Nia Archives is rewriting jungle’s rulebook

Nia wears coat BURBERRY and Ciaran wears BURBERRY

The 24-year-old has taken her beloved genre into fresh territory and earned the respect of the scene’s older heads. Her next trick? A debut album that fuses euphoric breaks with the guitar-powered swagger of Britpop. Let’s have it.

Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.

West Yorkshire’s sound system culture is, arguably, just as rich as that of West London. It all started in Huddersfield in the 1960s, when Caribbean immigrants planted roots in the market town to work in its textile mills; soon, about 30 sound systems had sprung up. Reggae superstars such as Gregory Isaacs and John Holt would travel north just to play at the West Indian Social Club on Venn Street, one of the town’s famed venues, and pirate radio stations began broadcasting Black music to the masses.

At only 24, Nia Archives, obviously, didn’t witness first-hand this wave of Caribbean music sweep Yorkshire – she was born a few decades too late, in Bradford, a 40-minute drive from the nucleus of the north’s sound system culture. Instead, she absorbed it all through her nan.

At Pentecostal church, young Nia was exposed to gospel; at home, on her nan’s sound system, to jungle, Afrobeat and soul. Today, her nan and auntie still have a show on their local Bradford radio station, a continuation of the pirate station the former ran, along with her four sisters, in her twenties. In reference to their Jackson-esque afros, they were nicknamed The Bradford 5.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Nia grew up to become one of the most impressive young DJs, producers, singers and songwriters in the UK. She’s a new-gen junglist, turning that pounding, historically male-dominated genre on its head by injecting a diaristic lyricism you might usually associate with chart-topping pop music. On stage, she raves behind the decks and sings into her mic, blurring the lines between DJ set and live performance. Her sound is a collision of genres and cultures, the product of an inherited selecta’s instinct and a predilection for a proper party.

Nia wears jacket and dress BURBERRY

I drank too many Guinnesses last night,” says Nia in a soothing Yorkshire lilt, sitting in a café in Hackney, East London, not far from where she’s just bought her first flat. It’s 9am, four days before Christmas, and Nia’s a little hungover from last night’s pints at The Devonshire, that weird TikTok pub” in Soho. She scans the menu and contemplates ordering an espresso martini, before settling on something more sensible: sausage, scrambled eggs and avocado.

I’m giving up drinking in January!” she says, with a laugh. Multiple pints notwithstanding, she still looks fresh as anything, decked out in an iridescent Jean Paul Gaultier x Y/​Project shirt that resembles a trompe l’oeil bodyheat map and a Stone Island x Supreme coat. But, she insists, a detox is needed. This month has been too much. I woke up this morning, like, fucking hell…” If Nia went a little too hard last night, it was well-deserved. She’s closing the door on a dizzying year, in which she released her third EP Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall, toured the world, played dozens of festivals, including two jam-packed slots at Glastonbury, and supported Beyoncé at the London stop of her Renaissance tour.

I found out I was doing that [Beyoncé] set on the day,” says Nia, remarkably unfazed, of her June gig at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. I got a lot of hate for playing jungle [there]. But I don’t care. She asked for me. Beyoncé likes it.”

She’s nonchalant, too, about the intense conditions in which she made one of the hottest songs of the summer, a remix of Jorja Smith’s UK funky-influenced Little Things. Chaotic, to say the least,” Nia shrugs, recounting how she had to recreate it from memory, in less than a week, after her laptop broke on the way to Coachella.

In fact, Nia is decidedly relaxed about pretty much everything. Looking at her now – tucking into eggs, her Nike P‑6000s coolly kicked forwards under the table – you’d never guess this is the young woman who, in December, quickly sold out Manchester’s Warehouse Project, with a stacked line-up she curated as part of her Up Ya Archives event series. Or, in 2022, wrote a letter calling out the MOBOs for ditching its club music category (“Electronic/​dance music is music of Black origin. I’m not afraid to acknowledge it, why are you?”), then promptly won the award when it was reinstated that same year. She scooped 2022 Best Producer at the NME Awards, too, dedicating the prize to her younger brother, Zac, during her speech: It doesn’t matter who your parents are, it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can do what you want with your life and you can make something of yourself.”

