Born, raised and still based in Ladbroke Grove, Lava La Rue lives and breathes West London. More than simply a home, it’s a source of encouragement and inspiration for the 22-year-old singer/musician, a fact she first acknowledged on 2018’s loose-limbed debut single ‘Widdit’, with its soulful, “City was a mother to me,” refrain. Two years on, she’s firmly established as a fiercely independent, multi-hyphenate talent, with co-signs from cultural arbiters as diverse as Tyler, The Creator and artistic establishments such as Tate Modern. And yet, as her horizons continue to expand, her focus only sharpens on the very mutability of her musical identity.
Ask about her influences today, and she’ll reel off a catalogue of reference points while scarcely drawing breath, from psychedelic, punk and Britpop, to the vibrant soundsystem culture and banging rave music she was regularly exposed to throughout her youth. But for Lava, the real beauty lies in the blurring of these boundaries, as she explains.
“[West London] is such a multi-racial place you get a lot of genre fusions. When the first generation Windrush Jamaicans came over - like my grandma - a lot of them were living in spaces where they were having to coexist with working class white people. So you ended up with these fusions like ska, where you'd get reggae and punk coming together. And that for me is really inspiring.”
Her deceptively softly-spoken vocal talents aside, this fluidity remains the unifying feature of her solo output so far, from the lo-fi, hip hop, jazz and neo soul stylings of 2018’s ‘Letra’ EP, to tougher, trap-inspired beats and sinuous R&B productions on 2019’s ‘Stitches’ mixtape. And then there’s the two ‘No Smoke’ mixtapes she’s put out so far with NiNE8, the nine-person strong, DIY creative collective she formed while at college, featuring her fellow students Biig Piig and Mac Wetha.
In music as in life, Lava speaks as she finds, with no subject off limits, be that the tougher aspects of her own upbringing or wider social inequality. And on forthcoming EP ‘Butterfly’ she’s breaking new ground by discussing love, a subject she’d always eschewed previously so as to resist lazy, industry stereotyping.
“All the music I have made previously had a political focus and I stayed away from making love songs as it felt like an overdone narrative. However, over the past year I’ve been exploring my own identity and gender fluidity which has made me realise that my love narrative is still under represented, which in itself makes my love songs political.”
Recorded in L.A. and London with producers including Isom Innis, Dan Holloway and Courage, Lava describes ‘Butterfly’ as her attempt to redefine “what queer music can be; setting the agenda for queer music in the 20s - this new decade.” The first single is ‘G.O.Y.D. (Girl Of Your Dreams)’, a dreamy, dopamine hit, featuring production from Frank Ocean-collaborator Vegyn and the supple vocals of Claire Cottrill. Proceeds from the track will be donated to ‘For Our Sibs’ - a Black Trans Exclusive collective that centers Black Trans, Non-Binary, Gender Non-Conforming, and Intersex folk - and the song is accompanied by a video and zine that La Rue edited herself from fan submissions inspired by the theme “Summer of Love 2.0’.
On the website for the project, Lava explains the concept. “Summer of Love 2.0 explores how an era of social distancing has allowed people to re-value human touch, platonic love, free party culture and a resurgence of the radicalisation of view... all leading to a second coming of the famous summer we signify with past free love movements. However in the 2020s this can resurge as a new breed - one that is inclusive to all intersections of sexuality and gender identity we celebrate today.”
When pressed for her long-term goals, Lava doesn’t miss a beat. “Five years from now I want to be able to say that I had some sort of impact on music in the 20s. Because I can look at the 80s and 90s and know exactly what was coming out of Ladbroke Grove. Like, this is when The Clash came out, and this is when Trojan Records came out, and this was so culturally impactful to the rest of the world. And I would really love to play a part in that.”