Two years ago Nilüfer Yanya’s bike was stolen from her garden shed. It meant, that day, she couldn’t cycle to work. She was annoyed. A year later, she found it down the road, by the bridge, chained up without a saddle. She thought a lot about the act, the perpetrator’s motivation, and wrote her first proper single, ‘Small Crimes’. “I’m a petty thief / What I find, I keep,” she sings on the track over a trembling, jazzy guitar before an expansive, haunting chorus kicks in. “They’re small crimes / some things I just wouldn’t do.”
Today, a few leafy streets away from her family home in west London, she’s sat among the strewn novels and teacups of an independent cafe. In the corner is the table where she planned the ‘Small Crimes’ video with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend (director Patrick Chamberlin).
If you haven’t seen it, the clip features the 21-year-old Londoner performing in front of a number of grimey backdrops. There’s a guy violently smashing a chair. Two threatening individuals pace around wearing leather jackets and balaclavas. Nilüfer sits on the back of a stranger’s motorbike in a dicey lookin’ metal scrapyard. As she sings she looks deep into the camcorder lens and grips a baseball bat in a way that says don’t mess.
In person, Nilüfer is petite. She offers water around the table, and replies to questions with short, sensible answers. She’s philosophical, polite, quietly spoken, conscientious and kind of shy. She enjoys seeing friends, and at the moment, is reading Life Lessons from Nietzsche. She works a few doors down in a clothes store, and used to do shifts in a fancy dress shop. Not really the hard-ass at all. “You thought I was going to be tough?” she giggles.
“Patrick really likes a lot of, like, trap and rap videos,” she explains. “A lot of that came off in the video. Like, the whole bike scene. It feels like a nice contrast to the song. I didn’t want it to come across as soft or, like, weak.”
Nilüfer grew up in these parts, a short walk from the pretentious fashion boutiques of Sloane Square where the customers’ dogs have more expensive haircuts than their owners. That’s not her scene though. You’ll sooner find her swimming in the local leisure centre’s pool, taking in the free exhibitions in the Saatchi and buying books from her favourite local store where we first meet (John Sandoe).
“Do I like it around here?” she shrugs, “It’s okay.”
“It’s always been posh, but now it’s really posh. It’s like the people here on the weekend, they don’t actually live here. They come in to shop, and then everyone goes away.
“It’s just not that fun sometimes, unless you have money. If you have money it’s fun, if you don’t you feel a bit left out.”
The night before we meet she’s been drinking in a pub in Shadwell, the following week she’s off to investigate the thrum of Berlin’s nightlife. Not Made In Chelsea, then.