The joy in music: TSHA’s timeless house is inspired by heartfelt connections
TSHA talks to Ralph Moore about the influence of family connections, staying independent, clubs reopening and the new dance music landscape
It’s a really great time to be a new DJ on the block. A million fresh-faced future clubbers turned 18 in the UK during lockdown, and if recent events at fabric, Ministry Of Sound and Oval Space are anything to go by, they’re ready to rave with all-new heroes and heroines. In Room 3 at fabric on the opening Friday, Eliza Rose and Emerald smashed the place to pieces and at Oval Space last Saturday, the room was packed with ravers ready for an E8- inspired Summer Of Love. No established headliners are needed for this clique: Marcelina Wick, Ray Mono and Alex Virgo were the key players and the place was packed to the rafters. And that’s before we even get to Gala Festival, which was arguably the biggest underground look in London post-lockdown so far. It was also unequivocally the look and sound of young London: with DJs from Bradley Zero and Overmono to our current cover star TSHA killing it behind the decks. “It was great for the endorphins!” she laughs when we Zoom after Gala. It was only her second show after 18 months: the first was the weekend before at Standon Calling in Hertfordshire. Make no mistake: we’re a long way from Shoom ’89 now. And Danny Rampling isn’t invited.
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[Scarf by Martha]
But not everyone is going to have a lifelong career lost in music: COVID is diminishing the careers of oodles of mid-tier, mid-career DJs. I’m not talking Charlotte, Nina or Amelie here: if anything, those DJs are coming back harder than ever. It’s the ones who used to command several thousand a show but never quite hit the headlining big time. Put simply, for the next 18 months, clubs are going to be full because they’re open for business. Especially if you’re a club with real soul and history. Room Two at fabric is now the place to be for the heads, with artists like Bristol’s Batu leading the Timedance charge rather than what in the past might have been a tech-house artist with a solid social media following. Truly, there’s never been a better time to be an emerging talent with an armoury of new music and an agent who doesn’t insist that you’re paid more than market value because you’ve become a hype artist.
Thankfully, there are plenty of producers who are clearly going to go the distance and one of these is definitely the equal parts exciting and excitable TSHA. In person, she’s smart, articulate and engaging and best of all, she’s a brilliant melodic house producer bubbling with positive energy. She’s also purely self-taught and has got the kind of drive you need to succeed. And in the current era, these things matter more than ever. When a door appears closed, she figures out a way to open it. And when there’s no door at all, she creates one and steps through it to the next dimension. So it’s little wonder that elder statesmen like Sasha and Pete Tong are both backing her. In many ways, her hustle is not that different to theirs. And at his set celebrating the re-opening of The Lab LDN, Sasha dropped TSHA’s remix of ‘The Key To Life On Earth’ by Declan McKenna. When we Zoom a couple of days later, she already knows that he played it.
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But where did this attention to detail come from? On her recent Essential Mix, she went the full artistic range from her own edit of Cheb Arab’s ‘Law Kan’ and Supertramp’s ‘Cannonball’ to ‘90s mainstays Ali Dubfire and Sharam with Deep Dish Presents DC Depressed ‘Come Back’. It was fascinating to hear such a young producer digging out old house classics from the likes of Armand Van Helden and Deep Dish — she credits the influence of her brother Colton for that. “I wanted to make sure I had new and old music in there and things that I remembered from when I was growing up because my brother was a DJ,” she reminisces. “So then I went and raided his records as well! When I was younger, he used to practice in my living room. And that's kind of how I got into DJing and into dance music: through him. So he let me take his records and I went through and took a lot of speed garage and all sorts. I wanted to make sure that I gave a nod to that period of my early childhood.”
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[2 piece suit by Ninety Fly Archive - Moschino; Gloves by Christoph Ritter Studio]
Before she moved to London, TSHA (real name Teisha Matthews) was a hip hop DJ at a club called Motion in her hometown Fareham (“and upstairs they played Sean Paul!”) but she also loved fabric in Farringdon for all the reasons you’d expect. “That was my first rave. And I’ve played there twice so it has a special place in my heart. In general, my best sets are for people over 25. I’ve had a tough time with fresh 18-year-olds before. You have to mix it in and test it out and see how they vibe!” But she’s delighted to be able to educate new crowds. “People can find joy in old music and I love bringing it back around. There are so many great records that have already been written!”
