— LCY —

On Bristol, youth clubs, musical theatre, dance, MP3 players, Red Bull Riddim Rally, identity, Six Figure Gang, SZNS7N and the power of telling stories.

(All photos submitted by LCY)

“The beginning of 2020, great, the middle of 2020, awful and the end of 2020 … I would say kinda great”, says LCY — formerly known as L U C Y — reflecting on the tumultuous year that was. Speaking to her from the new warehouse space she calls home alongside 11 other creatives — “they’re all really keen on skill-sharing which is sick” — she was busy prepping for the release of her new single, ‘Garden Of E10’; a record signposting new pathways for her trailblazing SZNS7N imprint.

As a DJ and producer at the core of a new generation of women taking electronic music by storm in the UK, LCY’s seen her profile sky rocket over the last three years. But behind it all, she remains a humble and conscientious person. Her music is powerful, her ideas deep and her moves thoughtful and considered. “I feel like I’ve learned so much just living with so many emotionally intelligent and creative people over the last few months” she says gratefully as we begin our conversation in earnest, “and I think that’s one of the main reasons why the end of 2020 has been so positive for me.”

LCY’s story began in Bristol. She was born in Southmead Hospital in the heart of the city and spent the first few years of her life “moving around a bit” before settling back in Bristol just before she reached school age. She loathed primary school — “my home life was a bit shit, my school life was a bit shit, I was a bad child basically” — but recalls meeting some ‘good people’ at high school and later, a local youth club. It was here, for the first time, that she found her sense of purpose. “I ended up going along to this youth club one day, just to see if it’d straighten me out really”, she says pensively. “It helped me a lot actually because before that, I didn’t feel like I had a lot to hold onto.”

It was a decision that actually owes a lot to chance — and the influence of her mum, a gifted pianist and leader of her local church’s music group. “Before I did anything with music, I actually used to dance in a group called HYPE”, LCY recalls. “It was a street dance group and we were part of a larger performance group which was sick. I actually got put in the women’s team even though I was only 14, I think partly because I just looked really old for my age. Before that even, my mum used to send me along to a little dance school called 344 Dance Centre in Fishponds during the summer holidays while she was at work. I did quite a bit of dance there and also musical theatre shows too, which were incidentally my first introduction to jazz. And later on I discovered more through Limewire, obviously. They were probably my key influences to be honest … my mum’s piano and dance in various different forms … Irish dancing, ballet, street dance, dancing in front of music videos, all the good stuff.”

“They were probably my key influences to be honest … my mum’s piano and dance in various different forms … Irish dancing, ballet, street dance, dancing in front of music videos, all the good stuff.”

“I didn’t make the mixed performance group for HYPE one year and I was absolutely gutted”, she continues. “Honestly, I was devastated. I was almost at that point where I felt like I was never gonna amount to anything and then I remember my mum telling me she’d just got a leaflet through the door for a youth club that offered help with music. She knew I’d always wanted to try music … I mean she’d been teaching me piano since I was about four years old and I still couldn’t play it for shit … so I went down one day. I ended up going three times a week and stopped going to dance altogether. That was how it all started for me. I was just hooked.”

LCY’s early musical tastes centred around hip-hop, from golden era 90s classics to Lil Wayne’s ’Tha Carter III’ — “that album was my holy grail” — before Freeview music channels started opening her eyes to music closer to home. “Flava, Channel U and later AKA … they were my favourites to be honest”, she says, laughing. “I used to flick through them like I would radio stations and just move from video to video. Then Limewire came along and I was able to turn those moments, those videos, into an actual music collection.”

“Hang on, this is a jokes story actually”, she continues. “I remember I entered this nationwide school drawing competition in association with Disney in year six and it was basically about coming up with ways you could torture your sibling over the summer holidays. Anyway, I remember just getting a call one day like, ‘Lucy, you’ve won!’ and I couldn’t believe it. I dropped everything and was like ‘Yesss, I’m going to Disneyland!’ and then the person on the other end of the phone was like, ‘Oh no, sorry, you won the runner’s up prize so we’ll be sending you an MP3 player’. I was half gutted but also like, ‘fuck yes I’ve got my own MP3 player’. I ended up recording songs using Audacity and sticking them on it, which in the long run, turned out to be way more beneficial than a trip to Disneyland.”

“I remember I entered this nationwide school drawing competition in association with Disney in year six and it was basically about coming up with ways you could torture your sibling over the summer holidays.”

