When I first met Katy B she was dead tired, her miniature frame marsupially sunk into a large hoodie in the basement of the Red Bull Music Academy. It was February 2010, I had no idea who she was – but she struck me firstly with her jaded level-headedness, in the face of a bunch of Flying Lotus-jocking teenage pupils, and secondly, the direct consequence of this, for being strangely hot, in her unconfectioned, make-up-free way. This style has endured; she still looks very JD Sports in her music vids, and when we speak it is clear that the hype has not spoilt her.
While Katy B’s moment of glory came with the ‘Katy On A Mission’ track, which charted at number five, she actually began the crossover game in 2008 with her underground hit, ‘Tell Me’, with DJ NG. UK Funky is one of the genres Katy feels the most, having grown through her teens with a huge love for R&B and an obsession with groups like Destiny’s Child and the neo soul bracket.
Then pop dubstep blew up. Magnetic Man took on Katy as their singer, spawning a legion of fans – and detractors: “People saying dubstep’s lost its credibility with Magnetic Man? I don’t understand what they’re talking about. I wasn’t singing pop music before that – I’ve done drum and bass, I’ve done grime!”
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Commercial or not, Katy’s output is distributed by Columbia Records, which Magnetic Man are on too. Her flagship ‘Katy On A Mission’ features her trademark ravey coos, faintly reminiscent of the 2001ish trend for summery vocal drum and bass – Shy FX and DJ Marky, hold your hands up.
Ms. Dynamite features on a newer song ‘Lights On’. “I loved working with Ms. Dynamite. It was a humbling experience. It was before ‘Katy On A Mission’ took off. She came into the studio and didn’t know who I was. [Producer DJ] Zinc said, ‘Do you want to jump on this track?’ and she just did it. I was honoured; I like the way she keeps it underground.”
Ms. Dynamite is a good role model for Katy – if she can keep it credible, keep the A&R vultures at bay, she could avoid turning into another Estelle. And she’s grounded enough (“Listen, we’re not saving anyone’s lives here,” she says) and good enough to make that happen.
Words by Miguel Cullen
Photo by Ray Burmiston
Where: Nunhead, London
What: The Shirley Bassey of surly bass
Unique fact: Katy used to play the French horn.
Get 3 songs: ‘Tell Me’ (DJ NG), ‘Lights On’ (feat. Ms. Dynamite), ‘Katy On A Mission’