Shura shouts down at me from the level above me calling me to chat to her. She goes for high five as I go for a handshake. Painful awkwardness ensues and I look like a complete tit as the beanie-wearing Touch singer laughs at me: “What is this? This is a high-five. They’ve been around for a few years.”
Shura (Aleksandra Denton on the gas bills) joins me ahead of her first ever Birmingham show at Digbeth’s gritty Custard Factory, an East London pastiche. The musician has had one hell of a year, successfully releasing 2 impressive singles and quickly establishing herself as one of the most definitive indie-pop musicians in the UK.
“I drove up from Brighton so its been a long day in the van. I’m really excited to play Birmingham, its my first time here. I used to travel from Manchester to London each weekend to see my mum because my parents are separated and we always used Birmingham as a half way mark and it was always a really exciting location. This place has been such a big, weird part of my childhood.”
Shura became a recipient of an impressive mention of BBC’s Sound of 2015 music poll and has lived up to the name in the past year. As 2016’s music poll has recently been released, I question Shura on her sound of 2016.
“It’s really hard to know! There’s a band supporting me tonight called Pumarosa who I’ve a massive massive fan of. I think they’re brilliant. Theres a band called HINDS and they’re brilliant. A lot of the stuff I’m excited about isn’t necessarily whats always on the BBC sound poll. Theres so many artists on that though which I’m excited to see. Obviously Mura Masa, who I’ve done a track with and Mabel, who is brilliant with her Scandinavian pop. Mura Masa is absolutely fucking brilliant. Him and Mabel, I’m really really happy with. I was part of that sound poll last year and its nice to see them make the correct choices this year.”
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Did you feel being on the BBC’s list last year helped you out as a musician?
It definitely helped. The fact is that the BBC really support lots of new bands. They want to play your song on the radio and thats such a help. Not everyone follows music blogs and discover music that way so when the BBC say “these 12 people are good”, they’ll check it out. It doesn’t mean everything though. It definitely helps but just because you’re not on the sound poll, doesn’t mean that you can’t have an incredibly successful year. And likewise, there’ll be people on the sound poll who disappear into thin air. It’s just the way music is. It’s important not to believe them.
I think when you start to believe your own hype thats sort of creative suicide, really, its just terrible. To be like “I’m a big one for 2016” is a bad decision for anyone.
You’ve just announced a show with Mura Masa and Oh Wonder at next year’s The Great Escape festival haven’t you? I’m so pumped for that.
That’s like the bloggiest gig ever, isn’t it? It’s so funny. It should be sponsored by Hype or something. Our song together is so autotuned so I’m not sure how we’ll do it but we’ll figure it out.
You started music quite early didn’t you and you’re from a pretty creative family right? I think I read that your mum was asked to do a Bond film?
She was! She turned it down! She felt it was quite anti-Russian and she didn’t do it. I think it was Goldeneye and her character would’ve died and she didn’t want to die. She’s in Mission Impossible though, which is hilarious. She’s a spy in it.
Touch was such a career changer for you…
I don’t know what happened. It’s at like 22 million views or something ridiculous like that. It goes up like 60,000 views a day, it’s probably my mum refreshing it. Actually, i’s probably not because it’s got my brother snogging someone and i don’t think she’d want to watch that.
I had the idea for the video before the song was even finished. All my friends agreed to do it for nothing because I had no money for it. I’m sure now they’re like “can I have £5?”. I don’t know if they would’ve agreed to it if they knew it was going to go viral. The song has this weird thing. The groove is quite happy but the lyrics are pretty sad. I wanted to do something visually enhancing to whatever emotion you were feeling. Say if you were just falling in love with someone or if you were going through a breakup, it applies.
I wanted to do something emotionally explicit. I think visually, its quite tame. There’s no tongues. There’s not spit strings. There’s no nakedness. There’s no grabbing breasts or anything. It’s quite vanilla in a way. I guess people have very strong reactions, both positively and negatively.
People can watch porn and be like “oh yeah fine” that’s porn, but if they watch people snogging and showing emotion, gay or straight, because it’s really beautiful, it’s scarier and more explicit than pornography.
Do you get much backlash from the video?
It’s like 98% positive. You get people who are incredibly strict, crazy Christians who go on a tirade every now and then but I find them hilarious and screenshot the negative comments and keep them in a little folder. One day I want to project them somewhere…
Like as your show backdrop?
Most of it is really positive though. People are really happy that its a really representative video. People are like, why are there no black people in it? There’s an Arab in it. There’s three black people in it. They’re not super skinny super models. They’re just normal good-looking people. I find the negative responses really entertaining.
The music dev has such a huge prevalence of same-sex love, between lovers and friends both, do you think this is changing?
It definitely is but not as quickly as it should. It’s one of those things you have to watch out for. Me putting that video out and the one for Indecision which plays on gender a bit, people get freaked out still. But for the most part its all good. People like Sam Smith and Olly from Years & Years and Cara Delevingne to an extent are making it way more acceptable to be out and for it to be seen as a normal thing.
And who are you listening to at the moment?
I love the new GRIMES album, its mad. The first album was crazy and this one is crazy but they’re crazy in such different ways. I’m listening to Pumarosa and their song. I love Clean Cut Kid. They’re not here tonight, which sucks, but it means I get to see a new band which is great. Obviously, Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen, because, well, they’re Fleetwood Mac and Bruce Springsteen. There needs no explanation.
PEOPLE COMING TO THE UK TOUR. We are giving away 90 Just Once White Labels to the first people to arrive. pic.twitter.com/HPDbbSYw32— shura (@weareshura) November 28, 2015
You have this timeless quality, I noticed you’re handing out vinyls.
Yeah. It’s a nice thing! I’m obsessed with vinyls, that’s how I listen to my music. I’ve only ever bought like four things on iTunes. I pretty much only stream stuff and buy vinyl. That’s how I consume music. I’ve got the vinyls and a present for people coming to the show, to have something that you can’t have or buy anywhere else. It’s one thing we’ve made for this one run. I really do believe in making things that you would want your favourite bands to make. Today, the first 90 people get a vinyl of a song that doesn’t exist anywhere else. If I was going to a Grimes concert and she had an exclusive vinyl for a demo I would think that’s fucking cool.
Words – Dean Eastmond