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Lava La Rue’s Big Year: How the U.K. Indie Upstart Rendered Their Artistic Vision in ‘Hi-Fidelity’

todayDecember 27, 2022

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As 2022 draws to a close, Billboard Pride is taking a look back at some of the queer indie artists who saw their stars rise over the last 12 months. Below, U.K. genre-bender Lava La Rue breaks down their big year.

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It’s the end of a busy trip to New York for Lava La Rue. The buzzy, much talked-about indie artist from West London has been in and out of studio sessions and supporting their partner’s gigs around the city, but as they log onto a Zoom call from a Brooklyn hotel room, they look mildly bummed.

“It’s super rainy and gross,” they say, swiveling their camera around to show a cloud-choked skyline just outside their window. “Normally I get this very cute view of everything corny, like the Empire State. Now, it’s just kind of looking like Gotham.” But La Rue acknowledges the weather pattern is just a transitional phase. “It’s been lovely all week, just not today,” they say with a shrug. “It’ll pass.”

La Rue would know what a transitional phase looks like, considering they’ve been actively in one for the last year — throughout 2022, La Rue underwent a shift that brought about a new sound, curated a new audience, and even found the singer a new home for their musical universe. “I think because I started in music fairly young, like in my late teens, some people have been like, “Wow, you’ve been around for quite a long time now,’” they say. “No, I literally feel like I was reborn this year. It feels like starting over almost.”

At the outset of their career in 2018, La Rue was known for their chilled-out, bedroom-rap releases, where the then-19-year-old would effortlessly let their bars flow about everything from cheating lovers to self-criticism on songs like “Widdit” and “F–ked it Up.” But as their career progressed, so did their sound — slick rap verses gave way to groovier, dreamier bedroom-pop tracks, until eventually the singer was in their “lo-fi bedroom” funk-pop era with the 2021 EP Butter-Fly.

La Rue is proud of the music they were able to make for the first three years of their career, especially given their limited access to the necessary tools to make projects like Butter-Fly. But the singer-songwriter quickly points out that their limitations in budget meant a limitation to their sound.

“Before, I had to compromise with the kind of music that I made, and when you have to compromise, you become a ‘lo-fi bedroom’ artist because that’s all you have access to,” they say. “I felt pretty boxed into that label … though I really don’t mind, I have nothing against the genre. It just felt really limiting in that approach — I wanted things to sound bigger and more cinematic.”

So, when it came time to craft their next project, it felt fitting to strip that label away with the title. Hi-Fidelity, La Rue’s third and most ambitious EP yet, saw the young artist plugging in — La Rue credits extended time in the studio to hone a cleaner, sharper sound as the key factor in the transformed sound of their latest project. Put simply, “This was the first time I was making music that sounds like the music I want to listen to,” they say.

Part of what makes Hi-Fidelity such a fascinating listen is that much like the rest of La Rue’s discography, it refuses to be pinned to a singular genre. The star’s signature buttery rap bars remain intact, while they also employ elements of funk, disco, pop-punk and R&B all throughout the EP’s five tracks.

La Rue is unsurprised that genre-fluidity has become a defining factor in what their audience looks for from their music. “There is so much cross-pollination of streaming and finding new music online,” they explain. “Now, a song will just have an inescapable viral moment, and you have people who would not normally listen to Steve Lacy suddenly listening to Steve Lacy. Or people who wouldn’t normally listen to pop-punk or Paramore — if one of their songs pops off on TikTok, suddenly they’re listening to a drill remix of a Paramore single.”

But the fluidity is also the point for La Rue — the 23-year-old artist doesn’t want to be labeled by any particular genre, and instead aims to have people search for music that sounds like Lava La Rue. “I think there’s a playlist on Spotify called ‘Planet Rave,’ and it literally just came from PinkPanthress doing a whole jungle/drum-and-bass revival. I started seeing people making music like PinkPanthress to be on that PinkPanthress-inspired playlist,” they explain. “That is the goal; I’ve always strived to have the level of artistry where what I do is recognizable as a person. Like, it is first and foremost Lava. So no matter what genre you apply it on, you recognize the voice and you recognize what I’m trying to say.”

Achieving an artistry on that level requires new audiences — and luckily for La Rue, they got just that this autumn. Following the release of their EP in July, La Rue joined fellow U.K. indie-rock darlings Wet Leg on their European tour, opening for 8 dates in November across the EU.

With a new, fuller sound, and a big spot on a hotly-anticipated tour, La Rue says they got to learn how to perform with a full band in real time while on the road with Wet Leg. “The live performance now is full-on showmanship — we’ve got an acoustic drum kit, big guitar solos, huge bass riffs, two synthesizers, I’m playing guitar as well,” they explain. “When I first did Glastonbury, it was me and a DJ, and I was singing my cute little songs and rapping and jumping into the moshpit, just me being an MC with the track backing me up. I really had to test my musicality when I couldn’t just hide behind the track.”

But the tour also worked for La Rue in a way they didn’t anticipate — it turns out that getting to perform music you’ve been working on for captive audiences of 4,000 people every few nights is excellent market research. “I almost wasn’t going to do the Wet Leg support tour, because in that time, I was supposed to be going into making my new project,” they say. “But seeing how it feels in a room of people has been so inspiring in the creative process for me. It’s changed the levels in my performance style, even in the way I’m recording things in the vocal booth now.”

When it comes to their new project, La Rue is ready for a full-on rebirth. After completing a two-EP deal with Marathon Artists in 2022, the singer says they’ve just signed on as the newest member of the Dirty Hit roster.

“Dirty Hit made so much sense to me — they’re based in West London, they’re an indie, and they’ve got a lot of artists who I grew up listening to and am obsessed with. It all just fit,” they say, a grin crossing their face. “If you look at the artists on their roster, they all lead with so much creativity, whether it’s The 1975 or Rina Sawayama. It’s also ambitious enough to say, ‘No, let’s make this pop off, too.’ It’s nice to feel like you can be ambitious, but still have creative control.”

So, with a new record deal under their belt and a debut album in the works, what comes next for La Rue? The answer, much like their sound, contains multitudes. “I literally feel like I’m at the beginning of my journey, and my whole goal is to just make everything bigger and brighter and more cinematic,” they explain. “It’s gonna be a whole world-building experience — there’s simply so much to be done.”

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todayDecember 27, 2022

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