If there’s one thing that Rhythm Section-affiliated anu is an expert in, it is making bodies move. As one of the party’s resident DJs, she has been key to making it not simply an organisation, but a movement (and an international one as its full name suggests). Her radio shows, often calm affairs that trace a history of ambient music, new wave and new age, belie the fact that her DJ sets are based on beats that make you move: thumping techno, fiery disco-not-disco and other chuggy oddities are the norm.
But anu’s manipulation the physical is not just limited to the dancefloor. It is a theme that runs unrelentingly throughout her illustrations: a quite brilliant body of work that hasn’t been credited to her nearly as enough as her musical successes. So, ahead of her appearance at Brotherhood with Jayda G in January, we thought we’d ask her about them, as a way of eventually touching on her current life as one of the underground community’s most respected selectors.
Though many of our readers (including myself) know you through of music, you are as much an illustrator as a DJ. You are the designer of many Rhythm Section posters, plus you have loads of other artworks that people should check out in your online portfolio. Did you study art officially, or is it something you picked up organically?
I’ve always been interested in art, it was of the few subjects that I kind of enjoyed at school and I hid in the art rooms most lunchtimes. I went on to do my foundation year at London College of Communication, which I hated. A few years later, I studied Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts which I also hated and dropped out after a year. I was surprised at how white both institutions were, especially Camberwell. Teachers don’t really like it when you’ve already established a distinct style that’s pretty gross.
From the content of many of your drawings, I assume you have quite a candid fascination with the human bodily form, particularly in its strangeness, even ugliness. There are genitals, piss and all sorts on display. Why is this a recurring theme in your work? Also, does operating in the world of dance music make you more acutely aware of the ways in which we might think through the body?
I find the human body beautiful in every form. Larger bodies and shapes that are less generic far more interesting to look at and draw. I like disgusting things – dicks make me laugh a lot of the time and I like toilet humour. I don’t see the subjects of my art as strange, but I guess I’m so used to drawing them. Operating in the world of dance music has probably made me subconsciously aware of the ways we think through the body. None of my illustrations are based on “real life people”, they’re all from my imagination. If I’ve seen someone dancing in a club in an interesting way, I’ll probably end up drawing them without realising.
You had a brilliant piece in the galdem takeover exhibition at the V&A. Could you talk us though the event and your contribution? How important was it for such an event to subvert the institutionalised nature of that place?
BBZ were collaborating with gal-dem for the takeover at the V&A, and they hit me up on Instagram asking if I wanted to make an animation. I brought BBZ to life my creating a naked PoC for each letter. It was pretty amazing to see my animation projected in a massive room at the V&A – a place where I’d been going to for years, on school trips etc. Also, I really wanted to give my secondary school art teacher the middle finger and tell her that I had a piece of work shown at the V&A. And not only that, the whole building was filled with Women of Colour, all of which doing fucking amazing things, which was incredible. That night felt like a real celebration.
How important is it for parties to have an aesthetic presence, illustrative or otherwise?
It’s really important, I think it can be something that sets you apart from the hundreds of other parties that are being thrown. I’d be more likely to go to an event if I can see that the promoter has considered every aspect of their event. It shows that you care!
A couple of years ago you did a zine that told stories of people’s favourite parties. Do you think that it is important to make the distinction between a club night/event/gig and a party?
Not at all, I use all 4 terms. I don’t think that distinction is super important when you’re putting on a night or attending one – as long as people feel safe and are having a nice time then call it whatever you want!
You recently hosted an event titled ‘An evening to come & play some records or dance or listen’ – I personally love this completely casual approach to an event, since so many club nights are actually bound by ceremony or pretence. Is this part of the thinking behind the event?
My friend and I, Theo, wanted to host an open decks where everyone is invited. We felt like people of all races (think about the amount of events that are aimed at black and brown men…not many) should also have a place to play, free of judgement. The event came about after seeing so many DJ workshops that were aimed at very specific groups of people, which are of course important but there needs to be a balance. We’ve hosted 2 so far and they’ve gone really well!
You are in the rare position of a touring DJ who is an out and out selector. Do you feel lucky to be in this position? Or do you think it will be a growing trend for more and more people to break without a release behind them?
I feel super lucky to be in this position, but at the same time I know I’m here as I’ve worked really hard. I think it’s already becoming a growing trend, everyone wants to be a DJ at the moment which is pretty cool. I’m sure a lot of these people will start with DJing and then go on to produce their own music.
After listening to several radio shows and mixes of yours, and I am yet to pinpoint the “anu sound” – but that is exactly what I like to hear in a DJ. So I’ll put this question this way: what do you look for in a track when you buy it?
It has to make me feel something – it’ll either make me want to be in a club, moving to it or it’ll make me completely zone out. Or it just bangs.
You recently came to Leeds to play at a bar for On Rotation. What is it like to come out of London in short bursts? Are you happy with how things are in London at the moment? How do you perceive scenes elsewhere in comparison?
I like visiting other towns and cities, everyone is always so nice and I’ve made lots of friends all over England which makes returning to play a gig even more fun. Everywhere you go, there seems to be a real community feel, people helping one another and collaborating. There’s loads happening in London right now – there are always new parties popping up. It’s a good place to be in terms of starting your own night as there are several venues at your disposable, but it’s really competitive. There’s definitely a lack of good quality venues in London, where every aspect is thought about in detail. I think there’s still a gap for a venue in London that has varied line-ups in race, gender and sexuality and is a safe space for EVERYONE. Good sound is also very important.
How are you going to ensure that your “No Anu No Party” promise is upheld when you visit Wire?
I’ll play some music that I like and dance a lot. Hopefully everyone will join in :)
To see more of anu’s portfolio, head to http://anu.cool/