As the restrictions implemented from the Coronavirus pandemic begin to lift, it is important to reflect back on the changes that this year has forced upon the workings of the world. The music industry, unlike any other, functions at lightning speed; a fragile network of creatives, constantly producing, performing, writing and promoting to push the boundaries of music. Its interconnected parts rely on each other like a fragile ecosystem – communicating through events, interviews, releases, touring and everything in between, with the removal of one threatening its collapse. For music artists, the outbreak of Coronavirus at the start of March dispelled the industry in this very way, with creatives finding their usual working days and sources of income evaporating quickly. Forced to create from home, unable to perform or financially stabilize themselves, musicians and producers across the world have been forced to invent new ways to reach their audiences and stay inspired. The result has been astounding, with large companies such as Boilerroom, Resident Advisor and NTS hosting all day live streams of our favourite musicians and DJs to connect with fans; and not the mention Bandcamp’s fee waiver, in aid of supporting struggling musicians make up for lost income. Alongside these issues, the easing of lockdown restrictions has presented a new set of tasks for many venue owners, with the threat of closures and bankruptcy sending further oscillations of unease through the music industry.
I spoke to four musicians and producers about their time in isolation and how it has affected their work. We discussed if their music listening habits, like many people’s, have changed, and how they’ve kept inspired in this trying time.
North London duo Real Lies have been telling tales of life in the big city, heartbreak and the realities of being young since 2015, with the debut of their first album Real Life. Layering clean-cut electronic beats over a deluge of honest and reminiscent lyrics, their music creates an atmosphere of rave-influenced nostalgia and morning-after-the-night-before reflection.
In light of recent events that have shaken the world, the infancy of Real Lies in which optimism and youth prevailed has taken a departure. The past year has seen the release of two singles, You Were in Love and Boss Trick that are set to contribute to upcoming release Lad Ash. This collection of tracks is motivated by the fast-paced changes incurred by the band over the past five years, as well as a “goodbye to the world Real Lies once inhabited” (as described by Crack Magazine) on reflection of the state of affairs surrounding us. It will be exciting to see what comes next for the duo, and whether the maturation of their sound and their inspirations will be exacerbated by events to come.
Hi Kev (pictured on left) – before we begin, how are you?
I’m doing OK. I spent the first four weeks of lockdown trying to find a way to keep my brain upright in its jar. Since then, it’s been a breeze – gradually, your world shrinks, and so do your expectations. It gets harder to get too excited about anything but unless you or people you love are suffering, it gets harder to feel properly upset, too. You establish your sources of solace and pleasure and get on with it. In my case, the former has been Patrick Hamilton novels. The latter, the Italian deli over the road. I have a strange running joke with the owner about the extra spicy salami that only he understands.
Many of your lyrics denote the realities of London and real-life situations – have you managed to stay inspired and writing during lockdown? If so, has your writing been inspired by the world around us or are you reclining back into past memories?
The first name we had was actually ‘Real Life’. We saw there was an Australian band in the 1980s with the same name, who’d had one hit song, but unfortunately that song had gone top ten in 40 different countries and according to Wikipedia they’re all music lawyers now. We got in touch asking if we could please use the name, but they weren’t having it at all – they said: “We’ve just had a song licensed by American Dad. You might as well call yourselves the Beatles.” They made us change our name but I’m happy enough. Every time someone asks me that question, I get to humiliate them.
In terms of the writing, I’ve written about six or seven new songs in the last three months, which just doesn’t happen when the outside world is switched on. It’s kind of a double-yes to both your questions – a lot of the writing I’ve done has been about finding traces of the past in the world as it is today. The next single is called ‘I Wander’ and it’s about the streets emptying but the extra space and silence just giving more room for the ghosts to come through – going out for a walk in the evening becomes this mardi gras of memory, every street corner and park bench sort of vibrates with the past. I enjoy that a lot but I’m definitely looking forward to getting back into the thick of it.
Have you found that you are listening to more or less music during lockdown? Have your habits changed?
I’m listening to a lot more, I think, whether it’s records or radio at home or when I’m walking around in the evenings. I like picking up the pirate stations that are online or have their own apps now – even if the streets are deserted, going for a walk and firing up Vision FM always makes me feel more connected. It’s reassuring to know there’s this stream of euphoric house and garage rolling out round the clock still that you can plug into whenever you want.
More generally, what are some lessons you are going to take away from this experience?
That you don’t need to spend 4 hours a day watching other people argue on Twitter to be a good person. And that I prefer chatting to people when I don’t have to look at my own face simultaneously.
Finally, your 2020 tour has unfortunately been cancelled due to current circumstances. How are you staying connected with fans and keeping your creative outlets alive?
