Nia Archives: “Jungle is a real culture and a real community”

Meet the fast-rising DJ and producer who wants to impress your mum

Since its origins in the early ’90s, jungle’s influence has intermittently infiltrated the mainstream consciousness. Be it undisputed anthems like M-Beat & General Levy’s ‘Incredible’ or the functionally sterile pop antics of Rudimental, turbo breakbeats continuously resonate with the British public. But as with much underground club music, it was predominantly faceless, save for the likes of Goldie – pioneers who transcended to household status through sheer personality. Often it’s this element that helps an artist puncture through to a wider audience.

Nia Archives looks to be on a similar trajectory; a DJ, producer and vocalist who’s cut her teeth in the underground scene for the past few years. Recent nods from the BRIT Awards and BBC Sound of 2023 Poll certainly suggest so, as does being the recipient of the first ‘Best Electronic/Dance’ award at the MOBOs late last year. She’s made a name for herself as a DJ deeply informed in jungle lineage, while often jumping on mic during her sets to sing over tracks taken from her EPs Headz Gone West and Forbidden Feelingz.

Ahead of the forthcoming Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall EP, I asked how her sound has developed. “Each project is kind a timestamp,” she explained. “The first project was made during lockdown, so it’s a lot more song-based. The second project was a more club-focused record, cos I knew I’d be playing loads of gigs and festivals.” I suggest that the new EP seems to segue these two approaches, with tracks like ‘That’s Tha Way Life Goes’ and ‘No Need 2 Be Sorry, Call Me?’ counterbalancing drum breaks with an almost singer-songwriter sensibility, finding neo-soul flavoured vocals at the forefront of the mix. “I guess so, [frenetic Brazilian-influence lead single] Baianá is definitely a DJ tool, while some songs I think I’m really gonna struggle to DJ”.

With these other elements gaining prominence with her music, I ask if the jungle influence will remain key going forward? “I hear what you’re saying,” she says. “It’s not the whole, it doesn’t describe everything that I do, but it is kind of the foundation of what I do. I think it’s important that wherever the music takes me to still have the roots in jungle. It’s real culture and a real community. I think most music is just on the internet, and it’s not tied to anything… It’s kind of weightless. It’s so important to me, just to have that grounding, you know?”

It’s clear that the influence of jungle extends beyond the purely musical for Nia. The scene has persevered on an underground level irrespective of throwaway chart D&B and so-called jungle revivals. Nia participated in the first year of the EQ50 mentorship scheme ran by scene stalwarts DJ Flight and Mantra. “I’d only just released my first song,” she says. “My mentor was DJ Flight, who I was a massive fan of already. Her being one of the few black women in jungle, I really connected with her. It was just a really nice sisterhood to be a part of. They created space and representation for women and non-binary people in jungle, which is so male-dominated.” I ask how this compares to the wider music industry as her profile builds. “It can be quite shallow sometimes. I’m really happy with the friends that I’ve got and I’m quite secure in that. I’m quite lowkey, I hate all the fake stuff.”

All of Nia’s projects have been releases through her own imprint HIJINXX. “I’d definitely love to sign someone else to the label once I’ve kind of gone through this next chapter in my journey,” she tells me. I’d want to start off with one person and really mentor them.” When I ask her what the next chapter holds beyond the release of Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against Tha Wall, she simply says: “A lot of of touring.” Plus preparations for her debut album. “I don’t know what I want to say yet, but I think I know how I want it to sound. I can already hear it in my head. One my favourite albums is The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. she only released one album, and that was enough for her. I want to put everything into this album, so that it would be enough if that’s all there is.” But her audience it bound to grow. “That’s interesting,” she says, “because I might be both some people’s introduction to jungle, or maybe nostalgic for more mature audiences who might have listened to it back in the ’90s. I like the fact that my listeners are so broad. Your mum could listen to it, or your auntie or your little sister. I think that’s nice to see.”

Photography by Cosmo Webber