Wonderland.

Lil Silva

On our exclusive Wonderland shoot, we got familiar with the Bedford-based producer and burgeoning vocalist.

Black cotton t-shirt by TOPMAN and dark grey cotton jacket by TSPTR

Black cotton t-shirt by TOPMAN and dark grey cotton jacket by TSPTR

Growing up in Bedford surrounded by a surprisingly vibrant grime culture, Lil Silva – or TJ Carter – has been making music since he was just nine years’ old. With that kind of practice, it’s no surprise that his rise over the past few years from bedroom beat maker to in-demand producer and respected solo artists has been impressive: not so much a meteoric leap, more the  kind of steady climb to success that comes only after years of hard graft. Perhaps most familiar to the majority of listeners thanks to his production for LA soul queen and labelmate Banks on tracks like 2013’s blistering (pre-Rhinna x Drake) “WORK” and on her debut album, Goddess, Silva’s most enjoyable work is arguably now the music he releases under his own name.

In particular, 2014’s Mabel saw Carter introduce his own considerable vocal talents to the mix: influenced by his encounters with Sampha, he revealed a newly focused, experimental sound on the record. It’s one he’s continued to build on with strong releases in the last month, including infectious soul jam “De Ja” and the ethereal joy that is “Lines” – a track which inhabits the liminal space between electronic, RnB, and that third, indescribable genre that takes you somewhere else all together. Upcoming collaborations with Mark Ronson and Skrillex, meanwhile, prove Silva’s just as deft working with more mainstream artist as he is with insider names: a sure sign of an artist with real staying power in our ever-sliding musical landscape.

During our exclusive Wonderland shoot with Silva, we sat down to talk a childhood spent on FruityLoops, re-living the joys of Bedford’s club scene, and just where exactly that alias comes from.

Pink silk camo bomber jacket by MAHARISHI

Pink silk camo bomber jacket by MAHARISHI

You still live in Bedford which is where you grew up. What was the scene like growing up there?

So what was going on in 2000 there was a garage/grime era. It’s where I first saw Wiley, Dizzee Rascal – Wiley used to live in Bedford actually – and there was this club called Cabana where if you were like 11/12, you could get into an under 18 rave which they wouldn’t be able to do now, and they had all their grime raves, garage raves, it was so sick. A lot of future, forward-thinking music.

We were fortunate, but we didn’t know what it was until 10 years, 11-12 years down the line, we’re just like ‘damn, this was all in our ends’. It wasn’t overthought back then, you had crews, and it was just back to backs. You have Roll Deep coming through, the Explicit Crew, Macabre Unit – who I was affiliated with.

Do you want to tell me a bit about that?

So there was Raff and Canine – they looked after the whole group. They were the main producers…I must have picked up on the sound, because…them lot stood out for me and I’d gravitate to whatever they were doing. They had Canine and Kevin, who I used to work with and who taught me how to use Reason and stuff. It all stemmed from there. Definitely some of my sounds – if you hear some of my stuff and mirror it with Macabre, you’ll get where part of my influence has come from.

Is that kind of like where you feel your career started? How old were you when that was happening?

I was probably 11/12. My brother as well, the original Silva, had kind of set me up on FruityLoops at that age, so that’s where that kicked off. Around that time he was more into garage-y house, and I had my other brother before that who was more…about hip-hop. And my dad had this huge reggae and disco collection. So the house was really music orientated throughout them years. When I started getting on FruityLoops I didn’t know what it was I was making, but it was a sound and my brother clocked on and was like, ‘Did you make this?’ He wouldn’t believe me because I’m that age. I’m like ‘yeah’.

Can you describe your early sound to me?

The early sound – mini Silva before the Lil. I guess very experimental, tinny, new, leaning towards wherever grime was and then I think maybe bassline crept up around 2004. And I’d been listening to loads of hip hop, Timbaland and Magoo, Pete Rock, and J Dilla.

My brother will always say that it was like, ‘You just went on, you’d pick a tempo and kind of build with it and whatever came out came out.” But it was influenced by all them little things.

Where’s the Silva from?

My brother. His mates had taken all the letters from his name and they got Silva C, so he was DJ Silva C. I didn’t have an alias, so everyone was calling me mini Silva for a very long time, and then when I was about to release Seasons I was like, ‘I can’t go into this thing being called Mini Silva’.

