Nia Archives: Silence Is Loud review – bold, fresh jungle unbound by tradition 🤩

Nia Archives, singer-songwriter, producer…Silence Is Loud

Judging by the cameraphone footage, Nia Archives’ support slot at the last of Beyonce’s  2023 London gigs was not an unqualified success. Archives has suggested she “got a lot of hate for playing jungle” at the show: the audience certainly look like it’s the last thing they want to hear. Then again, you could divine much from the fact that she was there at all: drum’n’bass producers from Bradford rarely attract the attention of US superstars.

Born Dehaney Nia Lishahn Hunt, Nia Archives counts Goldie among her mentors and currently seems to occupy a roughly equivalent position in the firmament of “next-gen junglists” – her phrase – as he did in the 90s drum’n’bass scene: a striking, charismatic figurehead for a genre traditionally lacking in striking, charismatic figures, dance producers seldom being as exciting or intriguing as the music they make.

Moreover, she clearly wants to do the thing that no 90s d’n’b producer did and become an actual pop star. Two EPs, 2021’s Forbidden Feelingz and last year’s Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against tha Wall, underlined her qualities as a producer well versed in her chosen genre’s past but not in thrall to it: the fantastic 18 & Over and Baianá’s skilful reboot of the samba-infused d’n’b style pioneered by Brazil’s DJ Marky were built to unite 20-something ravers and sniffy superannuated original junglists alike. But they also offered up tracks that posited Archives as a singer-songwriter, a weightier counterpoint to PinkPantheress’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it breakbeat pop.

Silence Is Loud takes the latter approach a stage further. Archives has mentioned Britpop as an inspiration, a reference that could give anyone with a long memory pause. The solitary conjoining of Britpop and d’n’b during the Britpop era was Goldie’s 1997 collaboration with Noel Gallagher, Temper Temper, the mere thought of which can still leave you grasping for a paper bag to breathe into: let’s just say it wasn’t either artist’s finest hour. She’s certainly dabbling in Britpop iconography: there’s a limited edition of Silence Is Loud pressed on “union jack vinyl”, matching the grill on her front tooth in the cover photo; the video for Unfinished Business featured the Fred Perry-clad producer in a greasy spoon cafe and drinking a pint in an ungentrified boozer. But its musical influence is less obviously pronounced.

In fact, it turns out merely to indicate a certain colloquial snottiness to the vocals (“all my friends hate you – to be fair, I do too”, opens the excellent Nightmares, addressing an ex who’s apparently “a tool”), and the presence of guitars. At its most straightforward, the alt-rock/jungle hybrid features a recumbent acoustic strum proceeding at half the speed of the beats beneath it, as on Cards on the Table, but it’s often far more artful than that. The opening title track is both melodic and ferociously noisy, the vocal melody and guitar figure poking through screaming electronics. On the superb Tell Me What It’s Like?, the two genres are tightly wound around each other: the lower end continually switches from dive-bombing sub-bass to bass guitar, an acoustic guitar playing a Kashmir-esque riff overlaid with bursts of white noise and poppy synths. The overall effect is not unlike a noticeably more wholesome version of the Prodigy, if you can imagine such a thing. And if you want evidence that Archives is a jungle producer not bound by tradition,

you might alight on the fact that she’s unafraid to tether her breakbeats to a pounding four-to-the-floor kick drum, a move that would have been absolutely verboten in 90s jungle: the lack of a 170bpm kick drum being one thing that traditionally separated d’n’b from its profoundly uncool, permanently gurning cousin happy hardcore.

Her voice is strong and appealingly unmannered, capable of cutting through the density of her productions. Meanwhile, the songwriting ranges from slightly undercooked – Unfinished Business clings doggedly to a melody too rinky-dink to bear that much repetition – to genuinely striking, even daring. The angsty Crowded Roomz implies that her party-starting DJ persona is often a facade masking personal loneliness. The album’s hookiest track, F.A.M.I.L.Y., manages to create a propulsive dancefloor anthem from the topic of long-term parental estrangement, which it seems fairly safe to say hasn’t been done previously.

That sensation of freshness, even innovation – that no one has put these ingredients together in this particular way before – strikes you more than once over the course of Silence Is Loud. The recipe doesn’t come off every time, but there’s something weirdly reassuring about that. It makes Archives seem like a work-in-progress rather than a perfectly polished finished article, which is exactly what an artist should be this early in their career: it’s impressive and bold enough to leave you wondering how she might develop, rather than worrying where she can go next.

Article by the Guardian; April 2024