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Meet Our Music Grant Winner, aden

July 2021
Photos and video by Chazz Adnitt

As we announce our 2021 music grant with Nicholas Daley, we catch up with the 2020 winner, London-based cosmic soul singer aden.

In October 2020, we announced the Fred Perry x Nicholas Daley Music Grant, designed to help one unsigned musician hone their craft and get the support they needed to thrive. Now, for 2021 we go again, with Gilles Peterson, Bradley Zero, Tara Joshi, Nubya Garcia and Nilufer Yanya judging the entries.

“Music is the unifying force between our brands and plays a key role in each collaboration collection. That is why during a time when the music industry is under great threat we decided to pull together and offer the music grant to support the next generation of musicians here in the UK.” Nicholas Daley

Last year, the standard of talent was incredible, and we can’t wait to see what all the artists get up to in the future. Special mentions for the runners up – AMOS, Casey Tufnell, feeo and Wilfred.

Our winning singer/songwriter, aden received a two-day masterclass at legendary Metropolis Studios earlier this year, where they recorded a track with the help of industry experts. We caught up with aden to get a taster of what’s to come.

“I am a musician of no particular home. If you take the midpoint between my Ethiopian roots and my American Midwestern upbringing, you'll find yourself in the middle of the Atlantic. But that's okay - I try to make music that can travel places with you, through time and space, in your mind and heart and soul. I try to build landscapes and poetics of sound that haven't been built before - if anything, so that we might feel something, old or new, more deeply and together.” aden

Congratulations on winning the Fred Perry x Nicholas Daley Music Grant, how does it feel to have impressed the judges?

Just…surreal. I feel very honoured and excited!

How did you hear about the grant? And what made you enter?

I heard about it thanks to one of the judges - Zakia, who I’m a great fan of. What made me enter? I don’t know, it just felt like one of those circumstances where I might as well shoot my shot.

Tell us a bit about your music. How did it all start?

Despite having a mother who's tone deaf (I'm not kidding) and a father who I've never heard carry a tune in my life - somehow I came out of the womb and was singing before I could put proper sentences together. So, I guess this means my music started with some strange recessive gene, which thankfully was supported by my family and various music activities in primary school. After a series of quite serendipitous opportunities I began to think seriously about music, as something beyond just a hobby I really loved. This was around the beginning of my undergraduate studies; there, I soon found myself splitting time between an astrophysics/maths degree and a conservatoire jazz performance programme. In this dual environment I began intentionally song-writing/composing and producing for the first time. There were aspects of my own artistic voice, finally beginning to emerge then - and, I think, a growing curiosity in how expression of feeling through sound could be experimented with. That curiosity brought me to London for a creative practice programme and for the incredibly rich cultural life here. And it sustains me now as I work and collaborate on musical projects, attempting to explore the directions they can travel: what heart they can carry in different but still impactful ways.

Why do you think music grants are so important?

Well, the musician (and artist in general) lives an astoundingly precarious life; this held true before the pandemic, and it has only been intensified throughout this year. For as much as artistic work profoundly impacts our societal culture and collective conscious, it is constantly devalued and exploited. You see this, for one, in the general lack of social infrastructures or mechanisms to sustainably encourage artistic work - or power dynamics within the music industry, which take advantage of, control, or exclude those without social or financial capital. Anyhow. In the midst of all this, I think grants play a critical role in empowering and protecting musicians who otherwise might have no other means of support - whether in relation to their art-making or their physical livelihood. Frankly, grants have served as essential creative/material lifelines in the face of those who routinely doubt (and materially undermine) the viability and significance of artistic careers. I’ve been deeply heartened by how people have rallied together in the current moment, to not only devise new means of supporting vulnerable artists and venues, but to also mobilise and fight for longer-term social and political interventions. I hope it can lead us all to a place where the safety and stability of an artist or artistic space, across all levels of professional experience, is better ensured.

How would you describe the type of music you make?

Maybe if expressionism was mutated by leftfield pop and infused with a sort of ethereal/cosmic soul.

What is your process for making music? Where do you take inspiration from?

