New music for 2023: George Riley, the R&B songwriter and club kid who is switching on the joy

Her acclaimed debut album came out of a dark place – but the experimental London musician has a new lease of life for 2023

From London, England
Recommended if you like KeiyaA, Janet Jackson, Rochelle Jordan
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“That was like my angsty, sad, depression era, which I’m happy to say is now over,” George Riley says of her debut full-length project, 2022’s acclaimed Running in Waves. Written over a week in summer 2020, it was deliciously packed with diaristic turns of phrase detailing life challenges, evolving friendships and introspection; her uncategorisable music saw furious drum breaks, soulful vocals and mellow strings dancing for space. Take the stunning Time, a resounding manifesto in which Riley declares her boundaries and lists the things in life she holds dear: in-depth conversations, good weed, Camper shoes. Today she calls the song her attempt to “be in control where I haven’t been in control before”.

The project’s title refers to the difficulty of running against a current, which at the time felt like a defining feature of Riley’s career and relationships. The 25-year-old Londoner grappled with the isolation of the pandemic, and struggled to balance music with day jobs and studying (she recently finished a law conversion degree). “Career-wise, I felt as if I was trying really hard but not getting anywhere,” she says. “I didn’t know whether I could overcome it. But this year I’ve been able to travel and sing and do what I’m passionate about, because people listened – perhaps it is viable.”

George Riley: Time – video

Most fans first heard Riley on Manchester DJ Anz’s 2021 track You Could Be, their ears pricked by her strong R&B vocals and ear-pleasing runs. In the main, though, she is part of an emerging DIY scene that reconstructs and recombines traditional genres with the aim of creating something fresh. Her influences range from R&B predecessors such as Janet Jackson and futuristic newcomers likeKelela to Afrofuturist sci-fi novelists Samuel R Delany and Octavia Butler. “With writing, I like to play with that conformity and nonconformity,” she says. “Usually I try to keep it carefree, and not put pressure on the creative process.”

This extends to her frenetic performances, where she freestyles and riffs solo over her own music (as well as the ghettotech instrumentals of Detroit pioneers such as DJ Assault), an approach that stems back to her days as a teenage raver. This coming year, she wants to bring in extra musicians, expanding her live performances to accompany music that leans in to club culture – and reflects a happier outlook. “I’ve got a bit of a new lease on life,” she says. “I want to have fun performing and have an even bigger onus on wanting to enjoy it.”


Christine Ochefu

The GuardianTramp

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