It wasn’t something that I set in stone, like that’s my name, it was just like, ‘cool, maybe let’s put Lil Silva in this thing,’ and it kind of had this ring to it. I did a tag from early which people always knew…and it became a thing.

So let’s backtrack just to Mabel, cause that’s got a really interesting story behind it, hasn’t it?

Mabel was my grandmother who passed away. We buried her Christmas Day…It was the only thing I could remember of my childhood…I think that was like my first funeral, so after that I think I was kind of different as a child for a few years, cause I was really close with her…I think at the time I’d turned 21, I’d just come out of work and decided to take on music. I was like, ‘yeah, this is what I want to do’.

Like working with artists and everything, and doing your own thing?

Yeah, I had a really cool boss…I got to work in the warehouse, and I got to bring my work there and my boss and my manager would come round the back and be like, ‘yeah, cool, I like this’. So literally, I just set up shop in the back of the warehouse, it was pretty cool. And then, when I turned 21, she [Mabel] had actually left me a cheque with a lump sum of money, it was mad. It was to pursue the dream I wanted to do. Although she’d gone, her presence was still around. I literally went out and got the gear, and everything up to now that’s happened, she’s aided that. So I wanted to give something back.

LEFT Black jeans by TOPMAN

RIGHT Black cotton t-shirt by TOPMAN and black nylon “NY” jacket by EBBETS FIELD

LEFT Black jeans by TOPMAN RIGHT Black cotton t-shirt by TOPMAN and black nylon “NY” jacket by EBBETS FIELD

Let’s talk your latest work: you dropped a track last week?

I didn’t know what “Lines” was going to do. I was just thinking cool, it’s a transition…I don’t think it’s like dance music, cause some people have been tripped with it in the first minute and they said they go into this weird trance. I don’t know what people want to call it, if it’s dance music or electronic.

I don’t think it’s dance. I was listening to that at my desk, and I was just like – it took me somewhere.

That’s the feel. I want people to still feel something when they’re listening to the music…And everything I’ve kind of being hearing on the radio… it’s hard to gravitate towards it because…it’s really similar. Nothing’s great…That’s all I want to do. Make you feel what I feel and take you on that journey from the start to the finish.

So tell me a bit about that transition, and what it’s been like working on this record?

It was definitely a journey. I did a trip to LA sometime over a year ago, and met this guy Kent Jamz from the group Overdoz and I sent him some ideas and stuff, and it was when we got to the track “De Ja” that he came up with this hook. He pretty much wrote/rode the track for seven minutes, but we were all just like ‘what was that? Go back, go back. Déjà vu, like wow, that’s amazing’

And “Lines”, it was an eight minute thing before. I got lost in it myself, and…I built it in a loop and structured it. I just went, ‘ok cool, that sounds good – even the drop.’ From Mabel…everyone kind of loved the transition of that atmosphere and that is a part of my sound. How do you blend kind of the soul and the darkness together?

When you were 11, 12, did you see this happening?

The amount of music I heard, I think, I knew this was definitely the direction I wanted to go…And I guess working with Mark Ronson, Banks, Sampha, Jamie, it’s just opened my mind up. So my sound has just always developed, and when you sit in a room and work with people like that, your sound just can’t be one thing. I’m working with too many good people to be making that generic music…There’s no rules to it.

So what’s next?

So straight after we’ve got this LS White series I do. We’re doing a collab with Virgil from Offwhite, so that’s happening straight after.

You work hard, don’t you?

Yeah, but in the background. But yeah, that’s next, and I’ll go back to help Banks out with the second album, Cosima stuff, and Lily Allen, doing her album and stuff. There’s loads to do, and I’m always looking for a new sound, a new artist to develop. I love doing it.

And then we’re doing the parties, Nowhere, it’s literally called Nowhere. We’re going to do the first one in Bedford. We’re going to start back home, be in random cool spots I kind of grew up around, which is cool, to get everything I’ve been doing outside Bedford and bringing it there. We’re going to have Boiler Room stream it – just stream it! No phones, no nothing.

LEFT Black jeans by TOPMAN RIGHT Black cotton t-shirt by TOPMAN and black nylon “NY” jacket by EBBETS FIELD
LEFT Black jeans by TOPMAN RIGHT Black cotton t-shirt by TOPMAN and black nylon “NY” jacket by EBBETS FIELD
Photographer
Charles Moriarty
Stylist
Toni Blaze
Stylist's Assistant
Olivia Kaiafa
Lil Silva

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