50k, then 100k… I genuinely think I just got lucky. The success kept me going as I still needed to get the song finished. It was the most stressful week of my life, but we managed to get it out in two weeks and then watched it flourish.”

Before you signed with a major label, you released the track independently. Why was it important for you to do that? 

“Sometimes, when things go viral on TikTok, they don’t translate into streams when the song’s out, so I was really nervous about putting the track out there. But I was focused on releasing it independently because I wanted to prove something to myself.”

Do you think going viral online can limit artists? 

“I get called a ‘one-hit wonder’ all the time. But when you put yourself out there on the internet, not everyone’s going to like it and be a fan. People will say what they want, because they have the right to their own opinion. Personally, any hate gives me energy to prove myself. It fuels the fire.”

venbee producer
Credit: Caitlin Ricaud

You’re now leading a new drum ‘n’ bass scene. Have you always been a fan of the genre? 

“I was 18 when I went to my first rave, but I listened to drum ’n’ bass a lot before that. Rudimental – who I’ve recently been in sessions with – got me into the sound, then Friction and Hybrid Minds. Drum ‘n’ bass comes in waves where it’s really big, then trickles back down to the community, but now [the sound] having a massive mainstream moment. It’s also lovely to have been fully accepted into the community. I’m just a normal girl from Chatham, coming in all guns blazing.”

“People are now realising how cool dirty bass is. There’s loads of different types of drum ’n’ bass but liquid, right now, is popping; with Goddard, who produced ‘Messy In Heaven’, especially – it’s gone crazy. It’s a sound that tickles the brain.”

You’re in group chat with other young, female drum ‘n’ bass artists. How important has that support network been to you?

“The group chat is called ‘Ladies Making Noise in London’, and includes Piri, Willow Kayne, Charlotte Plank, A Little Sound and Charlotte Haining – it’s for female creators and artists to support each other, rather than be put against each other. It’s great watching everyone’s journeys move forward at the same time, because we’re going through it all together.”

“Any hate gives me energy to prove myself. It fuels the fire.”

And you also recently toured with Piri & Tommy…

“It was so fun! I’d never performed before so I was super nervous, but when you’re on stage it feels like a blur. It happens so quickly that you want to instantly do it all over again. I’ve never felt a buzz like it. When I went on tour with them, I didn’t have any equipment, so I used my friend’s laptop, Piri’s soundpack, and I had to use their equipment. Piri is a calming person, so she was lovely about it. She and Tommy probably understood how I felt; a mix of nerves and excitement.”

Credit: Caitlin Ricaud

What’s the message of your second single, ‘Messy In Heaven’? 

“It’s an anti-drug anthem: someone I’m close with has gone through a really difficult time with drug addiction. It’s a song about someone that doesn’t put themself first and finds themself in a really dark place. Metaphorically, it’s saying that no matter who you are, you can still fall down a difficult path – and it’s nobody’s fault. I’m aware it’s a controversial message, but it’s also a conversation starter.

“The track is doing really well at the moment, and it’s matching ‘Low Down”s progression. We’re super excited about it and I just want to see how far the song can go and where it can reach.”

How important has TikTok been to your career so far? 

“I wouldn’t be anywhere without TikTok. It’s such a powerful tool for artists because we have nothing else to promote music right now. The reason I rinse my songs on there so much is to get to these levels; there’s seven billion people in the world that need to hear it, so I’m going to keep rinsing it until that happens.”

What has been the most surreal moment of your breakout year?

“I played at Printworks for Spotify’s altar party in September, and earlier this summer at All Points East festival before Disclosure, which was the best show of my entire life. I thought nobody was going to come but there were so many people there. It was crazy, I loved it. Seeing my face on a billboard in Stratford, London, too; I took my mum and didn’t know what to do after. That was a moment and a half…

“All of this has been a big transition, and obviously my work life has massively changed, but I still live at home with my family. Everything in my personal life is normal and has stayed the same because I want it kept that way. I’m not about the ‘high life’, I like chilling with friends and family, and my feet are very much still on the ground.”

Venbee’s new single ‘Messy In Heaven’ (with Goddard) is out now

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