Georgia Barnes was pretty much born on to the dancefloor.
Not literally, of course, that would be a health and safety issue.
But as the daughter of Neil Barnes from UK dance pioneers Leftfield, the 30-year-old spent her younger years soaking up electronic house beats at live gigs and festivals; while cultivating a love of synth-pop sounds and beyond from around the world.
Now, after honing her craft as a drummer [for Kate Tempest], producer and singer, the former record shop assistant is living up to the family name.
As a one-woman dance machine though, Georgia’s place on the BBC Sound of 2020 longlist, and subsequent nomination for this year’s Mercury Prize – for her euphoric second album Seeking Thrills – was all down to her own hard graft (albeit a labour of love).
‘Witnessing dancefloor culture’
“I went through a long process with this record after the first [self-titled 2015] record came out,” says Georgia, who scored a major club hit last year with About Work The Dancefloor.
“I felt like I needed to go back to the drawing board a little bit and then shut myself away and listen to lots of music, and particularly my roots of being a child of the UK rave scene.
“I’ve always had a fascination with dance music and always gone to clubs since I was a young age, and that’s the music that I felt really excites me – in that electronic world.
“But I wanted to go back and discover its roots and really understand the form of music, and then I found the direction for the record,” she adds.
“A lot the lyrical content is inspired by just seeing people on dancefloors and witnessing dancefloor culture.”
With dancefloors having been cruelly vacated for most of 2020, due to Covid-19 concerns, Georgia has been spending her breakthrough year getting creative again at her home studio in north west London.
Anyone who tuned in to see her perform at Radio 1’s (virtual) Big Weekend will have seen the results, as she covered the room in aluminium foil and “tried to create like this outer world… like a live streaming strange spaceship”.
“I think people found it strange and intriguing going into people’s world’s in a different way,” she notes, of the pandemic-era trend for replacement online gigs.
“That’s where I saw live streaming was really great – to give people that kind of escapist moment during what was a very tough time. It’s still a tough time, but I think now towards the end [of lockdown] live streaming needs to sort of rethink. Maybe people don’t want it as much anymore.”
‘Future is working collectively’
What many people do want for sure is a return to the real live music experience, as soon as is safely possible. And Georgia notes that it’s been a “devastating” time for some of the nation’s most-loved venues, and the networks of people around them.
The rising star had been booked to perform at this weekend’s Reading and Leeds Festivals, which were cancelled along with other August bank holiday favourites, Creamfields and the Notting Hill Carnival.
She says she was inspired to see the recent crowdfunding efforts which prevented her “favourite venue in the whole UK” – Sub Club in Glasgow, from going under.
“It was amazing to see the whole dance community, even people outside the dance community, create this crowdfund and raise enough money for them to get over the first hurdle of this Covid journey. To see that gave me real optimism, like ‘OK, we can make a real difference here’.
“I think the future is working collectively more. I think it’s about all coming together and helping one another; hopefully we can do that.”
Georgia worked with just a few other trusted producers/songwriters on Seeking Thrills, which arrived into the world in January (before the virus had reduced our thrill-seeking capacities) billed as “the first great album of the decade”, by The Evening Standard’s David Smyth.
Pitchfork’s Anna Gaca described the album as “the work of a budding pop mind finding her own space on the dancefloor”, while Jordan Bassett of the NME opined that it “captures the push and pull of the club with a writerly eye”.
“On her second album, a rhythmic rush of club-pop, the London producer extols the merits of clean living and a clear head,” wrote Kitty Empire in The Guardian.
‘World has changed’
Clean living is hardly something you would associate with the 90s, when Georgia’s dad’s electronic outfit were helping to soundtrack the nation’s nightlife.
Barnes senior was twice listed for the Mercury himself with Leftfield in 1995 and 2000.
Sadly due to the virus, there will be no “outrageous night” – as Georgia’s mum remembers the ’95 event – to mark this year’s prize. The Brit school graduate thinks her own generation of millennial artists, which includes fellow nominees Dua Lipa, Michael Kiwanuka and Stormzy, are less likely to be impressed by the “excesses” of that era anyway.
“Obviously part of music is still hedonism and it’s being a bit on the peripheries of society,” says Georgia. “But I don’t think it’s really cool anymore to do what what they did in the 90s.”
“It would be pretty funny if you turned up on the table and there was an excess of champagne coming out, all sorts of drugs being consumed at the table and people having fights and winding each other up, and it’s just like carnage,” she continues.
“But I don’t think that’s cool anymore, especially during this time [with a global pandemic and recession]. The world has changed.”
Former QPR and Arsenal youth team footballer, Georgia, says she will be forever grateful to her parents for teaching her the value of being self-sufficient. Like being able to produce her own music in her room, for example.
“I’ve just been able to kind of steer my own ship, which is how I like it,” she says.
Her dad is never directly involved in her music per se, but he does offer “his honest opinion”, when asked.
In recent months, aside from re-mixing a Jessie Ware track; and fulfilling the childhood dream of appearing on a record alongside Gorillaz and New Order’s Peter Hook, Georgia also began work on a family music project, featuring her mum and brother.
In an ideal world, she’d love for her fans to be embracing her new tunes, and each other, while out on a dancefloor somewhere. In lieu of those right now, however, she offers the BBC an alternative listening suggestion instead.
“I always love that scene in [US comedy-drama] Girls, where Lena Dunham has a bad day and then she puts [Robyn’s track] Dancing On My Own on – it’s like a headphones moment.
“I just hope people stick their headphones on and feel like they can escape or they feel empowered to go and seek a thrill.”
Seeking Thrills is out now. Classic Reading + Leeds performances are available this weekend on the BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds. The Mercury Prize winner will be revealed on 24 September, with coverage on BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Four TV.
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