Nia wears jacket, T-shirt and skirt CELINE BY HEDI SLIMANE

But in the time that’s passed since ticking those major milestones off her list, Nia has realised that she’s most proud of achieving a better sense of self. The main thing is that I’ve gotten more confident with other people and how I present myself,” she says, reflectively. It’s a journey and I’m still learning, but I’ve been growing up, I guess.”

Half-Jamaican, Bradford-born and Leeds-raised, Dehaney Nia Lishahn Hunt has been making inroads into the music scene for almost a third of her life. She moved to Manchester aged 16, escaping a fraught family situation she’s reluctant to talk about. The move wasn’t easy – she had a social worker, claimed benefits and, to get by, worked stints at KFC and as a cookery teacher – but she made the most of it, channelling her nan’s freewheeling spirit and getting stuck into the city’s thriving underground music scene.

At raves and house parties, she would jump on the mic to freestyle; at home in her bedroom, she taught herself how to make beats. At first, she experimented with hip-hop, before realising that she preferred to conceal the sadness and vulnerability of her lyrics by filtering them via the prism of jungle. I’m very literal in my writing, and I find it all a bit embarrassing. When songs come out, I have to detach from them. Music helps me conquer feelings I find difficult to deal with.”

Turning a bedroom confessional into a fully-fledged rave, Nia learned to pour her heart out over beats she heard as a kid – and which, arguably, hadn’t been part of mainstream consciousness since the 90s heyday of producers such as Goldie, Roni Size and Reprazent, and Kemistry & Storm.

By 2019, Nia had the financial means to move to London to study electronic music at Westminster University. She dropped out before graduating, though: in 2020, when Nia released the titular single from her debut single Sober Feels (which she funded with her student loan), it swiftly became clear that she was a jungle musician to be taken seriously, one who could earn the respect of older heads in the scene while making the genre feel accessible to fresh-faced ravers. It wasn’t like Nia was getting the most from her course, anyway. They said that if you want to make it in the music industry, you have to use LinkedIn,” she says with an eye-roll. I dunno about that…”

Five years on, Nia is primed to try something new. No one’s really making Britpop at the moment, but I have a feeling 2024 is gonna be the year,” she says knowingly, sipping an oat latte that’s clasped between her slickly manicured fingers, airbrushed dark khaki and finished with delicate, hand-drawn white stars. And I’ve not heard [a Britpop sound] in dance music, so I wanted to try it out.”

This is the beating heart of her brilliantly experimental debut album Silence is Loud. Drawing heavily from Britpop’s 60s-influenced earworm melodies, heart-on-your-sleeve emotions and engaging, digestible lyricism, Nia has rewritten jungle’s rulebook, enveloping two uniquely British genres into her own distinct sound.

There’s definitely a punk energy in [the album],” she says. I’ve always thought that jungle was punk, anyway – the culture of it, the spirit. It’s the bastard child of dance music.”

Breakfast now demolished, she rolls up the sleeves of her shirt, leans in and begins rattling off eclectic influences. The thing is, I love loads of different types of music – Kings of Leon, Radiohead, Blur, The Ronettes. At the end of the day, jungle is anything with a breakbeat. I wanted to experiment with that.”

Jungle is British music. I’m a Yorkshire girl and I wanted to make something patriotic”

Nia wrote and recorded the album with the prodigious musician-slash-producer Ethan P. Flynn, over five months last year, mostly at his home studio in the Barbican in central London. From the get-go, their relationship was symbiotic.

The fellow Yorkshire artist has previously worked with FKA twigs, Jockstrap and David Byrne, and takes inspiration from 70s singer-songwriters such as Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson, twisting classic sounds with experimental flourishes and deadpan lyrical humour. He brought these elements to Silence is Loud in spades.

I don’t think there’s ever been a record like this,” says Ethan. My music is weird, I’m a bit of an outsider, but Nia gave me so much freedom, more than any artist I’ve ever worked with. I don’t know anything about dance music – I just wanted to make the best music.”

Nia produced every song on her previous EPs; this time, having Ethan on board allowed her to focus on songwriting. Each morning before a session, she’d sit in bed and write, piecing together lyrical puzzles of her own making.

