I am Fya by Kate Dominic

I Am Fya – Brighton-based experimental musician gears up for ACCA show and single drop this month

“I feel like I’m totally representing myself now. More than I’ve ever done musically.”

Producer, vocalist and videographer, Anthea Clarke, is reflecting on the bass-heavy richness and wonder of her current musical project, I Am Fya. “I’m in such a beautiful space… Everything I’m creating at the moment feels really true and necessary.” It’s a place where tripped-out dub and vocal harmonies both resonate amongst tantalising percussion loops, taking the listener to within touching distance of rich family histories and distant Caribbean shores.

“I was about 16 when I started telling people I was a singer… I’ve been singing as a backing vocalist for quite some time.” Originally hailing from Manchester, she moved to London at 19 to start a successful career doing sessions (including work with Kae Tempest) and singing on adverts. “It’s basically a space where I found myself in. But I wouldn’t say I was completely happy. I think I’m a bit too punk. My vibe was always that I can fit into these boxes and do that, but my heart wasn’t totally in it.”

The idea for I Am Fya was born in 2010. Clarke was determined to forge a new path, making music which was true and representative of her world.

She’s now been living in Brighton for nine years. An introduction to Kassia Zermon, Creative Director of the Rose Hill arts hub, then led to being signed up to their label. “Her band Bunty are amazing. I really connected with her very early on!” Located just off London Road, The Rose Hill is a venue and studio complex, run by a passionate group of musicians. From the start, it’s set out to platform interesting, varied and adventurous artists, workshops and film screenings – offering a nurturing atmosphere for an eclectic range of local creatives. “The brilliant thing about that venue is it feels like home. It’s really comfortable. I’ve had some amazing events and gigs there.”

Clarke finds herself at the tail-end of a Digital, Music And Sound Art degree at Brighton University. The course has a foundation in experimental sound design, alongside incorporating of filmmaking. “All through my course, my practice has changed quite a lot. It’s why I went… so I could think outside the box a bit more. They’ve been really supportive of what I do.”

She makes all her own beats, starting off arranging on GarageBand before moving up to Logic Pro, along with keyboards and her trusty Roland SP-404 sampler. “It’s my best friend at the moment,” she says with a chuckle. 

Her work manifests as something ardently Avant Garde – like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop met Karl Stockhausen at a soundsystem block party and fell in love. I Am Fya morphs everyday sounds into something sensory and beguiling, allowing waves, samples and electronic noises to sizzle across her minimalist sonic art. “Growing up, I was listening to The Smiths and Public Enemy,” she tells me. “Culturally, I’m an English girl, but I’m also Caribbean. All of that has been an influence on me, for sure. Radiohead are my favourite band. Thom Yorke is one of the most soulful singers. Nobody can argue with me about that.”

Right now, her creative focus is concerned on finishing Homeland; a visual album which draws from her heritage, it crystallises a link between sound and vision. She’s been producing parallel audio and film elements for the concept – an unwaveringly personal endeavour exploring familial life and self-love. “I’m not going to sit here and say I’m the next big video producer on the scene, but for what I’m doing I feel like it has to be me that does it all.”

I am Fya

Field recordings are playing an increasing role in her practice. During the numerous recent lockdowns, she spent quite a lot of time in Barbados with her parents. “I’ve always been very good at recording stuff, but until I was on this course, I didn’t know what to do with them. There are recordings of everything, like car rides, conversations, nature, animals and the sea.” These became the bedrock of the tracks on Homeland. Capturing these sounds were a device to combat boredom, against a backdrop of restrictions placed upon movement and socialising.

“I was just going round recording me bashing blinds or kicking plant pots. Then I’d chop it up and make a drumbeat. I made the most of a weird situation.”

Her musical palette has been reduced to just the most essential and expressive spectrum-sweeping elements, creating a wash of emotion and storytelling. It shifts between melancholic and empowering, as the ghosts of past and future evolve within these shape-shifting collages. “It’s kind of witchy, experimental and soulful. Some people find it quite challenging, but some really get it. Because there’s elements of mysticism, which is the ancestral stuff which I talk about. There’s lots of haunting and beauty. Thom Yorke is my guy, as I said, so there’s that kind of element. But there’s also beats and joy.” The name-checking of Radiohead and their approach to soundscapes seems perfectly natural. There’s certainly a shared playful approach to timbre and rhythm, gracefully arranging sounds and textures to envelop the listener.

