Meet multifaceted, multitalented introvert-extrovert Bklava. The emerging UK Garage singer and producer is bringing female vocals to the forefront of the scene.

Sweet, full of flava, smooth. Irresistible and moreish. There’s two Middle Eastern delights I could be talking about – the sweet pastry dessert, or the refreshing sound of self-proclaimed ‘Lebanese Princess’, UKG sweetheart, Bklava.  

 

25-year-old singer, songwriter, producer, DJ, and all-round 2-step princess Lara Sweeney (aka Bklava) is a quadruple threat. Half Lebanese-Half Irish, south of the river raised and Brighton based, the BRIT school graduate serves a freshly sourced, future-meets-the-past sound to the UK garage scene. From first learning to DJ at a workshop on holiday on the Costa del Sol, to holding a residency at 2-stepping ground Patterns in Brighton, Bklava has gone from strength to strength.  Bursting onto the scene in 2019 with track “CNTRL” produced by garage legend Wookie and attracting attention with her ‘Take Time / Slow Down’ EP, she’s already left a sweet taste in the mouth of the UKG scene.

 

Since then, she’s delivered a melancholic 2-step anthem “Got it Good”, and more recently her new single “Back to Then”, a cathartic channelling of her mental health struggles into a feel-good bop. The tripped-out, acid rave candy land visuals channel strong 90s energy, but through a futuristic lens. They come courtesy of Lara’s best mate Leah Money.

 

Lara must be doing something right. Bassline/Garage king Todd Edwards recently worked his magic on the track in a new punchy remix. Oh, and dance music veterans Ministry of Sound recently decided they really like her style – signing Bklava to their notorious label. No biggie.

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  • Earrings Hannah George Vintage
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  • Suit Preen By Thornton Bregazzi
  • Rollneck Baserange

As I chat with Lara on Zoom from her flat in Brighton, we come to agree that genre can be a limiting term. Slotting her politely into the UK garage scene as a DJ would be a disservice to her toolkit of talent. I learn her shameless and brave embrace of self-growth and anti-classification attitude towards her personal sound separates her from the rest. “I wasted so many years racking my brain about genre”, she tells me. Lara’s discography confirms nods towards 90s garage-house anthem influence and darker south London dubstep phases but also exudes the originality of Winehouse-style vocals. Lara prides herself on her staple ingredient – her ability to grab the mic and serve homegrown vocals to her intricate live PA/DJ sets, something she says she has been refining during lockdown. 

 

Her quick rise is emblazoned with commendable collabs and achievements. Lara hosts a new monthly Rinse FM show and has already attracted the appetites of big household names Conducta, Toddla T, and Annie Mac. She recently riddim selected alongside garage legends the Heartless Crew for Radio 1 Xtra, and “Back to Then” caught the attention of MistaJam, featuring as a self-certified future dance anthem on his Radio 1 show. Bklava has also showcased her very own taste through curating her own Spotify playlist, and a mix for Apple Music. 

 

Bklava is a musician with a mission too. Exercising her desire to diversify the predominately male electronic industry, Lara has actively advocated for gender equality by founding “Spin Suga,” a platform aimed at helping other female and non-binary musicians find their way in the scene in Brighton and beyond. 

 

Smiley Bklava talks to me about Kangol and puffa jackets, feeling “ready”, being a Ministry of Sound newbie and her lockdown listens. 

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  • Jumper Raquel Allegra
  • Skirt Preen by Thornton Bregazzi
  • Shoes Doc Martens
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  • Earrings Kitty Joyas

Congratulations on being signed to Ministry of Sound. What does this mean to you?

It still doesn’t feel real! I’m still in disbelief sometimes – in a good way. I have to pinch myself. It’s something I’ve always wanted. Is this happening to me? It’s been a bit of a mad journey.

How did you get to this point?

I’ve been singing all my life and writing since I was 9/10 years old. DJing and production came really late. I’ve wanted to release a single for ages. I was putting it off because I didn’t know what style of music I wanted to make. I wasted so many years racking my brain about genre. When I went to uni (in Sussex), they made such a big deal about choosing a specific genre. I thought that mattered so much. I realized how much it doesn’t matter. I like to sing, I like to DJ, why can’t I put those two elements together? I was like I haven’t really seen anyone do that.

You’ve done stints in Brighton and South London, two different places with different music scenes. Did growing up south of the river shape you into who you are today, and how has the seaside scene served your career?

South London, the beginning of my career, I was really into house and dubstep. When I found Croydon was the birth of Dubstep I was like…that’s so cool. I felt a bit of a connection to that. From there, I would say in South London I had a lot of creative people around me when I went to college, and it was the first time I pushed myself into music properly. I knew it was what I wanted to do as a career. 

 

Do you think being in that creative environment gave you the confidence to pursue what you love doing?

Yeah definitely. Even in that time, I still wasn’t putting myself out there. I’d say it was the first part of me understanding I need to work a lot harder. There’s so much competition out there. You’ve gotta work that little bit harder.” For my scene, London is a lot better for club culture. It’s improving (in Brighton). I’ve spent time with organisations in Brighton, like Lighthouse, having panel talks and open discussions about improving club culture in Brighton. It was all bands and live gigs – less so with DJs and Dance. I love that as well. I have a great time here, but for club culture, I was always heading to London for that. Sometimes a lot of people say when you go to a gig, it’s the little kick to make you push yourself. You go home and you feel inspired. You kinda need that.

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  • Hat Toasties
  • Earrings Kitty Joyas
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  • Dress Henrik Vibskov
  • Trainers Converse
  • Jumper Baserange

Your sound seems genre-defying. You don’t put yourself in a box. To other creatives delaying putting their art out there, would you encourage them to go for it?

