On a Thursday evening during rush hour, streams of businesspeople and tourists are flowing through Canary Wharf. The financial hub of London, Canary Wharf’s multi-layered transport network is cross-sectioned by acres of retail and unaffordable real estate. The hectic but sterile environment makes for an unlikely meeting spot to take photos of Florence Sinclair, one of the most intriguing and enigmatic musicians in the UK underground.
After getting a little lost among the bustling crowds, I eventually spot the producer, singer and rapper across the road. Once you see Sinclair, you can’t take your eyes off them. Their face is partially disguised by a black durag and braids, which are dyed brown at the tips. They have a jawline most models would happily sell their most prized possessions for.
This evening, Sinclair is wearing women’s Guess blue jeans, a thrifted white zip-up shirt and an Avirex jacket. They briefly swap into a pair of black heels while posing for photos, before promptly switching back to well-worn Doc Martens for the convenience of climbing Canary Wharf’s many stairs and elevators.
We chat about references for the creative direction of these photos: La Haine, the photography of Dave Tonge, Olivia Rose and the photographer Simon Wheatley. There are also more abstract influences, such as the ennui of being stuck inside a machine, trapped in transit for a destination which may never arrive. For how long have they had this feeling of internal struggle, I ask?
They respond with sullen deadpan: “Most of my life.”
Florence Sinclair (which is their artist moniker by the way – they don’t reveal their birth name) was born in the mid ‘90s to a music-loving Caribbean family living in the UK. Sinclair lived a large portion of their early life in a small town in Buckinghamshire. They also moved between North West London, Scunthorpe and Brighton, and spent some time in Canada. Transported between unfamiliar environments and aggravated by feelings of displacement, music became their sanctuary. And at the age of 12, they started producing their own material.
The first Florence Sinclair music appeared on Bandcamp in 2021, followed by a slew of (some now-deleted) Channel U‑esque music videos. They’ve since collaborated with Manchester-based experimental acts Space Afrika and Iceboy Violet, performed live in Copenhagen, Berlin and Montreal. They’re also planning to play in New York next year. Not bad for an avant-garde maverick who used to steal push bikes and produce beats in the back of a barbershop.
Following Sinclair’s 2021 ambient debut album Gentle Decay, a few months later they followed it up with it’s a big man ting, which married post-rock with grime sonics. Then, they crashed into the harrowing abyss that was their 2023 mixtape departures, wonders & tears. Across Sinclair’s discography, there’s an intriguing mix of references to UK cultural history – from a sample of the Skins theme tune on the outro of departures, to morphed guitars from a Smiths deep cut on their track Slow.
There is music which predates all of this, released under different aliases, but you’re unlikely to find it online. “[It] reflected a version of me that was self-destructive,” Sinclair explains of their early material. They say they spent “years, blood, sweat and tears” on music which ultimately didn’t express the true version of themselves.
But since then, Florence Sinclair has gained confidence as an artist. I watched their emotionally intense music cast a spell on an intimate crowd at the Central London bar and bookshop Reference Point. And during their support set for leftfield pop artist George Riley earlier this year, audience members were either arrested or perplexed as they watched a 5”8’ Black artist in heels strut about the stage and belt out a thunderous baritone.
Florence Sinclair rarely does interviews or shares details of their personal life on social media, but close listens of their music reveal an artist exploring their identity. “Forget who I am /Nor a girl or a boy, a woman or a man,” they sing over haunting synths on their track Fellowships. On the eerie song Pushbikes, they reflect candidly on past life: “I said I robbed niggas, slumped niggas /We was just some lost niggas, but I love my niggas.”
Through the destruction of ego, chains can be broken through self-interrogation and expression. Sinclair is part of a wave of contemporary artists who are crystallising their lived experiences of Blackness through weird and sincere experiments. They consider the London-based producer/singer Klein, as well as Iceboy Violet and Space Afrika, to be part of the echelon.
After being introduced to Space Afrika by Iceboy, Sinclair was asked to contribute a verse to their melancholic 2021 track Meet Me at Sachas. Sinclair was invited by the duo to perform the track with them at London’s Roundhouse, for a show organised by Stone Island and the Italian music festival Club to Club. “It opened my eyes up to what this road can lead to,” says Sinclair.
We head to the top floor of the West India Quay’s Cineworld car park to take some more photos. The sky has turned from blue-pinkish hue to pitch black and the street lights stab through the darkness. Sinclair peers through the window of the structure, puts their hands on the meshed wire and stares contently into the night sky.
“I lived a lot of chapters, lived a different life and this chapter is an amalgamation of what I’ve lived through,” they’d told me earlier. After some detours, U‑turns and new starts, it seems Florence Sinclair may have found a path that’s taking them homewards.