Behind The Cover: Nia Archives - Features - Mixmag

Behind The Cover: Nia Archives

The team behind Mixmag's knockout Nia Archives cover shoot share their on set experiences

  • Words: Becky Buckle | Images: Esme Surfleet, Bethany Grace, Nigel Korley-Simon
  • 23 May 2022

Jungle giant, label legend and now Mixmag cover star — Nia Archives is cooking up a storm in the music world.

This being Nia’s first magazine cover, every element was thoroughly thought through and crafted by a team of creatives to bring the essence of the new "queen of jungle."

Nia's cover feature written by Tracy Kawalik tells her story so far — from her childhood performing in the school orchestra echoing to the early days of her professional career as an artist by discussing her first gig at Manchester International Festival thanks to curator Jamz Supernova.

With a massive festival calendar to look forward to this summer — including Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, Outlook, All Points East, a b2b set with Roni Size at Valley Fest, and even a trip to Australia... there's plenty of chance to catch Nia in action. Hybrid performances from Nia include not only DJing but also live vocals, as seen during her set at the Lab LDN where she sang live her single ‘Forbidden Feelingz’ which is a "celebration of the roots reggae of the Windrush Generation to the vanguard of the hardcore continuum."

The Bradford-born star was taken to a studio in Hackney for the cover shoot. Awaiting her arrival were the group of keen creatives whose plans and preparations had all led up to this moment.

The team included photography by Clara Casas - Daziell, styling by Jamie Judd and EYC LTD, hair by Shamara Roper, art direction by Vassilis Skandalis, makeup by MV Brown and set consultancy from Jade Adeyemi. Styling assistants, set designers and photo assistants were among the rest of the team that also provided skills.

Read this next: Flying the junglist flag: Nia Archives is leading jungle's new era

The team pulled together a mixture of Chet Lo, Rave Review and Nii Hai — stylist Jamie Judd encapsulates the already impeccable flair of Nia’s ‘look’ and brings it to the next level.

From PR to Digital Editor, to Music Director, to Art Director, to organising who else would have the honour to be involved. This collaborative process paid off thanks to a team of diligent creatives and an eye for talent.

We spoke about their previous work and how it felt to work on the cover.

Read the Q&A below. or listen to her mix here.

Read the Nia Archives cover story here.

Photography: Clara Casas - Daziell

How would you describe your style of photography?

For me, this is one of the trickiest questions as I believe that everything that comes out of my brain describes my style but I haven’t found a word for it yet. If I had to give adjectives that would define my work it’d be elegant, provocative, bold, powerful and definitely rare.

Who's work inspires you the most?

I get inspired by everything, not just photographers. Art is a very big inspirational factor for me with people such as Yves Klein, Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Bourgeoise. As well as chefs like Alain Passard who has an amazing instagram account and obviously photographers like Irving Penn, Araki, Martin Parr and Lea Colombo.

Can you tell me some stand-out projects that you've worked on?

My real stand out projects are all the ones I am planning and shooting right now and will come in the upcoming months, the best is upcoming.

What are your biggest achievements as a photographer?

I believe that my biggest achievements as a photographer are yet to come. For me everything I have done up until now it's just a solid base for what’s to happen in my professional life in the next few years. Therefore I believe in the process and enjoy it. Meanwhile, I focus on being a constant, persuasive, and hard worker and keep a strong passion for everything that I do. And after putting in the hard work, my best and biggest achievements will come.

Read this next: Nia Archives calls out MOBO Awards for lack of dance and electronic category

What work of yours has gained the most recognition and why?

Each shoot I create gains a certain level of recognition but all of them for different reasons. But I have to say that for me the images I am the proudest when getting recognition are all of the lovers' images. I love love and I love passion so I really live for these images of people kissing and loving each other. Also, I want to highlight that all these pictures I always capture with people that love each other in real life. I like authenticity and I feel like when the feeling is real you just end up getting a magical image.

Who else have you had the honour to photograph?

