In partnership with artist Victoria Sin, the London DJ and producer is soundtracking the future — but she never loses her feel for the immediacy of the club.
People say that today’s teens are ahead of their years, but reading up on Mali Larrington-Nelson you realise that Gen Z doesn’t have a monopoly on entrepreneurship. At the age of 13, when most of us didn’t even know how to compile a decent playlist, Shy One was already playing London’s community radio. Since then, she’s become one of the scenes most respected selectors — appearing on RinseFM and NTS, becoming the resident DJ for QTPOC-centred club night and cultural collective BBZ, and developing a reputation as the kind of musical savant who can always drop something unexpected into the mix.
As a producer, she started drawing attention back in 2012 with Bedknobs And Boomkicks, an LP drawing on two-step garage, UK funky and house released via Scratcha DVA’s label, DVA Music. EPs like 2016’s Other Side and 2017’s Waterfalls followed as well as Spoons, a collaborative release with Kwam created off the back of a chance meeting in Wetherspoons. She’s been able to stretch her idiosyncratic sound further via collaborations with Victoria Sin, creating musical responses to the artist’s mediations on future, queer corporeality and desire that have been showcased everywhere from Palais de Tokyo to the Serpentine Gallery.
Londoners might have recently seen her gracing the decks on day four of the Boiler Room Festival in Peckham, whilst those further afield might have caught her appearing in an online video art exhibition in the festival’s Lesbiennale strand with 2 become 1. Created alongside Victoria Sin, the video is a stylised representation of the mating habits of deep sea angler fish, set to a cover of the Spice Girls “2 Become 1” featuring a beat influenced by jazz, grime and dancehall.
We caught up with her to discuss her creative partnership with Victoria Sin, her involvement with BBZ and her experiences within London’s queer scene.
In interviews you’ve discussed growing up listening to grime, which is a genre that has gone from the underground to the charts over its lifespan. Is it always positive when something subcultural becomes popularised?
Anything that starts off small is going to change when it becomes amplified particularly when its roots are tied to people’s cultures and identities. It’s out of the creators’ and the originators’ control —you can’t monitor it anymore. The negative side of that stems from a lack of awareness of the roots of a genre. It’s great when things grow but only when that’s done with respect for its foundations, particularly when it’s linked to race or class. You’ve just got to look at where things come from.
A word that I often seen applied to your work is “eclectic” — why would you say this is?
I started out being influenced by lots of things and incorporating that into my work. I thought it was messy, so I tried to tone it down and just play electronic things. Then after a while of forcing that kind of music, I realised it wasn’t me. The eclecticism people pick up on is just the incorporation of my main influences, and I’ve learned to embrace it.
How did your creative collaboration with Victoria Sin come about?
That was really organic. It didn’t begin as a “let’s come together as two artists from different fields to collaborate” kind of thing. Victoria’s actually my partner, so it literally just started with us getting to know one another. I had surgery in the first month of us starting to hang out, so I was at my mum’s recovering and reading up on their work. It was fascinating: their drag, their essays, all of it. I was like; “I’d love to mess around—do you have any recordings of your writings?” Vic sent me something and that was the beginning of our first collaboration. What we did together that night we’ve gone on to perform at Palais de Tokyo.
How does the intermedia aspect of this collaboration work — what’s the process of responding to Victoria’s artistic practice with music?
It’s like an interpretation. Most of the time it begins with Vic having spoken recordings of their writings and then I build the beats around them. By listening to what’s being expressed I get a vibe. I have creative freedom but I check with Vic to see how they feel about it and whether the process is on the right path. I have a terrible habit of completely changing tracks —whilst making one tune I’ll end up losing three other ones.
I’ve seen a lot of people describe your and Victoria’s practices, both when working together and apart, as futuristic — is this a conscious effort on both your parts?
Some of Vic’s writing and research is on speculative fiction and a theme in their work is imagining futures. I’ve been reading the authors that most interest them, so speculative fiction but also Afrofuturism, and it’s helped me get a bit of insight. In music, I feel like I’m a bit of an old soul and I pay a lot more attention to what’s already happened. I try to incorporate genres from the past but I’m still told it comes out sounding pretty modern.
Looking at your practice more broadly, you also work with BBZ. How did that first come about?
In the really early days of BBZ I was asked to DJ at a collaborative party between them and a night called Magic Clit that used to be on, run by a DJ called AMZ. I met Naeem [Davis] and Tia [Simon-Campbell] there and they booked me again for another night. They ended up recruiting me as their resident DJ because at the time they were really new to DJing themselves. From there it grew into them being my best friends and us living together. BBZ was my introduction to London’s queer community, so that was a big deal for me — it’s more than music, but my role there is sound.
If BBZ was your introduction that must mean you had a pretty good entry into the queer scene, right?
Everyone else had to go to really white gay spaces and listen to music they weren’t really into because these were the only kinds of spaces that they had. Most people had to compromise so they could be around people that shared their sexuality but because I came into the scene later, I went straight for BBZ and Pxssy Palace. I use the analogy of having it being like I’d just passed my driving test and got a Range Rover straight away. They’ve created their own spaces, so they can focus on making it a really good party, where the DJ and the programming are really important.
2 become 1 was streaming on 4:3 as part of London Boiler Room Festival. What are your thoughts on the rest of the Lesbiennale programme?
I think Lesbiennale is incredible and it’s by two of my favourite people and biggest influences —Naeem Davis and Nadine Ahmad. It’s just been a great education for me and has introduced me to some self-identifying lesbian people’s work and thoughts. When I was at the erotic reading I realised that that was probably the most lesbians I’d ever been in a room with.
Lesbiennale runs until 8 November, for more information click here. Check out 2 become 1, Shy One and Victoria Sin’s collaborative video art piece, below.
5 November 2019