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Bipolar Sunshine
Ibrahim Kamara and Sean Geraghty

Bipolar Sunshine: gone double platinum but not a pop star

We premiere his new video ‘Major Love’ and speak to him about being pigeonholed, Polydor and pushing forward on his own path

Although Bipolar Sunshine has a double platinum-selling song under his belt, he’s about to release his second EP independently. In 2013 he put out Drowning Butterflies, while selling grillz in his granddad’s shop in Nottingham following the split of his old band Kid British. The EP earned him comparisons with Morrissey and secured a record deal with Polydor, who signed him believing in his potential for crossover appeal.

Their prediction wasn’t entirely wrong – in 2015 he featured on DJ Snake’s stadium-filling “Middle”, while his latest track “Major Love” (premiering below) is a piece of ultra-infectious and polished pop music. But Bipolar Sunshine isn’t a pop star. When he was writing “Middle”, he’d just been dropped from his label for the second time – as he puts it, Polydor implied that they didn’t know where to place him as a black artist making pop music. When he got the text telling him how well “Middle” had performed, he was on a bus in Manchester, unknown to everyone around him.

‘Grey’ is a word that Bipolar Sunshine – real name Adio Marchant – uses to describe the broad range of music that he’s made, from melancholy reflections on the breakup of his band on the first EP, to summertime jams like “Deckchairs On The Moon”. It’s also the name of his label through which he’ll release his new EP, Imaginarium. As he chats to us over Skype from his current home in LA, Marchant explains what being an artist the industry wasn’t ready for has taught him about the music business, and himself.

How did being a black musician impact the time you were a signed artist?

Bipolar Sunshine: As a black artist, they (the music industry) are always trying to find someone else you can be like. You can be big if you’re like someone like Tinie Tempah, but I’m not. I don’t like the same music as this guy. Because you’re both black people, people would assume. But nobody goes like, ‘Arctic Monkeys – they’re trying to be like The Kooks.’ The comparison only happens with black artists. There’s always a Beyoncé versus Rihanna. They’re not challenging each other, but the industry makes them feel like there’s a challenge.

Is your music a political statement then? By that I mean, do you consciously make songs that resist the stereotypes thrust on black musicians?

Bipolar Sunshine: Since being younger and hearing people I like – from DMX to Stone Roses to acid house – people would be like, ‘Why’s this black kid listening to that?’ and not quite getting it. That was always a thing for me. It wasn’t trying to make something just to resist, it was making something that always felt natural. There’s many ways to describe war, there’s many ways to describe love, there’s thousands of ways to be articulate and give someone a certain feeling in lyrics – it’s just the way you put the words together. I feel like I’m a guy who can always riddle my way into things with certain lyrics that I’ve said, and other people can analyse them when I’m dead.

How did you feel after you left Polydor?

Bipolar Sunshine: I think my confidence got hit a little bit. But then I was just like, ‘I’ll be making music anyway, they can’t actually stop me. It’s something I enjoy and I’m good at, so it doesn’t really mean anything. I just need to look at things from a different viewpoint.’

Was ‘Middle’ an easier collaboration because you were independent at the time?

Bipolar Sunshine: Yeah, a lot easier! I didn’t have to deal with anyone, label-wise, about the record. I’d previously been talking to Snake’s manager unknowingly in some studio in London and then bam, he messaged me back and said ‘I think this song is sick, might wanna use it for something?’ He actually made it the first single off his album and because he’d put it out as the first single, it just took it to a whole new level with everything.

“I feel like I’m breaking myself. In this climate, I’m paving my own way. I don’t really have someone else’s road to follow” – Bipolar Sunshine

How did your life change after that success?

Bipolar Sunshine: I used it as a platform to be able to move to LA. There are a lot of people that I wanted to work with, and I realised that everyone who’s a producer or an artist or a writer has always passed through LA. I’ve used it to set up my own label and release my own music.

Have you heard from Polydor since you parted ways?

Bipolar Sunshine: A few people have been in touch to congratulate me on ‘Middle’, but it was like a kick in the teeth for them – especially because Snake had to put the song out through Polydor in the UK. So it was even more of a, ‘How did you have this guy six months ago, and how has this now happened?’ situation.

You must have had label offers since ‘Middle’.

Bipolar Sunshine: I’ve just not been entertaining anyone! It’s just like, ‘I only wanna talk if they wanna talk to me for the right things, otherwise we don’t need to speak.’ If it’s on a label situation, what is the actual blueprint, and how much of that are you actually going to try to stick to? How much of that do you understand, how much of media do you understand, how much black culture and pop music do you understand? Because these things are vital in trying to break an artist in that way. The way I see it is, I feel like I’m breaking myself. In this climate, I’m paving my own way. I don’t really have someone else’s road to follow. I either have to follow a rap guy or follow how a general Sam Smith-style singing guy would do it. I’d only have that lane. But I have a lane that’s my lane.

What’s the new EP like?

Bipolar Sunshine: It’s going to be the next level intro to what I can actually do. People will be able to have, ten songs of Bipolar Sunshine and be like, ‘He’s been able to push his own self.’ My own challenge is my own self – I’m not fazed by what anyone else is releasing. There’s some trap tunes in there, there’s some house tunes in there, but I wouldn’t even break it down into genres. How I see music, if people were to class the colours as genres, as long as someone gives me all the colours, whatever I put on the board, is the image I want it to be.

Are you nervous about how people will react to your new sound?

Bipolar Sunshine: What’s been played out beforehand, played out beforehand. If you were to judge me on something I’d done four/five years ago, it’s like judging Skepta on Ed Hardy clothes, d’you know what I mean? You don’t do that, you just accept that this is a person now who’s moved onto something different. And I’ve been invigorated by the people that have been doing the whole shit – your Skeptas, your Stormzys. As much as I may not be from London or whatever, I can see their dudes going ham and smashing it, and I fully appreciate it when I see those types of things. Those moments are what’s inspirational for black music.

What’s the concept behind the ‘Major Love’ video?

Bipolar Sunshine: It’s about having that real sense of power – I’m the king of my own situation. So it’s not conforming to just having 12 girls running around you, like some blah thing that’s just played out. It’s about projecting a real sense of love and passion through powerful colours, powerful images. It’s showing a love that almost looks ancient, it almost looks like you don’t see it anymore and that’s kind of what I’m trying to come from – I’m not something that’s seen every day. We’re all in this together but I’m trying to be something far greater than people think I can possibly be.