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Run-Riot interviews genre-fusing electronic artist Maria Uzor

Maria Uzor is a genre-fusing electronic artist who defies categorisation. Driven and inspired by the human need for connection, the only prerequisites for attending her shows are an open mind and your dancing shoes. Run-Riot caught up with Uzor to discuss how lockdown accelerated her solo career and the importance of accessibility in making music. 


Run Riot: Hello Maria, you’re quite the musical polymath, how did this begin? What sounds influenced you growing up? What inspires you musically and creatively?

Maria Uzor: I’ve always been enticed by music. I remember being 4 years old and asking my grandmother for a guitar for Christmas, and then being absolutely mortified when she gave me a plastic toy guitar (in my mind I was getting a proper full-sized dreadnought!).

Growing up, no-one was particularly musical in my household, but my mum was constantly playing records; Trojan reggae, lovers rock, Senegalese music and high-life. And she was known for her parties where my sister and I would hear these sounds and smell the aromas of Caribbean food drifting up to our tiny noses from our hiding place halfway up the stairs (we were supposed to be in bed but that grown up world of parties was always something so exciting and foreign, haha!) Those sounds still make a regular appearance in my music, albeit often abstracted.

And then as a teen I found myself drawn to the sounds of Nirvana, The Smiths, Beatles, The Doors, Placebo, and hip-hop, Funk and soul; James Brown, Busta Rhymes, Timbaland, Sam Cooke, Northern Soul… Today I’m inspired by everything; bass music, film scores, techno, dub… I don’t really believe in genres; I find anything that puts us in a box terribly restrictive. Everything is nuanced, grey, a unique expression of the soul. I believe there’s only art that resonates with an individual, and art that doesn’t.

In this industry there’s a pressure to conform to genre as a way of selling and marketing an artist; “which category would you be under in the record shop?..”. I get it on one level but I think it’s limiting, and I often find myself drawn to artists who defy categorisation; Bjork, Bowie, Moor Mother…I guess you could say I currently make electronic dance music, because I choose to express myself through the medium of software instruments with beat and a bpm of between 100 and 150, but I don’t think my music always follows the structures and conventions of that genre either.

I’m inspired by the experience of living as a human being on planet Earth at this moment in time. Love, fear, uncertainty, elation. There’s often a sense of the observer in my lyrics, and otherness is something I return to again and again. I’m not sure if that’s due to growing up as a black child in a white community and feeling alienated, or if it’s to do with a sense that we’ve all come from somewhere else and we’re just visiting this planet for 80-odd years or so. I feel like there’s something more to us than the meat machine we inhabit. The observer in me often writes from that perspective. I think beneath that interest in alienation there’s an awareness of the need for connection, which I think lies at the heart of all human dissatisfaction. So connection and reconnection are enduring themes also.

Run Riot: At what age did you start performing and at what point did you feel that music was a path you wanted to follow professionally?

Maria: I joined my first band about 15 years ago; a punk band called The Incidentals. Sang and played rhythm guitar. That was fun. I think punk is a great way to start making and performing music because it’s like giving birth to yourself. You can just be raw and expressive beyond the constraints of your own knowledge or experience, and you don’t have to be technically good.

After that I was a solo artist called Girl In A Thunderbolt, and then in 2016 in a dance duo called Sink Your Teeth, up until the pandemic started. I think I always knew that music was the path I wanted to pursue as a career but I didn’t always have the confidence or the belief. For a long time there was a part of me that kept quiet about that dream to appease the “yeah but it’s not a real job..” voice in my head. Then, in 2018 when Sink Ya Teeth started to gain some recognition that’s when I began thinking “Oh maybe I can do this for a career..”. Then in 2020 lockdown happened and all that time we were suddenly afforded to sit and think, process, evaluate, face demons, and I was like “you know what? Life’s too short to spend it not doing what’s in your heart.” In September 2021 I quit my job with just 3 months wages in my bank to work on being an artist full time and completely. And so far it’s been ok!

Run Riot: The past 2 years have been an exceptionally difficult time for artists and after being one half of the Sink Ya Teeth duo, lockdown accelerated your solo work. How, have you found this?

Maria: I appreciate lockdown has been an awful time for a lot of us, impacting people both on a financial and mental health level. For me I am actually really grateful for lockdown because the period of isolation allowed me the space to slow down and take stock; something I may not have done had it not occurred. It’s returned me to a path of my own truth, and it’s given me the opportunity to evaluate what’s important to me, to reassess my boundaries, and to build a deeper connection to my inner voice and to the universe. I feel like being an artist is totally wrapped up in that journey towards truth. It’s the same thing. Art is a mode of transportation to truth.

Run Riot: Your music is accessible but retains a sense and atmosphere of underground clubs, parties and happenings. When you create and record music, do you think about the settings where audiences and listeners might enjoy it? 

Maria: Sometimes, yes. I think dancing can be a freeing thing to engage in, particularly if you deny yourself the feeling of self-consciousness, that fear of judgement. Moving the body is a magical thing. It’s shamanic. And to me, there’s something magical about moving your body with a load of other people doing the same thing in a sweaty basement somewhere. But then sometimes I just write what I want to hear with no thought for how it might be received or experienced.

Run Riot: Tell us about your EP songs for Luminous Living

Maria: Yes, ‘Songs For Luminous Living’ was released in December last year on my own label Hey Buffalo. It’s the third and final ep in my ‘Lockdown Trilogy’. 4 tracks that I think are all different but are joined by a bassy-rhythmic quality. And you can move your body to it. I got a limited number of vinyl pressed but they’ve sold out now. But yeah, available to stream on all the usual platforms. 

Run Riot: At Certain Blacks Heroes festival you’ll be performing at Rich Mix. What can audiences expect?

Maria: Hah, I don’t know. Just come with an open heart and your dancing shoes.

Maria Uzor performs at Rich Mix on Thursday, February 2 as part of Certain Blacks presents Heroes:  //  Instagram / Twitter / Facebook

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