The pandemic may have hit its stride, but with her new album Reflection, Loraine James is poised to solidify her position as one of the UK’s brightest and most repulsive electronic producers, by mingling IDM – the “intelligent dance music” of artists such as Aphex Twin – with R&B, jazz and drill influences.
Raised in a tower in Enfield, North London, James has been inspired by electronic music since her teenage years, seduced by IDM greats like Squarepusher and Telefon Tel Aviv: “I have always been intrigued by IDM melodic, and I wanted to reproduce it, ”she says, sitting among drinkers of craft beers at a bar in Hackney Wick, east London. But James went far beyond simple replication.
“I really am a salon producer,” she says. “I had a keyboard that my mom bought when I was younger. From my apartment, I could see the London skyline, so I would jam on the keyboard for hours, overlooking the sky. James’ tracks have a paradoxical deconstruction: they can seem disjointed at first until you realize that every knock and beat is intentional. She mimics the controlled chaos of free jazz, embracing dissonance and eerie time signatures through rhythms and glitchy synths. “My music is a bit rough,” she says. “A lot of them sound a bit messy, but I’m not re-recording them because I like the way they sound.”
His 2019 album For You and I was widely acclaimed by critics, topping year-end lists in Quietus and DJ Mag. James assumed her gig at Hackney Wick, around the corner where she’s sitting today, was meant to be the start of her breakout year. “People only understood me when the year-end lists came out, so I wasn’t well known until last year” – then the pandemic hit. “It’s like I’ve gone upstairs and suddenly disappeared. It’s a bit of shit.
With the tour canceled, James was forced to contemplate the state of his life, hence Reflection. “Sitting there with your thoughts for a year is difficult. I just felt anxious and depressed.
After quitting her job as a teaching assistant during the height of the lockdown, not knowing whether her music career would flourish if she couldn’t perform live, James found himself in constant worry. Music gave her a bit of a break – “I felt anxious, but I was at my most confident when I was making music” – so she focused on her craft. “I made more music last year than I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t know what the containment did, but it did something!
With his pre-For You and I music, “there was no emotional storytelling, it was more technical than emotional”. Now, on Reflection’s standout track Self Doubt, James channels the numbness she felt as she rushed out of a club, feeling anxious after a set. Although James prides herself on her “scrappy” sound when producing her tracks, she can’t help but over-prep her live sets, which fuels her anxiety. “There were times when I played and left the club right after,” she says. “I thought I had been shit or hadn’t done as well as I wanted, so I awkwardly walk through the crowd, grabbing my suitcase.”
James’ anxiety hasn’t completely gone away, as she feels compelled to make sure Reflection is a solid sequel in her early days. “I want people to like this. I never thought about awards before, but now it’s somewhere in my head.
This pressure is compounded by the fact that she is one of the few prominent queer black women in electronic music. “There aren’t a lot of black faces in the queues, so the spaces continue to look white. White people just want to see each other on the dance floor.