When we spoke to zoee earlier this year, the idiosyncratic UK singer-songwriter told us why she doesn’t have too many frontmen or frontwomen she looks up to. “People are expected to be incredible frontpeople, and it’s refreshing when you see musicians and performers that don’t necessarily feel that comfortable on stage,” she told us. “I suppose I connect with people that are frontpeople, but feel slightly uncomfortable with it.”
Her clubnight Insecure – which shares a title with her debut EP – comes from a similar mindset, encouraging London’s nightlife to take their coyness with them to the dancefloor. With the night returning for its second outing at the Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton, east London tomorrow (September 28), we profiled some of the artists in zoee’s orbit – some of whom will be gracing the stage, though perhaps reluctantly.
The video for zoee’s debut single “Insecure” is shot from a bedroom window. It sees the London based tune-twister sing coyly from the street below, as if she’s creeping on a crush. The clip tells you everything you need to know about the city’s most intriguing new talent, whose melodic synthpop is at once coy and confident, thrilling and unsure of itself.
In May, zoee launched a clubnight of the same name, paring live music with performance, DJ sets and projection art. The acts, says zoee, share an outsiderish point of view, unafraid to extol an inner vulnerability and the mixed, complex emotions at play in their work. “While many artists seem to have a strong, confident exterior, I’ve always felt a little bit vulnerable and uncertain as an artist,” says zoee, who sometimes sings as part of The Rhythm Method. “I felt like it could be fun to explore this feeling of insecurity not just through my songs, but through the clubnight as well. I’m really interested in music or art that isn’t afraid to be fragile, a little bit rough around the edges, unhinged and hard to pin down.
“The more I talked to other artists and friends about insecurity, the more it became apparent that there’re a lot of people making things that relate to this feeling,” she continues. “I begun to feel really excited about creating a space for people who I feel are taking risks, but are also willing to be vulnerable or perhaps are still just working things out.”
The second Insecure takes place in Hoxton tomorrow night, and will, zoee promises, continue to push London clubbing into fresh territory. “I think usually the best clubnights in London are conceived by outsiders,” she contemplates. “By people who want to create a space that doesn't already exist.” — Jack Mills
Drifting into focus like a slow-moving fog, the subliminal and sublime anti-music of “Fondly” opens Bianca Scout’s newest self-released record, Dylsexia. Later, “Little Lies”, a concussed take on the Fleetwood Mac hit, sured up the Londoner’s aims: to drown pop music in dreaminess. “It’s a bit like coming up from underwater,” she says of her sound. “I guess it kinda does come from a unconscious place...swooping and looping, there’s something about layered voices which really connects me to this world.”
Scout’s debut 2015 track was a collaboration with London luminary Klein, a bowing, string-laden take on “Hotline Bling”. Since then, she’s put out two releases – the scatty and hypnotising Luwak Rich and the barely-there Voyager. “(I) sing little tunes to comfort me,” Scout, who will perform live for the first time at Insecure tomorrow night, says. “It sounds so soppy, but it’s really fun. If people are coming to escape from reality, I hope they have a good time.” — Jack Mills
Wrung through a kind of hazy web-art filter, across installation, agitprop and performance, Roxman Gatt’s work explores love and loneliness in the age of the iPhone. Shown at his year’s Venice Biennale, recent psychedelic animation “Virgin Mary’s Love Juice” sees the mother of Jesus blaspheming while emoji-like love hearts disappear into the ether. In a live performance, she simulated sex under a bed-sheet opposite 10 Downing Street – a two hour “pointless protest” juxtaposing the public with the private.
Growing up in Malta before studying at the Royal College of Art in London, “Virgin Mary’s Love Juice” was in part a reaction against her nation’s Catholic norms. “Contemporary art wasn’t really big (in Malta), and I didn’t know much at all,” she says. “The only familiarity I had with art were the paintings in the church.” Today, alongside her work at Margate’s most forward-thinking arts space Open School East, Gatt has moved towards music – co-running roving London clubnight Pussy Mafia and writing her own glitchy digi-pop under the name Roxman2pt0.
The second Insecure night will offer Gatt the chance to play her music live for the first time. “Clubs can provide spaces for new-formed families to get together and express themselves in ways that might not be possible elsewhere,” she observes of zoee’s event. “What’s necessary is to keep having enriching experiences, good feelings, make new connections and share the love.” — Jack Mills
LAVA LA RUE
Ava Laurel describes herself as a “London-bred, half-Jamaican, half-Latvian queer teenage femcee”. As Lava la Rue, pictured below on the right, she transforms the basslines of Britain’s soundsystems and pirate radio stations into mellow, lo-fi bedroom jams. Laurel’s tracks, performed at Zoee’s first Insecure night, are defined by lethargic spoken-word that feels like fragments of poems found on sketch paper.
Born to raver parents, the 19-year-old artist grew up on house and techno while absorbing soul, reggae and gospel at her grandma’s house on Sundays. She tried to start a jangle-pop band as a teen, but soon turned to spitting bars with local hip-hop heads. “I wanted to combine my spoken- word with the visual art I was making,” says Laurel. “I started chilling with a group of bedroom producers, skaters and artists. We’d put on little (rap) cyphers in my room with a crappy mic plugged into a guitar amp.”
That group would later form the core of NiNE8, the art movement Laurel founded in 2016 with the help of girlfriend ORLA (pictured left). “Doing things DIY was my only option as a kid who wanted to be creative but had no connections or funding,” she says. “You meet other kids on the same vibe as you so you can all pitch in.” — Selim Bulut
In an industrial hanger off Brick Lane in March, artist ORLA debuted “CANS”, an installation piece featuring detritus rescued from a fictional dystopian supermarket. In it, amputated mannequin hands spun in cages ad infinitum — the vision of a future overrun with algorithms and advertising.
