Music has sustained itself as a means to blur boundaries, an artistic entanglement between the worlds of fantasy and reality. It’s an overlapping relationship that Manchester-based artist Iceboy Violet is focussed on, one of the most exciting, instinctive forces to rise from the city’s underground.
Making their debut with 2018’s ‘MOOK’, the rapper, producer and performer has connected the dots between rap, noise and the grit of a more experimental production. Releasing music via tight-knit label Fixed Abode (Rainy Miller, Space Afrika and Blackhaine), they join a wave of artists who are reclaiming their local, creative identity, shrugging off the dominating pull of the capital.
With each release, the artist crafts a new experience, fine-tuning a balance between intimate listening experiences and club adjacency. At the centre-piece of Iceboy Violet’s creative outpour is vulnerability, a key focus point on their latest, self-produced project, ‘Not A Dream But a Controlled Explosion’. Across eight tracks, the artist weaves between distortion, trap-tinged basslines and tense atmospherics – an ambitious moment that propels Iceboy Violet one step further.
Growing increasingly bold and daring, CLASH sat down with Iceboy Violet to unpack the new record, offering a window into their journey thus far.
Firstly, where does the stage name ‘Iceboy Violet’ come from?
So I decided that I wanted to start this new project which was more vocal-led and I was thinking about names. Nothing was really sticking but then I really got into this Japanese brand called Balmung. I really liked their stuff but I was very broke, just out of uni and not very confident so I created this character around the clothes. Iceboy Violet was a conceptual character, someone who lived in this snowy, post apocalyptic cityscape. Originally it was supposed to be a little bit distant from me but I found that I really struggled to write things from another perspective, especially things that were semi fictitious. I found it so much easier to write autobiographical stuff, so it outgrew its use as a character and became me, or I became Iceboy Violet, whichever way round. And now I own a couple of Balmung pieces.
Can you pin down the first time that you felt like you truly connected with a piece of music or a specific artist?
Music made me feel a lot less alone. I think being slightly older, being a teenager, and listening to atmosphere, Brother Ali and Rhymesayers, that type of stuff, being like wow, this is really angsty. Hip-hop raised me in a way because I didn’t have a lot of older role models around, my aunties took really good care of me but then hip-hop showed me and gave examples of how I should be as a person in society. I just felt like those people saw me in a way, and I could see myself in the music.
What made you first start experimenting with the arts, was there a particular influence or moment that triggered your first steps into music?
I was just a teenager, I was really sad and really bored and I was like, I want to go to sleep at night feeling like I’ve done something valuable with my day. I tried a lot of different stuff, but the thing that really excited me was rapping.
If I could sing, and I wasn’t just a bit awkward, I’d be a pop star because I love the fantasy of it, how it can make life seem just a bit more magical.
In the more niche ends of music, we can forget how good it feels to be in a very large group of people, all there for the same thing. I think a lot of musicians are not that big into sports, and in sport that’s a really big feeling, you’re part of something bigger than yourself. Those feelings are really important.
Considering how London-centred the music industry has become across the years, what has it been like carving your own path, up in Manchester?
I think London is harsh, Manchester allowed me a space to grow. There weren’t just like 600 other rappers, all competing for the same lineup spots. I really got an opportunity to play a lot, to practise and to really get better at what I did. I really love Manchester, I love how easy it is for me to feel happy for the people around me who are doing well, because it doesn’t feel like a crabs in a bucket thing. Every bit of attention that one of us gets is a win for all of us.
Do you feel like your creative approach has shifted across the years and if so, in what way?
Production wise, I think it has been very consistent. With lyrics, I feel like I tend to research a bit more these days. I have a loose body horror concept that I want to explore so I’m watching loads of Cronenberg films hoping that something comes out of that.
I spend a lot more time writing, I spend a lot more time writing stuff that I know is bad, just to get it out of me and get to the good stuff quicker.
How did the project title ‘Not A Dream, But A Controlled Explosion’ come about?
This never happens to me, I’m not regularly dreaming lyrics and titles, but I bolted awake with a phrase – ‘not a dream, but a controlled explosion’ in my head. I wrote it down, I went back to sleep and I woke up and I was like, okay, that works.
What themes are you trying to unpack on the record?
The basic concept of the project is an exploration of fantasy, desire and the role that they play in the modern world. There’s a tendency to disregard desire, fantasy as well, as fake, or inauthentic feelings. I wanted to explore and push back on that idea because when I was quite young I had this feeling that, generally speaking, and this has been confirmed to me over the years, the things that I truly wanted and wished for have genuinely come true.
I think that’s also true on a political, or a larger level. Narrative and fantasy are so important to the way that we work and the way that we perceive the truth, fantasy and the truth aren’t necessarily opposite concepts. It ties into themes of social media, being a person on the internet, love and relationships and how you view the person that you’re with, how you view yourself, sex, kink, being queer, being an artist and how desire and fantasy play into that.
The project has a heavy, industrial feel to it – equally club adjacent yet intimate at points. What makes you want to blur the boundaries between the two within your music?
Club music has a certain kind of external exteriority to it, and my lyrics have quite a strong interiority to them. I guess the ultimate effect is that I want the catharsis of club music, but with a more specific emotional perspective, I guess. It’s largely a personal aesthetic thing, but through that I want people to be able to come to the shows and move their bodies, react to it with this kind of exteriority but also sit with it, grow with it and have it work on that interior level as well.
Visually, your aesthetic incorporates softer, more delicate textures like white lace and ribbons which creates an interesting contrast against your music. Is this a deliberate creative choice, or simply a coincidence?
I think it’s just things that I’m interested in. I really like hard music that has a softness to it, and soft music that has a hardness to it. I’m not particularly interested in looking scary, I grew up in very white areas of England where just my presence was enough to scare people. I enjoy playing with femininity and softness, it’s all in service of a vulnerability.
Performance plays an important role in your artistry. How does an Iceboy Violet performance come together?
Unless it’s a special performance and there’s something that’s technically different about it, I don’t often practise. It’s very raw, it’s very unpractised, it’s very reactive to the crowd. It’s about being present and being vulnerable.
I’ve vaguely modelled it on evangelical sermons. So there’s music, and then there’s bits in between where I can explain things to the crowd, make jokes, I’ll talk – I guess like a normal set but that stage work is really expanded into its own performance, it’s very directly part of the experience. It can be confrontational, it can be really lovely. I run into people, falling over people as much as I’ve started group hugs. It’s all quite physical.
To someone who is new to Mutualism, how would you describe the collective?
For the most part, we’re just a group of friends who’ve been doing this for a long time together. We put club nights on, and then we release experimental electronic music records. I feel like we fill a niche, we try to put on stuff that no one else would put on. We’ve got HMXGOD in September, the FDM pioneer which I’m really excited about. ‘Mutualism’ started off as a reason for me to not go to uni and then became an incredible musical education.
Where do the next steps lie? How do you plan on celebrating the release of ‘Not A Dream But A Controlled Explosion’?
This is gonna sound so fucking cheesy mate, but realistically I’m just working on the next thing. Who knows, who cares, I’m just really excited about moving on, and making better stuff. I’m really excited to go and play it, go and tour it and push my live set. I don’t feel like I could rest on my laurels for too long.
‘Not A Dream But A Controlled Explosion’ is out now.
Words: Ana Lamond
Photography: Callan Dooley