“I lean towards the club because that’s where I found freedom to express myself the most”
There’s a desire for provocation at the heart of South East London industrial crooner Shygirl,
better known to her friends as Blane Muise. It’s in her shamelessly blunt sexuality, in her darkly comic interpolation of grime soundclashes and YouTube soundbites, and it’s definitely in the moniker itself: put simply, a shy girl she is not.
When I sit down to chat to Shygirl on the phone it’s at the tail end of an oppressively hot day – “I’ve actually just been hiding – London’s a lot,” she remarks dryly. This random spot of scorching sun is just one of many outlier spikes in what’s been an extremely volatile summer, a fitting moodsetter for one of the most discursive names in modern British club music.
Her unpredictability is nothing if not measured though, as Muise explains when discussing the name of her alter ego. “It’s just an easy way for me to pinpoint a certain direction at a certain time in my life. I don’t know how long it will last or what it will develop into, but it’s really nice to give it a name and have this moment defined in its own right.
“I’ve always had this thing of names and the power of names in realising parts of yourself. I have a certain name for my friends and then I’ll use my middle name for other things. It also makes it a lot easier to recognise where someone knows you from… when you can’t remember a face.”
Shifting identities and the power of words in shaping them is at the core of Shygirl as a project, regardless of the forms it may further evolve into. Fittingly her breakthrough EP last year,
Cruel Practice, was predominantly concerned with sexuality as metaphor, and how it can be either a symbol of restriction or of empowerment, depending on your individual ownership.
“I just really like the imagery that the words give me. Even though I’m using terminology that’s usually associated with sex, I’m not necessarily talking about sex, but I really like how it gets my point across. I don’t like talking about my feelings in a really mushy way, so I tend to choose the most abrasive way to do it, and sex ended up being it.”
Over the course of our conversation it becomes clear Muise is consciously straddling a line between sincerity and irony, finding ways to express herself that carry humour as well as an honest, if extreme, representation of her inner life. She outlines this sense of humour herself quite aptly. “I just think that’s really British, you know, like: Oh, life’s kind of shit right now, but lol.”
Anyone familiar with Shygirl’s music will recognise her hypermodern strand of traditional British comedic sensibility, but it’s also indicative of a wider ironic contradiction running throughout her work. Sex and contempt; confidence and insecurity; joking/not joking. The most fundamental juxtaposition, however, is that her music feels perfect for nightclubs and nightmares in equal measure.
“I do lean towards the club because that’s where I found freedom to express myself the most, like a lot of other people. It’s not just like being on the dancefloor, it’s before, during, after… two days after when you’re still feeling the comedown or whatever. It’s like all of those feelings associated together. You never really leave the club, I guess.” I can practically hear the wry smile down the phone.
Regardless, that’s perhaps the best way to describe tracks like the scream-ridden ‘Uckers’ and the Psycho-esque ‘Rude’ – club music designed for the strobe lights in the main room, the grungy smokers alley round the back, and the grotesque final hours of the afters. A big part of this uncanny no man’s land Shygirl’s music occupies is down to her go-to producer, Sega Bodega.
“With ‘Uckers’ I wrote the lyrics when I was out partying one night at my friend’s house and I just said them out loud to Sega. When he came back to me with the track, I was like this is perfect, there’s nothing else this is going to go on – this is it. I just like that he obviously got something from me and in return we just bounced off of each other. It’s only that kind of collaboration that bares that kind of fruit.”
That push and pull further extends into her DJ sets as Shygirl. “I like gauging certain things, like: oh you like this, then you’ll like that. I need that back and forth; I need to be provoked like that for it to feel good for me. It’s definitely a cathartic experience.” It’s telling that sexual terminology and innuendo seems to bleed into most everything Muise says about music.
That inclination towards incitation fortunately doesn’t seem to be indicative of any larger self indulgence. Her lyrics are graphic and expressive, sure, but they’re also refreshingly laconic. “I don’t really want to fill up the song with trash when I know I’ll probably hook onto two lines of it and that’s what I’m going to be repeating over and over again. I tend to start with the hook and then the rest follows.”
It takes a degree of confidence to keep writing pithy, but Muise eagerly point out that this faith stems from the tight knit nature of her creative collaborations. Her own label, Nuxxe, was co-founded with Sega Bodega and fellow dancefloor deconstructor Coucou Chloe. “It’s been nice to cut my teeth amongst friends in this kind of incubator, I like to call it.”
Of course, I have to ask what such an intimate workspace is stewing up. “I have something else with Sega coming out this year. I’ve been working with other producers as well, but I really like to keep this collaborative experience with people who I’ve ended up being really close friends with. It ends up filtering into the rest of your life.
“This isn’t like a normal job – it’s really easy for it to just become day and night if you’re in the studio with someone. So I want to be able to enjoy every part of that process and for it to not feel like work anytime soon.”
That’s what makes Shygirl such an interesting figure. It’s not just that she makes music that feels effortlessly innovative, or her ire for sexual inhibitions; it’s her respect of her peers, and her desire to further propagate the same warmth and inclusion she’s been met with. Her past assertions that she makes pop music sound different in this light – she’s genuinely making music for and with people.
As the interview draws to a close, I raise her professed pop aspirations, and what track she’d perform on the surely-begging-for-another-reboot mainstream music mainstay, Top of the Pops. “Probably ‘Gush’ cause it has the least… actually I don’t think it has any swearing in it. I think they’d let me do that one, I don’t know if they’d let me do anything else.” You heard it here first: ‘Gush’ for TOTP 2020. I, for one, can’t wait.
Catch Shygirl at No Bounds Festival in Sheffield on October 11.
More info and tickets here.
Words: Blaise Radley