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She also took a degree in Urban Dance at The University of East London. “I ended up dropping out after two years though. They focused on contemporary dance like popping and locking and this degree was supposed to be really diverse and offer all sorts of styles… It was supposed to be changing every term. It did at least give me more of a music education.” But when Bonobo included her tripped-out 2018 instrumental single ‘Sacred’ on his ‘fabric Presents’ compilation, she started to build momentum and decided to use social media to not only connect with key industry heads, but also found her manager the same way: via Instagram. A self-confessed fan of Four Tet and Maribou State, her manager Mooj also happened to manage the latter. To these ears, the super-deep, psychedelic, Maribou-esque single ‘Moon’ may well be her best moment to date, but Pete Tong has backed ‘Sister’ and ‘Flowers’ all the way on Radio 1 and recently bestowed her with that killer aforementioned Essential Mix. She even dropped ‘The Bomb’ by The Bucketheads in the middle of the mix: again, a nod to her older brother who first introduced her to the evergreen house anthem.
[Coat by Ninety Fly Archive - Sinead Gorey; Glasses by Ninety Fly Archive - Louis Vuitton]
TSHA has her mother as well her brother to thank for her initial invite to the dance. Her Mum went to raves in the early ‘90s and it’s clear that she’s displayed a determined, entrepreneurial rave spirit herself. “My Mum is a massive dance music fan and would go and see Carl Cox in a random field! Texting numbers just to find a location. My Mum loved to go to raves and dance all night… I have nostalgia for something I wasn’t even at! She just loved the bass.” But as a DJ, her brother must be particularly proud? “Yeah, like insanely proud! He’s always messaging me to say how proud he is. That's one of the reasons why I enjoy playing his records. Because it made him so happy to hear stuff that he loved that he used to play. He didn't realize how much he influenced me. I just remember my house being filled with music and it'd be very loud, as he was always practicing! So it just brings back memories of a really nice period in my household, because then I had quite a turbulent childhood, whereas that was a really good period of my life growing up.”
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Although estranged from her father until recently, one wonderful thing came out of a recent conversation with him: she discovered that she has a new older sister. “I wrote ‘Sister’ after finding out I had an older half-sister from my estranged father who she’s also estranged from,” she explains quite frankly. “We spoke on the phone and we were texting each other in lockdown and we recently met up for the first time. She’s lovely and we got on straight away, so I’m very happy to have a new member of my family as I’ve not had much of that in my life! The song is an expression of all of those feelings.”
Signing to the acclaimed London label Ninja Tune was also something of a masterstroke. She’s the first to admit that she didn’t have a Plan B label-wise and indeed, having signed an album deal with the imprint, she doesn’t need one either. “My deal was all albums,” she confides. “And the album will be next year. Definitely. 1,000% that's what I'm working on right now.” Talk then turns to the UK singer-songwriter Raye, who recently left Polydor Records after never being allowed to release a full-length album. It’s a subject close to her heart and also the exact opposite to her position at Ninja. “I feel so comfortable,” she nods. “Whereas that's a really horrible position to be in because she's such an amazing songwriter. She's so talented. It seems almost nuts for the average person that she's not being allowed to put an album out. But yeah, it's just the way they work and because they don't think about the money they're spending as well, as I feel like I do with my label. If you're going to do a marketing budget, that’s something that we go back and forth with each other on and we say what's reasonable and what makes sense so no one's getting in debt. But I imagine a major label like hers, they probably just go ‘oh, you want to make a 100 grand music video, well here you go’ and then you end up in this weird debt.”
The initial release of ‘OnlyL’ saw TSHA grace Spotify’s iconic New Music Friday billboard in New York’s Times Square and as you can see from our current digital cover, TSHA is going global. She also has an acclaimed radio show on Apple Music called Jackfruit Radio that’s featured like-minded musicians from Daniel Avery to Maribou State. (It’s where this writer first heard ‘Moon’.) She also wrote another instant classic called ‘Demba’ (‘Godmother’), a collaboration with Malian griot music group Trio Da Kali recently. Meanwhile, as Mixmag was shooting the future superstar for the cover last week, a new song from the EP called ‘Power’ dropped on all platforms. The sample in ‘Power’ is a purposeful nod to the “Brit Funk” era of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, sourced from an obscure 1982 B-side by Direct Drive—an early ‘80s Brit Funk project by Paul ‘19’ Hardcastle and Derek Green prior to them forming First Light. That attention to detail is impressive.
[Boots by Ninety Fly Archive - Dior]
TSHA is a bold and brave artist on the cusp of DJ superstardom. But she’s also extremely honest. During lockdown, she had her own internal battles to fight. “Yeah,” she nods. “I'm probably my own worst critic, to be honest. I have been really lucky. I haven't had as many negative people like trolls and stuff, but I had one troll the other day that really upset me and I was just like, I need to just not read things! I just need to ignore it because I'm way too sensitive.” She battled this in one way by buying a puppy, a Cavapoo called Nala: “She lifts my spirits a lot… dogs are the best thing ever! Just seeing her little face makes me happy.” There’s so much joy to be found in the world, and TSHA’s timeless house is helping dancefloors find it.
TSHA's 'OnlyL' EP is out via Ninja Tune on August 27, pre-order it here
Ralph Moore is Mixmag's Music Director, follow him on Twitter