Over the past three or fours years, Mica Levi has been hard at work, and if you have even the slightest interest in London’s young music scene, then you’ll at least have heard of her. Whether it’s with her band Micachu and the Shapes, her involvement in the Kwesachu mixtapes (with kindred Free Pop artist Kwes), or even her efforts on works by the likes of Dels, The Invisible, Speech Debelle and so many more, you can’t exactly say she hasn’t been putting herself out there. Yet Mica Levi, born and bred on the outskirts of London, is still relatively unknown.
In 2009, her debut album, ‘Jewellery’, dropped to accolades from the press, but she’s still topping tiny venues like The Queen’s Head in Islington, London, and Hoxton Bar & Kitchen. The Southbank Centre has recruited her as artist in residence, but despite various turns in the grander Queen Elizabeth Hall, she’s not selling the place out. That’s not to say that she isn’t talented – that’s the reason why everyone wants to work with her. It’s perhaps because of the niche market that Mica targets with her erratic brand of grimey alt.pop. Unconventional ‘instruments’ – such as hoovers, broken bottles, discarded CD racks and playing cards – jar against one another in a way that should be discordant (and certainly is to some), but not to the cult following she’s built up.
A Pitchfork reviewer said of her debut LP, “on first listen, it’s a maddening noise; by the fourth, it’s as catchy as a jingle.” It was ‘Jewellery’’s most accurate critique. Micachu and the Shapes are definite growers, but once they’ve planted the seed, those avant-pop clusters become increasingly more appealing, until you realise that what you’ve been presented with is essentially the sound of household objects backed by a paired-down, guitar-drums-keys band on repeat for the last hour.
Of course, no matter the genre, pitch, speed, style and whatever else Mica can alter and bend, music is something that has always come naturally to her. Being born into a family of musicians all of 25 years ago allowed the precocious singer-songwriter to begin honing her talents long before she can even remember her interest in music blossoming. “It’s hard to talk about it because I’ve never really done anything else,” she muses. “That’s like somebody asking you, ‘so when was it that you started wearing jeans?’ Well, I feel like I’ve always worn them and lots of other people I know wear them. It’s always been there. I just liked listening to music and I’ve gone through phases of being interested in different kinds, trying different things out. Sometimes quite publicly, I guess.”
After a thorough stint at the Purcell School of Music, followed by a Guildhall scholarship – where she was commissioned to compose a piece for the London Philharmonic Orchestra – Mica cut her teeth in the UK grime/garage scene. Although it may not be obvious in her Micachu and the Shapes releases, hip hop is a major influence for her. The fact that the first Micachu release, ‘Filthy Friends’, was a mixtape is a big hint, but enlisting the help of a now thoroughly established crew of producers and MC’s such as Ghostpoet, Man Like Me, Kwes and Toddla T didn’t exactly dampen her urban credentials. This has led her to more collaborations with Kwes on further mixtapes with huge acts in the electro sphere, including Hot Chip, Metronomy and The xx. The summer of 2009 saw her slow-rhyming on Mercury Prize-winner Speech Debelle’s track ‘Better Days’ and last year she produced a couple of songs on Dels’ debut album, ‘GOB’. Not to mention writing ‘Chopped and Screwed’ while on tour – a digital meets analogue performance with the London Sinfonietta.