LCY’s youth club, Basement Studios, which as of two years ago is sadly no longer running, quickly became a home from home, as it had done for fellow Bristol mainstays like Blazey Bodynod and Hi5Ghost before her. Under the tutelage of local DJ and volunteer, DJ Dazee, she soon found her rhythm. “DJ Dazee used to bring along her vinyl decks and Serato box”, LCY recalls, “and there was also this big bin of vinyl there, which local people would donate records to. It meant you’d basically have a load of crusty old records to mix with … the majority of it was jungle if I remember rightly. Basically what we’d do is find two records from the same producer and mix them into one another and then back again. The records were so beaten up but it was sick. All I’d wanted to do when I got there was learn to DJ so it was a really good feeling but it did always take ages to get a slot on the decks. There was a load of Macs sitting around so I remember one day thinking to myself, ‘right I’m gonna teach myself how to produce’. A lot of people that went to this youth club were punks who’d use the space to take drugs and spin around on the chairs with their friends even though it was a designated music spot, so the people there were really encouraging of me trying to learn. It was so nice to be encouraged to do something. I literally remember leaving one day and it was beautiful and sunny out, Mari (DJ Dazee) had been teaching me some DJ stuff and basic production, I’d made this terrible, terrible tune out of an old Billie Holiday sample and I just remember walking to get the bus and just feeling so, so gassed, thinking ‘this is what I’m gonna do’. It’s been fixed in my mind ever since.”

“I literally remember leaving one day and it was beautiful and sunny out, Mari (DJ Daisy) had been teaching me some DJ stuff and basic production, I’d made this terrible, terrible tune out of an old Billie Holiday sample and I just remember walking to get the bus and just feeling so, so gassed, thinking ‘this is what I’m gonna do’.”

“I’m a firm believer in the power of youth clubs”, she continues, voice suddenly firmer, “because they really helped me and changed my perspective and my prospects entirely. I’m really, really fucking gutted that not just that one shut down, but so many across the country too. It’s something I want to address in the future when I have the means to do so.”

With funding suddenly crumbling, LCY found herself unable to access the Mac room at the youth club once she got to college. It was a initially hammer blow — “I used to literally lock myself away in there three times a week and just desperately try and write or finish as many tunes as I could so to have that taken away was hard” — but undeterred, LCY moved colleges on the basis of Cotham Sixth Form mirroring the same production software. Juggling her time at Cotham with a part time job at a supermarket, she managed to save up enough money to buy herself her own Mac, which itself proved a gateway to being accepted to study a Music Production degree at the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM). “It was the best feeling in the world saving up and then buying that Mac”, LCY says warmly. “It meant that for the first time, I could produce music at home and that’s actually the time that I started to release my own music as well. From there, I went to uni but to be honest, it was shit. I was based in Guildford, which is probably the worst place I’ve ever been to in my life. I didn’t vibe with anyone, I didn’t vibe with the city and I didn’t leave my room much aside from going to and from work. I didn’t actually realise that I’d signed up for a private course either, which meant there were no halls of residence and I had to pay extra fees. I just remember working so many terrible shifts, but I got through it over the two years. I might not have attended many lectures but I suppose it did give me the time to focus on purely my music, so I have to be thankful for that.”

After a brief spell back in Bristol, LCY returned to London not long after leaving Guildford, armed with a sound she’d been honing for the best part of two years and a belief that she’d make it somehow, somewhere. “My early music was heavily sample based and really badly mixed”, she explains, “and it was definitely more melodic and probably happier than the music I make now. I was still heavily influenced by my own eclectic tastes and also my mum’s piano and her take on chords and stuff like that. I was actually listening to a lot of darker, heavier stuff like dubstep and grime at the time but my own music … I dunno, it’d just always be these little bops and upbeat dance tracks, which I never really warmed to. The first track I ever released was called ‘Always Ready’ which I released in college, I’m not sure if you’ve heard it before? I made a video for it too. I went to London with my best friend and I filmed it on a little camera … ah man, my uncle’s even replied in the YouTube comments saying ‘super cool and really innovative’.”

Released in 2014, it formed an early primer of sorts to 2017’s ‘Mixtape 01’, a rough-and-ready collection of 12 tracks made while LCY was at university in Guildford. “It was the first time I’d really used key production techniques consistently in different tracks”, she recalls. “Like, I’ve always been a fan of Disclosure, more as an observer than anything else, but I remember hearing them on the radio one day and the presenters being like, ‘they’ve got such a distinct sound’ and that stayed with me. I was like, ‘A sound? What is a sound? How do you define a sound?’. I realised that, through trial and error, it’s basically keeping those techniques the same and finding out your favourite ways of making those techniques work in your music … playing with them, extending them, exaggerating them. I feel like you can hear that for the first time in ‘Mixtape 01’ but before that, there was a lot of trial and error and I don’t want to talk about that period much because it was so terrible! I actually hated the mixtape when I made it but looking back, it was a real catalyst for me. It was a really positive thing.”

