When we first spoke to Suzi Wu, nearly two years ago, she was a 19-year-old bedroom producer and writer. She was obsessed with witches and comic strips. She'd stay up all night drinking energy drinks, alone in her room, making weird DIY beats and listening to hip hop like Tyler, the Creator and Flying Lotus, or else rock greats like Tom Waits and Courtney Love. Now 21, all of that is still true. Except this time she's signed to Def Jam, the major American record label. Yeah, that one. The one responsible for Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Nas, Desiigner, a bunch of others.
It's her 21st birthday the morning we chat on the phone. She doesn't sound overly excited about this event, although I don't remember being that excited about my 21st either. The reason we're speaking is because she's putting out a new track and video, “Highway”, which we're premiering below. Co-produced with Dave Bayley from Glass Animals, it's a sparse, bass-y track, with rhythmic drums rolls holding up Suzi's melodic voice, her London accent coming through. It sounds kind of like M.I.A, or Santigold. “We can do it my way / When we go down the highway,” drawls Suzi. In the video, she's dancing among friends in a dark, red-lit warehouse, each of them in tasselled outfits, leather, customised hoodies.
“I was reading this book called The Luminous and The Grey, which is a lot to do with artificial spaces,” Suzi tells me, when I ask about what she was consuming, culturally, while writing this track. “And at the time, I was reading a lot of nature poetry, so I was trying to write romantically about things that are artificial. 'Highway' is about the motorway. Growing up, the motorway was a huge part of my life, going from London to Blackpool. I really find it a romantic, good-looking space, which I don't think a lot of people do.”
Suzi points out that the motorway doesn't just hold a lot of romantic symbolism for her personally – it's an emblem for British rave culture too. “The sound of [this track] is based on a lot of 90s rave stuff,” she continues. “I'm a big fan of Orbital. They're named after the M25, which is also called 'the Orbital'. And it reminds me of the beginning of that film Human Traffic, with the sped up cars and stuff.” The video, she says, is semi-tied up with that. “I wanted to capture London's vibrant dance culture. I mostly just got my friends, who are all, like, techno goths. It was just a load of fun.”
Today will also see the release her second EP, ERROR 404, her first since 2017's Teenage Witch, and her first since signing to Def Jam (it's worth pointing out, btw, that here in the UK she's also signed to AMF Records). It's not dissimilar to her earlier stuff. She still sounds like a north London kid throwing poetics over DIY beats. But this EP is richer somehow, with heavier production, like 2017 Suzi except slicker and bolder. “I'd just been to America, which was a huge culture shock for me. Before, I'd only ever been to, like, Spain,” she says, laughing. “I thought a lot about my sound during that period of time. So this feels like quite a transitionary EP. It's got a very different sound.”
We start to say our goodbyes. I realise that chatting to a semi-stranger in minute detail about your working process is probably not the most enjoyable way to spend your literal 21st. Although Suzi doesn't seem to mind. She tells me that after she gets off the phone, she'll probably go meet her parents, maybe followed by a long walk around Hampstead Heath. No speeding down the motorway today, unfortunately – although there'll be plenty of time for that in the future. Suzi's only just getting started.
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