MUSIC | Charli XCX
It couldn’t be a more exciting time for 20-year-old Charli XCX, the pint-sized goth-princess whose bold brand of gloom pop has her billed as one of the most exciting new artists in the UK – if not the world.
Charlotte Aitchison by birth, Charli has not only won over mainstream media and bloggers alike, but she’s turned the heads of everyone from Coldplay’s Chris Martin to fashion luminary, British photographer, David Bailey. And, what’s most impressive, she hasn’t even released a debut album yet.
On a typically grey London day, down a nondescript backstreet, XO Magazine visits Charli’s rehearsal space (we arrive before she does, and wait as the electrifying sounds of her dutiful band practicing without her pulsate down the hallway) to meet the young lady setting tongues wagging.
Charli bounds in sporting a black crop top, a 90s plaid short skirt, big hair and even bigger Buffalo shoes. Even “off duty” she has great style, which she describes as a mix of 90s grunge and cyber pop / happy hardcore.
“When I was younger I was always the weird one,” she says, when I ask if you she’s always been so sartorially savvy. “I used to wear really weird shit like skirts over trousers and then like eight belts and a bra. It was kind of cool, but I was like ten so it was kind of not cool, too.
“My dad is super eccentric,” she adds, by way of explanation,” He’s like: it’s always better to be over the top than just a blur.”
Like many young kids, Charli sang with her friends into hairbrushes in the mirror; she had piano lessons but hated it (“I used to be such a bitch to my teacher, like spill water on her piano”) and says she didn’t come from a musical family per se or “from one of those trendy households like where The Beatles or Kate Bush were always playing”, she recalls. Her Dad ran a club in small town Bishop Stratfort, but that she says was about as musical as her upbringing got.
“I don’t know how I turned to really liking music,” she shrugs, “but I did.”
At 14 she recorded an album, with the economic help from Mum and Dad, and, managing to attract the attention of the right people, she was soon playing gigs at the now-legendary illegal warehouse raves in East London – accompanied by her parents, who’d drive her every Saturday night from their home in Hertfordshire.
It sounds terribly cool, and I’m sure it was, but Charli modestly downplays it. “I kind of sat on this borderline of being really cool, like ‘oh my god the 14 year old at the rave’ and also ‘oh she bought her parents’,” Charli remembers.
Playing in-front of a crowd probably twice her age and off their face was certainly a bizarre platform to cut her teeth on, but I have a feeling it was instrumental in getting her to the performer and person she is today.
“I can remember the first rave I did: I stood on a crate, pressed play on my iPod and just sang and stood there, I didn’t do anything. I must have looked like a rabbit in headlights,” she remembers. “I started watching all these crazy bands, who were literally rugby tackling people off the stage and rolling on the floor. I’d never seen anything like that, so I guess it kind of helped me with my performance as I took loads of stuff from all of them.”
Remembering her first rave, Charli says “I was like ‘Oh my god, it’s like Skins and I thought Skins was the coolest thing”. She remembers saying to her parents: “All I want to do is live in a squat and play these parties forever.” Eventually, she says, she saw beyond the glamorous side; she saw the terrible side of kid club culture too.
“A lot of people say I’m really mature for my age, which really makes me cringe, but I guess I understand what they’re saying because I had to learn really quickly not to get lost and shit really fast.”
Since then, Charli has been meticulously crafting her trial-blazing sound; titillating her fans with singles Stay Away, Nuclear Seasons and You’re The One, which meld heavy 80s synths with dance beats and powerhouse vocals.
Ahead of her debut album, which was slated for an October release in the UK, Charli released her Heartbreaks and Earthquakes mixtape as a free download in June, which opens with the dirty dubstep track Champagne Coast, features more of what Charli describes as her take on “white girl rap” (I’d never call it rap because I’d offend a lot of rappers”) as well as skits from now cult films Cruel Intentions and Kill Bill.
“It got such a good reaction and I was like ‘well why aren’t I making my record sound more like this?” So she postponed the album’s release and subsequent UK tour, and is currently re-working and re-writing much of the original album.
“Everyone got really mad,” she says. “I know that it pisses people off when I cancel tours and postpone [the album] but at the end of the day I have to be selfish because I only get one first album. If it was someone else doing it, then they’d do the same.”
Charli has enlisted the expertise of one of the world’s most sought-after songwriters, Linda Perry (from 4 Non Blondes and has written for Pink, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love to name a few) on several tracks.
“I’m meeting with her tomorrow actually. I did a session with her in LA and that was amazing. I don’t really get this very often, when you meet someone and you’re like ‘Oh my god, they’re so cool, I’m in the presence of a genius’ and they have this aura, yeah well she has that. I think we’re going to get some really great amazing new stuff.”
In the meantime, Charli will drop her Super Ultra mixtape in early November of which first track Cloud Aura, featuring Brooke Candy, has already been released. First single You (ha ha), from her upcoming album, will be released in January.
“I filmed the video for that the other day and it is so cool. It’s fully 100% Charli, I’m so happy with it. If everything fucks up I will take the blame for it because I pushed everything on this.”
Ultimately, Charli says she wants her record to change the landscape of pop music: To make music that’s “more real, more emotional and more raw instead of it being about throwaway songs.
“To make a record that defined a time and people look back on it and be like ‘do you remember when pop music was good again and that was stared by the Charlie xcx record”.
And you know what, I think she has the chops and certainly the hard-working ethic to do just that.
Words | Kelly Griffin