For me, of course, the subject is important and it is always nice to photograph talents and work with big people in the industry, but at the end of the day I don’t think that’s the biggest part of my work as I truly enjoy photographing someone that is recognised as well as capturing an orchid or a strawberry, and to be honest, I get incredibly happy when I get an incredible picture of someone with loads recognition as well as with a pretty fruit or amazing looking dish. So I don’t like to focus my attention on the who but on the how.

What's your favourite image you shot and why?

My favourite image is one that’s not on the magazine but on my instagram of her eye with the eyelashes she wore for the editorial. I love closeups as I don’t think that people often stop to look at things from up close, that’s why I like to take my moment to capture those things so that people can see the subject the exact way I see it.

Can you tell me what you liked most about this shoot?

My favourite part of the shoot was without a doubt the team. They were really nice and easy to work with and definitely good energy. I really enjoyed it.

Styling: Jamie Judd

How did you feel when you found out you would be styling Nia for the cover?

I was really excited to style Nia for a cover, we’d worked together previously but on very different projects so doing Mixmag was a great opportunity to experiment with some different styles. I really enjoy working with her, she’s super open to wearing a variety of styles and she and her team are just really nice people - which helps!

Who else have you had the privilege to style?

I’ve had the chance to work with an array of great people such as Maya Jama, Aitch, Tiffany Calver and many more.

Read this next: The 20 best jungle mixes you can listen to online

How long have you been styling and how did you get into it?

I’ve been styling and working on various creative projects ever since I finished my studies in 2018 but I’ve been with EYC which is definitely the place that’s offered me the most exciting opportunities for two years now. When the pandemic happened I got furloughed and had a lot of spare time on my hands so I reached out to Cora Delaney, who headed up EYC and started assisting her. I've been with the company ever since.

What has been the biggest styling job you've had to work on?

The biggest job I’ve worked on was probably Aitch’s music video for 'Baby', we’d had a super busy week as it was shot just after the BRIT Awards. We filmed it in LA and I found out I was going less than 48 hours before I was sat on the plane but I couldn’t have had a better time. As much as the job can be stressful, I’m so grateful to be given opportunities like that!

What outfit was your favourite and why?

Picking a favourite look is so hard but it has to be the Rave Review with the Nii Hai boots. I feel like it was super flattering and cool at the same time. Rave Review is just a great fit for Nia in general, they have some amazing pieces I can’t think of any brands that are doing anything similar.

What is a standout image for you and why?

My favourite image is the one of her kneeling in front of the plants in the Chet Lo. I just feel that outfit photographed so well and she looks amazing!

Hair: Shamara Roper

How long have you been working as a hairstylist?

I have been a hairstylist for 16 years and a session hairstylist for just two and half years.

How would you describe your hair styling?

I would describe my hairstyling as bold, rebellious yet regal. I love seeing the transformations.

Who's work inspires you the most?

God's work. Nature is what inspires me most. Trees, the random shapes of buildings and my mum who always had the best high buns and top knots - her hairstyles were ever-changing.

What work of your own stands out the most?

All my sculptural hairstyles as they are bespoke and a merge between me and the talent.

Who else have you worked with?

Olivia Dean, Alewya, Joy Crookes, Koffee, Tems, Laura Mvula, Celeste, Amaarae, Jorja Smith, Lydia Sest, Rachel Chinouriri, Enny, Alicai Harley as well as various brands and publications.

Read this next: The gentrification of jungle

What work has been your proudest?

I have three. The first is my first ever Wonderland cover with Moses Sumney. That got me the recognition that I needed starting out in the industry and he trusted me enough to freestyle what became one of my favourite hair stories to date.

My second is Growth, the short film I made with Olivia for Amazon. Olivia's EP and artwork were about love of self especially when it comes to afro hair which comes hand in hand especially for black women as hair is a significant part of tradition and culture. We never saw ourselves on hair care adverts and Afro hair was not a unit that was covered in the curriculum for hairstyling.

It gives me joy to be part of something that aims to inspire myself, my daughter and black women to see the beauty of having hair that defies gravity and the ability to switch looks each day if we wanted.

My third would be getting signed. I never knew they even had agents for hair artists and I have some amazing women representing me so I’m very grateful.

How do you collaborate with other creatives?

