stephseeksis Riding Solo
Words: Douglas Greenwood
Photography & Art Direction: Michelle Helena Janssen and Ade Udoma
Hair & Makeup: Laila Zakaria
Video: Jerry Dobson
Web Design & Development: plinth.media
stephseeks loves the company she keeps, but the Peckham-raised artist is also keen to prove she can stand on her own feet too. For the past three years, she’s been one fifth of a collective founded by a group of school friends and sisters who grew up together. Famous in London’s subcultural art circles but also approved by institutions like the Tate, they go by the name BORN N BREAD. Bound by their experiences of being young women of colour in the ever-changing South London borough, together they’ve captured a microcosm of the area’s creative scene through zines, installations, radio shows and events. But now, Steph is bringing that love for her hometown into her solo projects too.
On any given day in London you can find the 29-year-old multidisciplinary creative on the streets of Peckham, stopping by Taco Queen to catch up with old friends or catching her mates DJ at the record shop Rye Wax. To her, the place is a melting pot. “I was born here so it’s all I know, really,” Steph says. We’re looking out over the train tracks from the top floor of Peckham Levels: a multi-storey car park that’s been converted into an events space, spattered with artists’ studios and coffee spots. It’s a sign of the district’s fresher face as a place for creatives rushing in to reshape the area’s history, but she’s trying her best to embrace the change. “From growing up going to Peckham Rye Park in the summer with my family, and then going to house parties as a teenager – that was the best!” she laughs. “I feel like I’ll always have a place here.”
Harbouring an unshakeable desire to hustle hard, she’s a self-confessed polymath when it comes to her work. Having studied digital media at university, she started out working in film and photography before branching out into illustration and graphics. They’re still pivotal parts of her story, but recently, she’s focused on creating and curating music-led events in her home city (many of which with her BORN N BREAD cohorts), and is a sought after DJ too.
It all ties back to the heady days of the early noughties that introduced her to the first wave of grime: a genre indebted to the place Steph calls home. “Bashment and grime were the ones!” she grins. Talking about it sets her spirits on fire, reminiscing on the house parties that helped shape her own go-to sounds later down the line. “I was in there with the mandem coming through! It was enriching, a community – even among new girls MCing – because you were with the guys too. There were moments there when you didn’t even feel like a ‘woman’,” she says. “You were who you were – enjoying the music.”
That notion of coming together and forming a community has followed Steph throughout her career, from those humble house party days to performing bi-weekly shows on NTS with the BORN N BREAD girls. “It’s really important to find your tribe,” Steph stresses. “They help you when you’re feeling low. Having friends who are there to help you, and tell you when you’re wrong and right. It’s crucial, and everyone needs family.” She calls BORN N BREAD a “spider-web of relationships”. Despite the fact that she was the most recent member to join, having discovered the group through their much-talked about zine releases, that close-knit community is wildly important to her.
But the unified power of five brilliant women of colour gathering together to create art doesn’t stave shitty interactions from men who think they know better. Just last night, as Steph was doing a set at a fashion event in the city, a man approached her. “‘You were on a good roll, but you should start doing this!’” she scoffs, imitating how he mansplained his way around a set of CDJs that Steph was already perfectly familiar with. “It wasn’t a song request, it was like: ‘You should do this to sound better’.” At this point, Steph rolls her eyes at the way uninvited people still worm their way into her space. “I don’t need your help,” she affirms, “and if I did I would ask you!” So who does stephseeks take advice from? She smiles: “Women that I see taking action.”
After all, that tight circle of BORN N BREAD, indebted to each other and the city they all grew up in, has helped stephseeks flourish into a killer artist in her own right. “[The girls] know my secrets, and they do what’s necessary to help me blossom in this world,” she says, looking back out across the rooftops of Peckham. “It’s needed.”