“Like, I’ve always been a fan of Disclosure, more as an observer than anything else, but I remember hearing them on the radio one day and the presenters being like, ‘they’ve got such a distinct sound’ and that stayed with me. I was like, ‘A sound? What is a sound? How do you define a sound?’

Although still only a handful of releases deep, LCY had started to make waves — so much so that she received a call shortly afterwards from Red Bull Studios in London, who were on the look out for more female representation for a new grime beat-making competition they were launching in 2017. “I mean they probably shouldn’t have said that to me as a primary reason for the invitation looking back, but I was so, so gassed to be asked”, Lucy says of Riddim Rally, which was comprised of multi-artist regional heats, with the winners earning a place in the final. Although relatively small in scale, Riddim Rally launched at a time when Red Bull were particularly active in UK underground music — from drill to grime to electronic music, they’d become prominent co-opters — and as such, LCY’s involvement would prove to be a key early marker in her career. Winning her heat with ease, she made it through to the Riddim Rally final — hosted live at Red Bull Studios with a watching audience and a cast of guest judges including Faze Miyake, Capo Lee and A.G — alongside Bushido, Sh?m and Anz, who was ultimately crowned the winner. “It was quite surreal”, she admits. “I remember I spent so much time at The University Of Surrey library … and I didn’t even go to Surrey … just setting myself time challenges, making tunes in 10 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour. I was terrible at at first but I noticed the progression quite quickly so it was really helpful long-term. I mean, each artist had to make what were essentially three war riddims in two hours I think it was and then battle it out against the other producers with those tunes. The pressure felt really intense. I was still fresh out the womb in production terms and the fear of embarrassment lit this fire inside of me. I thought to myself, ‘I may lose, I’m not going to win, but I will NOT be embarrassed’. It ended up going really well. I was shitting myself on the day and I was definitely the most self-deprecating person in the room. I’d also had a lot of Red Bulls as well so if I was chatting shit, I was chatting a lot of shit.”

“I remember meeting Sicaria Sound there and I’d been on their radio show previously that year so to meet them in person was sick”, she continues. “There was actually a lot of cool people in the room that day. I met Snoochie Shy, I met Mez there. I think for someone who listened to radio all the time and watched YouTube clips every day and saw these people from afar … to suddenly go from university into that environment was so eye-opening. I got followed on Twitter by quite a few of them afterwards and it honestly felt like some kind of magic was happening.” 

Did the experience give her more confidence, I wondered? “Ah, definitely”, she says. “I used to be too shy to say what I actually did when I met people. A lot of the time if I was going to an event or a show, I’d fan girl over artists and tell them how much I loved their music but almost forget to let people know that I produced as well. I remember that started to change after Red Bull and I’d find myself telling people my mixtape was out and sending Soundcloud links in emails and stuff like that, it was quite funny really. I remember going to Outlook not long afterwards with a load of colourful USBs that I kept a load of my tunes on. I met Novelist at a boat party, gave him one and was like ‘here are my tunes, I’m a producer, my email is on the USB itself’ and we’ve actually talked since, so it kinda worked. He didn’t listen to the USB though. I ended up giving one to someone from Kurrupt FM’s crew as well but they swallowed it like a pill. They took the USB and literally ate it in front of me so I was like, ‘ah well, I’ll be damned’.”

“I remember going to Outlook not long afterwards with a load of colourful USBs that I kept a load of my tunes on. I met Novelist at a boat party, gave him one and was like ‘here are my tunes, I’m a producer, my email is on the USB itself’ and we’ve actually talked since, so it kinda worked. He didn’t listen to the USB though. I ended up giving one to someone from Kurrupt FM’s crew as well but they swallowed it like a pill.”

After returning from Outlook, a slew of releases followed. The first, ‘Locations’, was released on Trapdoor in February 2018 — “it was bittersweet for me because as much as they were great and it was a super sick experience, one tune on there still haunts me” — before she self-released her ‘Primary’ and ’Secondary’ EPs in June and December respectively. “I think I released ‘Primary’ and ‘Secondary’ as a reminder to myself that I should only really release tunes I’m super happy with and in a way that I feel represents me the best”, she says. Heavily sample-based but breaks-y and hi-tempo, they represented a shift in both focus and style that even Joy O picked up on, recently picking out ‘Almost Blue’ from ‘Primary’ for his takeover of the ‘Still Slipping Los Santos’ radio station playlist on Grand Theft Auto V’s most recent update. 