We did a livestream just before lockdown started. It was the first time we tried something like that, but we’ll do another as soon as our rehearsal space reopens. Creatively, lockdown has been great. I hope it lasts exactly as long as it takes to finish the next album and then disappears forever, never to be seen again.
Izzi De Rosa
Izzi De Rosa is a name situated at the very front of the Leeds music scene, working alongside ReadyMeal Sound to consistently reshape and improve her work. She is unapologetically bold, fiery and unique, creating an endearing contrast from the delicacy of her voice. Izzi successfully utilises her social media platform to showcase her personal and often unreleased work, giving her listeners a personal experience that many musicians shy away from. Her voice is beautifully soulful, and her lyrics are honest and intimate - an artist whose true self differs minimally from the image she portrays.
Hi Izzi - have you found that you are listening to more or less music during lockdown? Have your habits changed?
Hmm...I've been listening to a lot of old school jazz, soul and blues. Discovering hidden gems from some of the best... James Brown, Etta James, Louis Armstrong. And well, I’ve found that my habits have definitely become healthier and more structured. I've been doing a lot of cooking, reading and painting as well as yoga-ing and meditating. I guess you could say my whole lockdown experience has been kind of wholesome.
How are you staying connected with your listeners and keeping your creative outlets alive?
I've been trying to just get out as much content as possible. Before lockdown, I was hesitant to reveal any unfinished music. But I realised that no one really cares or notices anyway!! Especially with the current climate, there seems to be a greater level of understanding that everyone is just trying to do the best that they can. Plus, I think unveiling some of your work in its most raw form really deepens the connection with your listeners. It opens up this dynamic where they are watching you grow and figuring things out with you along the way.
What would your advice be to people wanting to stay creative during lockdown but are struggling?
I think for creatives there can be element of anxiety that their art might not be good enough. But that's the thing - it might not be!! A lot of music / art / writing stays locked away and no one ever sees it. But you build upon that, and it feeds into the good stuff, even if you don't realise it. With saying that, you can't force creativity. I spent the first few weeks of lockdown putting pressure on myself and nothing would manifest for me. The second I let myself relax the music began to flow! SO, my advice would be to really embrace the moments in which you feel creative and try to finish whatever project you start whilst you're in that state of flow!!
More generally, what are some lessons you are going to take away from this experience?
One big lesson I've learnt from this experience is that life is really quite simple, but we choose to make it complicated. I found myself finding pleasure in the simplest of things over Lockdown - going on a walk, cheffing up dinner for my fam, reading a book. I think real happiness is rooted in these little things, not all the extravagance and material bullshit we often consume ourselves with in the attempt to add a little sugar and spice to our life. That’s something I think I will take with me for the rest of my life and is definitely an invaluable lesson for the industry I am pursuing.
20-year-old rapper Osquello, a.k.a. Fabiano Lewis, has been sending jazz-infused ripples through the music scene since 2017 - spending this time developing a sound oozing with soft rap vocals, delicate electronic beats and soulful melodies. Based in both Leeds and London, Osquello’s inspirations are drawn mainly from his Caribbean and Italian heritage. This, combined with often reflection on personal experiences, creates a sound so personal you cannot help but gravitate towards it.
Osquello is nothing less than fresh, bringing a youthful energy and bars so sophisticated they parallel the likes of Rejjie Snow or Bakar. Boasting collaborations with close friends and musical successes Declan McKenna and Clairo, Osquello’s momentum as of late has appeared unstoppable. He has spent the past year preparing for the release of his upcoming album OSQSTOCK, and his latest release is one to take some time out to really listen to.
Hi Osquello. Firstly, congrats on the release of your new single Lovers Fool - tell us about your experience with producing and releasing this during isolation.
Thank you! At the beginning I was making almost 4 tracks a day for about a week or so, and then I just had lost the inspiration. Slowly I started to write more but it all felt a bit forced and dry. I’d say I came out with one decent mixtape but it’s annoying that my laptop just broke - so I’ll be taking a break for a while now ahaha. Real life experience is such an essential thing for me to consider when writing and producing music.
Have you found online interaction with other musicians key at this time? Or are you using the isolation period to isolate more with your own work/ideas?
I haven’t really been working with other musicians. It’s really important for me to collaborate with people in person these days, as I can’t work with people I don’t get on with. I need that connection or it’s all just forced. I’ve been working on some very personal and independent ideas without a doubt though.
Have you found that you are listening to more or less music during lockdown? Do you feel inspired to listen to new music or go back to home comforts?
I’ve definitely been listening to a lot more music than usual - I’d say just because I’m bored and I’m searching for more. I’m constantly trying to find inspiration, and I’ve recently found a website called radio.garden that shows me every radio station in the world, so I’ve been really inspired and tuned into music outside of the UK and US which has never been available or promoted in my lifetime.
