A pioneer of the wildly influential movement, Uffie dropped one album and disappeared. A decade on, she’s back and making music on her own terms
POV: it’s 2009 and you’re getting the party started (right?). You’re getting drunk, and freaky fly(-y-y-y). You button up your American Apparel disco pants, reject the incoming call on your Blackberry Bold, and emerge from the dank bathroom into Erol Alkan’s Trash in London, or an Institubes night in Paris, or Dim Mak Tuesdays at Cinespace Los Angeles. A fresh Ed Banger signee – found because of a particularly pumping Peaches edit on MySpace – just finished the warm up. A chugging bass reverberates, and a twisting wrench sound rallies the sweaty crowd. A hoity toity voice percolating with autotune and cool-girl affect cuts through the fug – ”MC am I people call me Uff, when I rock the party you bust a nut.”
Bloghouse was a scene known more for its energy and aesthetics than any set of presiding sonic rules. Its sound traversed indie, hip-hop, electro house, dappled by bootlegged edits and chaotic mashups, and fed off MySpace, Limewire, and microblogs of the internet, before bleeding onto scenester dancefloors across the world. Today’s biggest bangers are indebted to bloghouse – the producers of Dua Lipa, BTS, and Doja Cat hits were most certainly frequenting the Ed Banger nights of the late 00s.
In Lina Abascal’s recent book, Never Be Alone Again: How Bloghouse United the Internet and the Dancefloor, producer A-Trak shares that what unified the scene was the “general idea of collisions”. It was a time when the forum and the bulletin board shaped the cultural landscape, expanding beyond traditional music consumption, record stores, and radio. Art, self-definition, and music community codification were in the people’s hands, and the internet made genres gloriously creative and weird. MySpace profile tweaks and proximity to fans made things pretty personal, and the combination of all that made its oddball stars international. As Abascal notes in her book, it could only have happened at that one hyper specific moment in time.
Uffie’s “Pop The Glock” was a glistening maraschino cherry on top of this DIY sundae, and maybe the first ‘viral’ hit. Not that she set out to sit atop that pedestal. The scene’s sticky high-gloss, creative collisions, and playful impermanence mirrors her own narrative thread. Uploading her first tune to MySpace in 2005, she was catapulted into a realm where she collaborated with everyone from Pharrell to Crystal Castles, Feadz, and Ed Banger labelmates Justice. The Hong Kong-born, Miami-raised, Paris-based indignant kid of both the internet and party circuit, she embarked on a whirlwind global club tour through 2009 and 2010, and dropped her full-length debut, Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans, steering and defining the scene with acerbic rhymes and an electro rap, disco-y house sound clash. During this time, she also lost her mother, gave birth to her daughter, got divorced, and had her son. Eventually, she moved out to Joshua Tree, CA, to take a real hiatus.
Now, the indie sleaze cultural revival sees the era’s aesthetics emerging once again, as a new gen discovers a taste for its carefree sounds and liberated atmosphere. A decade after her first record dropped, Uffie – real name Anna-Catherine Hartley – is once again at the eye of a cultural storm. “Where does the party go?” she asked last month, as part of a track from her forthcoming album Sunshine Factory, which is billed as a haven for “the daydreamers, the freaks, the lovers, and the escapists”. Today, she releases pulsing new track “sophia”.
Sunshine Factory recalls the vivid, at times pithy, always deceptively heartbreaking and profound storytelling of her previous work. It melds this energy with the melancholic pop of her 2019 EP Tokyo Love Hotel, but delves further into the dualities Uffie has always thrived in, the euphoric highs and comedowns, and the intersections of the persona and the personal, as she parses a new perspective on life that she’s gained in time away from music. Chaz Bear of Toro y Moi bolsters Sunshine Factory’s poppy, punky, electro driven production – and there’s a delightful cameo from peer and fellow provocative pop agitator Peaches. Now 34 and living in LA with her two kids, she’s spent time as a songwriter at pop’s frontier, working with the likes of P!nk and Khalid, has collaborated with Charli XCX and Galantis, and embarked on tour with Sega Bodega.
