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Poet and producer James Massiah remembers the times he's felt most free

We teamed up with Burberry and asked James Massiah to explore the themes of boundlessness, weightlessness and freedom through a digital poetry zine

To celebrate the launch of Burberry’s Monogram puffer collection, Dazed partnered with the iconic British brand to spotlight young pioneers breaking boundaries across the globe. We asked four creatives to make a piece of work which responds to the ideas of boundlessness, weightlessness and freedom. View Massiah’s zine and the rest of the work in a digital gallery, here. 

Usually found rooted behind the decks or deep on the dancefloor at any given night, poet, producer, DJ, and performer James Massiah is a boundless force in London nightlife, everywhere and nowhere all at once. 

This apparently limitless energy has propelled the poet into proclivity, whether he’s hosting ongoing NTS broadcast The Poætry Show, penning verses in celebration of Prince Charles’ 70th birthday or performing Optimism 101, a reading of 101 poems orbiting stoicism, materialism, hedonism, and happiness live at the ICA. Last month, the Dazed 100 alum teamed up with director Ian Pons Jewell on a UKMVA-nominated video for his track “Natural Born Killers (Ride for Me)”, a film which sees the poet and a disparate cast of characters crawling through an uninhibitedly overheated dystopian cityscape in an amoral tale of divine retribution or environmental ruin. 

Seventh-day Adventist turned “amoral egoist”, Massiah’s is a purposefully self-deterministic philosophy blending moral nihilism with psychological egoism. Freedom, through Massiah’s eyes, “Looks like Prince, sounds like funk music and feels like being high.” It lives in the endless potential of a night out, in altered states and the sense that anything could happen - if you keep your mind open.

Firstly, can you tell us about the work you created for Boundless?

James Massiah: I wrote a series of poems in response to the theme. I recorded them and collaborated with graphic designer Peter Kent to visualise them for a final digital zine.

The poems themselves, what are they about?

James Massiah: Freedom, essentially. Times I've felt free and situations I've been free in. One line talks about having the feeling that no one else exists. I guess relating to feeling free from the expectations and condemnations of others. Another poem describes a party situation, the freedom that is felt in dancing and being in an altered state of consciousness.  

I'm a determinist, so I have some interesting perspectives on the notion of freedom. I think I write a lot about freedom from moral or ethical constraints through nihilism and about the freedom to decide what you want for yourself within the constraints offered by your reality through egoism.

I was definitely thinking about nights out, being in a slightly altered state and enjoying the adventures that come at such times, the feeling of freedom from deadline or obligation or routine.

Freedom, through Massiah’s eyes, “Looks like Prince, sounds like funk music and feels like being high.”

What was your first experience of freedom?

James Massiah: Hard to say. I'm sure at the point of birth there was something like that felt and then at many other points in my early childhood. Playing my Nintendo 64, riding my bike, being told I'm not grounded anymore, the end of Sabbath hours, and so many other instances I could imagine.

Give us an insight into the method through which you make your work. 

James Massiah: I try not to think too much, opting for impulse and feeling where possible, just to get started having a simple idea in my mind; a word or a picture or a sentence or an idea. Any hard thinking or fact checking or research comes once I’ve got that initial burst of inspiration out of the way, it may or may not return, but I try not to burden or inhibit that feeling with too much concern for 'rightness’.

Do you have a typical creative process?

James Massiah: It's pretty straightforward for me. Writing down ideas as they come, generally into apps on my phone. I sat down to try and knock out some ideas in a session, and there was some procrastination and doodling. I watched some standup, listen to some rock music, watched some of my favourite series and then got back to it.

I think people underestimate the value of time in these processes though. It's all about being happy with the work, and that may take a day or an hour or a year. So I left it alone and then came back to it, and found myself cutting a bunch of the stuff I'd written and landed on new ideas that I was happy with having had some time to look away and then look back at the poems with fresh eyes. 

I love coming up with ideas in the shower or when cycling. Those two modes really seem to help generating ideas. 

Finally, what you are looking forward to seeing next from Riccardo Tisci at Burberry?

James Massiah: I've always been a fan of the trench coat, I'm excited to see how it can be reimagined for the future.

Click here to be transported into Boundless, a weightless digital realm…