When I was starting out I would connect with other assistants in different departments and sometimes (when we had the time) we would meet up for test shoots. Now I feel we are all in positions we are proud of.

Your bio reads 'creating magic without a wand' — what does this mean to you?

My hands are the magic slaying hair for the Gawds lol. On a serious note, the divine blesses everyone with a gift and when nurtured that is where their magic resides. Mine I believe is my hands because of what vision I create and I'm always happy with the results. I’m so grateful and feel blessed to be able to create art for the world to see with hairstyling which is like second nature to me.

What was your vision before the shoot and how did you achieve this?

I spoke with Emily, Nia’s PR back in march and we spoke about the theme of jungle so her sculpture is my depiction of a jungle. The rest was purely preparation. I pre-made the sculpture and my amazing assistants Chaniqwa Brown and Donica Campbell would install the hairpiece under my direction through FaceTime.

Where did your inspiration come from for the cover?

When someone says they want a hairstyle I aim to do something they have never done before and if they have done the look before I make a bespoke variation. Although I am a multi-disciplined hairstylist my favourite styles are anything sculptural when I have the opportunity to experiment. Placement is what makes everything unique and the finishing touch is a wavy braid slightly on the forehead which is one of my signatures I add to most looks.

Art Direction: Vassilis Skandalis

Can you tell me about your role at Mixmag?

As the Art Director at Mixmag, I'm responsible for overseeing all the visual output the publication produces. From event flyers to motion graphics and from social media posts to our covers, I need to ensure that our output meets the highest quality standards and follows our branding guidelines.

What work with Mixmag are you most proud of?

The work I'm most proud of is our latest cover with Nia Archives. It might sound cheesy but it actually is. That's usually the case every time we release a cover and the logic behind it is that we're always evolving and learning. We learn from our past success or mistakes and what we learn we apply to our latest cover, so every cover is better than the last one and is the one I'm most proud of.

What are some of your favourite projects you've worked on outside of Mixmag?

Outside of Mixmag I run my graphic design studio RGB Complex with most of my clients being creatives from within the music industry – DJs, producers, promoters and labels. Some of my favorite projects are album covers like the Elkkas' ‘Harmonic Frequencies’, Slum Village's ‘Fantastic 2020’ and Abstract Orchestra's ‘Madvillain Vol.1’. The feeling you get when receiving a record with your artwork in the post is undateable. In the past few years I also really enjoy creating AR experiences for artists and brands. Mixing the digital and the physical world has proved to be one of my favourite processes as AR has allowed me to merge the various design disciplines I've been working in for the past decade into one.

Read this next: How the first Mixmag cover animated by AI technology was made

How does your work stand out from others?

What makes my work unique is the way I combine various processes to create new ones. I see myself as a specialised generalist – I like to learn many different crafts as it allows me to approach projects with a more spherical understanding and execution. A good example of such works would be the artworks I make for my radio shows. All of the artworks are self portraits in which I create different avatars of myself. I create 3D scans of myself by taking dozens of photos of my face, I then build sets around my avatars, pose them, light them and then finally style them. So each of these artworks is a combination of my love for photography, set design, fashion and art direction.

Can you tell me about the concept behind the Nia Archives cover?

For the concept of this shoot I worked closely with Nia's team: Tom, Emily and Helena and of course Nia, as I wanted this shoot to fully reflect Nia and her personality. During a brainstorming session the words "queen" and "jungle" came up and that's when we decided to portray Nia as the new 'Queen of the jungle'.

Could you also explain how you helped create this cover and the work process behind it?

Once we had the concept I started conducting some visual research and found various references of how we could translate the concept into images. Set designs full of plants, chairs that looked like thrones and hairstyles that looked like jungle vines were all present in my moodboards. The next step was to find and assemble a top notch creative team that could execute our ideas and vision in the best possible way. Then on the day of the shoot I made sure everything went according to plan and followed our moodboards and planning. The final piece of the puzzle is narrowing down the hundreds of photos taken into a set of 10. These 10 photos would be seen by thousands of people so they needed to reflect Nia's personality, Mixmag's aesthetic and create a compelling narrative.

How do you feel about the final cover?

