Lava La Rue’s new EP, Hi-Fidelity, is out now via Marathon.
Growing up, Lava La Rue was always playing in bands. “When I was 13, I wanted to be in an all-girl version of The Clash. Very West London, ska-punk inspired. The intersection of Caribbean culture and British punk.” But as they grew older, the costliness of rehearsal space drew the young creative to freestyling “because you just need a microphone.”
At college in London, La Rue met the group of artists who would soon change their life. “I think people assume we met at some really established music school but it wasn’t like that at all, it was a bit rundown. The music equipment was falling apart,” La Rue explains, but the lack of proper equipment didn’t stop the group of friends, who would soon call themselves NiNE8 Collective (including Biig Piig, Nayana Iz, Bone Slim, Mac Wetha, Nige and LorenzoRSV), from creating some of the most exciting music to come out of London.
But first, La Rue says, it was not that serious. The then-nameless NiNE8 was just a gang of newfound friends, hanging out in the smoking area in between classes, freestyling over borrowed beats blasted on a mini speaker. “We’d only have little pockets of time to do it at school so I’d be like, ‘F— it, after school we should go to mine and continue.’” From there, the at-home sessions attracted more friends, swelling until the troupe decided to rent proper venues.
Ever since, La Rue has been busy growing a grassroots career in music that allows them to flex their creative muscle as a rapper, singer, songwriter and even music video director. Recently, they were even tapped to direct Wet Leg’s vibrant, irreverent music video for “Ur Mom.” As evidenced by their wide-ranging projects, La Rue’s no-holds-barred career is a testament to what is possible for an indie artist who dares to dream big’s career today.
When titling La Rue’s new EP, Hi-Fidelity, the idea was simple: describe the sound in words. With the title, La Rue makes their declaration that although they have been called “lo-fi rap” by critics and fans in the past, their new project is a polished, cleaner take on La Rue’s earliest roots, gigging with friends around West London. “I think I’m now circling back to the more live band feel for my music, like when I used to play guitar and stuff when I was younger,” they explain.
Today, with more resources for their creative projects than ever, La Rue says, “Now, if I make something sound lo-fi, it’s intentional.” They say their sound has evolved so thoroughly, in part because of access to instruments and recording equipment. “I always make do with whatever is there,” La Rue explains. “In the beginning that was just a really ghetto microphone and a sock to put on top of it.” Working around the limitations, though, is what pushed La Rue to freestyling and learning their own voice as a producer, a crucial part of developing the sonics now exemplified on Hi-Fidelity. “Now, when I’m working with other producers, I know what plug-in to ask for. What way to record something.”
On Hi-Fidelity, La Rue was inspired by early Beck songs, the Neptunes, Gorillaz, Turkish arabesque music and trying to emulate the strangest, most satisfying sounds through their own lens. “I was experimenting. There are some really minute little details that I put in that maybe people might not notice, but it’s really satisfying to me.”
Upon close listen, however, La Rue is correct: Hi-Fidelity’s brilliance is in its details.
For La Rue, deciding that they did not have to choose one specific path as a creative was key to building the varied career they wanted. “I feel like I’m never just one thing. I don’t know if it’s the Gemini in me or the non-binary in me, but I like the idea that I can do everything I want,” they explain. “Not to get too philosophical, but really all we are promised is this life. We should live as many experiences as we can. I don’t like the idea of saying, ‘I’m a musician, but maybe in an alternate universe, I would’ve tried directing.’ No, that’s bulls—. I can do both in this life. There is enough time.”
With a London headline show coming up in November, La Rue says, “Like my music, my live show is very different now.” They hope to build a world orbiting around Hi-Fidelity as “a center point to paint the picture of a more cohesive world, including live shows and merchandise. It all tells a story together that I want to make bigger and more polished and more fun than ever, but still very me.”
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“If you want to find the right collaborators and your musical soulmates, then you need to work on being very comfortable with being on your own s— first. Like knowing what you like specifically and knowing what your bag is. That’s when I feel like those people are drawn towards you. While it’s good for new artists to want to build a network, I think when you’re on your own wave and your sonics are clear, then the right people to work with will gravitate towards you. If you’re meant to work with someone, it will happen when you have the self-confidence of your own vibe first.”
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“It’s pretty crazy how much musical genres and the concept of categorizing music can gatekeep a lot of artists from thriving. For example, in the U.K., we have the MOBO Awards which is the Black British music awards. There is no alternative or dance category for music, which sucks because it’s basically saying that they don’t recognize Black people who make music in that category. I think sometimes putting an artist into a category doesn’t allow them to thrive.”
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“There’s a band called English Teacher, a post-punk band from the U.K., that’s really f—ing cool. I’ve also been obsessed with this super young artist called Psykhi. He embodies this combination of alternative and punk worlds joining with the hip-hop and rap world. He almost flows like Playboi Carti, but he produces really grungy s—. He’s pretty underground, but he’s sick. I think he’s going to blow [up]. The U.K. right now has some incredible alternative artists and bands. Both of those artists are P.O.C. fronted and it’s nice to see more people of color taking up space in alternative music.”
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“Whenever it’s International Women’s Day or Pride Month or whatever, companies will show their support to artists for that time period, but they never look at the infrastructure of their company. Though they may highlight these minority groups visually, are they actually hiring those people? I don’t think there will be any change or progress if we just put people’s faces on social media instead of fixing this from the inside.”