We meet at London’s Shoreditch House, where that day she was meant to get in the studio with Jessie Ware – but Storm Eunice stands in their way. We watch as a billboard pendulum swings precariously from a construction site crane outside. The mimosas on our table shake, and Uffie wraps herself a bit tighter in her neon orange furry coat. Tonight, she’s hitting a rave hosted by PC Music affiliate Danny L Harle – weather warning be damned, we’re ready to Uff.
“Cool”, your first single from the album, recalls original era Uff with its energy and playfulness, but it also highlights thrilling new sounds from you, and more meditative lyrics. Why was “Cool” the comeback single?
Uffie: “Cool” began this journey for me. The rest of the album came together in a more non-linear way, but “Cool” came first and really set my tone. It tied my old and new worlds together, and maybe felt like a palate cleanser?
Palate cleanser – I love that.
Uffie: Oh, it’s my phrase of the week! I was really excited by writing and recording “Cool”, but I didn’t really know how ready I was to go all in. The process though felt so organic and liberating – I knew I wanted Toro Y Moi to feature and Bear ended up as a core collaborator and bringing in live instruments I wouldn’t even dream about. I got serious about putting a project together quickly after that. And I wanted to work with a smaller but still very strong group of people, not so strung out.
“Pop The Glock” and all your biggest tunes had lyrics that were so geared to be sung back to you by a crowd. With this record written in a pandemic, and with a different emotional perspective more broadly, how did you approach songwriting this time?
Uffie: I’ve spent a long time now writing for other artists. I’ve learned more about structure, and importantly, how to put myself really deeply in other people’s shoes. I got tired of writing lyrics that were just like ‘Oh, my heart’s broken!’ That happens to me all the time, sure! I wanted to explore the metaphorical, double meanings. I believe in writing what I know though, and I was going through a bad break up. I wrote things in an hour and really leaned into that crazy time. And in the pandemic, I got to really choose what to do.
My albums took so long to do. That first one was a struggle. Like I was so young I didn’t even know an album was in my contract – I didn’t realise I had to even make one when I was first signed. I was young, not serious about music, going out and playing shows three or four times a week. When the label asked where the record was I was like… ‘what record’? Being on the road was difficult too, and I didn’t have a prolonged period of time to knuckle down in the studio to produce a cohesive piece of work.
“Sunshine Factory is something I came up with forever ago. I loved the idea of a Berghain-ass looking factory – grey and grim on the outside – that's so flamboyant and colourful inside, a safe little space” – Uffie
Tell me about when you first felt like you were popping off.
Uffie: When I put “Pop The Glock” on MySpace it just went crazy so quickly. It was my first introduction to social media and it was with the first song I wrote. I did what my friends did – put a song online. I thought this was my little online space and a cute thing for my profile. This was where we were all getting crazy intense over the drama of moving people out of our top friends and making silly songs – how did I know it would define this huge part of my life.
What’s it like for you, as an artist coming from those more radical and capricious communities of music online, and seeing more set formulas for musicians to blow up on social media and orchestrate careers online? Where labels take socials super seriously, and there’s a clear TikTok to Top Ten chart pipeline.
Uffie: It makes me a little sad, to be honest. I was just listening to this song I’ve been working on recently and I noticed how long the intro was. It builds so beautifully, and it requires you to sink into it and have patience. And what sucks about the current space is how the algorithm is based on the success of previous work and pre-existing things, of curating playlists of similar sounds for mass streaming. So what are we chasing? How sustainable is it? And then everything feels so temporary and engineered to attention spans no longer than 30 seconds.
There’s a paradox really. On one hand, TikTok has the ability to blow up a small artist with one tune in the way MySpace did. It democratises the space. But it’s also one big corporate marketing scheme where our depleted attention spans are currency and labels and streaming platforms have the keys to the bank. I also think about how these social platforms throw up genres and music communities young people never experienced firsthand.