I’m not sure if I have a concrete process; my music making usually feels very circumstantial, or I suppose reactive to a particular moment, interest, sensory experience, etc. But whenever I compose there is often an emotional intensity I try to place at the centre. Making something that’s meaningful to me will always require an extension, exposure, or interrogation of myself. And because such an undertaking can be intense or tender, I think I also approach music in a fluid and patient way. If something needs space/time to evolve then I try to respect that. As for inspiration – I am deeply inspired by the human capacity for growth, love, resilience, connection, and creative thought. I am also inspired by history, and the stories of those who have struggled and fought for the liberation of all peoples. I find questions of living – how we struggle through each day to live, or be, the best we can – extremely important and complex and humbling. There is so much about our existence and surroundings in this universe that is awe-striking, brutal, confusing, euphoric...the adjectives go on! To me, just being present for and moving through it offers an endless stream of things to explore.

Which subcultures have inspired your sound?

There are many, but for the sake of brevity I'll list the first five(ish) that come to mind! Ethiopian music, specifically religious protestant music, 50s-70s Ethiopian jazz, and contemporary music (e.g. Gigi, Aster Aweke): this is just a sound of home and history I carry in my body, always. American folk music: one of the first cultures I connect to that showed me how lyrics can be poems, and the emotional effect of just a single instrument or a single voice. Romantic classical music and Anglican choral music: I'm amazed by the treatment of harmony within these genres, the ethereality and passion and longing they can so powerfully represent. Jazz and R&B: ooof, the inspirations are great...as a socio-political force, as literal revolutionizers of popular music, as an expansion of how improvisation, rhythm, harmony can be wielded as vehicles of expression. Experimental music: this is obviously a very broad category, but is united by an ethos and creative approach I deeply try to reflect in my own artistic practice - of pushing the boundaries of musical structure/genre and compositional convention.

Since you won the music grant, what have you been working on?

Since hearing that I won the grant, I’ve been working on a lot of different music things. Mostly some solo material that I’m intending to be put on my next album, along with a bunch of other great collaborative work.

Give us a bit of detail about the song you recorded during your time at Metropolis Studios.

The song that I’ve chosen to record – ‘Caution’ is what I’m planning to be the first song on what is hopefully going to be an album that’s coming out soon. It’s a song that I wrote last February and that I was really looking forward to working on with two of my closest friends here. I’m really excited that I was able to take this opportunity to bring it to life with them.

Give us a bit of detail about the song you recorded during your time at Metropolis Studios.

The song that I’ve chosen to record – ‘Caution’ is what I’m planning to be the first song on what is hopefully going to be an album that’s coming out soon. It’s a song that I wrote last February and that I was really looking forward to working on with two of my closest friends here. I’m really excited that I was able to take this opportunity to bring it to life with them.

Has it been helpful to have the experts at Metropolis work with you on recording your song?

This is my first real studio session so I feel like I’ve learnt so much from just being able to watch the ways that the engineers have handled the whole thing. Everyone has been so kind. It’s just been a really really relaxed day of recording and mixing and just to be able to kind of sit next to them and take a deeper look and say ok what are the specifics we can do together to kind of sculpt the sound and scoop things out; add things in, has been really informative for me.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

My plans for the rest of the year will hopefully include a lot of releasing of different things. A good friend of mine has an amazing album that’s coming out that I worked on some material with him on. I also have my own solo material that I’m hoping to finally finish off by the summer. And then, come fall, I’m actually planning to start a PhD so kind of a whole new adventure but something I’m planning to do alongside all of my musical things. I’m just so excited for all the things to come.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

I feel like it can be so easy to be overwhelmed by media; overwhelmed by how you might have to portray yourself; by how you might have to impress people, or cater to people. But something that I have really grown to understand is just how important one’s own community is. And creating music, ultimately for yourself, and for the people you love, for the people who you are excited to share things with, and people who are there to celebrate you and uplift you. Because that is what’s going to – I think – honour your truest self. And that’s the type of love and support that I think everybody, including emerging artists, deserves.