TAAHLIAH is an artist who needs no introduction to many of our readers, but to present this interview without one would be a disservice to her sheer stardom. The Glasgow-based multidisciplinary artist (if you will), has gone from strength to strength since SNACK last sat down with her in 2021. Her list of accolades since then include a viral debut Boiler Room set that gave (and continues to give) people heart palpitations through screens all over the world, her magical debut EP Angelica won Best Independent EP at the AIM Awards, touring with LSDXOXO and UNIIQU3, and co-hosting the raucous yet wholesome podcast The Dolls Discuss with Lourdes.
Speaking ahead of her live performance The Ultimate Angels this month at SWG3, SNACK chats to TAAHLIAH about the death of originality and the pursuit of uniqueness, the politics of DJing, and reading pure garbage.
The Ultimate Angels has been in the works for a while, and now it’s finally happening! What can people expect from the live TAAHLIAH audio-visual experience?
I guess it’s an amalgamation of what I’ve been working on over the past few years. And through last year, and perhaps a year before, the focus was a lot more on my DJ sets and that readily available way of performing. I think with this show and the shows that will come after, there’s more of a focus on the performance and the artistry performance itself. Rather than playing music to make people have a good time, this is playing music for people to experience something different.
It was always gonna be the case that I wanted to establish myself as a DJ as well as an artist, because I came into being a music artist through DJing. And it was never really something that I wanted to negate or ignore, but DJ sets are really limiting in their capacity. The way that you play and the experience of it is very different [to performing live] as well.
A lot of the time when you do a DJ set, there’s multiple artists on the lineup that everyone is there to see. With a show that is your own, people come to see you, or you and whoever you have invited in on the experience too. So with that there’s more of a power and a comfortability because I don’t need to be thinking, ‘Oh my God, what do I need to play next, it needs to be a good song,’ I can just perform my music and people will accept it and enjoy it.
I’ve heard that you’re playing some new tracks in your set. Is there anything you can spill about them?
There’s nothing much to spill apart from they’re new and not many people have heard them. It will be nice to play them out in a sphere where people will want them even more, because I don’t think they’re gonna come out for a little while. So I think it’s nice for people to be able to experience the music before it’s readily available.
There’s a mixture of different sounds on the new tracks: there’s some slower stuff, faster stuff, some more trap-inspired music, and more ethereal stuff as well.
If people want to know more they’re going to have to get tickets! BABYNYMPH and Miss Cabbage will be supporting you: could you tell us a wee bit about them and their sound?
It’s so difficult to describe other people’s artistry! Miss Cabbage’s sets are always so fast and so ignited and intense, but in the best possible way. And watching her go from wanting to be a DJ to literally being a DJ has been such a nice artistic journey to observe. I’ve always been so supportive of her, and we’re such amazing friends outside of music. I knew that I wanted her to be there with me, and I was so happy that she’s able to do it.
I met BABYNYMPH when I was living in Berlin. I had no idea that she made music at that point and she probably had no idea that I did either. But then, through the internet, and a mutual love of sugary poppy sounds, I discovered her music and she discovered mine. I’ve been a fan of her work since ‘clown shit’ so I’m very excited for her to be there with me.
On The Dolls Discuss you and Lourdes were talking about how people struggle to listen to full albums anymore, so coming to your set and experiencing your music in a visceral context is a much more immersive way of engaging with your artistry.
When Lou and I were discussing that, it was something that I’m very conscious of as an artist because as much as I don’t want to subscribe to the 2020 elements of music marketing, advertising, or album campaigns, I do also need to make space and create a way for people to experience the music that is accepted in the 2020s. You know what I mean? Which is so different to how people were consuming music in the 2010s, the 90s and the 80s. So it’s hard trying to stay true to yourself artistically, but then also applying it to make sure that you’re not falling through the cracks.
What do you want someone to come out of the Ultimate Angels gig feeling?
I’ve always said for these shows, I’ve wanted to provide something different; a new experience. I know that I will have done well if people reflect back and think, ‘Wow, what an amazing night that was so memorable’. It’s not necessarily that the music needs to be a certain type of way. But a lot of the time that has to do with the energy, who is going, even what the staff are like, how open the space is.
I just want people to come away from the experience having had something so positive. That’s really my only goal for it. Of course, I want people to come and experience the music and have fun, and they will do that regardless because it’s a music show at the end of the day. But there’s a difference between a good music show and a memorable one, and I definitely want it to be memorable.
You’ve been open about having emailed festivals suggesting ways that they can make their spaces safer. It’s clearly important to you that your gigs are a holistic experience.
