‘Things need to die for something else to come through’: Wet Leg, Nilüfer Yanya, Shabaka Hutchings and more on the year in music

Eliza Rose, Shabaka Hutchings, Sherelle, Rhian Teasdale and Nilüfer Yanya gather for our annual roundtable on the state of the music industry, discussing self-care, plagiarism allegations, post-release editing – and Kanye

It was the year that Ed Sheeran won a court case, Beyoncé returned, Kanye West horrified the world and musicians struggled with the new economics of playing live. We got together five artists who made a mark on 2022 to discuss it all. Eliza Rose is a London-born DJ whose independently released single Baddest of Them All spent two weeks at No 1. Shabaka Hutchings is a multi-instrumentalist who performs with Sons of Kemet, Shabaka and the Ancestors and the Comet Is Coming. Sherelle is a DJ who broke through with her 2019 Boiler Room set and has since recorded a mix for Fabric. Rhian Teasdale is one-half of Isle of Wight indie band Wet Leg, whose 2021 debut single, Chaise Longue, went viral; they released their self-titled debut album this spring. Nilüfer Yanya is a London-born guitarist and songwriter who has released two albums, 2019’s Miss Universe and this year’s Painless, to widespread acclaim.


Neil Young demanded that Spotify remove his music due to Joe Rogan spreading vaccine misinformation. Is it up to musicians to be calling out these companies?

Shabaka Hutchings All musicians aren’t Neil Young. He can do that because he’s in a position where if he takes his music off Spotify, it will be a massive media event. And then because of that, people start talking. That’s the whole point of it – not to punish Spotify, but to bring to light the fact that there’s this cancerous rhetoric going around on this platform unchecked.

Eliza Rose He’s in a position of power.

Sherelle They are two white guys with very strong opinions about how certain things are. So they naturally are going to be listened to, that’s just how the world works. I’m not too sure if the effect would be the same if it was coming from a PoC artist.

Rhian Teasdale It ties in to social media, and having Trump and Kanye taken off there [since this interview, both have since been reinstated]. If it’s begun with social media platforms, then surely it should happen with streaming platforms as well?

S One argument is that having someone as controversial as Joe Rogan on there allows people to listen to how silly he is.

SH If they don’t say it, there’s no way of addressing the thought; you’ve got misinformation that’s not being countered.

RT Also the moment you take something down, you’re empowering it. And then suddenly, Joe Rogan’s followers will be like: “Why are they taking away the truth from us?”

SH It’s the same as with statues: take down statues or make an effort to recontextualise them, so it’s not that you take them down and they disappear but that the symbol doesn’t mean the same thing as it was originally intended. There could be some kind of … disclaimer sounds dry, but some kind of thing that makes you know that this point is contested and here is the alternative.


Little Simz won the Brit award for breakthrough artist (and in October, the Mercury prize), despite being on her fourth album. Are we recognising great UK talent too late?

Nilüfer Yanya I did think it was crazy that she was called a breakthrough artist. She’s been such a big artist in our minds for a long time.

RT She’s independent, she’s Black and she’s female – all things that are going to go against her.

Little Simz winning the Mercury prize in October.
Little Simz winning the Mercury prize in October. Photograph: JMEnternational/Getty Images

ER I started singing when I was 21 and I gave up after that for years because it felt like an uphill struggle. Times have changed now and I was able to build my own platform with the power of social media. Today you don’t necessarily have to have the machine behind you as an independent artist to get your accolades. But it’s still not perfect.

Do awards matter?

SH I’ve never had anything to do with the Brits. If I get breakthrough artist when I’m 45, then cool. Ten years ago, there were no prospects of creative instrumentalists getting anywhere, there was just the token jazz act in the Mercury. If you said you did jazz, you’d be in a pub playing to a bunch of old white guys. Things are getting better: Kendrick Lamar, Robert Glasper; creative instrumental music is at least seen by the mainstream as being music among other music. The question for me is: what are the Mercurys and the Brits? We call them institutions, but it’s a group of specific people who make choices. How are they making the choices? Who chooses them?

