Throughout November, Spotify’s Our Generation playlist will be handing over the curatorial reins to a series of young artists, letting them shine a light on the peers and pals that make up their own generation’s musical network.
Following on from the first takeover by Melbourne-raised, London based Thomas Headon, the next Our Generation takeover comes helmed by Jess Smyth, aka Biig Piig. Having graced DIY’s Class of 2020 last year, she’s had a busy year, releasing a handful of new tracks throughout 2020, including the insatiable groove-laden ‘Don’t Turn Around’, as well as appearing on the cover of Our Generation twice already.
Ahead of her playlist takeover this week, we caught up with Jess to discover what she’s gotten up to during 2020, how key collaboration has been to her career so far, and exactly why she’s using her Our Generation choices to shine a light on the eclectic brilliance of her London musical home.
As we’re almost at the end of the year now, it feels apt to ask how has 2020 treated you?
Honestly, 2020 just doesn’t feel real. It’s been a real whirlwind, and it’s taught me a lot, definitely. I moved four times; I was in a relationship where we lived together for a few months; there’s been a bunch of stuff that happened this year that I’m still kinda wrapping my head around - It’s been a lot! And then there’s a pandemic going on… In the midst of all that, it felt like I wasn’t really creating much, because I just felt like, ‘what is going on?’ in every aspect of my life. Once lockdown was eased, I went into the studio and wrote so much. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever written, I’ve written this year which I’m really happy with. It’s just been a very difficult year to understand, but I’ve come out from it [feeling] a lot more grateful.
Can you give us a bit of an insight into what you have been working on this year?
I’ve got this idea for a project for next year. I’ve been working with a producer called Luca, and we work together so well. We’ve kinda found this sound and it’s so exciting. I feel like that’s really where my focus is now - this project for next year. I did actually write ‘Feels Right’ - which has just come out - earlier this year and I love that a lot. But I think I’ve just making tunes, finishing them and putting them out, and it’s all been kinda quick [succession], whereas I’m really excited to actually settle into a project and be able to be really detailed with it, and take my time with it.
As you say, you’ve released a few new tracks over the past few months - can you tell us a bit about them?
‘Oh No’ I wrote with Luca last year and I guess it was pulling from that idea of isolation and loneliness, of locking yourself away from everything and everyone, which is nuts, as then actual lockdown happened. Then ‘Liahr’ is about a decent relationship; I think I’ve realised that I go head first into things and attach myself super quickly, but then detach just as quickly. ‘Liahr’ is more about trusting myself, because I think sometimes I can put myself in certain situations where I become vulnerable. Then there was ‘Don’t Turn Around’ which is happier song! To have that track as a lighter, groovier tune, I think I needed that because I could make sad songs for days! [laughs] It was also the only tune my brother picked up on as well! I got a text from him being like, ‘Hey, I actually kinda rate this one!’
“I feel like the people that I’ve met through music have really held me together, and really just been absolute saviours.”
What sort of artists do you find yourself being inspired by at the moment? Is there anyone you’ve been listening to recently that you’ve been super into?
Do you know what? I’ve got my On Repeat playlist on Spotify which I listen to loads and loads and loads. Aquilo are brilliant - I’ve been listening to ‘Moving On’ loads and that always puts me in a good mood. Then, Nayana comes up a lot - Nayana IZ, who I’m obviously in the Nine8 Collective with, I love her stuff so much. Oh, and Kaytranada! I’ve been listening to a lot of him. I don’t know whether this influence the music I’ve been making right now, but they probably do subconsciously.
Community really seems like an important thing to you as an artist, and as you’ve mentioned, working with different artists and producers seems to be pretty integral to the work you do - would you agree?
It’s massively important. I really don’t think that any of the music I make would exist without collaboration. Lyrics and melody are my thing, and I love them so much, but with production, I work with some incredible producers. Collaboration is just integral to everything I do. Since I was younger, and going to open mics and finding my community there, or the community that I found at college, I feel like the people that I’ve met through music have really held me together, and really just been absolute saviours. It’s so important to be able to find a community like that. It’s fucking lonely otherwise! When music is pulling from a real place, and you feel like it’s your own way of expressing certain emotions, but there are other people who have the same thing that they’re doing, it just opens up this whole world of inspiration and support. Community is everything when it comes to music.
And it feels as though that’s something you feel through Nine8 Collective, which you’re a part of too. Does it feel like these artistic communities have become like an extension of your family?
Yeah, I mean, Lloyd and Ava and the other Nine8 guys… I remember leaving home and literally going and moving in with Ava [Laurel, aka Lava La Rue] before anything with music popped off. There are these musical bonds that we’ve then become family out of, and we’ve always got each other’s backs. With situations like that, it’s 100% my second home, and in some cases, it was my first. I’m just so lucky to be able to know them and to have that relationship; it’s such a special thing to have this whole family thing going on.
“I really think [Biig Piig] is really genre-fluid and I like that. If a tune feels good, surely that should be enough.”
Melding together different genres and cultures seems to be something you do incredibly well too - is that something that comes quite naturally? Or do you think it stems more from those elements of collaboration?
I think it’s a mixture! Moving around a lot as a kid, I think there has been a lot of influence that I never really realised until I started making music. But also, with collaboration, and Nine8 - I think they influence a lot of it as well. The whole reason I got back into music was because of doing something with Ava, and putting stuff over instrumental beats; that’s how the whole Biig Piig thing happened. Yeah, there’s been a lot of different influences and experiences that have added up. I also find it really difficult when anyone asks what genre I would put my music into. I really think, at this point, it’s really genre-fluid and I like that. I have so much respect for every influence I’ve got, but I also think, ‘Why should I restrict this?’ If a tune feels good, surely that should be enough.
What do you think makes a good playlist?
Just good songs! If you’re just not getting bored, you know? If, track after track, you can still feel the emotion that’s individual to that artist. I think there has to be a uniqueness with each song you put into it, and I don’t think it needs to link up fully, but if they’re good songs by good artists, it usually works out!
And what’s gone into curating your takeover of the Our Generation playlist?
I feel like, especially in the London Underground scene, there are so many artists that I really don’t think are getting the spotlight that they should be, or on the scale they should be. There are so many artists that I’ve lived next to in London that I think have made some of the best songs that’ve come out in the past couple of years. It’s so exciting to me; it might be your friends, or someone you see on a night out. They’re the sickest tunes - Bel Cobain’s stuff, Lex Amor’s stuff; there’s Yenkee, who’s from Cork, and he’d just moved over to London, and my friend played me some of his music and I was like, ‘What the fuck, this is amazing!’ There are just so many artists that have been around, and I’m just shocked that there isn’t more attention on them, so a lot of those are on the playlist.
When people listen to your takeover of the playlist, what would you like them to take away from it?
I want them to get a sense of community, and the community that’s in London. Especially this year, we haven’t really been able to explore or be around the city, and the energy that London has is something I think I really took for granted, especially in the summer, and the way that the musical community is. I would hope this playlist feels a bit like that, and that you can get that same sense and energy, and excitement, that you would in a summer in London.