Georgia on new album Seeking Thrills
In the wake of her latest record Seeking Thrills, we speak to beatmaker and pop producer Georgia about dancefloor escapism, dodgy 80s dance music and finding a place of one’s own
When your dad is one half of pioneering electronic duo Leftfield, it’s possibly not surprising that you’ll be curious to make your own beats. But for Georgia Barnes – known mononymously as Georgia – making music has always been about something bigger. It’s about feeling part of something, losing your inhibitions and getting lost in that moment. “Seeing people on the dancefloor, and seeing them having that release, inspired this album. The love that people have, why people go to dancefloors; ecstasy, euphoria, but also escapism,” she tells us over the phone from the winding lanes of an overcast Brighton.
Barnes will be performing tonight as part of a string of intimate record store performances to mark Seeking Thrills’ release, a record that she believes represents a new pace and rhythm for her and her longstanding team.
“It feels different from last time; it’s like there’s a new energy," says Barnes. "We’re all saying how this feels like the start.” To truly go back to the start with Georgia you have to head to leafy central London, where Barnes grew up, in her mum’s cooperative flat. Alongside her passion for football – as a child she played for both QPR and Arsenal's under 17s women's squads – Barnes began attending The BRIT School, something she believes was instrumental in shaping her identity.
“Everyone goes on a personal journey when they go to school. School’s just a shit place. It doesn’t matter what kind of school it is, school is school, and at that age group especially it’s a really hard time for people,” she acknowledges. “The BRIT School was a great place for me as I met so many of my best friends, and people who were interested in the same things. It was a place where you weren’t going to get bullied or seen as a weirdo.” Far from it, the performing arts institute has been the bedrock for so many who have felt seen and liberated. From discordant noiseniks black midi, to ethereal pop majesty FKA twigs, The BRIT School is so much more than a fame academy.
Yet for all the innovation and imagination between its walls, Barnes left feeling a little discouraged. “After BRIT School, I went through a bit of a ‘I don’t want to hear Western pop music’ moment so I went straight into a university BA degree in ethnomusicology at SOAS.” It was here that Georgia learned the kora (a West African harp) and spent a short time training on percussion in Cuba. To make the leap into solo artistry though, Barnes knew she needed to be financially independent. The compromise? Session drumming.
Picking up work with Young Turks’ producer and songwriter Kwes, Barnes became an integral part of the South London music scene. Notoriously, she went on to join longtime family friend Kate Tempest’s touring line-up for the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Everybody Down ("my mum and her auntie are best friends, they were social workers together in the 80s", she says). But even drumming more regularly with award-winning artists doesn’t mean impostor syndrome can’t strike, as Barnes admits she increasingly felt like an outsider. “I was an observer really. I always felt like I wasn’t worthy. They’re so talented; like who am I? I was just known as the drummer. No one really knew I was making music on the side and sometimes Kwes would ask me: ‘Come on, play me some of your music’ and I was a bit embarrassed.”
Of course, there was no need for Barnes to feel self-conscious. Georgia showcased her talent for grime-spiked anthems, with the music media heralding her as the 'sound of youth.' But, as Barnes tells us, Seeking Thrills is really the beginning. A lot has changed since her first release, after all. She did all the things we aspire to do but never pull off: she quit drinking alcohol, became vegan and went gluten free. The DIY trappings of her debut have been replaced with sharp-eyed pop ambition, inspired by 80s Chicago house and Detroit techno – something she’s not ashamed to admit has a bad rep. “There was a lot of crap in that decade, let’s not beat around the bush. But there were also incredible things going on with technology when digital met analogue and all these artists [were] really pushing the boundaries of sound recording.”
That’s what you’ll find in Seeking Thrills. From the sensational About Work the Dancefloor, which could give Robyn a run for her money, to the genius cameo of South London vocalist Shygirl on glitch grinding Mellow, Barnes is perfectly poised. For all her hide and seek to get here, it feels like Georgia Barnes has found a place of her own, surrounded by love and a dancefloor glow.
As she puts it in the M.I.A.-esque Ray Guns: 'Let your light shine up to the sky / Light up the night / Be who you will be collectively and perfectly'. Seeking Thrills rises up like a flare gun to mark Georgia’s ascent towards that collective perfection.
Seeking Thrills is out now via Domino
Georgia plays King Tut's, Glasgow, 4 Mar