Words by:
Photographer: Emma Williams
Stylist: Lucy-Isobel Bonner
Stylist’s Assistant: Georgia Foley
Makeup: Emily Wood
Hair: Chaniqwa Brown

Nia Archives is maybe ten minutes late to the Zoom call. To this mind, it’s a tardiness barely worth mentioning, but she is profusely apologetic. “I’m never usually late, but someone gave me some breaks and I was like… might make a jungle tune,” she says, laughing at herself for having to be nudged out of the zone by a text from her publicist. The fast-rising 22-year-old producer has been credited with helping to pioneer the jungle revival, and it’s immediately obvious why.

“I just love jungle, I’m obsessed. Proper geeky with it,” Nia says, embodying the word ‘enthusiast’ fully. “I don’t pretend that this is something new, it’s been around for 30 years and I’m just really proud to be the next generation pushing it forward. I love that it comes from reggae and sound system culture. Being dual heritage, having that connection to this music is so sick. As a Black woman growing up, I really wanted to feel like I could relate to something, and then I found this music.”

It has been a matter of weeks since Nia, with just the Headz Gone West EP to her name at the time, beat established artists like Arca, Travis Barker, Fred again.. and India Jordan to win Best Producer at the NME Awards. “Positive destruction,” says Nia of what has ensued since that night. Everyone wants to talk to her, get into sessions with her and come to her parties – and she’s a little spun out by how busy she is now. She hadn’t expected to win and laments her lack of preparation. “It all happened so quickly, I was on adrenalin!” she says. “If I’d had some prep I wouldn’t have been bawling, walking around Victoria Park, just crying.”

Jacket: Diesel, Top: Burberry, Trousers: Rick Owens, Trainers: ASICS

A week later she dropped her second EP, Forbidden Feelingz, a collection of frenetic jungle breakbeats influenced by soul, jazz and R&B, and featuring choice reggae samples evoking dreams of drinking and dancing in the vibrant sunshine. All disguising her bluesy songwriting about family estrangement, body dysmorphia and the psychology of bad relationships. In the past, Nia has described her sound as “future classic”, succinctly summing up the way she has infused 25-plus years of musical influences into jungle, without decontextualising its origins.

Her work is a collage made up of snippets that reflect her personality. There is significance to all her artistic choices, from the Columbo sample on the title track, which is a nod to the time she spent with her grandma as a kid, to Ode 2 Maya Angelou, which was written to honour the iconic poet and champion Black history. “I make quite intentional art. Everything I do is with purpose and for a reason,” says Nia. “I get quite embarrassed listening to my music in front of people because it’s like a diary and it’s like everyone can hear what I’m thinking. I kinda disguise it in the crazy breakbeats and fast tempo.”

Tracksuit: Juicy Couture, Shoes: Jimmy Choo, Earrings: Givenchy courtesy of 4 Element

“I wanted to make a sonic and visual archive of my life to show that I was here and made some beautiful things out of the shit that I went through”

She celebrated with a launch party at Space 289 in east London, an archway venue that holds just over 200 people. Nia supplied free t-shirts and bucket hats, an open bar, and presented four DJ sets. “I’ll be real, we lost a lot of money on that party,” Nia says. “But I wanted to invest in my listeners and say thank you for supporting. I’m not owed plays, nobody has to listen to my music, so the fact that people do is amazing and I’m always really grateful.”

Nia says she writes “selfishly” to satisfy her inner child, but it is the impetus to give back to her community that seems to fuel her work. In 2020, she formed Brighter Days Family, a collective of musicians making “audio sunshine” who donate the profits of their Bandcamp-exclusive releases to Hackney Night Shelter. “I’ve profited so much from Hackney; I shot three music videos here,” says Nia. “It would be wrong to not give anything back to this area.”

Although she has lived in Hackney since 2019, saving money from 60-hour weeks at KFC so that she could pursue further education with Community Music (who had immediately offered her a place on their foundational music course on the strength of her portfolio alone), it was Nia’s formative years growing up in the north of England that have most influenced her work. She was raised in Leeds, one of only two Black children at her school; the other child being her younger brother. Her ex-stepfather was a rapper and producer, and faces like Lunar C were regular visitors to her household. She taught herself to play piano around the age of seven and she sang too, but was intimidated by the big voices she heard at her Pentecostal church. Still, her artistic side asserted itself. She recently unearthed her old YouTube channel where she uploaded videos of herself singing cover songs; she is about 12 years old in the footage. “I loved Emeli Sandé, which is funny, because the song I loved was Heaven and that’s actually a drum’n’bass song if you deep it,” says Nia. “I don’t really have many pictures of myself when I was younger, so I really cherish the ones that I do. It’s sick to see that I was doing that stuff ten years ago.”

Earrings: YSL courtesy of 4 Element, Jumper: Loewe, Shorts: Mugler, Shoes: Jimmy Choo

“It’s frustrating to be compared to singers when I’m a producer. I’m making roots jungle. I wouldn’t get these comparisons if I was a white man”

In an attempt to accelerate progress, she contacted the recently revived Mobo Awards about their failure to recognise electronic music with a category since the 90s, and was dissatisfied with their response – a non-committal statement about looking into category expansions in the future. “I’ve been to the Mobos, it’s sick, I love it… I just think, how are you the Music of Black Origin Awards but you don’t have an electronic category?” Nia says, baffled. “If you trace it back, it comes from us.” She lists off names like TSHA, Anz and Cooly G – “and that’s just the women!” – who deserve recognition for their achievements. She has since issued the Mobo Awards an open letter doubling down on her stance. “How are Black people gonna see themselves in dance music again, if you don’t even celebrate it? They’re gonna have to do something about it. I’m calling them out.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an artist who values documenting her life so deeply that she incorporates the word “archives” into her stage name feels strongly about fighting to preserve and correct the record. “Pre-music, pre-career, I’ve had no control over this life that I was born into,” Nia says of her moniker. “I wanted to make a sonic and visual archive of my life to show that I was here and I did exist and I made some beautiful things out of the shit that I went through. A flower grows from mud.”

Hat: Emma Brewin, Dress: Diesel, Earrings: Givenchy courtesy of 4 Element, Shoes: Prada courtesy of Scruff Studio

For the same reasons, she is keen to challenge ignorant comparisons to artists she doesn’t have a great deal of commonality with, particularly those who have seen success via TikTok. “I haven’t blown up on an app, I’ve come up through community and culture, from the underground,” she says. “I don’t have beef with people, and I’ve been careful about what I say because you never want to come across as ‘the angry Black woman’, but it’s frustrating to be compared to singers, when, first of all, I’m a producer. And when you actually deep the music, they’re making pop records and I’m making roots jungle. I wouldn’t get these comparisons if I was a white man.”

Perhaps it is too wildly optimistic to hope that decades of entrenched music industry misogynoir will vanish in the wake of Nia’s NME Award win. Still, a giant, golden middle-finger statue is the perfect riposte to all those “who makes the beats?” questions that have plagued her career so far. Certainly Nia seems to consider the matter closed. She is about to begin work on her third EP and for the first time feels safe to collaborate without risking accusations that she doesn’t do it alone – a small but significant advancement. “It’s not just an award,” she says. “I’ve been here every day doing this, so to win – not even Best Newcomer or New Artist, but Best Producer – it meant so much to me. Thinking about my entire life and everything that it took to get to that moment, it’s nice to be crying about something happy. That’s definitely a first.”

Forbidden Feelingz is out now via HIJINXX