Words by:
Photos: Chad McLeann

Birmingham-based producer Lauren Ralph is best known for his work with rap crew Blue Room Mafia, trademarking an eclectic approach to UK rap production. Sumuyya Khader is a visual artist from Liverpool, who recently established an independent print press in her area and is currently working towards creating a cultural centre and archive for the city’s Black community. Meme Gold is a selector, designer and performer based in Manchester, putting her unmistakable stamp on independent fashion and online radio. And Jonathan Fernandez, AKA Wheelman, a Glaswegian DJ and producer with a passion for promoting his local scene.

They talked about their common experiences across all areas of work and life from staying creative to collaborating over Zoom. The conversation was a chance to reflect, as a group, on how the world has changed for musicians and artists, and what could come next.

© Chad McLeann

On staying creative in lockdown…

Meme Gold: For me, the first part of lockdown was good. It made me stop being so creative and think about how to focus that into something that was going to give me an income stream while nothing was open. Later on, in lockdown 3, creativity didn’t come as easily as it did in the first one, purely for mental health reasons.

Jonathan Fernandez: Same. In the beginning of lockdown I was so productive. Making music every day, and that was naturally what I wanted to do. Then as time went on it started to wear thin and get more difficult.

Lauren Ralph: It was similar for me. During the first lockdown, it was really productive. I had a lot more time on my hands so I was able to practice my guitar, and get better at my instruments so I could put them into my beats as well. Recently I’ve been grafting on music here and there, and working on other things as well.

Sumuyya Khader: At the beginning of lockdown there was this energy. It was an opportunity to push myself further as a creative. But I echo what you said. Your mental health hits a point where you need to stop, gather yourself, and find the joy and the energy once more, so you can put that back out in the world again. Eighteen months is a long time to be with your own thoughts.

© Chad McLeann

On collaborating over Zoom…

MG: Hate it.

JF: I’ve tried with a couple of people, and every time it gets lost. We’ll send it back and forth, maybe two or three times, but eventually something happens and you lose the enthusiasm for the original idea.

On why community matters to creativity…

LR: My community was very important to how I got started out as a producer. It was my music teacher who lent me a microphone. And I took that microphone back to my bedroom, set up a studio with a laptop, and ended up recording all the Blue Room Mafia stuff. Obviously now it’s got, you know, over 3 million plays on some of the songs.

SK: For me community is all about listening and figuring out how we can support each other to make it happen. At the end of the day, you don’t want to build something alone. What’s the use of that?
MG: Totally. Everyone that I met living in Manchester is as much part of what I’ve ended up doing as I am.

SK: For me, that’s what community is. I live and work and create in the same area. I want to walk home, look around and think, ‘People are doing sweet things.’ We should be raving about each other all the time.

© Chad McLeann

On backing up your work…

LR: All my stuff right now is on my hard drive. If I lose that, I’ll lose all my music.

SK: Multiple hard-drives man. Everywhere!

LR: I need to do that. All my beats, all my music is on one hard drive.

JF: I’m the same. I had all my stuff deleted last year and I still haven’t sorted it out. I’m just a mess.

MG: It’s OK, you’re human!

On being a leader…

LR: When I was starting out, there were a lot of people who were more experienced than me, who inspired me to do what I’m doing. If I can inspire younger people to get into producing or DJing then that’s gonna make me happy.

MG: It sounds so cheesy, but positive words are such a big part of my interactions with anyone. I cannot stand to hear people say negative things about themselves or their abilities. That just doesn’t run around me.

SK: I definitely don’t see myself as a leader in any capacity. But I always think if there’s a pot and you’re eating from it, other people should also be able to access it too. That’s what I’m all about. If I’ve got access to a channel or a bit of information, I’m always going to mention someone else, because I’m not the only person who’s doing things.

© Chad McLeann

JF: I wouldn’t describe myself as a leader at all, either. But being disabled, and growing up not really seeing anybody else doing the kind of things that I’m doing now with the kind of disability I have… it’s important to me to feel like I’m showing people that, actually, this is something you can do.

MG: I always felt like the role of a leader isn’t something that you can give to yourself. I think other people decide how influential you are, or how well you can lead. I don’t think any
of us would say we’re leaders, but possibly the community around us would see us as such, as well as just a part of the community.

On taking care of business…

JF: That’s been me all over – trying to learn how to be an accountant. I don’t know how well I’ve managed it, but for sure over lockdown I’ve gotten a bit better at managing the business side. Actually thinking about it; starting to grow up a little bit and take things more seriously. doing to diversify – just to keep my options open so I’ve got different sources of income, because you never know what can happen.

On what you’ve learned this year…

MG: I think the main thing I’ve learned from lockdown is to always try and create opportunities for yourself. It was the moment where it was like: OK, you need to go out there and create this job or bring this money in.

SK: For me it was realising that you can own things. We can own it. It can be our company. You’re the one making it happen. You set the tone.

© Chad McLeann