It’s been difficult trying to navigate being an artist and playing shows at festivals and clubs whilst maintaining a very, very marginalised identity, because there are things that I take into consideration that other people in my position just would not, and that’s a very difficult thing. Why is it the people who are affected by the shit who have to speak out and start talking about things? And then, that labour is not even justified unless the person that they’re talking to is willing to listen, if they’re not willing, then you’re just shouting at a wall. That’s probably been one of the most frustrating things from last year.
I think it’s hard for institutions not to take it personally. I understand that in this day and age and in this industry mistakes will be made,. It’s just about not making the same mistakes.
I wanted to ask you about producing because there are still so few female producers, let alone queer femme producers. What advice would you give to somebody wanting to learn but who’s daunted by the boy’s-club-ness of it all?
I understand that it’s shifting, but not at a rate where we’re being made to feel comfortable or considered for our artistry. It’s difficult because what’s worked for me would be different from what works for someone else. But I think in terms of your practice, just practice! Don’t feel guilty for not making music, because I know I’m a victim of that. But just keep working, just keep making, and find something that is not necessarily original, but unique about yourself.
In 2023 originality is dead, it’s been dead for years, so don’t get overwhelmed by having to offer something ‘different’ or ‘avant-garde’, because we then become victims of picking ourselves and what we do apart which just becomes a whole mess. Don’t think of doing something ‘original’, just provide something that is unique. Ultimately, as an artist, you’re the only person who can make the work you’re making. In essence it is unique, so keep going.
I also think a lot of the time, especially within the music industry, other creative practices and in art school, there’s such a big emphasis placed on inspiration and influence. It’s just about trying to find the best parts of everything that you like. Besides, we’re all literally just being human beings, we’re all products of our own environment at the end of the day.
We’re all just a mismatch of loads of different stuff, and I guess that’s exactly what DJing is too.
Exactly! DJing is the ultimate form of appropriation (laughs), which is so funny, because as a culture we are so against appropriation now, but DJing is very much it. Again, which is why I’m trying to move away from doing just strictly DJ sets, because whilst I do play my own music in my sets, I’m also aware that half of it is not my own music, so I don’t want people to become confused.
There’s so much that goes into the politics of DJing itself that I can talk for hours on. But it is true, it is the ultimate form of musical appropriation, and I think that people forget that.
I guess it depends what you do with it, too, because in a lot of your sets some tracks become totally unrecognisable and take on a new form.
Completely, which is nice. That’s obviously what DJing is also: taking something that may be old and turning it into something new. But I think over the past couple of months since the Boiler Room, I have been very conscious of the fact that obviously that clip of me was everywhere, but that’s not my song [‘Joyryde – Damn (Don Dirty Remix)’]. People shouldn’t forget the artist who created that song, because if it wasn’t for them, that clip wouldn’t exist – because I would not be playing their music, you know?
Where do you get inspiration from that’s not music?
I read a lot, and I’m somewhat of a cinephile. They are actually the places I do get inspiration for what I really want to talk about in my work. I’m quite interested in living quite a salubrious life right now, I’m just wanting to do things that are really, really good for me. And through reading, watching things and doing the podcast with Lourdes, it’s expanding my own mind, and I can feel it doing that.
What’s inspiring for me is being knowledgeable about things, I love being smart [laughs]. I love using my brain to recontextualize. I will experience something and write about it, but I will want to write about it in a way that can be applied to multiple different situations. It’s not necessary that I’m doing it on purpose, but I think when you are a songwriter, that is your job. I try to go to talks and events but it’s quite difficult being so busy all the time. So I very much rely on podcasts and audiobooks and stuff like that.
What are you reading at the moment?
Oh my god, that is so embarrassing (laughs). So yesterday I went to Waterstones and bought the Prince Harry book because I’m a nosey bitch. I’m not a royalist, I’m just a nosey bitch! I just finished this Ghosts by Dolly Alderton which was really good. The one that I’m gonna read next is Susan Sontag. And then I’ll probably read some like actual garbage after that, because I always need to filter the really intellectual stuff with cheesy stuff.
I read Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason last month and it was so good. She won like a bunch of prizes for it and was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction last year. It’s a really good book denoting the effects of mental health.
So what’s coming up for you in 2023 – a Nicki Minaj collab, perhaps?
Potentially, but I doubt she knows who I am so I don’t know how that would work [laughs]. But 2023 is… I’m just going to be writing lots of music. I don’t know whether I’m gonna be releasing a lot of music this year, because I want to focus on the album writing process. I really want to get into curation, and hopefully curate some really fun experiences for people.
I don’t want to just sit being a DJ or a music artist, I want to do multiple different things, a multidisciplinary artist, if you will. I also want to do a lot more visual stuff this year and to look at imagery and the use of imagery in my work and consider how I can adopt that and make it better.
Go see TAAHLIAH play live at Ultimate Angels, 18th February, SWG3, Glasgow