What I love about producer and NTS host, Nabihah Iqbal (fka Throwing Shade), is not only does she have great taste in music (which you can hear from her mixblock from last year here), but she uses her platform as an artist to bring light to various issues- whether if it’s to fundraise for the Grenfell Tower victims, to having discussions with other artists on race, to sharing her experience being mistreated for being a woman.
I caught up with Nabihah on her upcoming debut album, being a woman in the music industry, and why she’s getting rid of the name Throwing Shade.
-Several months ago, you shared an experience you had at a gig where the staff didn’t take you seriously, most likely because you are a woman. What happened?
NABIHAH: That was at a three day festival in France where I was playing a three hour DJ set. There were so many technical problems during my set and it was the worst experience I’ve ever had in my music career. There were three sound guys who were ignoring me and who wouldn’t take the situation seriously. The sound kept getting messed up and the CDJs weren’t plugged in when I had started DJing. Just from their attitude, I sensed that they didn’t care. It got so bad to the point where I had to stop the music in the middle of my set, yell for them to fix the sound, and attempt to get their attention. That finally got their attention, but that didn’t help anything. What got to me was that for the guy playing after me, they had a completely different attitude. They fixed all of the problems with the turn tables and the mixer while we were changing over. That’s when I knew that it wasn’t that they didn’t know how to fix those issues, it must have been something they had against me. The conclusion that I came to was because I’m a woman.
-That’s terrible. What was the sort of reaction you received after sharing this experience?
NABIHAH: I posted about my experience on my social media accounts and it went viral. It even opened up a discussion in the comments section. One of the most shocking things was that a lot of men were coming out who worked as sound engineers and have been in situations where other men in the venue would purposely sabotage a woman’s set because they didn’t believe that a woman deserved to perform. When you hear it from men, you know that it isn’t made up.
-Do you think that the music industry will ever change for women?
NABIHAH: I think it will always be harder as a female because the music industry is so male dominated, especially if you’re looking at the electronic music and DJ world. But things are changing and I think things are moving in the right direction. But it’s going to be a slow process. I feel as though people as myself have to do what we’re doing, create a space for ourselves, and make people take us seriously. Not just because we’re female. Because that’s not an approach.
- I wanted to ask you what you’ve been up to since we last met. I saw that you did a project with photographer and producer, Wolfgang Tillmans. He’s also one of my favorite artists of all time, so I have to ask about the project.
NABIHAH: I’ve been quite busy in the last year. I’ve been doing loads of different projects. More interdisciplinary stuff and I like it because it’s cool to work with other artists and people who work in a different medium. With Wolfgang, it was incredible because he’s one of my favorite artists as well. When he had gotten in touch for me to be a part of this huge exhibition he was doing at the Tate Modern in London, I couldn’t believe it.
-How did you meet him?
NABIHAH: I met him last year during a photoshoot. He asked for my Soundcloud, but I thought, “Wolfgang Tillmans isn’t going to actually listen to my music”. But he did and he emailed me about it and told me that he liked what I was doing.
-What did you do for the exhibition?
NABIHAH: For his exhibition at Tate, I did two things. One was giving a talk about music and an installation he did called “The Playback Room” which was a really cool space. It was an optimum space to listen to recorded music. The concept was that there’s so much effort put into a live performance, to be the best it can be in terms of acoustics, but what about giving that same attention to recorded music. Especially nowadays where most people listen to their music on their laptop or phones and on the go. From my perspective as a music artist, I do think it would be really nice for everyone to be able to listen to my music through good speakers with that live quality. The other thing I did with him was a live show in the The Tanks, which is the basement of Tate, with a light installation and projections curated by Wolfgang. It was the biggest crowd and the most intense crowd. Because it was an art gallery crowd, everyone was so silent. But it was incredible and to be able to work with an artist of his caliber is unbelievable.
-I also saw that you did a solar powered project with the Gorillaz? Could you tell me more about that?
NABIHAH: I work in the same studio as them, so there’s a good family feeling in there. They asked me to get involved in this project where we had to do an all night session in a solar powered music studio and create a track overnight.
-Was this booth outside?
NABIHAH: It was in one of those metal American caravans and during the day time it would collect loads of solar power. We would be in the studio from 11pm to 7am the next morning and the whole studio would run on that collected solar power.
-Did it run all night?
NABIHAH: Yeah, all night.
-Could you say that your music career kicked off being on NTS Radio?
NABIHAH: Yeah, I’ve been on NTS for almost 4 years now. When I started NTS, I wasn’t doing music full time I was still studying law. Even though I had never thought of doing radio before, when I got into it, I ended up loving it so much and I would put maximum effort in each show. And it’s been great.
-When did you start producing your own music?
NABIHAH: I’ve always been playing instruments, but the first time I tried to make my own music was when I was 18- in terms of electronic production. From there I would make music for fun on the side of going to university and studying. I never planned on doing music full time. After putting up several tracks on my Soundcloud, an amazing German producer, Kassem Mosse, found my music and got in touch to say that he wanted to release it.
-And now you’ve got a debut album coming out on Ninja Tune.
NABIHAH: It’s called “Weighing of the Heart” and it’s the first release that I’m doing under my own name, Nabihah Iqbal, after deciding that I won’t be using the Throwing Shade moniker. It’s 11 tracks. The music is moving in a different direction. It sounds different than everything I’ve put out before.
-How would you explain this sound?
NABIHAH: The people who have heard it are telling me that they hear 80’s influences. It’s the first time I’ve used guitar in the studio and there’s also more vocals. Out of the 11 tracks there are only 2 instrumentals. I’ve been working on this album for a year and half and when I went into the studio to work on this new body of music, I didn’t really think too much about it. I wasn’t going for a particular sound. I think sometimes when you listen to music you can really hear when someone is trying to make a specific sound, but I didn’t want to go down that route. I also had to keep myself from listening to any new music, so I think that the sound that came from it are sounds that I listened to as a teenager. Because I think those are the formative years for anyone who makes music. When you listen to it, you may hear some influences from Joy Division or Bauhaus.
-What is your plan after releasing this album?
NABIHAH: I guess I have to see how it does. Then start preparing for a live show which is going to be so hard because for my live show it’s just me. I play everything myself. It’s quite hard and demanding, but I like it because I think it’s rare to see a live show where it’s just a woman playing everything. But a lot of my new songs sound like a full band is playing so I’m trying to work out how I’d convey my music in a live setting. One thing I’m quite conscious of is not falling into the trap of getting a band and having people watch us and think that I’m just fronting the band. I feel as though a lot of people have that preconception when they look at a band and there’s a female singer. I want people to know that I did everything on this album myself.
-That’s why I felt it was important for me to interview you as well. It’s very rare to see artists use their platforms for anything more than self promotion these days.
NABIHAH: I felt that it was important that I speak out on that incident because I want other women to know that they’re not alone. Especially being asian and being a woman in this industry. I think because of it I have also made a different impact on my fans. I get messages from fans who have similar backgrounds who tell me that they really appreciate what I do and that I inspire them. That’s also another reason why I’ve decided to use my real name. At first I was worried if my real name was too ethnic or if people are going to be able to say it. And I stopped myself, and asked myself why I was thinking that. Wow, I can’t believe I even had that thought now. But that gave me more motivation to change my name and I’m excited to see everyone’s reaction.
Nabihah Iqbal's debut album "Weighing Of The Heart" will be released on December 1st through Ninja Tune.
Written by Amy.