“CANS” was shown as part of a one-night showcase by NiNE8, the south London art pact Carolin founded with girlfriend and collaborator Lava La Rue in 2012. But it wasn’t the first time she’d taken a spotlight to anodyne everyday life, transforming her flat into a rose-hued love chamber for a music video for rapper Biig Piig. “(The song) explores an appreciation of mundane activities within a living relationship,” says Carolin, who uses colour in her paintings to express a complex tonic of feelings. “I’m always attempting to access my subconscious, deeper emotions. I want to unravel as much as possible.”
That ORLA is friends with zoee – who she invited to play at a NiNE8 clubnight after they met, and whose work also anchors on obsession and emotional confusion – comes as no surprise. “‘Insecure’ strongly relates to my work,” she says of zoee’s night. “I enjoy experiencing the vocal expression of (an) artist’s emotions.” — Jack Mills
The Baroness doesn’t write or sing on any of her own songs, nor does she claim to. The hyperreal pop starlet was conceived by French-born, London-based performance artist Emma Gruner with Matthew Holroyd, founder of erotic paperback Baroness. Gruner sees The Baroness as an extension of her own art. “My practice is concerned around notions of sexualised self-representation, using myself as the subject of all my visuals,” she explains.
The Baroness’s first single, “Xstasy”, produced by Insecure affiliate Viva Victoria, was released last year alongside a combative mini-manifesto: “The Baroness questions how sex is perpetuated in our modern society. Does The Baroness look tantalising and appealing? Will you fall in love and buy her product?”
These sexual mind-games were manifested in its music video, a series of grainy close-ups of Gruner getting it on in a hotel room. Fusing pop and product, everything The Baroness wore in the video was later put on sale, right down to her worn underwear. But how much of this was The Baroness, and how much was Gruner? “The Baroness is inspired by my fantasies,” Gruner says. “I don’t play characters.” — Selim Bulut
As a drummer, Victoria Smith has toured with M.I.A., The xx and Soulwax, but she always planned to put herself centre-stage. “Growing up gay in a small town made me want to get out and make my voice heard,” says the Bedford-born, south London-based musician.
As Viva Victoria, Smith makes smart, future-facing synth-pop that’s all about catharsis (her video for single “Round and Round” is premiered above). “I draw on unrequited love and the ecstasy of finally finding a place where you belong,” she explains. Debuting her live show at the first Insecure night, she says if there’s one place that’s informed her sense of belonging, it’s the city that she calls home. “London has definitely shaped me and my music. Working in Rough Trade, then going out to gay clubs while drumming for bands, really helped me to develop as a producer and a singer.”
Smith is also behind the music of The Baroness, the “imagined femme fatale-turned-pop starlet” performed by collaborator Emma Gruner. Does she see any similarities between herself and the fictional artist? “The empowered warrior queen who owns her own sexuality and respects her inner voice is something The Baroness and I both share,” Smith says. — Selim Bulut
LORENZORSV doesn’t call himself a rapper. “My music is old-school R&B with a twist, I’d say. It’s about growing up as a teen in today’s society,” says the artist known to his friends as Lorenzo Ricardo Stanford-Vaughan. “Drugs, sex, heartbreak – blah, blah, blah.”
Growing up in west London, the 19-year-old initially idolised American culture, but eventually embraced London’s unique griminess through his urban-gothic take on hip hop. “My parents never had it all but they never had to scrape, so I’ve enjoyed the good side of working class,” he explains. “The area that I’m from is typically known as posh, but I’ve also seen people I know trapping out of flats, or hanging out on corners. It’s helped me to have two perspectives.”
Stanford-Vaughan hopes to cultivate a link between music and fashion, citing Pharrell and Bape founder Nigo’s “heavy influence” in both industries as a huge inspiration. As a member of Lava la Rue’s NiNE8 collective, he’s happy being part of something bigger. “NiNE8 is like a family,” he says. “I know they’ve always got my back. I’ve thought about being solo-dolo, but with NiNE8 I feel like I can do that but get help at the same time – as well as help others.” — Selim Bulut
“I like to misuse software, re-record footage across different devices and stray away from CGI,” says video artist and performer Rafal Zajko, zoee’s main visual collaborator. Inspired by a filmmaking method called China Girl – in which an actress or porcelain doll would be placed in front of a camera to screen test equipment – Zakjo’s two music videos for zoee’s Insecure EP are screwed, frenetic collage works. “I strongly felt the connection between the vulnerability of ‘China Girls’ and Zoee’s lyrics,” the Polish artist, who experiments with stop-motion and Super-8, explains over email.
The pair first collaborated in 2013, when Zajko made a video for zoee’s unreleased track “Lovebites” as a birthday gift. More recently, they've performed together live, and will bring their otherworldly collaboration to the second Insecure event tomorrow. “We mix my tracks with live Theremin playing, some obscure Polish rapping and some of zoee's b-sides”, Zajko says of the gigs. Turning up to his Dazed shoot with a handful of his own hand crafted, extra-terrestrial fashion accessories, Rafal Zajko, you might guess, is a constant work in progress. — Jack Mills
The second Insecure takes place at London's Courtyard Theatre tomorrow (September 28) from 7pm
Hair Kei Terada at Julian Watson Agency, make-up Celia Burton using YSL Beauty, set design Polly Philp at The Magnet Agency, photography assistant Joe Reddy, styling assistant Rebecca Perlmutar, hair assistant Rebecca Chang, make-up assistant Alex Reader, production Emily Miles at Mini Title