100%. You’re never gonna be really ready. I’m sure in 5 years’ time there will be songs I will question. Like why did I write that lyric or sing that line? It’s kinda part of your growth. It’s nice to finally appreciate I can keep adapting as I grow.

Your live vocals give your sets so much authenticity. Will you try and maintain this throughout your future career?

Yeah definitely. This is something I’ve been working a lot more on in lockdown, working on my live set. I wanna try to make my singing a lot more of a feature when I play. I want to keep my set as 50/50 as possible, including some of my own production. It’s definitely something that’s like a staple.

I’m sure everyone asks you this. Tell me why you chose the moniker Bklava? And do you have a recipe?

Haha. I do! I’m so bad at making it. I chose it because It’s a traditional Middle Eastern dessert, and part of my mum’s side of my family who are Lebanese and Armenian always used to have it as dessert after meals. I was living with my Teta up to the age of 7. It has sentimental value to me, and it’s also one of my favourite desserts.”

The recent events in Lebanon were hard to watch, as the country is currently facing a major crisis. For people who only hear about Lebanon from the negative news headlines, talk to me about what it really means to be Lebanese.

Good question. Lebanese culture for me is obviously the food. And dance! In a lot of middle eastern countries, belly dancing is a tradition. Even the men belly dance! At family parties my Jidu (In English, Grandad) is there, getting his arms out!

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  • Jumper Raquel Allegra
  • Earrings Kitty Joyas
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  • Skirt Preen by Thornton Bregazzi
  • Shoes Doc Martens

Some of your tracks really give me a sense of nostalgia, but at the same time exude futuristic feelings too. Do you take inspiration from older music?

Yep. Especially with dance. I’ve always been into big soulful singers, like Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan. A lot of that music has these amazing female singers on them. There’s a specific track from the Ordinary People – “Baby Make My Heart Sing”. (She gives me a vocal rendition.) It’s sick.

Lockdown was tough. For some it squeezed the creative juices out, but for others, it negatively affected their mental health and motivation. What did lockdown teach you?

I think it taught me… to be better. I really like being on my own.

Are you an introvert?

I’m an introvert-extrovert. I’m one of those people who if I’m meeting a big group of people for the first time I’m quiet, but second time you meet me I’m really loud! I’m a bit out there. But yeah. Lockdown has been weird. It’s been good creatively. I learned how to crochet actually! 

I’m so grateful to have had all these things happen in this time. Not being able to do live shows is definitely a bit of a stab! I miss it. I do work hard, and gigging is like the one thing, the release, this is why I do what I do. It’s the balance to work hard play hard.

What’s the track that you can’t wait to hear at the end of the night before the lights come on?

Oh my god that is such a good question. I keep thinking about this recently. India Jordan released a new EP ‘I’m Waiting’. All her stuff is really happy club ravey music! Elkka released a track called “I Miss Raving”. I think we can all relate to that!

Something that’s not been touched on by people who have chatted to you before is your fashion sense. How would you describe it?

I think I like loads of different aesthetics. I definitely play around with my masculine and feminine qualities. I’ve been described as “straight outta Clueless” or really nineties pimp. Big oversized furry coat and massive trainers and my Kangol hat. Then I’ll go matrix to give it a bit of a mix!” Depends on my mood. Dressing up is important to me. When I’m feeling shit it’s the one thing where I make an effort.

bklava
  • Jumper Raquel Allegra
  • Skirt Preen by Thornton Bregazzi
  • Shoes Doc Martens
bklava
  • Earrings Kitty Joyas

You founded Spin Suga – a platform aimed at helping other female and non-binary musicians find their way in the scene in Brighton. Talk to me about how this came around.

It started at Uni for my dissertation project. I’d just started DJing and I was really confused as to why I didn’t know many other female DJs and producers. At the time, the statistic was there were only 9% of women in the electronic industry. I wrote a status and asked people to tag bedroom DJ’s, or established DJs. Quite a lot of people came back. I was pleasantly surprised. It started out interviewing people in different stages in their career. The aim was basically to let other women and non-binaries see these posts and maybe feel inspired to want to start their career. We even supported Annie Mac last year. We wanna do interviews again. There’s so many more women and non-binary producers now, that are big but still on the underground scene. We even had someone Italy, from Vancouver – get in touch. But the aim was to shine more light onto Brighton as well.

Old school garage vocals tend to melt into the track itself without much credit. You bring the female voice to the forefront!

Yeah! For sure. They’re always just a feature. From that era there wasn’t a lot of…the only woman I can think of is Donna Dee, vocalist DJ and producer in the 90s. All her tracks are garagey-house. She’s sick.

Do you believe in star signs? And what star sign are you?

I’m like on the fence. I do, I love it, I’m so interested in it. But I don’t know enough about it. I’m an Aquarius! Everything I’ve heard about Aquarius qualities are quite true to me. A happy mixture of wild and tame. Introvert-extrovert. Normally quite creative, calming nature.

In your new track “Back to Then”, the lyrics read “can’t rewind so I guess I’m over it.” Is this a new mantra for moving on from things that no longer serve you?

When I wrote it, it was like from both sides. Being over it and giving up, but also as a way from moving on. It had two meanings to me. I was going through a bad time, but I was being really reminiscent of a time when I felt really good. 2018 was the first year where my mental health was on point. It started declining, that’s when I wrote it. It really came from the heart.

And finally, what do you expect to achieve in this next year?

I’ve got my first EP coming out really soon. Next year I hope it’ll be a similar thing. So yeah! Really excited.

Listen to Bklava's music below:

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