The story of that sojourn in the West Indies is perhaps best encapsulated in her new single, The Sun Will Kill Me.

Released this month via Rose Hill Records, it depicts long walks in the heat, developing friendships and new-found belonging. As a launch event, the day of release is being celebrated with a show alongside electronica pioneers Creep Show – the much-vaunted collaboration between John Grant, Stephen Mallinder, Phil Winter and Ben “Benge” Edwards – at Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on Fri 16 June.

“It’s probably my biggest show yet as I Am Fya. I’ve played there before as part of Brownton Abbey, which is a black, afro-futurist queer collective. I’m so excited about this gig though. I’m just blowen away that I’ve been asked. It does feel really important.” Recently she’s performed at Glastonbury Festival’s late-night safe-space The Sistxrhood, and with Brownton Abbey at Summer: In The Black Fantastic at London’s South Bank Centre. But ACCA’s music-oriented venue, with its bass-forward soundsystem and awesome acoustics, seems perfect for what she does.

Lyrically, she’s always approached her compositions from a personal angle.

The opening track on her last album, The Woman, was inspired by her learning about a man who’d turned himself into a successful guru – it’s narrative countering his desperation for validation (and probably hard cash) with the lines ‘Your guru is a woman. Your god is a woman’. “This dude just stands onstage staring at people,” she tells me, disbelief hanging in her voice. “Thousands of people are like: ‘OH MY GOD! I FELT SOMETHING!’ I’m like: ‘Jeez. Is this where we’re at?’

This guy is not doing anything. He’s not saying anything. There’s nothing about him. It really annoyed me because men very easily get put on these pedestals. No, your god is a woman. She might be a trans woman. She’s definitely a black woman!” Alongside dismantling patriarchal inanity, she’s also been happy to discuss female orgasms, family, home, identity and the experience of immigrants in her songs. “I can never shy away from these things…”

Talking to her, she’s bursting with life. The word ‘beautiful’ comes up a lot.

And even when questioning the value of certain things, she’s careful to deploy objective arguments rather than relying upon facile dismissals. And then there’s the near obsessive zeal when she talks about music.

The love of music in all its forms is perhaps at its most prominent on her radio shows. With slots on the city’s 1BTN and Slack City stations, she slowly playing her part in shifting existing paradigms around who’s expected to push tastes and trends. “My Slack City show is a bit more experimental. I get a nice response from people. I’d really like to be on 6Music. I think they need more people like me on there.” She says the foray into broadcasting has been really good for her own practice. She’s always open to new music and ideas… but having to present these shows demands she thinks more about what inspires and drives her.

I am Fya by Anya Arnold

“I want to bring new and exciting stuff to people’s ears. I’m quite good at curating playlists and stuff. It’s been really beautiful, and really creative.”

The homogeneous nature of the creative scene, whether broadcasting or the music industry, has shifted recently. But change is glacial, regardless of the grumbles about male-dominated festival bills or club line-ups. “I see some men who are very successful, and they have been for a long time, but they’re boring. The amount of queer, black and brown collectives that are now smashing it… for them to reach those heights almost seems impossible. The gatekeepers are still going to let the dudes in.”

With uncompromising production and composition, I Am Fya’s sound brings together bass-rich textures, poignant soundscapes, rich lyrical narratives and distinctive staccato beats. This is the sound of the real modern Britain. A place rich in innovation and diversity, where all our experiences are important. She’s undoubtedly pushing experimental music forward, with work that is beguiling and mysterious.

It’s a puzzle box of sounds waiting to be opened; constructed from clever rhythms, uncompromising narratives and mischievous soundscape. And it seems like this might only be the start. “I’m going to keep my fingers in lots of pies. There are collaborations coming up, more producing and doing my thing… and I’m also curating festivals and nights. I’ve got a DJ collective called Sista Selecta, and we do some cool stuff. There’s a lot of exciting things that I’m planning. I’m not going to stop!”

I Am Fya plays with Creepshow at Brighton’s Attenborough Centre For The Creative Arts on Fri 16 June. Her new singles, The Sun Will Kill Me, is released on the same day, via Rose Hill Records.

www.iamfya.com

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