“I wanna touch on the ‘Secondary’ EP a little bit too actually”, LCY continues. “I worked with Rachel Noble on the artwork and it was around the time of the Grenfell tragedy. I didn’t really talk about it at the time because it might have sounded inappropriate but a lot of those tunes … the interludes and the imagery especially … are about Grenfell and the disparity in the UK and how austerity has affected marginalised people. I feel like that previous EPs I’d put out maybe didn’t have that emotional connection to me … they weren’t tracks that had any deeper meaning behind them, you know. Both those EPs were like two sides of the same coin essentially. ‘Primary’ was more about myself and ‘Secondary’ more a reflection of wider society. At that point, that’s what I wanted my music to sound like … a strong representation of emotions and society and people.”

“Both those EPs were like two sides of the same coin essentially. ‘Primary’ was more about myself and ‘Secondary’ more a reflection of wider society. At that point, that’s what I wanted my music to sound like … a strong representation of emotions and society and people.”

With the start of 2019 came SZNS7N and the beginnings of a new era in LCY’s career. Established as a hub for her own music and that of peers and new artists she felt sure to discover, SZNS7N has already laid down a marker as one of UK dance music’s most important new hubs over the last two years. Singular in sound and vision, the only qualifiers are that the music stands up with the rest — including the label’s distinct visual aesthetic — all handled by LCY in-house. Rather than lean on established names, she’s also opted to spotlight producers on the come-up too, with names like zonae, Ship Sket and Muhla cropping up front-and-centre on the label discography. “The label started with my ‘S1N’ EP, which was kinda about inner demons and just getting them out in the open”, LCY explains, “but I wanted the label itself to be multi-disciplinary and more of a platform to encompass everything, really. As time passed, I realised how difficult that was when you’re just one person running a label, so I guess my vision for it has changed a little bit. I remember just after putting ‘S1N’ out, I was playing at Croydub in Prague and both my hard drives broke and it was so chaotic and I didn’t know what to do. I ended up putting a call out on my socials asking for people to send me music and thank God that the Bristol community and the extended London community … basically everyone who has always supported me … sent over an influx of new tunes. Muhla sent me ‘Portland’ and I remember thinking, ’this tune needs a release’ … there was something so magical about it but I just couldn’t place it. I’d had this idea about putting seven tracks out over the course of seven weeks and it just made so much sense for that to be one of them at the time. I feel like a lot of label owners don’t always feel like they can put out just one tune but for me, sometimes a producer might not have written a full record yet and just have this one magical track … and that can be enough.”

“I believe in universal science and Muhla’s ‘Portland’ … he’d moved back to Cornwall from Bristol but came back for one day”, she continues, “and this was before I’d decided to start taking the photos and doing interviews with new artists on the label. I rang him up because I was in Bristol for the day by chance and asked if he was around, not really thinking he would be. It turns out he was at his friends house in Portland Square, so I went to meet him straight away. All the photos we got for that release were taken in Portland Square where he was for literally that one day. So basically, he had a tune called ‘Portland’ that I’d already agreed to sign and put out and he ended up in Portland Square on the off chance on the one day I was in Bristol too. I was just like, ‘wow, there’s some kinda synergy going on’. The same happened with Tailor Jae and Traces, who I’d known individually for quite some time. I remember seeing this tune called ‘Thief’ and seeing their names on it and being like, ‘is that… hang on?’. I didn’t even know they knew each other or that Tailor Jae even produced at the time but again, there was just this synergy I felt. I’ve run the label like that since the beginning. I have to feel a really good energy about both the person and their music. I have to feel like they’re going to use whatever I can give them, as little as that may be, to do some good.”

SZNS7N’s art direction is striking too. Originally functioning around a basic concept that saw LCY take artist press shots and obscure half their faces with white brush strokes, more recently, release artwork has grown more technical and conceptual. “I’m a big fan of a lot of contemporary artists and I’ve always done art on the side”, she explains. “I’ve always found it to be quite intuitive and at the time I was creating SZNS7N, I was looking at a lot of Francis Bacon’s paintings and was experimenting with oil paints. At the time, I wanted to lose my own mask for myself but I still wanted to keep my anonymity. The mask had too many connotations that weren’t related to me or my culture and I felt like I was borrowing massively. Obviously coronavirus has changed that because now masks are a part of our daily lives but at the time, I was reading a lot about the history of the East Asian and South East Asian culture and masks and it just didn’t sit right anymore. I wanted to steer away from that so that’s why I started painting. I hand-painted each one of those covers and it was such a labour of love, but I knew I had to find a new way to carve out an identity for the label.”