NY I don’t really pay much attention to these events.

SH I was asked to be a judge for the Grammys one year and you get sent tons of names before you get to the nomination stage, which is why everyone does those weird “for your consideration” posts. But actually it’s about who you know. You scan a list and go: “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about this, and this.” It’s a question of visibility.

RT It’s nice for everyone at the label because they’re working hard as well. But the real wins are when you do a good gig or when you make a good song. That is why you’re doing it, not for these awards, these mysterious overlords.

Wet Leg have just been nominated for five Grammys. That’s got to mean something?

RT It’s surprising because I don’t know what hoops we’ve jumped through to get there – but there are hoops. We had an interview and it was like: “So, what do you know about the Grammys?” And I was like: “Oh, is that the one with the actors?”

NY And then you’re a spokesperson for UK bands. And they’re like, how does it feel? And you’re like: “I don’t know!”

RT Regardless of nominations, just being a new band that’s very busy, that has been a huge learning curve. You have to make mistakes, and it has to be in front of everyone, apparently.


Ed Sheeran appeared in court over plagiarism accusations (he was vindicated). What effect is the increasing number of cases like this having on creativity? How is this new litigious era in songwriting affecting you?

NY There was a video of Ed on [Instagram] being like: “Please, we need to stop the rate of people saying: ‘You’re stealing my song.’” He said it’s damaging the industry, which came across as very insincere. All music is stolen to a degree, but the thing that really annoyed me is that he is trying to put a full stop on this conversation and be like: “This is wrong. You can’t come after me. This is an original song,” which is true – but there’s so many styles of music that are being stolen every day and being used by bigger artists.

Sherelle: ‘It’s great that artists are taking a stand against fan behaviour.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

ER I don’t think anything’s original, everything is inspired by something else. But it’s a bit of a free for all at the moment and people are becoming greedy [by suing artists]. I do think all the litigation going to stop creative flows.

SH That’s how creativity happens. In jazz, people copy vibes all the time to progress: take someone you like and play a bit like them until you get past it.


There was a wave of artists asking fans to change their behaviour at shows. Should gigs be more on artists’ terms?

NY I don’t ask a lot from my audience at a show – it’s always a lot nicer when you feel like people are listening and you have their attention, but crowds change so much from show to show and I’m totally OK with not controlling that. The phone thing is a weird one, because I think a lot of people benefit from their fans posting about their shows, which is something maybe bigger artists don’t need! I think venues could remind audiences the way they do at cinemas.

S It’s great that artists are taking a stand against fan behaviour. I often have had issues with people holding up their phones and being quite intrusive. I would prefer if no one had their phone out because I want them to be in the moment and not live through their phones. It makes me sad that sometimes we’re not present.


By this point you were all shaping up to have massive years. How do you ride the hype wave without it affecting your art?

S If anyone can tell me what the balance is …

ER Please share!

S In electronic music, it’s like: “Where’s your cover [story]? Where’s the next big play?” It’s dog-eat-dog when you’re breaking out. There’s a lot of accolades, which I’ve been fortunate enough to win, but it gets in your head: “Am I supposed to keep winning stuff in order to prove myself?”

SH I sent an email to my managers and agents early in the year, at a particularly hectic point of touring, saying: “I want everyone to consider the parable of the goose that laid the golden eggs.” If you kill this goose then none of you are going to get paid any more. So just remember this when you’re just pushing me out on the road like this.

Everyone Yep!

SH The agent said thanks for talking to them about that because there’s not often a lot of consideration of what they’re pushing artists to do. It depletes you.