There’s a lot of rhyming on this record, which some people don’t like, but I wanted to use those traditional songwriting techniques,” she says, growing increasingly animated as she talks enthusiastically about the record – an album that’s a proper, you might say old-fashioned, musical body of work. I was trying to reference Amy Winehouse and The Beatles, that formula of writing songs that end up sticking in your head forever.” But she’s not forgotten about 90s jungle and drum n’ bass classics, either. Goldie’s Timeless, Roni Size and Reprazent’s New Forms – there are a lot of songs on those projects. It’s been done before, this is just my take on it. It’s about catchiness, and I think the album has some of my best songwriting on it.”

Nia wears T-shirt ACNE STUDIOS, T-shirt (worn underneath) MIU MIU and jeans courtesy of BEYOND RETRO

Silence is Loud is, at its core, about love and loneliness – whether Nia’s missing her family, or finding and then losing meaningful connections with the people around her. Lead single Crowded Roomz, for instance, sees her wrestling with the paradox of being constantly surrounded by people and yet feeling alienated, particularly on tour. Meanwhile, the album’s opener and title track was written for brother Zac, now 16 and in Leeds.

And if I ain’t got you around /​then I’m lost and I don’t wanna be found /​you’re the only thing keeping me sound,” she sings, her vocals slightly muffled, against a trembling bassline and a bittersweet guitar riff. Towards the end of the album, there’s also Silence is Loud (Reprise), which features a voice note from Zac: We reppin’ the gang out here, we out here, listening to them Nia Archives tunes, summer vibes, we need more of these summer vibes!”

It’s the album’s most stripped-back song, with soulful vocals reminiscent of Winehouse, infused with the sounds of people chanting, of life being lived. There’s not a break in sight, as guitar riffs wind themselves dextrously around the 160 bpm drum loops that have become Nia’s signature – pleading, jolting and poignant in one fell swoop.

It’s all about how much I love him: real, unconditional love. I didn’t even ask him about using the voicenote, but he was like, That’s sick.’ He’s in the video for the song, too – he’s a very handsome boy,” she says with sibling pride. We shot it all around Yorkshire. The story is that we’re trying to find each other through the countryside, using walkie-talkies. I only get to see him a couple of times a year, so that was nice. Bit of nepotism going on!”

Nia’s decision to lead 2024’s Britpop revival feels particularly salient at the start of what will be a crucial year for politics and democracy, as general elections take place not just in the UK and US but all over the world. Here’s a mixed-race girl from Leeds, reimagining (let’s face it) a largely white genre – one that’s forever entwined with the New Labour and Cool Britannia of the 90s. Better yet, she’s blended it with a British genre that wouldn’t exist without Black immigrants, fusing the mainstream optimism of Britpop with the underground defiance of rave culture. And all while singing about loneliness and isolation to a nation whose collective identity has been in flux for the best part of a decade.

Nia wears tops MIU MIU

What does Britishness mean to Nia? It’s about taking the good with the bad, for sure. That’s real, though,” she replies, draining her latte. Jungle is British music. I’m a British artist who makes British-sounding music. I want to represent that. I’m a Yorkshire girl and I wanted to make something patriotic. Sometimes we’re not proud, and I hear it. But and I hear it. But I’m proud of Silence is Loud.”

Patriotism, of course, has become a dirty word over the past few years, but Nia’s not afraid to wear her heritage on her sleeve. A case in point is the flag she commissioned from another Yorkshireman, artist Corbin Shaw, for her Glastonbury appearances: half-English, half-Jamaican, with A QUINTESSENTIALLY JUNGLIST SUMMER” slapped across the front.

We hung it over her sound system and it looked amazing with the crowds,” says Corbin. It’s up in her house now. It’s cool to see it live in all these different settings, taking on a new life. With Nia, every detail is considered. She’s amazing.”

She reminds me an awful lot of me. Coming down from up there’ and fucking shit up down ere’”


Glowing praise is not uncommon from her peers. I could listen to her songs on repeat all day. They just make me feel like I’m exactly where I want to be,” says Jorja Smith. Nia is one of the best producers I know,” raves Ethan P. Flynn.

But the co-sign that undoubtedly holds the most weight comes from her mentor Goldie – or, as Nia calls him, Uncle Golds”. An encouraging voice note from the D n’ B/​jungle pioneer is featured on one of Silence is Louds highlights, Tell Me What It’s Like, a scuzzy, moody track about the claustrophobia of unrequited love. Goldie, it turns out, is partial to a voice note pep talk. I told [him] about this other situation I had with a boy a while ago,” Nia says through bursts of laughter. He was like: Do you want me to sort him out? Give me his number, let’s bombard him with voice notes!’”

