The rule-breaking artist on Brexit, the melting pot of West London, and the importance of checking yourself.
Dress VEX CLOTHING, shirt SIBERIA HILLS, stole BCALLA, earrings LILLI CLASPE
Taken from the Winter issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2018, Lava La Rue’s meteoric rise has been nothing short of phenomenal. From making music in her house to performing at Camp Flog Gnaw, the West London singer’s lo-fi infusion of rap, spoken word and electronic music has captivated the underground scene in her city and beyond, her unique dedication to social conscience and political justice positioning her as one of the most relevant and exciting artists in the industry right now.
Hey Lava! Can you tell us a little about you and where you grew up?
Hello! I grew up around Ladbroke Grove and Kensal Green in West and North West London. Everyone knows it because of Notting Hill Carnival. I grew up around a lot of first-generation immigrant communities; I was raised by a Jamaican woman, and Ladbroke Grove just has like huge Spanish communities, Moroccan communities, Portuguese, and obviously Caribbeans; working-class white kids, Kensington posh kids – we’re all kind of mixed in. We went to the same schools together, and, because of it, I feel like we have a very unique sort of style, dialect… I don’t know. There’s just a vibe there that I don’t really see in other parts of London.
What was it like growing up in that melting pot of culture?
In West London, it’s generally like, “hey, let’s play together, let’s play out on the street together,” and then you go back to dinner at their place and you end up eating Portuguese food or learning their language. It’s funny – in my school, for example, because there were like a lot of Somali kids, and Muslim Moroccan kids, even the white and Jamaican kids would be saying stuff like “wallahi bro!” and shit like that. We all kind of grew up together. But I think, sounds-wise, growing up around steel pan bands and carnival and stuff, you’re exposed to a lot of waves and fusions of culture, and I feel like all West kids have that.
Early this year you released Stitches, a 9-track mixtape; can you tell us more about the name?
I started writing a lot of the tracks a couple years ago when I was finishing school. and there’s certain tracks which I finished writing and completed like a couple of months ago. So it’s called Stitches because I’m literally stitching pieces of my life together – that was the main concept of it.
That’s dope. Thematically, what sort of areas do you think the album aims to cover?
The whole purpose of it was kind of like an audio scrapbook of my perspective really. It was almost like a diary, so it ranged from all aspects of my identity. “Burn” is all about systemic oppression and racism, but I was never like “ok, I want to write a really political song,” it was just that my day-to-day life was kind of political at that time; being a queer, working-class black girl, there were things I was experiencing every day that I was like “fuck, I really want to put this into a song!” So yeah, then there’s also tracks on there that are little love songs, my first experiences of heartbreak, that stuff. It was literally my whole experience transitioning from the age of, like, 16 to 21.
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(RIGHT) Dress VEX CLOTHING, shirt SIBERIA HILLS, earrings LILLI CLASPE
I love the line in “Burn” that says: “No human born a Conservative/ Just a greedy method of conserving quid.” Can you tell me a bit about your politics, and your thoughts on the upcoming election?
Honestly, I’ve been so frustrated that we’ve spent a good two to three years debating whether we’ll [stay] in the EU or not, and with all this conversation and media hype that’s been around it. The whole of parliament is basically focusing on that, when we could’ve spent all that energy and all those media resources talking about, you know, climate change, or pumping things back into the community. I feel like we’re really distracted right now, and the media has a huge impact on that; we’re constantly being fed the same narratives on front-page news when there’s so many more things we could be focusing our energy on. It’s frustrating, but, at the same time, for a while growing up, there was this [sentiment] of: “we’re Great Britain, we’re an amazing country,” and all of that. Because of this political climate, now no-one’s in denial about it. Nobody really knows what we’re doing, and, because of that, I feel like a movement is rising up, specifically from millennials and all the kids who are going to have to deal with the aftermath. We’ve had a lot of protests, we’ve had Extinction Rebellion. There’s a new wave of protest punk movements coming through again, and I can hear that represented in the arts and music too.
It definitely feels like people in the creative industries are engaged at a level that perhaps wasn’t the case a few years ago.
Yeah definitely. I’m really happy that shit’s political again to be honest, because in the 80s and the 90s it was cool for kids to go out and riot – that was part of youth culture. And then social media came about in the 00s, and people [started] tweeting about their problems rather than getting out on the street. I feel like a lot of people are realising, “no, we physically need to get out there and do it old school,” and I’m really here for it.
Last year, you did a Tate Lates, where you presented a documentary exploring London’s subcultures, and the influence of Caribbean migrants on the music scene. How important is it for these massive institutions like the Tate to provide a platform for a diverse and inclusive range of storytelling?
It’s as simple as this. When institutions benefit off the culture — whether that’s art forms created by Latin communities [or] music pioneered by Jamaican people — if you’re directly benefiting off these communities by playing these things and having these exhibitions, and charging for them, it’s very important to give back to the communities that make your institutions cool. It’s kind of like that, isn’t it?
Of course. You also sing about romance; in “Lilo”, I love the line: “I didn’t grow up to be / The lover I thought I’d be” – can you possibly expand on that a little bit?
That was about my first ever heartbreak. When you’re younger, you have an idea of what your morals are going to be, what you’re going to do and who you’re going to be. But, once you’re in the situation, you find yourself doing the things that you said you’d never do. I saw a lot of toxic relationships or bad relationships throughout my childhood, and thought that was exactly what I [was] not going to do, but growing up, I naturally found a recurring cycle of doing exactly what my parents did. It’s just [about] learning those growing pains.
It’s quite a mad existential concept isn’t it, to think of ourselves as sub- consciously becoming people we didn’t want to be when we were younger.
It’s a scary concept, but also something that, throughout your life, you have to check yourself on. Some people accept it, and say “ah well, that’s just the way it is;” When you’re a teen, you’re full of energy, you feel really political, you want to save the world, and there’s this idea that, at some point when you get older, you’ll grow out of that and get a nine-to-five. I really don’t believe that. I believe that, throughout your life, you’ve really got to check yourself, remember the purity of the values you had when you were a younger child, and ask: “would the younger me be proud of myself right now?” So yeah, I guess that’s what that specific line is in relation to.
At the end of your video for “Letra”, you discuss the male gaze in a really interesting way; what is your experience as a creative queer woman? Have you faced misogyny and heteronormativity in the industry? How do you deal with that?
I definitely have been, and I’m very blessed that I’ve been able to create my own world around me, and my own safe space. The team that I have right now as an independent artist is incredible; I have a lot of really strong women pulling my shit together. My manager’s an incredible boss woman, my PR lady’s an incredible boss woman, so it doesn’t really faze me, because I’ve got my team and my people and my collective around me. My team are the epitome of allies, and just rep me. You’ve got to be able to create your own bubble and your own safe zone, so you can just power through that shit.
Who inspires you?
Honestly, as cute and corny as it is, the really strong powerhouse of women that I’ve met or admire in my life. Whether that’s my grandma or, like, Angela Davis and Erykah Badu – those are women who I see talk and it just motivates me; to make music, to be the best I can be, and to be able to unlock full goddess mode when I go into womanhood, basically.
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