Sounds that seem impossible: Loraine James made one of 2021’s best electronic albums - Features - Mixmag

Sounds that seem impossible: Loraine James made one of 2021’s best electronic albums

Tope Olufemi speaks to the Loraine James about the making of Hyperdub album 'Reflection', challenging conventions, and the correct spelling of her name

  • Words: Tope Olufemi | Portrait photography: Suleika Müller
  • 11 November 2021

“Might do a Bandcamp day type thing, I think. I keep saying I'm going to do one with all the misspellings of my name!” laughs Loraine James, as we talk in late August. “I put up a tweet the other day saying ‘Lorraine James’ with two Rs — and people didn’t even clock there was a mistake! That was what was funny to me. People were like ‘Yes!’, and I’m like, what are you chatting about? It’s not even me!’”

Last Friday, the London-born artist delivered on that promise with the 'Wrong Name' EP, available for one week only, and an accompanying T-shirt branded with ‘Laraine, Loriane, Lorraine & Loraine.’ in a style similar to the famous Beatles design made by Amsterdam graphic designers Experimental Jetset.

Though fans, reviewers and the like seem to struggle with understanding how to spell the 25-year-old’s name, her music has had no problem connecting with an audience. Having released two full-length projects through Hyperdub in 2019’s ‘For You and I’ and this year’s ‘Reflection’, Loraine James has become known for her stylish, glitchy sounds and fearless approach, unafraid to pull from different places for inspiration.

James' quiet Enfield upbringing is a stark contrast to her energetic, experimental electronic creations - with the town doing little to inform her musical habits. “There isn't really a scene or anything in Enfield. There isn't clubs or anything to go to,” she tells me over Zoom. Instead, James turned to the internet to discover sounds that she liked. “I listened to stuff like nu-metal — I don't imagine the nearby pub or whatever would have been listening to that!”

James explored YouTube and Last.FM, as well as taking an early interest in Bandcamp, having started digging through catalogues on the platform more than a decade ago. “I was on that every day, just checking what was new. There was a lot of cool free stuff there at the time, and I didn't have money, ‘cause I was like 13, so that was cool.”

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Math rock was another favourite genre from a young age, and that influence cuts through in the wonky time signatures and complex melodies of her output. There is much pleasure in identifying just what genre James is exploring musically through her work, but she feels this leaves her slightly stranded in the electronic music scene.

“Sometimes I feel like people don't know where to put me in. I feel like I do like one track that's grime-inspired and then it's like 'Oh, Loraine does grime! Loraine does grime!', and I'm like 'what?',” she says. “Like, I do all this 'white people shit' like IDM - it's literally even written in the press release - then when I read something about me it's [described as] dancehall, I read one time! I was like 'okay!' [Laughs]”.

Her latest album, ‘Reflection’, which was worked on for a few months in 2020, is one of the best electronic albums of the year. Much of the project looks inwards, and James’ self-awareness about how her music may sound to some is increasingly present. “I like to take little instances - little bits of the song - and just switch it, and sort of just surprise listeners,” James tells me in regard to the use of glitch in her tracks, as well as bouncing kick drums, strange percussive elements and quiet vocal lines that create alien sounds and rhythms that seem impossible. But she’s also careful not to make her music too impenetrable. “I don't want to take away from the actual song, I don't want to butcher it up too much,” she says. “That's what I'd maybe do in a live performance, but for a song, I want you to at least somewhat enjoy it, you know?”

The soundscapes she creates are also enriched across the tracklist via collaborations with a number of artists, including Le3 bLACK, Eden Samara and Iceboy Violet. Her knack for re-imagining what exists and moulding together genres is present all over ‘Reflection’. James tells me she spent a lot of last year listening to drill music, and the fat snare drums and rattling hi-hats typical of the sound audible on ‘Black Ting’, featuring Le3 bLACK, are a fantastic example of James mixing mellow synth melodies with the rapid drum styles of drill. “I don't want to do some Tion Wayne type beat! I knew it wasn't gonna happen, even if I tried,” she says.

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James tells me she jotted down a couple of different musical lanes she wanted to take with ‘Reflection’, though she notes her process is much more messy than neatly thought-out stylistic choices. “I wrote 'R&B-ish', and I wrote 'Erika De Casier-inspired-ish.' That's what I wrote before I started it. And then the first couple of songs I made, I think, were, 'Let's Go' and 'We're Building Something New'. So, not what I wrote down! I was like, whatever, let me just do what I feel.”

“I never really know where a project is going to take shape,” she adds. “It takes a few songs, or even 10 songs or so, for me to sort of piece it all together.”

Her distinctive voice also appears a number of times on the record, with interesting, trance-like lyrical choices that bring listeners incredibly close to James while they take in songs such as ‘Self Doubt (Leaving The Club Early)’ and ‘Simple Stuff’, which is a project favourite for many.

“It wasn't planned at all. I had my phone and I was just mumbling some stuff. Obviously a lot of it sounds very deadpan — that’s partly because I was recording into my phone, but I also didn't want my partner to hear me!” she laughs. “I was very embarrassed, a lot of it was just like [whispers] ‘I like the simple stuff..', you know, like that. I kept it in because I got so used to hearing it how it was, and I couldn't imagine a version of it with more energy. I kind of like how flat it sounds.”

Read this next: "Never constrained by anything": TAAHLIAH's fearless creativity fuses emotion, pop and experimental electronics

Loraine has been incredibly successful in experimenting and pushing the boundaries of electronic music. Currently touring ‘Reflection’, her live show takes things even further, with added twists and turns. We lay in wait to see what convention she'll upend next.

'Reflection' is out now via Hyperdub, get it here

Tope Olufemi is a freelance writer, follow them on Twitter

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