I think the results speak for themselves. I couldn't be happier with this cover. We managed to create original, striking images that are timeless and resonate with both Nia's and Mixmag's audiences. In addition to the actual images, having the opportunity to work with such a creative and diverse team was a privilege and a lot of fun which is as important as the final results for me.

Makeup Artist: MV Brown

What makes your makeup different from others?

I generally don’t like to compare myself to other artists as I feel everyone brings something unique to their artistry. It’s also incredibly hard to pinpoint what makes yourself stand out - I just like to keep pushing myself in what I’m doing, and it feels great that people seem to like what I do. We are often our own worst critics, so it’s nice to be part of a community of artists that generally bolster one another up.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I've always been particularly drawn to imagery from cinema and popular culture throughout history, having studied English literature and film before completing a master’s in fine art. My favourite kind of makeup look is one that is impactful but incredibly simple to execute, these can often be the most effective and sometimes inspiration comes in every day so whilst I try to immerse myself in culture, I could just as easily also draw inspiration from a kitchen utensil.

How would you describe your artistry?

My background in visual art means a lot of my work is painterly and quite performative. I have always been drawn to the transformative powers of makeup and like to push the boundaries of what’s considered beautiful. I also love 1980s music and fashion, so there’s usually a little nod to the new romantics if I can get away with it.

Read this next: Get to know Nia Archives and her ‘future classic’ take on jungle

What are some of your stand out projects?

Stand out projects for me probably have to be the music videos I worked on last year for the Scottish bands Lucia and The Best Boys, and Walt Disco. I love working with musicians as they bring their own creative vision to the table which gives me a lot to play with in terms of makeup – and it’s also super fun getting to hear new tracks before anyone else does. I recently worked with TAAHLIAH on her latest single cover artwork, which comes out next month so keep an eye and ear out for that one.

Do you have any big names that you have worked with?

I did Maisie Williams’ makeup for a couple of events she was hosting at Cop26 in Glasgow last year, and for the magnificent Mykki Blanco when they performed as part of the Take Me Somewhere performance festival, also in Glasgow, back in 2018. Whilst I love travelling for work, it really excites me to come back to the places that helped shape me and feel like home, such as Glasgow.

Does your makeup ever have a message behind it and if so do you have any examples of this?

My work is usually more visual rather than overly conceptual, so I’m not direct with any messages unless this is specified by the client. However, I do hope that through the different looks I create I am able to communicate that beauty is incredibly diverse and not a fixed concept.

How did you feel when asked to do Nia's makeup for the Mixmag cover?

The last cover I worked on for Mixmag was with VTSS which was a wonderful experience, so I was very excited to be asked back to do another, and Nia is very cool – it’s great to be able to meet and work with inspiring people doing their thing. It also felt very special as it was Nia’s first cover, so I was honoured to be a small part of that.

What was your inspiration and vision for Nia's makeup?

The theme was Jungle, so I went with that quite literally when planning the looks. The set was designed by Martha Howe and featured an array of huge plants for Nia to sit amongst, and the incredible Shamara Roper designed Nia’s hair, so I had to create makeup looks that would be complimentary but at the same time act as a counterpoint so they wouldn’t get lost. For the first two looks I worked with brightly coloured lashes which I layered up so that they became multi-total and had an almost feather like quality to them, then in contrast I added flashes of metallic to the inner corners of Nia’s eyes, and lips – using Byredo’s colour sticks, and eyeshadows.

How long did it take to create the looks?

The first look always takes the longest as you do all the skin prep then and base for the rest of the looks, after that it was fairly quick to tweak changes – I added another set of lashes to Nia’s bottom eyelids, which created a 3D effect, beautifully captured for the cover by Clara Casas. For the final look I removed the lashes and created a metallic eye look in a deconstructed leaf shape so that it wasn’t too derivative but still in keeping with the theme.

Did you face any challenges?

Unfortunately, due to time constraints I didn’t manage to execute the final look I had planned – which was to feature green foil around Nia’s eyes. Whilst I think this could have been pretty amazing, I had to make the call in the end to cut it – I hope there’ll be another chance for Nia and I to work together and I can try it out then.

Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

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