(Lijah – ‘Alhassan’ cover art by LCY)

It was this that’d signal LCY’s re-brand from L U C Y to LCY at the start of 2020, heralded by the release of her self-titled ‘LCY’ EP in February. Landing with a new logo and 3D animations designed by Joe Joiner, it marked the latest chapter in the SZNS7N story — and LCY hasn’t looked back since. “I mean I guess the label started out quite messily in some ways and I felt like people can maybe roll with it for a year or so but after a while, they’re gonna expect a better standard”, she says purposefully. EPs by Ship Sket and NARA followed, with NARA’s ‘Ipse Dixit’ cover art — this time designed by Jordan Chappell — particularly distinctive. “She loves Fiat Pandas, like the classic Italian Panda and so I sent Jordan a mood board with some notes and he got it straight away”, LCY says. “We flipped he colours around a bit but it was essentially done pretty quickly. I was nervous because it was the first time I’d worked with an external designer on artwork properly since my Trapdoor release and I’ve always got a really clear vision of how I want things to look. It can be frustrating sometimes, you know.”

(NARA – ‘Ipse Dixit’ cover art by Jordan Chappell)

In and amongst releasing her own material, DJing and presiding over SZNS7N, LCY also spent the best part of 18 months touring the UK as part of 6 Figure Gang — a DJ tour de force super group born out nothing more than friendship and mutual respect. Although having recently left the group, LCY, alongside Sherelle, Jossy Mitsu, Dobby, Fauzia and Yazzus, conjured up some of UK club music’s most defining moments over the course of 2019 & 2020. “We’d all been mates for a long time”, LCY explains, “and there were close links between all of us. There were certain events where we’d all be playing, like I the Keep Hush line-up I curated which Dobby hosted, Jossy playing A.G. and Manara’s club night where we first came up with the name and then we ended up getting the Rinse FM show together. It just kinda snowballed to be honest and we just did stuff that felt right between us. Sherelle putting us on the Boiler Room tour as 6 Figure Gang really catapulted us into the spotlight though, mainly because I don’t think UK club music had seen anything like us before. There was a lot of press opportunities and people gravitated towards us a lot and I think that was purely because it was so genuine.”

“Sherelle putting us on the Boiler Room tour as 6 Figure Gang really catapulted us into the spotlight though, mainly because I don’t think UK club music had seen anything like us before.”

Their contrasting styles behind the decks made for energy-sapping, ceiling-slapping club nights, with records played at breakneck speed and mixed with laser precision, smiles permanently etched on each other’s faces and blends celebrated like last minute winners. “It was a really good fucking thing”, LCY concludes. “I might not be a part of the group anymore, mainly because I felt like I couldn’t be as genuine as I wanted to be when we started, but it was such a good experience and we had a lot of fun.”

Circling back on her own output, LCY is hoping 2021 can usher in the next part of her vision for SZNS7N. New single ‘Garden Of E10’, released on December 18, serves as an introduction to a post-apocalyptic world she’s currently building in narrative form. “I’m writing a story at the moment that I’d like to eventually turn into a comic”, she explains. “The video for ‘Garden Of E10’ basically depicts the third scene in that story and follows this hybrid creature that has a dog’s mouth, a human head and a robot’s torso. It’s set a thousand or so years in the future and basically sees this creature head out into this new world for the first time. It’s a strange concept I guess because I always feel like people know what’s going on in my head but yeah. Ultimately, I just wanna try new things.”

“My favourite, favourite artists in the world … like the people who stay in my heart forever … are the ones that put so much effort into their art”, LCY continues. “You can connect to their music not just visually or sonically but in every way. I wanna be like that. I feel like you’re taught to write stories and imagine things at school but there’s not really a space for people to be weird and create worlds from their imagination that exist just for them anymore. Look at folklore and folk tales passed down over generations, they came from every day people doing every day things … and stories came from that. I just want escapism to be an option for people and hopefully, eventually, everyone can start making their own little stories again.”

LCY’S ‘Garden Of E10’ is out now on SZNS7N:

https://szns7n.bandcamp.com/track/garden-of-e10

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