Nia Archives: “I’ve Never Really Asked For A Seat At The Table”

nia archives with sunglasses

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British DJ, producer and singer/songwriter Nia Archives wasn’t born when Goldie released his epochal 1995 album Timeless.

But today, the mercurial drum ‘n’ bass legend is one of her biggest fans. Nia has even sampled Goldie’s voice note on her debut, Silence Is Loud, as he shares grandfatherly advice about the biz. Im on my guard,” he declares in the intro to ‘Tell Me What It’s Like?’. “It just shows you where they were at and where I was at. You gotta be different in this thing, my dear, then no one can fucking stop you then.

“He’s pretty excited about the album,” Nia says in a distinctive Yorkshire accent. “He’s been a really great friend and mentor for me over the past year. Everything that he’s done is everything that I kind of dreamed to do as well. So it’s been amazing seeing our friendship grow and just being able to speak to him and hear all the crazy things that he did when he was my age.”

In less than five years, Nia has emerged as a figurehead of a Gen Z drum ‘n’ bass — or jungle — resurgence while advocating for greater diversity in a scene originating in Black Britain. Over summer, Nia returned to Australia for the first time since 2022’s Listen Out and Laneway appearances — stops which she “really enjoyed”. Now Nia is primed for a pop take-over, with Silence Is Loud delving into Brit-pop.

Nia’s come-up is already widely known. The 24-year-old consistently refrains from discussing her family life, citing estrangement. But she was raised in Bradford and Leeds in Northern England. Nia credits her Jamaican grandmother, active in a nascent sound system culture, as a formative influence. 

At 16, Nia left home and wound up in Manchester, where she discovered underground parties and dabbled in music. In 2019, Nia transplanted to London to study production, enlisting in DJ Flight’s EQ50 Mentorship Scheme — an initiative aimed at bolstering the presence of women and non-binary people in drum ‘n’ bass.

Dismissed by established labels, Nia issued 2020’s breezy breakout ‘Sober Feels’ on her own HIJINXX imprint, declaring its soulful vocal style “future classic”. Soon, she was hailed as a trailblazer in a TikTok-driven drum ‘n’ bass revival. In 2021, Nia played her inaugural DJ gig. Meanwhile, she signed to Island Records and dropped a buzz third EP, Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against The Wall. 

In mid-2023, Nia accepted a last-minute invitation from Beyoncé to open her RENAISSANCE show for one exclusive night in London — but they didn’t hang out. “I mean, it’d be a dream to meet her,” Nia laughs. “Obviously, it’s all about the timing, but I’d love to meet Beyoncé. I’m a huge fan, you know?”

Typically, dance music is equated with singles, not albums, but Nia was determined to take a different angle.  “I always kind of hold albums to quite a high standard of work,” she says. “I always think an album’s such a big deal in terms of a body of work. And it’s been something I’ve really aspired to do as a creative for a long time.”

As of old, Nia demo-ed songs in her bedroom: “I actually chose to write the songs in bed in the morning and then make the drums.” She’d then complete tracks alongside her co-producer Ethan P Flynn — the UK alt-popster who co-wrote FKA twigs’ MAGDALENE — at his pad overlooking London’s Barbican Centre. “A studio with a window is just the dream,” she says.

Nia’s music has a poignant undertone — and Silence Is Loud feels like a personal, and cathartic, statement, her lyrics about self-assertion, family, relationships, social anxiety and coming of age. On ‘F.A.M.I.L.Y’ she sings, starkly, “Sometimes family ties/Do not always survive/I don’t identify/With my F.A.M.I.L.Y/’Cause sometimes things don’t feel right.” She’s also included 2022’s raw ‘So Tell Me…’, which chronicles her leaving home.

Nia hasn’t considered whether the songs have universal resonance. “I always struggle with the question of how do I want people to take my music,” she says. “I don’t really know ’cause I make music for myself. So I never really think about other people!” Nonetheless, she suggests that the album’s themes of solidarity, empowerment and freedom are relatable — the title track opener is dedicated to her younger brothers. “I hope that it can kind of be like a soundtrack to the really exciting moments in people’s life, but also the really ordinary, everyday moments,” she says. “It’s like an album that you can live with.”

The surprise is Nia’s newly apparent adoration of ’90s Brit-pop — bands such as Blur and Oasis — amplified on the lead single ‘Crowded Roomz’, which combines guitars and breakbeats. The song with Goldie’s preface, ‘Tell Me What It’s Like?’, evokes Joy Division. “I like experimenting with different genres in jungle — and obviously I love jungle, that’s the foundation of what I do,” she says. “But I have such an eclectic music taste.”

