Describing her lo-fi jungle style as ‘future-classic’, 22-year-old Nia Archives is carving new shapes in a genre linked intrinsically to her dual-cultural identity. “I grew up around soundsystem culture, as half of my family are Jamaican, and I was always drawn towards that sound, the drums and the distorted bass,” she says.
During her childhood, Nia didn’t know that it was called ‘jungle’. it was simply the music that she grew up with — alongside reggae, disco, rap, gospel from attending church, and indie which she listened to alongside her mates from school. Being immersed in this broad tapestry of sounds without paying mind to any boundaries between them ultimately shaped the music that she now makes: a stylistic fusion that reflects her life and upbringing.
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Alongside forging her own sound, Nia Archives has made her own way in the industry. “I was working with and reaching out to producers and stuff but they weren’t getting back to me, so I thought I’d stop waiting around and just start making beats myself”, she explains. She watched YouTube tutorials and started her production journey by making boom bap, eventually adding her array of other influences to create a style of jungle that merges the hard-hitting foundations with dreamy melodies and neo-soul vocals.
Her debut EP ‘Headz Gone West’ dropped in April this year, with the blend of upbeat drum patterns and signature sombre lyrics winning her many admirers among fans and industry peers. Lead single ‘Sober Feels’ caught fire, racking up more than two million streams to date, and soon she was working alongside jungle great Congo Natty, aka Rebel MC, with a remix of Lava La Rue’s ‘Magpie’. Nia has also been mentored by DJ Flight as part of the EQ50 mentorship programme, worked with the likes of Redlight, IZCO, Jakwob and V Recordings, and played DJ sets at events and festivals such as Alchemy, Manchester International Festival and City Splash.
Born and raised near Leeds, moving out alone to Manchester aged 16, and currently living in London, Nia and her music is a true amalgamation of the places she has been and the people she’s been surrounded by throughout her life. She’s from a musical family and grew up learning instruments; her ex-stepfather, a producer and rapper, introduced her to Logic Pro at age 12; and her Nana was a “lover of music”, who played her jungle tracks and helped introduce her to powerful women of colour in music such as M.I.A, Jennifer Lara and Ms Dynamite. In her late teenage years she began writing songs to help cope in a “really tough” period of her life. “I wrote albums worth of songs back then”, she explains.
It was following her move to Manchester that Nia discovered her love of raving and rave music, doing a lot of her personal growth on the dancefloor: “because you know how it is, when you live alone, you just go out all the time”. Manchester’s Hidden was a pivotal venue, providing a place where she felt like she could immerse herself in the music that fuelled her soul and connect with like-minded people as “everyone [in Manchester] is always up for a good time”.
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Now in London, Nia creates music from her laptop and is flourishing by fully immersing herself in an “inspirational and diverse city” - a stark contrast to the predominantly white neighbourhood just outside of Leeds where she was born, where she was one of the only people of colour.
She’s moved away from the “depressing” tracks she was making when she started out that had “quite deep [lyrics], but on slow beats”, deciding to “double time it and go from boom bap tempo to jungle tempo”. This created a whole new sound which has now become her staple. “It’s like emotional music, but also you're raving, you're dancing, because it's so fast and high tempo”, she describes.
“Making beats is fun, it’s like a video game to me,” Nia says of her anything goes approach. “I draw inspiration from a lot of the original jungle producers like Roni Size, Reprazent, Remarc and Lemon D,” and that can be heard across the ‘Headz Gone West’ EP. All of the tracks have the signature choppy drum patterns synonymous with the 1990s, a musical feature Nia is impressed by because “[it’s cool] that they were able to make sonic masterpieces on such rudimental hardware.”
A new EP titled ‘Forbidden Feelingz’ is set to arrive in February, which she describes as a representation of her life in its current state. The forthcoming record will be “different to the last one”, with more of an emphasis on the production than the lyrics. Her growth as a producer is audible on recent singles ‘Forbidden Feelingz’ and ‘18 and Over’, which retain hooks and singing, but subtly fuse the rap and soul-influenced flows into the melodies rather than have them take centre stage. “I think my last project was a lot more songs, and this one's a lot more like beats,” she says.
Nia Archives is keen to make her mark as a young Black woman in the jungle scene, which has been gentrified and often erases the pioneers who led the genre into existence, and set an example in the industry. “I'm trying to push more Black women producers into light and hope to see more of them,” she says.
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Ultimately, Nia wants to be remembered. “Not in an ego way, but when I listen to some of my tracks, I just feel like these will be classics in around 10 years. They’ll make people feel something”, she says. This is what she means by ‘future-classic’, a term she proudly holds to herself. “I feel like my music has got lots of references to the old skool sound and the vision, but is also still very new and contemporary”.
Nia is evolving, and is constantly learning more about herself. She’s embracing her growth and it correlates with her creative process: “I’m both excited and nervous [for people to listen to the new EP], I feel like this is what I'm supposed to be like and it fits where I am at this point in my life”.
Nia Archives 'Forbidden Feelingz' is out in February
Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter