Nia Archives: 'I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being patriotic'

 (ES Magazine)
(ES Magazine)

‘Now that’s a good Guinness,’ says Nia Archives, clinking her pint to mine from a corner of Stoke Newington’s lively Irish boozer, The Auld Shillelagh. ‘I’ve spent a lot of time in Dublin – I went there 10 times last year – so I’ve had great Guinnesses. This is decent.’ She wipes the malty foam from her upper lip.

Dehaney Nia Lishahn Hunt began releasing music under the moniker Nia Archives four years ago; a name that has since become known for leading a new generation of dance music. She has earned her title through her dark, thumping and addictive sound – plus untameable, electric performances. She’s a DJ, vocalist, songwriter and producer, but first and foremost, Nia Archives is a junglist.

By contrast, the woman who sits in front of me is reserved, slightly awkward and not at all like the adrenaline deity we know her as behind the decks. In true raver fashion, she’s zipped into a gorpcore-style rain coat, with a Camel Blue cigarette lodged between her French-tipped nails. I compliment her recent hair transformation (she’s ditched her golden locks for dark brown). Does this signal a new chapter for Hunt? ‘Yes, yes, yes. It’s giving me mod vibes, which is what I’m going for. Hopefully it’s a new level of confidence.’

Nia Archives photographed by Sammy King for ES Magazine (ES Magazine)
Nia Archives photographed by Sammy King for ES Magazine (ES Magazine)

We’re a week away from the release of Hunt’s debut album, Silence is Loud, and her newly adopted mod aesthetic is a direct reference to the record’s ingredients: Britpop, ska and patriotism, blended with a dash of heavy, personal subjects – altogether making for a cocktail of emotional ballads and pulsing breakbeats. ‘Britpop is one of the coolest British music genres ever,’ she says through a raspy Bradford accent, ‘People like Goldie and Kemistry & Storm are punk icons. They’re the rebels of dance music, so I always thought jungle was punk. I’ve always loved Oasis and Blur, but I’ve never heard those types of music [jungle and Britpop] together.’

As well as sporting a Union Jack diamond grill for our ES Magazine photo shoot, the iconography also features heavily in her album artwork. Does she feel proud to be British? ‘Yeah I do. Jungle is British music, Britpop is British music. And I’m proud of that music. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being patriotic. I’m a British girl. I feel really proud of my heritage – both sides, Jamaican and British. I’m proud that I grew up in the North. I think you’re allowed to be proud of where you’re from.’

Nia Archives photographed by Sammy King for ES Magazine (ES Magazine)
Nia Archives photographed by Sammy King for ES Magazine (ES Magazine)

Hunt was born in Bradford and raised by true music lovers, as she describes them. One of the most prominent figures in Hunt’s early life was her grandmother, Liz, who moved from Jamaica to Yorkshire as part of the Windrush generation aged 14. Liz, alongside her sisters, began a pirate radio station and were nicknamed ‘The Bradford 5’ after The Jackson 5, for their instantly recognisable Afros. For as long as she can remember, Hunt was doused in gospel, dancehall and jungle music, and cites her first proper rave as Bradford Carnival.

Though musical, Hunt’s upbringing wasn’t easy. She moved around – from Bradford to Leeds; Leeds to Manchester – and no longer has contact with her family outside of her two younger brothers. ‘[My family] don’t really know about Nia Archives,’ she says. We move the conversation along. While living in Manchester, Hunt worked 60-hour weeks at KFC, saving desperately to move to London. ‘I felt like if I didn’t make that jump and take a risk that my life would just be the same forever.’

I really wanna impress Damon Albarn. I’m going to send him my vinyl

In 2019 she finally made the leap and enrolled on a music production course in the capital. She worked at Wetherspoons and spent her student loan on promoting her debut single, ‘Sober Feels’, via paid ads on social media. It was another risk, but it paid off. Today, it has racked up more than 13 million streams. I ask if those lyrics ‘I don’t like how sober feels’ still ring true today? ‘Very true. I wrote it in lockdown and I didn’t spend my days very well. That was completely how I felt at the time.’ Would she consider going sober now? ‘Never. I feel like you’ve got to have a vice in life,’ she says, sparking up another Camel Blue.

Although going teetotal is out of the question, she sticks to a firm sobriety rule while performing. ‘It was a conscious decision I made at the beginning of my career, to not drink or do drugs while performing, because it is actually a job. In dance music it’s a real thing. A lot of DJs get into this crux of getting wasted every single show. It’s actually quite a dark side of the industry. Everywhere you go as an artist – especially the bigger you get – everybody wants you to have a great time. I’ve had promoters come up to me and be like, “What do you want? We’ve got this, we’ve got that. Whatever you need we’ll get you it.” It’s like having a devil on your shoulder.’

 (ES Magazine)
(ES Magazine)

Always performing sober means that Hunt has to face her anxiety head on. Her nerves reached their highest peak last summer when she was personally selected by Beyoncé to open the London leg of her Renaissance World Tour. ‘My manager called me and I was like shut up, stop being stupid. So she [Beyoncé] actually – or her team – messaged me on Instagram about six months before that, and then I thought maybe it wasn’t going to happen, not the right timing, and then on the day they rang us and were like, “We wanna do it, is Nia around?” So I played for Tottenham Stadium.’

Did she get to meet Queen Bey? ‘I don’t think I could’ve hacked it to be honest. The anxiety and then the comedown from that anxiety after the show. I was a mess. Another time maybe.’

Beyoncé handpicking Nia Archives as her support act did not happen by chance. Last Friday, the megastar released her latest album, Cowboy Carter, which unapologetically reminds the world of the genre’s origins in this case, the Black history of country music.

As a new-gen junglist, Nia Archives is educating the UK dance music scene about its roots. A subgenre of electronic music, jungle emerged in the Nineties from Jamaican soundsystem culture, pioneered by the likes of Lennie De Ice, Roni Size and Goldie –who Hunt refers to as ‘Uncle Golds’.

Jungle laid the foundations for drum’n’bass, garage and grime, and in 2022, Hunt successfully campaigned to reintroduce a Dance/Electronic category at the Mobos. That said, at this year’s Brit Awards, not one person of colour was nominated for Best Dance Act. ‘It’s always a shame when a very specific group of people are represented at award shows. But that kind of lack of representation, there will be a reaction to that. It was a similar landscape at the Grammys, so I’m hopeful for next year. I’m hopeful that people will be like, “Maybe we could include a few different faces.” I hope to be one of them, fingers crossed.

A lot of DJs get wasted at every show. It’s like a devil on your shoulder

‘I always think diversity makes everything a little bit more interesting. People get bored of seeing the same thing over and over again, but I don’t want to take away from white artists that I do love – a lot of dance music artists that I love are white men. But more balance is what’s needed. Like, let’s put some respect on where this came from.’ She puts it simply: ‘You have to appreciate the people that made it possible for you to even exist. Rather than acting like you’re doing something new.’

Hunt’s ascent has been quick, but sharp at times. She holds deep respect for those who came before her, however, she has not always been met with respect herself – especially on the nightlife circuit. ‘At my first Boiler Room the bouncer didn’t let me in to the venue. He just profiled me and was like, “Nah”. Everyone queuing outside was like, “It’s her gig!” Then when I was finishing the bouncer came and shouted at me and switched the music off. He ruined my Boiler Room. I got a lot of hate online, too, people assumed I was an ignorant woman who didn’t want to listen to the rules.’

Nia Archives photographed by Sammy King for ES Magazine (ES Magazine)
Nia Archives photographed by Sammy King for ES Magazine (ES Magazine)

If being a woman in the dance genre didn’t come with enough challenges, it’s also impacting Hunt’s romantic life: ‘If you’re a woman and DJ then you’re not pulling. No one in the crowd is going to go up to the female DJ and be like, “You alright?” Well, the girls usually do. I get a lot of girls come up to me, but the men never do. But if you’re a man you can’t get them off you. My pull game is low, sadly.’

There’s one man she’s hoping to gain the attention of above any other (though professionally, not romantically). ‘I really, really, really, really wanna impress Damon Albarn. So badly. I was sat across from him at the Burberry show in September and I was so shy.’ Hunt explains that if she could work with anyone it would be a toss-up between Albarn and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. ‘I’m going to send [Damon Albarn] my vinyl. I dunno if he’ll like it, but just to have a conversation with him, that’d be a dream.’

Despite Albarn not yet knowing her face, Hunt is being recognised on the street more and more. ‘I’m trying to stay as grounded as I can. I think if I get sucked into that world my music will just be really shit.’ Does fame make the music shit? ‘I think so. Because it’s so detached from real people and real life. Like, what are you talking about? You’re talking about stuff that no one can relate to. I can always hear when a musician goes the other way.’

So what does Nia Archives’ reality look like in the near future? There’s the album, the tour, perhaps a jaunt in New York, and then? She grins, ‘And then I’ll do it all over again.’

Nia Archives’ debut album, ‘Silence is Loud’, is released on 12 April. She plays Here at Outernet on 18 April (