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POiSON ANNA
Courtesy of press

POiSON ANNA’s unsettling, fractured pop wants to wake you up

The contemporary dancer and musician talks resolving pain through her art, feeling out of place in London, and how Dean Blunt is like a brother to her

Capturing the claustrophobia of life in the 2020s with a murky mix of dub, trip hop, and fractured electronic experimentalism, POiSON ANNA makes the sort of avant-pop that’s destined to seep deep under your skin. Just ask A$AP Rocky, who plucked the Peckham-based artist out of obscurity to write for his 2018 album Testing. Or – even better – why not ask Dean Blunt, her creative confidante and collaborator.

On debut mixtape EXCELSiA, the 23-year-old British-Czech artist – known to her friends as Chloe Anna – comes over every bit as magnetic and mercurial as her mentor. Created with regular collaborator Mobbs, and mixed by Jake Gordon (J Hus, Skepta, Burna Boy), the seven-song collection reflects on ideas of identity and self-discovery in the context of widespread misinformation and systemic oppression. And this dystopian feel is reflected not just in the abrasive musical palette, but in the striking visuals that have accompanied the singles “FAiNT” and “COMiN FOR YA”.

Drawing on Anna’s lifelong love of hip hop, contemporary, and improvisational dance (it’s what she studied extensively before pursuing music), the former features a crew performing contortionist-inspired choreography under the streetlights of Brixton. The latter is arguably even more impactful, featuring monochrome, hand-cam footage of the singer prowling the streets of Vauxhall, interspersed with alarming scenes depicting her bleeding from the mouth in front of a grainy bathroom mirror. You come away from both videos with a sense you’re witnessing the birth of a deeply skilled multi-disciplinary artist, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the emergence of FKA twigs.

Just before Anna left London for Prague to visit her father’s side of the family, she set aside time to talk Dazed through her journey so far, and to tell us the story behind EXCELSiA.

Why did you switch a career in dance for music?

POiSON ANNA: I was holding onto a lot of things that were shaping me subconsciously, and I only began to realise that when I started singing. When I started writing with Mobbs, I was uncovering a lot of deep hurt that I’d never even contemplated before. I just heard the stories that were coming out of my mouth, and I was like, ‘Wow, OK, I’m definitely going through something’.

What kind of deep hurt?

POiSON ANNA: The earliest song I made with Mobbs was about my dad, actually. I was asking these questions, like, ‘Why don’t I feel loved by you?’ It was deep... My journey with my father has definitely evolved since then, but I think making that song was the first step in trying to resolve that pain.

Another one of your close collaborators is Dean Blunt. How did that relationship start? 

POiSON ANNA: I’d left BRIT School and I was working in a pub; I didn’t know where I was heading basically. And I couldn’t take it anymore, so I just quit the job. I’m very much in tune with divine timing, and the week I quit I got invited to A$AP Rocky’s studio. He’d heard this fucking demo on Soundcloud, and he was like, ‘Come down’. So we ended up creating “A$AP Forever”, and basically it was through that process that I met Dean, who was also working on that album.

Dean’s quite an elusive figure. How was he to work with?

POiSON ANNA: The whole experience was quite elusive. I’d never met Dean before, so I wasn’t really sure who I was even looking for. Even afterwards, all the people around me were like, ‘Yeah, I think you’ve met him?’ And then after Rocky’s album came out, Dean reached out to me and said, ‘Yo, let’s make some bits’. And that was the beginning. 

I work with him all the time now. He’s now a very, very good friend of mine; a brother, in a way. He’s definitely been a mentor at times, showing me that no matter what’s going on around you, you’ve got to stick to your guns.

You can definitely sense that determination on EXCELSiA. What was the spark of inspiration for the record?

POiSON ANNA: EXCELSiA charts the extreme, wild energy of when I first started to realise the significance of all the things in society that we’re taught not to see. It was just like, ‘Wake up, Chloe!’ I wanted to wake up the world in the same way. 

So every different song is about a different thing that’s fed to us to make us feel away from ourselves, our minds and our bodies, be that politics or society or whatever else. “SPACE” is about our relationship with food, and then “COMiN FOR YA” talks about the people that govern us. And then “WASTE” is a story about being pressured into doing something, and being dashed away for nothing. 

“It might not necessarily be the most elegant music to your ears but it’s definitely something that people haven’t ever heard before” – POiSON ANNA

Did you have any particular reference points?

POiSON ANNA: There was a lot of rock influence, because I feel like in rock music it’s about getting to that really uncomfortable place where you think you can’t push any further, and then just continuing. I just wanted to keep pushing listeners. It’s like, it might not necessarily be the most elegant music to your ears but it’s definitely something that people haven’t ever heard before. 

I think EXCELSiA is in a world of its own, but it’s also a world that will start to make more sense as POiSON puts out more music. And I’m a very visual person, so I wanted people to imagine and experience the story.

You’ve spoken about how the video for “COMiN FOR YA” was inspired by feeling alienated from your community. In what sense?

POiSON ANNA: London is where I was born and raised, but somehow I still feel misunderstood sometimes. That video was almost a social experiment in a way, because I shot it in Vauxhall Market on a Sunday, where I usually go every week. That day I decided to come as a completely different, more striking representation of myself, and the judgment I felt was so fascinating. I was getting all sorts of looks. It’s that feeling of being judged – even by people who have no fucking idea who you are, or what you represent – just because you look a certain way. 

What do you hope people take from EXCELSiA?

POiSON ANNA: I just hope that it allows people to open up that part of their mind in the sense of being educated by some of the stories that I’m referencing. But also to know that, creatively, there is no limit: you can be as wild and extreme as you feel. Because if I can put something as crazy as EXCELSiA out, then the sky’s the limit.

POiSON ANNA’s EXCELSiA is out now