The Glaswegian DJ on the origins of her debut EP ‘Angelica’, making room for the queer community within white club spaces and being nominated at the AIM Awards 2022.
For most individuals, lockdown served as a catalyst for deep reflection while others itched to find unconventional ways to connect with the community through online spaces. Glasgow-based electronic artist, producer and DJ TAAHLIAH kept afloat through a multitude of bookings, commanding queer Zoom parties with her trance-inducing beats. It also served as a backdrop to the creation of her debut EP ‘Angelica’. Prior to this she had only been making music for just under a year, but her love for the craft allowed for a natural yet meteoric rise to the forefront of electronic music.
‘Angelica’ is an intimate exploration of TAAHLIAH’s trans identity laid over her specialised high octane production. Take the debut track, “Brave” – which drew the attention of her current label, untitled (recs) – with acidic synths and cyborg-like vocals delivering reassuring messages of finding comfort within your chosen identity. She shoots figurative arrows at the capitalist class in the head-bopping “Bourgeoisie”, while offering self-soothing lyrical gems in “Tears” featuring Lady Neptune.
The seven-track project began as an essential means of expression for TAAHLIAH’s inner matrix of thoughts and emotions, but has seamlessly turned into our latest club night obsession. While her music is naturally primed for smokey dance floors occupied by writhing bodies, it’s also a cordial display of vulnerability fit for our own moments of self-discovery beyond imposed labels and ideas of self. From this project alone, she became the first Black trans artist to win in two categories at the Scottish Alternative Music Awards.
To top it all off, she has now been nominated for One To Watch in association with BBC Introducing and Best Independent EP/Mixtape at this year’s AIM Awards which is another well-deserved nod to her hustle as an independent artist. With hints of a debut album on the way, the multihyphenate is keen on revealing the depths of her artistry through an array of sounds. From sombre electronic pop to the hair-raising and hardcore, ‘Angelica’ is just the beginning.
First of all, a massive congrats on your AIM Awards 2022 nominations. What does this recognition mean to you as an independent artist? What would you say to other independent artists who are also on this journey of taking up space in the industry?
The record was the first project that I’d ever made. “Brave” was the first original song that I’d ever made and I got signed on that song and it became the lead single. So it was a bit of a shock to me how well-received everything was. To make this record was very much a way of coming to terms with my transness and the experiences that have led me to that. It’s a record that’s based on my own identity and experience, and I guess for that to be recognised is really humbling and lovely. Everyone’s artistic story is different, so it’s hard to piece together advice that other independent artists could benefit from, but as long as you stay true to your own artistry and what you want to say, you can’t really go wrong. You just need to be honest.
You’re roughly a year into releasing music and you’re killing it on many levels. Do you see these awards as an indication of your growth and impact or do you have other ways of measuring this?
To be formally recognised must be an indication that I’m doing something right. Just because you win an award doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better than anyone else of course, but it’s a nice way to be recognised. Having been doing this for only a year and to be in the position that I’m in, I’m very grateful. It’s hard for me coming into this industry because I’ve never really seen anyone who looks like me do it before and that can create these really overwhelming feelings of imposter syndrome that I definitely suffer from. The more my career progresses and the more things I do, that imposter syndrome dulls down a bit because I must be doing something right. It’s nice to be at the forefront of something but it comes with a lot of pressure. With my career, all I’ve done is be very honest and true to who I am as a human being and as an artist. The fact that people have been able to connect with that and listen to the music, and come to the shows and experience it, has been really nice. Everything happens for a reason.
You’ve travelled and explored different club nights in various cities but what are some of your favourite things about Glasgow’s music scene that can’t be found anywhere else?
I think that Glasgow has a wonderful sense of community because it’s so small. Whenever I go to London there’s obviously a bigger variation of what’s going on within the city, but because it’s so big, I feel like there’s a lack of community there.
You’ve spoken about envisioning specific club environments when making music rather than being led by a genre. When it comes to actually playing the music in a live setting, do you always experience the environment you imagined or does it change depending on the crowd?
Nothing is really ever what you expect it to be. I try to not go into gigs with expectations on what I want to happen or how I want to perform. I always try to stay true to the music that I’m interested in and the music I want to play, but I think being able to read a crowd is a really good skill to have when you are a live performer. Not necessarily to dilute or change the music you’re playing, but adjusting to the different vibrations of the room is very key.
You did a wicked, hour-long Boiler Room set recently where you had people dancing the entire time. How did you technically prepare for this, in terms of production and planning?