S I didn’t even realise how many shows I did. So I counted them and if I had done all of my shows, it would have been 99. And if we look at how many weeks there are in a year, and work out when that holiday would be, it was only two weeks’ worth of free time. But the rest of the week, I’m supposed to be doing emails and other bits, because I don’t just do DJing, I’ve got labels to look after.

ER I don’t know how long anything’s going to last, so I’m utilising what I can for this moment and trying to use this hype wave to cement myself in this space, and trying to have longevity.

NY It’s something I think about a lot – sustainability as opposed to exterior goals. But then … why do I also have that goal where I want people to see what I’m doing? I could be putting that energy into [making] music and not worrying “is this going to be successful, is this going to be a good album?”

SH It’s not a bad thing. That’s what we do, communicate with an audience. The question is, how much you have for yourself and how much you give out. I don’t look at any reviews or anything because it’s too much stuff to deal with. My sustainability is in my practice. I practise the flute every day. A lot of the industry thing just goes away if you are engaged in a practice.

Everyone So true.

RT [sarcastically] There’s this whole thing with TikTok: it’s so important. We all need it to survive. Self Esteem said something about it really eloquently earlier in the year. There’s a lot of pressure to be posting on socials. The other day I was looking back at the Wet Leg Instagram account when it was just me and Hester posting to our friends and it was so wholesome. Now every time we post, it’s like: “Oh, my God, this is going to go out to X amount of people?” We are starting to get asked about a second album. We want to go back to that feeling of when we made Chaise Longue: just me, Hester and Joshua, really late at night, with a microphone up in the living room. I don’t feel pressure to make the thing. But I do feel the pressure of: how am I going to get back to that carefree feeling with so many people watching?

Rhian Teasdale.
Rhian Teasdale: ‘Just being a new band that’s very busy has been a huge learning curve.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

S I cleared my Instagram recently. I felt weird about posting videos of me DJing, because I see other DJs and musicians posting and then it then becomes a battle of “Who’s got the biggest amount of hands in the air?” It’s ironic because how I blew up is a video of me dancing with my friends and having a good time on Boiler Room. Don’t get me started on TikTok.

RT We do have help with our social media, but everything that they suggest has to be approved by me and Hester and the rest of the band. And so someone’s getting your “tone”. It feels so gross.

NY It’s a monster, you need to keep feeding it.


Beyoncé returned with Renaissance. Was it about time that dance music’s Black roots were acknowledged in the mainstream?

ER She worked with the right people, she acknowledged the queer community. I was proud as a PoC for her to do that album.

S Only a couple of years ago, people weren’t looking at dance and house music as a mainstream genre. And now she has created space for that to happen.

SH Does mainstream mean that the people who voted for Brexit and Trump also sing your songs, in addition to people that didn’t vote for them?

S Harking back to LGBTQIA+ people within those scenes is really cool. Beyoncé has a way of being able to be within the mainstream that means particular people would not be threatened by her. White women have said: “I feel like Beyoncé.” The colour element isn’t really there, she’s seen as a colourless being. Also, Eliza being the first female DJ to get a No 1 since Sonique [in 2000, with It Feels So Good] adds to the history of PoC in dance music. That’s important because of the historic erasure of Black women within it. It’s Beyoncé’s album on one side, Eliza on another.

One of the most eyebrow-raising aspects of that album, and Drake’s album this year, is that some people said he and Beyoncé were bringing back house music. But did it actually go anywhere?

NY It’s the same with guitar music. People are always saying guitar music died. Nothing really stops in music.

SH The capitalist structure makes you assume that there’s perpetual growth to everything. Things need to die for something else to come through.

Which music needs to die in 2022?

SH Probably mine – we killed Sons of Kemet. It felt like the right thing to do. It started on a personal level, because from 2024 I’m taking a hiatus from the saxophone and just playing the flute. But it generally felt like a good time, after 10 years and four albums, to knock it on the head and go off into flute obscurity.


Beyoncé and Lizzo edited ableist slurs out of their music; later in the year Taylor Swift edited the word “fat” out of one of her videos. Should artists be able to airbrush their mistakes?