She’s “always loved Brit-pop”, because, yes, “it’s very British music, similar to jungle”. The new-gen junglist stresses that there was always crossover — Goldie befriending Oasis’s Gallagher brothers, for example — but adds, “I don’t think people have really gone for the musical connection.”

Above all, Nia has intuited the potential for Brit-pop to engender collective nostalgia. “I really love Brit-pop ’cause obviously it’s so optimistic and so anthemic — and it was a real sound of the times,” she says. “I think things come around in cycles — so it’s been 30 years and 2024 feels like a good time to reintroduce that sound to a younger audience.” 

However, Nia is still regarded as a leader of a mainstream drum ‘n’ bass renaissance, converting Zoomer junglists at Laneway. Importantly, she’s prompted conversations about inclusivity and gender disparity in the scene after the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted concerns over the whitewashing and gentrification of rave heritage. Indeed, Nia possesses a scholarly knowledge of Black music, her approach as a DJ is to educate as much as entertain. Auspiciously, change is happening. “I’m not sure if I’d put the shift down to the industry or the labels,” Nia says. “I think the shift is actually coming from the community itself, rather than the business side of it.”

Nia says that “the younger generation is a lot more open-minded” — punters at her communal, and safe, Up Ya Archives events are “very diverse” with “60 percent women” (she penned last year’s banger ‘Bad Gyalz’ as a tribute to them). “I wanna feel like anybody is welcome — and the night is like jungle with all colours, one creed,” she says. “I feel like that message got lost along the way. [But] in the past couple of years, it’s definitely been reaffirmed, which I’m really optimistic about.” Crucially, Nia has won over drum ‘n’ bass pioneers — not only Goldie but also Bristol’s Roni Size — Nia and Roni DJing back-to-back at Bristol’s Valley Fest was a significant moment. “I have really, really great friendships with them — which is kinda crazy, because obviously I’m such a fan of all of them,” she says.

Drum ‘n’ bass has long been purist. That purism can be about authenticity, but there’s another toxic side with critics and fans, often white men, acting as gatekeepers. In 1998 Goldie presented Saturnz Return — a progressive rock equivalent of drum ‘n’ bass with a starkly autobiographical opus in ‘Mother’ and David Bowie cameoing — yet was slated by jungle’s self-appointed guardians. DJ Rap, among the era’s few female stars, was lambasted for merging alt-rock into jungle on Learning Curve. The contemporary scene is comparatively fluid — reminiscent of Rudimental cutting pop ‘n’ bass in the 2010s, managing to achieve pop success while retaining their underground cred. But, even as she rolls out Silence Is Loud, Nia encounters pushback.

“I think, with underground music, there’s always gonna be that purist attitude,” she says. “It makes me giggle sometimes, the comments that people make — because it’s all so serious. But it’s dance music, it’s underground music — but it’s really fun. So sometimes those kinds of comments, I just find them a little bit silly.”

She’s talked about it with Goldie, now a celebrity and MBE recipient. “People tried to gatekeep him — like trying to push him out of jungle because he was a bit different,” she says. “He’s a bit weird. He’s into his art and he’s from the Midlands and stuff like that. My own experience has been similar to him — like I’m not from London, I’m from the North of England. So that already makes me feel super different from a lot of people in the scene, ’cause it’s majority down South.”

In some ways, Nia has transcended drum ‘n’ bass, too. She’s a fashion icon, appearing in athleisure campaigns and rocking up to Burberry shows. Yet the Northerner hasn’t journeyed this far to be deterred from her purpose. “I’ve kind of always played by my own rules,” she says. “I’ve never really asked for a seat at the table. I’ve always come up with my own thing. I do get the odd comment or whatever, but I’ve closed my ears ’cause I’m just doing my own thing. I’m just trying to have fun with things, really.”

Nia Archives’ new album Silence Is Loud is out now.

Cyclone Wehner is a journalist specialising in hip-hop, R&B, dance music (Detroit techno!) and pop culture. She has spoken to Beyoncé, Rihanna, Pharrell Williams and a who’s who of dance music, including Kraftwerk. Cyclone has also DJ’d at Melbourne venues like Revolver. Her dream interview is Will Sharpe. 

Twitter: @therealcyclone