Has this experienced affected your progress as a musician? Do you feel like you’ve been able to improve and experiment more or has it hindered what you’ve wanted to do?
This pandemic has definitely affected independent artists a lot, as there’s a lot more security and focus on artists with record labels or distribution teams. Personally, I do feel a lot more disconnected from making music as there isn’t any gigs or group studio sessions, which was also a big part of it for me. This new platform of live stream shows just doesn’t cut it and I’ve found it hard to engage and be a part of that stuff. Social media is impacting a lot of the culture by removing this soulful and personal connection music brings us. However, I have been experimenting a lot more - not to say the result is good though haha.
More generally, what are some lessons you are going to take away from this experience?
I’m gonna count my blessings every day for sure. Appreciate the smaller things a lot more. I must realise that I’m here to prosper and build the community that raised me, otherwise it’s so easy to get lost in doing everything for just yourself.
And finally, what’s next on the cards for Osquello?
My debut album was released on the 27th June titled “OSQSTOCK”. I also have a small EP coming out on Goldie’s new label, produced by Goldie and James Davidson. Apart from that, I’m gonna be taking in as much knowledge as possible until the next opportunity I get to make another album/throw another event. Big love!!
Osquello’s new album OSQSTOCK is out now.
Daseplate has spent the past few years immersing himself in the dubstep scene: creating a sound that is unapologetically intense and gritty, commonly trailing influences of punk and grime throughout his discography. Establishing himself in 2015 through self-started record label Pond Life Party, this is a name placed firmly on the map (particularly in Nottingham), for parties diverging from your usual night out. His events are often situated in unconventional locations - such as caves and abandoned venues – meaning that Daseplate has become widely respected for his DIY attitude to music production and distribution. He fulfils both these things on his own, surrendering the need for a commercial middleman. Throughout lockdown, Daseplate has been perhaps the most active out of many in terms of producing, releasing and interacting with his listeners, consistently emulating the hard work that was put in before lockdown even began.
Congrats on the release of your new Dubplates Showreel on SoundCloud - how have you found collaborating with other producers/artists over this time?
Cheers! Yeah, it’s been mint, I'm not usually on my computer much during summer so it’s been proper productive for music. Loads of phone calls and voice notes flying about 24/7 with other artists, constantly working.
Have your listening/streaming habits changed at all? Are you listening to more music or less?
Because 90% of my usual self-employed work has been cancelled due to the lockdown, it has changed a lot. Found a lot more time for listening and rediscovering music, first time in ages I've listened back to loads of old Rinse FM, Sidewinder, Eskimo Dance sets. Been listening to my vinyl collection again because I'm at home more too, loads of old LP's, from Erykah Badu to Jimi Hendrix to old Jungle dubplates. That’s what mainly sparked off me and Window Kid to do our vinyl EP.
Has this experience affected your progress as a producer? Do you feel like you’ve been able to improve and experiment more or has it hindered what you’ve wanted to do?
Its affected what I want to do as a career to be honest – it's been mad, because I've had to treat music as my sole income during this time, trying to make a living solely from it. So, I released the vinyl EP with Window Kid, and produced two Lost Dubs EP's (on sale for just 24 hours) so far all via my label Pond Life Party. Also, because I've released these old tunes going far back as from 2015, I've finally had a motive to make loads new music, ranging in styles too. I've been treating music like an 8am - 8pm job, putting all my time into either Pond Life, production, mixing, or learning about music business. Everything happens for a reason I suppose.
Do you feel that enough has been done to support creatives and musical organizations financially over this time?
I can't say much for the government, but that’s a whole different conversation. They've hardly done enough to support the NHS and other key workers properly, never mind creatives.
Because of the events side of Pond Life, I'm in touch with a lot of venue owners and I've already seen 2 in Nottingham close doors for good - can't imagine what it’s like paying business rates for a venue you can't use. But music wise, it always seems in times like this it’s the support from the communities that is overwhelming, Bandcamp waive their fees on the first Friday of the month because of the COVID situation, meaning myself and a lot of other producers release exclusives they usually wouldn't, just for 24 hours and then take it back down. That’s been a massive help, seeing that over 100+ people have bought a full 9 track EP of music I made in 2015 still blows my mind.
And finally, what can we expect next from Daseplate?
More releases, now I've learnt how to release music properly I'm busy trying to schedule what order to do it all in, because I've got over 100 unreleased tunes its proper confusing. Definitely another vinyl release before the end of 2020 too. Maybe an album next year too.
Daseplate’s The Lost Dubs EP Vol. 3 is out now.