ER I don’t take issue with it, as long as the sentiment of the song overall doesn’t change.

S It’s just about taking accountability. I also think people have the right to not change that song if they don’t want to.

RT As long as you are the one leading that change then that’s cool. Sometimes people change things because they’ve been called out. If everyone is changing lyrics because of cancel culture then that creates a fear of saying anything.

S You’re not being authentic, basically.

Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift. Photograph: Dave Hogan/Getty Images

NY I think it’s good. We’re in this culture at the moment where you’re not allowed to make mistakes. But I think it’s good when people make mistakes and to try and rectify it. Whereas “I don’t want anyone to know I’ve made a mistake” is a different kind of fear. It’s not healthy.

S You’ve got to look at who is on their teams. For Swift’s team to not realise that “fat” could be offensive shows to me that they don’t have a very diverse team on hand. If their friends all look like them or sound like them, they’re not really going to think about other people. The view that they’ve got in front of them is themselves.


The AI-generated rapper FN Meka was dropped from a major label after complaints of racial stereotyping. Has enough been done to counter racism in the music industry following summer 2020? What, if anything, has changed?

NY I don’t think enough can ever be done to counteract racism, full stop.

ER What I can’t understand is, how many people did that go through to get signed off?

S With FN Meka, it’s just the glorification of Black male culture. It’s perpetuating negative stereotypes. There’s a lot of people within the rap world who are passing away and music execs are trying to tap into that world. FN Meka definitely wasn’t made for a Black audience; more for a white audience who enjoys Black music but also gets off on the trauma porn of it all. Why was he being [beaten] by the police? That just proves that nothing’s ever going to change. People posting up black squares and then saying they’re going to have initiatives …

RT It’s so performative.

S Exactly. Like: “Let’s get some Black interns, some Black junior people in.” But what about the execs, or other people in higher positions? A lot of companies had that one initiative that they did. And now when you see their offices, it’s just as white as ever.

NY The whole system is still being run by the same people. And then also put against the backdrop of financial recession, everyone’s got a good excuse why they can’t make real changes.

SH What if there can’t be any change? This is the question that no one asks. What if racism doesn’t end? What if it’s too culturally ingrained? And we can get old, we can post a little black square and we can talk and do stuff. But what if the actual root of it is deeper than just a few people understanding what they or their ancestors have done wrong. What if there’s something there’s more fundamentally at odds with …

NY It evolves? It doesn’t go away.

SH Yeah, it doesn’t go away.

Eliza Rose.
Eliza Rose: ‘DJs are in a privileged position.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

RT It’s so hard to tell whether the industry has changed when you’re in your own echo chamber. I look at younger generations and I see it’s getting less and less racist from where I’m sat in my echo chamber and my own experience.

NY Or it’s getting deeper.

RT That’s a really horrible thought.

SH It’s not that horrible. Actually, it’s pretty liberating. Because then you’re not shocked at occurrences, you go: “OK, that’s happening, how do you move forward?” Or how do you create situations that cushion the impact on people of colour, bearing in mind that it’s not going to go away?


This month represented a peak for artists cancelling shows for mental health and financial reasons. Is this the worst time ever to be a musician?

SH It was the best of times. And it was the worst of times.

RT Everyone was really excited coming out of the pandemic. I’ve never been busy with touring before this because we’re a baby band but for us, bookers, fans, it was: “Let’s go, let’s go!” And then you realise: “Oh, shit. I’m human and I need a certain amount of sleep.” It’s basic self-care but when you’re on that treadmill, it’s a hard balance.

SH The pandemic made people aware of what self-care actually looks like, because before that, the situation was unsustainable.

S I feel sorry for promoters now who are trying to sell tickets because it’s cold and there’s a lot less disposable income. Tickets can be super expensive.

