Riah Knight has an honest and sincere career. Her musical selection and her good judgment have crossed borders. The DJ sets and productions of this singular artist are a powerful statement, emblematic of her unfettered approach to music. We took the opportunity to interview her.
First, tell us about your latest job. Where / when was it recorded, what did you wear and what inspired the selection?
Lament to love is the first single from my upcoming EP Knight in Neukölln . The songs are inspired by my first few years in berlin, living in an area called Neukölln whilst employed at the Maxim Gorki Theatre. They reflect my life behind the scenes, growing up and discovering Berlin between late nights and stormy summer love.
Most of it was recorded from my home studio during the first lockdown - so I was probably wearing my tracksuit bottoms and slippers.
Where did you hide during the confinement and what new skills have you learned?
I’ve really learnt what people mean when they say that time is a construct. I’ve watched lots of really good films, done some epic walking, moved house, written a play and started cold water swimming! Which really helped to keep me sane during this long dark winter lockdown. It was a way of staying connected to the seasons and the passing of time, grounding me to my environment while everything else felt very virtual and intangible.
Where is your house and who / what changed you to define your sound?
I grew up in Sussex in England but spent a lot of time travelling as a child, going to world music festivals and travelling with my mum - so I was exposed to a lot of different cultures and ways of life growing up. I think that has influenced my approach to music; I’m very eclectic in what inspires me and like to see what comes out when I’m writing- rather than trying to fit it to a specific genre. Often I see things resurface in my compositions that have affected me in some way, from a plaque in a park telling a story I’d never heard before, to an image created in a song or novel.
Before the Internet, how was your discovery of new music and where did you get the records?
Well, the internet has pretty much been doing it’s thing for most of my adult life (I’m 24), and I’m sorry to say but Spotify really knows what to recommend me by now. However most of the basis for what I like musically comes from my childhood. Both my parents have really good music taste, and my mum has an amazing record collection that I listened to religiously as a teenager. My uncle was also a great blue harmonica player and introduced me to a lot of music that has influenced me, like Nick Drake and John Martyn.
What record labels and producers inspired you during your teens and early 2000s?
The Fugees album The Score came out the year I was born (1996) , and my parents played it a lot while I was a baby so I think it kinda entered my DNA. A lot of the early 2000s RnB is production gold and I often reference it with producers when looking for ‘that’ one sound that can be found on a specific track.
I mean, in the early 2000s I was a child, so I loved music that told stories. I learnt a lot about love from ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’, was captivated by Nina Simone’s ‘Pirate Jenny’ and of course knew all the words to Beyoncé’s ‘Irreplaceable’.
At the moment I’m playing Feist on repeat, her sound is so unique and her lyrics are always really interesting- her early stuff was coming out in the 2000s.
For labels, I love what Brownswood are doing right now and always really dig the music they put out.
COVID-19 has had a monumental impact on the electronic music industry. It shows how precarious this so-called industry is. What are your thoughts on the situation and how do you think the industry needs to reform and adapt?
I think for me the pandemic has highlighted a lot of the structural inequalities already present in society, bringing them to the forefront of our lives. From the ‘profit over all else’ approach to our economy, to the stark racial and gender inequalities which have been made ever more apparent during this period.
In a similar way, the music industry already didn’t put artists at the centre- I mean releasing music now means giving it away for free- and most of us saw our main source of income , such as live shows, disappear.
At the start of the pandemic I was very reluctant to start to do live streams or online concerts, it felt like suddenly everyone was digitising and forcing their art online, when what I was missing most were the human interactions, the energetic exchange of a performance. Now a year on, I did my first mini IG livestream. It was nice to connect with people that want to hear my music again and get intimate with an audience in a different way.
I feel like the underground scene will continue to persist. Do you think we can go back to "normal" events and festivals?
I don't know. I'm just riding this wave like everyone else, hoping for some normality but slowly releasing that maybe this is the new normal. As the ER protests were saying before this all started ‘business as usual’ is the problem.
When you're not hammering the tracks, what other activities do you do?
I also write music for theatre and film. Over the last four years I’ve been working at Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theatre for director Yael Ronen, and have played in three of her shows. That keeps me pretty busy and is really fun- the topics she explores are always really inspiring and set me off on a new journey of discovery, from the politics of consent to the history of the persecution of wise women in patriarchy. It's wild.
What makes you happy?
What piss you off?
What's next for Riah Knight?
My EP Knight in Neukolln will be out April 26th on Get Together, a small Berlin independent label who are co-releasing it with me.
I'm already working on some new music, where I’m writing using strong female archetypes; witches, mothers, resistance poets- lets see!