It’s not hard to see why Goldie would feel protective over Nia. They both grew up outside of London (Goldie in Wolverhampton), discovered their Jamaican heritage on the dancefloor and reimagined it for their respective generations.

She reminds me an awful lot of me – coming down from up there’ and fucking shit up down ere,’” says Goldie. I love the idea that this beautiful genre they once said wouldn’t last has become so established, allowing the new generation to express their loves, fears and anger. Nia is one of our own. Her music comes from a place of purity. That’s what I love about her.”

Fatouma wears dress BURBERRY, Izzy wears coat BURBERRY, Nia wears dress BURBERRY and Nell wears jacket stylist’s own

I think you can get a bit lost in the sauce sometimes – I don’t ever want to be like that. I won’t make good music if I’m detached from reality”

Nia calls the waitress over. It’s 11am, which is, we agree, the right time for that espresso martini. You don’t mind, do you?” she asks with a smile, revealing a couple of shining silver tooth caps. Spontaneously, she’s decided to pop over to Dublin for a short trip with friends. The best way to cure that hangover in time for her flight for a couple of hours, then, is on its way to our table. I’m flying at 2pm and I haven’t even packed!” she says. My friend’s playing there and it’s one of my favourite cities. I’m going for the vibes, and I also love Irish boys. That accent does things.”

Good thing she’s going to Dublin as a punter then, because Nia reckons the already-small dating pool shrinks even further when you’re a female DJ. I swear it’s man-repellent. I never have guys come up to me! I have to go up to them. I think they’re scared. Honestly, women DJs don’t pull. I reckon even Peggy Gou doesn’t pull.”

That’s just one of many things that Nia’s had to adjust to life as one of Britain’s fastest-rising artists. Last September, for instance, she went to London Fashion Week for the first time, attending the shows by Burberry, Chopova Lowena, Ahluwalia and Molly Goddard. But I felt like I shouldn’t have been there, in a way,” she admits. I was an outsider going in. It’s not my world.”

Besides, she’s cautious to not get too sucked into the realm of celebrity. That’s partly why most of her friends are people she’s had in her life for years. Being from the north, we’re just a bit different.” The London scene? People act weird sometimes. I don’t get involved. This isn’t a judgement thing, but you can get a bit lost in the sauce. I don’t want to be like that,” she continues, glass in hand. I also think musicians shouldn’t just hang out with other musicians. What are you gonna talk about? Being in the studio all day? Boring!” She pushes her suddenly empty glass to the side. I want to be as normal as I can be forever,” she says, with seriousness. Because I won’t make good music if I’m detached from reality.”

And that’s the crux: she wants to make music for people to rave and cry to, to mend broken hearts and fuel frenzy on the dancefloor. It’s for listeners who crave smart, poignant songwriting and anarchic artistry that pushes electronic music to the next level. Building on The Bradford 5’s legacy, she’s redefining what Britishness looks, sounds and feels like, one breakbeat at a time. But now, Nia has a flight to catch. Aware the window of time is narrowing by the minute, she springs up and puts on her coat, excited for the wild night ahead.

I’m on the prowl tonight! I love a little fling,” she grins. You never know…”


HAIR FOR NIA by Amidat Giwa at Bryant Artists MAKE-UP for Nia by Tasnim Nahar MAKE-UP for cast by Sakura Kanaoka CASTING DIRECTOR Emma Matell M+A World Group MOVEMENT DIRECTOR Meshach Henry TALENT Ciaran, Fatoumata, Kijuan, Nell, Freya, Cherrie B, Sam, Isaac, Dani and Izzy at Crumb Agency PRODUCER Katherine Bampton DIGI OP Neil Bennett PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS Okus Milsom and Oscar Eckel STYLING ASSISTANTS Morena Salas, Anna Kobayashi and Kirsten Humphries HAIR ASSISTANTS Avrelle Delisser, Kreszend Sackey and Rosie-Grace Smith MAKE-UP ASSISTANTS Soraya Phipps and Natsu Tomonaga CASTING ASSISTANT Oliwia Jancerowicz

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