NY It comes down to lack of stability in the music industry. You’re expected to commit to touring schedules even if you’re not sure you can financially. Even if you can’t afford it at the moment, can you afford it next year? Is that tour going to break you? It all comes down to the big questions: what is achievable? And what is stability? And why are you doing it? It’s hard to know where that line is.

S I think what’s going to have to happen is that for some shows, people might have to do payment plans, like they do with festivals.

NY You can do it for shoes, why can’t you do it for shows?

Shabaka Hutchings on stage with Sons of Kemet.
Shabaka Hutchings on stage with Sons of Kemet. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

SH It’s difficult because to expect to earn your income as a touring musician is unrealistic. It’s not going to happen for everyone. When people say [impressed voice]: “You’re touring the US and it’s on Instagram!” – touring the US is terrible.

Everyone Yeah!

SH The food is terrible. It’s really difficult. You’re travelling long distances in a van.

S And the visas are really expensive.

Is it easier to be a DJ?

ER I didn’t realise how difficult it was for touring artists and bands, until I saw Santigold’ s statement on cancelling her tour. It was really eye-opening for me, to see the struggles of my peers. DJs are in a privileged position: there’s not a lot of overheads, only one person needs to fly, one person in a hotel.


Kanye West used white supremacist slogans in a fashion show, made antisemitic remarks and was consequently dropped by many brands affiliated with him. Is there a way back for the rapper? [At the time of this interview, Kanye had not yet returned to Twitter or made his 2024 presidential bid]

SH What does it look like if there’s not a way back for him? Is it that he just disappears? If this is effectively a society that calls itself Christian, as in those principles underpin it, then forgiveness and redemption should be possibilities. Otherwise, we’re this brutal society that ostracises people. I feel really sorry for Kanye. Not to dismiss what he’s done and the hurt that he’s caused, but he’s going through a public breakdown. I think a lot of people aren’t sad for him because he’s got money. But he’s been afforded this money by the system that now is breaking him.

ER You can have battles with mental health and not say racist rhetoric. It’s dangerous what he’s doing, he’s giving people permission to say certain things.

RT The people around him that have been enabling him, maybe those people will stop making money and that is when someone will stop to help him.

S Sometimes people wait till a person is basically dead. I’m definitely not pushing this for him at all. But it’s a massive car crash.

ER It’s like Amy Winehouse isn’t it?

Everyone Yeah.

S It’s definitely not right. I think because he’s got so much money, he can’t be cancelled. Being a guy, he can also get away with it – because Azealia Banks was cancelled pretty fast.

SH There is a thing about publicly humiliating powerful Black men. When Black men get to a particular position, if they then do something wrong then they get their comeuppance. He’s just that figure for this age. It’s sad because he’s been so influential on a musical level.


The singles chart celebrated its 70th anniversary. How relevant is the chart today?

S For me they’re only relevant because Eliza went to No 1.

ER Being in the charts was never a goal. It was so unattainable and seemed so far out of reach. I’m gassed, mainly because Baddest of Them All is an underground track that I released on my dubplate label and wrote completely by myself. Now it’s signed to Warner, but it just shows that there is still space for different types of music to make it to the top.

Nilufer Yanya.
Nilüfer Yanya: ‘We’re in this culture at the moment where you’re not allowed to make mistakes.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian


If you could make a New Year’s resolution for the music industry in 2023, what would it be?

RT Equality in all senses, whether that’s race or even genre.

NY If the music industry was to not be an industry then that would be really interesting; if it wasn’t about who’s making the most income, because you weren’t worried about numbers.

S Community, basically.

ER More space in the mainstream for the underground to come through. I’d like to see bigger labels keeping an eye on what’s bubbling in the underground scenes, which ultimately influence the charts.

SH Communication. There might be answers from someone who’s done it before you.

S Just looking out for people. And I hope people get to have more disposable income. Freeze those electric bills!


Kate Hutchinson

The GuardianTramp

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