Uffie: ‘Indie sleaze’!
Please let’s talk about that.
Uffie: The friend I’m staying with here used to throw parties called People Are Germs. That was the peak of it all. It’s been hilarious going through old photos with her – like us in the bathtub with the Klaxons. Everyone in their shitty fluoro and RayBan knockoffs. It was a wild, hedonistic time when we lived our lives to go out. That’s not the culture anymore. It’s kind of funny to be at this point in my life where I see something I was so deeply in come back around. Bizarre, but fun. I think it’s appropriate timing-wise for its return, now everybody’s free from being locked up.
There was a blissful kind of naivete to that time. Where you weren’t aware of the impact it would have. What’s your relationship to your older body of work?
Uffie: I remember recording certain songs and feeling so uncomfortable, or nervous and hesitant about something I was saying. I will forever hear that, which other people can’t – they just hear a record they love. Definitely “Our Song” – I remember feeling so vulnerable with it. The new stuff as well I think will take me a while before I can properly listen back – just because it’s packed lyrically with intense memories I’ve hoarded for years.
How has motherhood impacted your output? Filming the "Pop The Glock" video in two parts with the birth of your daughter is such a crazy kind of metaphor I think!
Uffie: I'm more aware of the energy that I'm putting out into the world, for sure. There's real vulnerable moments on this album, like "Giants" and "Crowdsurfinginyoursheets". I worried they were too exposing. I wrote "Giants" for someone I really loved, and it first felt too raw. But it was important for me to have those peaks and lows.
Where does the name for Sunshine Factory come from?
Uffie: It's something I came up with forever ago actually. I like to keep little words and phrases I like on my notes app, for lyrics or projects. I thought maybe it would be a fashion brand. But I just loved the idea of a Berghain-ass looking factory – grey and grim on the outside – that's so flamboyant and colourful inside, a safe little space. It also says so much about all the different possibilities of this record – like, live instruments that I've never done before – that’s really thanks to (Chaz) Bear – and feeling more fluid in playing with genre and style. I have real faith in what a testament this album is to who I am and what I am excited to make.
What ultimately brought you back to music?
Uffie: I am always looking for the best medium to truly express myself. I went to school to study fashion in Paris when I was young. After my mom died and I was in Joshua Tree, I did some painting, but I actually went to study biology. I moved to Seattle where my sister was after my divorce, and then I started flying to LA to work with producers and do songwriting. Coming to music from this different angle and reintroducing it into my life with a new lens was really liberating again.
“I was so young in this industry and I got exposed to a lot of shit no one should ever be, but now… I have never felt more confident than now, honestly. This has been important to me, as a woman in this industry and a single mom of two kids. It's empowering to finally feel independent of producers who thought what they knew was best for me” – Uffie
Have you thought about how you're appealing to Day One fans, and a new era?
Uffie: I'm excited, and a bit scared. I think this is a time where communities go so hard for the music and artists they attach themselves to. Salv (Sega Bodega) is so tapped into that world, and working with him and seeing that has been refreshing. There's a real power in music collectives right now. I was thankful to have that time to make music on my own but I love to find people through music – I met Salv on the internet and now we're about to tour together. Him, Shygirl, and their crew are really cool to watch get bigger.
What is the presiding mood now?
Uffie: I was so young in this industry and I got exposed to a lot of shit no one should ever be, but now… I have never felt more confident than now, honestly. This has been important to me, as a woman in this industry and a single mom of two kids. It's empowering to finally feel independent of producers who thought what they knew was best for me. This is healing. I'm the one deciding, the one curating, the person who wants to be here. I have a vocabulary that I didn't have before that helps me take charge. I'm owning my 30s and getting older, and this feels like an adult record to me.
Uffie’s Sunshine Factory is out May 20 on Company Records