I did a little bit of preparation before – half of the songs from that set are my own and I’d made a few edits specifically for the Boiler Room. I prepared the first quarter and then 75% of it was just off of my head, which worked well. Boiler Room is so pressurising because this isn’t just a show. Everything’s going to be recorded so there’s an overwhelming pressure for it to go really well… It was so nerve-racking, but I had my friends there which was a massive support for me and brought me back down to Earth. That’s honestly why I think I performed so well – because I had some of the closest people in my life standing next to me.
How did it feel to infiltrate a space that’s typically run by white, cis males and turn it into an electrifying space of free movement and expression for people that look like you?
It’s always difficult going into these spaces because, even though I’m the person everyone’s there to see, I still don’t feel like I belong. That’s just true to patriarchy and white supremacy and bullshit like that. It’s obviously great that I’m there but I feel like more work needs to be done in order for, not just me, but anyone within that space who inhabits a marginalised identity to feel safe. Even after my set, people would still be shouting stuff at me and my friends. If I am literally on the bill, I’m performing and I’m still getting transphobic abuse, then what the hell is happening to people who don’t have the same social agency as me? That’s really horrific because I want my people, my friends, my community, and my fans to feel safe when they come into a show of mine. It’s difficult that these spaces can’t always accommodate that for some reason – fuck knows why. It’s a difficult one.
The true origins of electronic music is by Black, queer and trans people. In the recent years, especially following the pandemic, there’s been a slow cultural reset happening within these spaces but what can be done to trigger more of a rigorous change in favour of marginalised communities?
People need to be made more aware of our actual experiences, rather than just be like ‘We need to put up a couple ‘safer space’ posters and book more trans people or more Black people’. You can do all that, but are you guaranteeing their safety and that they’re not going to get shit? No you’re not. It’s like putting a plaster on a wound and it’s just going to fall off. Sometimes it’s hard as the marginalised person to be asked the question of what can be done better, because this is the only experience of life that I’ve ever known and it’s hard to place myself outside of that and to think of what can be done. I don’t think it’s up to us to come up with the answers, but unless you inhabit the experience yourself or you’ve come from a marginalised identity where you can empathise with someone who also comes from that experience, there’s an element of care that just isn’t there. A white, cis, straight man will never know my experience, so how can I trust him to really care about my safety and well-being when he can’t relate in any kind of way?
Although ‘Angelica’ is a personal reflection of romance, your trans identity and being of a working class background, these are themes that a wider collective can definitely relate to in some way. Is this something you think about when creating or is it more so a cathartic release for yourself?
Music-making is a lot more cathartic. I never really go into the studio thinking about anyone but myself. It’s not in a selfish way, but I find it hard to make work about something that I can’t personally relate to and I feel like a lot of the things I talk about in my work can be met universally. People can connect with the themes of “Brave” and not necessarily be trans, so I make the music for me and my friends but the fact that people are able to connect with it is just so wonderful. With my new record, a lot of the songs are to do with my own emotions and the experiences that I’ve been having to do with love and friendship. It’s going to be a very emotional record. For me to be able to feel invigorated by the music, it needs to hold an element of emotion. If I can listen to the music and feel that it’s ticked the box on what I wanted to say then I’m happy with it.
Who are some icons that inspire your creativity and the way you choose to show up in these industry spaces?
There’s not a specific set of people that I attribute to any kind of confidence. There’s so many people within my current playlist where I feel energised by their music but I think that’s more on a peer-to-peer level rather than an idolisation. When I was growing up, seeing people like [FKA] Twigs, Gaga, Beyoncé, Florence, Lorde – these are all poignant people that were the zeitgeist of 2013-15. When you’re that age you can’t help but just be mesmerised by these people but sometimes I find it difficult to talk about other artists or people that inspire me because it creates a hierarchy. Especially when it’s a white artist that inspired me but I’m Black, it creates this hierarchy of like, ‘OK, if this white artist didn’t exist then TAAHLIAH wouldn’t exist’, or the same with a male and a female artist. Honestly, my biggest source of inspiration are my friends and my support network. They really give me the energy and the push to keep going and keep making music.
It’s common to ask artists who they’re inspired by and I guess that ultimately puts them on some sort of a pedestal – even if it isn’t an intentional thought process.
We’re all artists and unique in our own way and I think sometimes, especially within music, it’s very easy to just push people in a specific box. I really don’t like that and I refuse to be put in a box. That’s my thoughts on it.
You’ve hinted at this a couple times, but could you speak a bit more on your upcoming album and what we can expect?
It’s a very emotional record. It’s only around 30-40% done… It’s in a good place. I’m very happy with it and it’s very emotional, very pop-focused as well. I’m trying to get all my slow pop songs out of my system before I start making some harder stuff, but it’s going to be an interesting listening experience from going into really sombre, emotional, electronic pop to the harder stuff. I’m seeing where it takes me. It’s not ‘Angelica’ at all, but it’s very TAAHLIAH.