George Riley is embracing her “Sexy Era”. Doing away with what she terms her “Sad Gurl” phase, the London artist is moving beyond a period of introspection and embodying the uninhibited spirit of a club siren. Emerging from a toxic relationship, Riley went to work on rediscovering her sense of self – gaining a revitalised perspective on the kind of music she wanted to make. “I’m a very vibrant person, and I have a very eclectic taste in music,” she begins. “I wanted to make something like a dance tune that I could have fun with. I want to feel happy and empowered. I want to make other people feel like that as well.”
The result is a sonically shapeshifting EP that races through the club continuum. Opener ‘Lust’ is the calm before the storm where sweeping strings, twinkling piano keys and Riley’s breathy vocal invites the listener into a vivid dreamscape. We hear shimmering production on ‘Skin’ and sun-kissed, throbbing, old-school house on ‘Elixir’; just as you think you’ve got Riley pinned, she switches gears to a grittier dancehall terrain with ‘Star’ and fast-paced chiptune ‘S e x’. Binding it together is Riley’s signature vocal delivery, which coagulates the record’s fluxional body into one cohesive creation. Sexy, it most definitely is.
Now signed with renowned electronic label Ninja Tune, ‘Un/Limited Love’ is an evolution of Riley’s sound; a step up to the next level if you will. Despite her deviation from the electronic-leaning pop-R&B she previously put out, stalwart Riley fans will easily spot her signifiers, as the artist pays homage to a range of electronic genres. “It’s definitely me stepping into being a woman and stepping into this new stage of my life,” Riley explains. “A lot of this record is about falling in love again; not just falling in love with somebody else, but falling in love with myself,” she says. “I’m trying to get to a place that is a lot more self-loving, and then being open to meeting somebody else that is on that same wavelength.”
For the first time, ‘Un/Limited Love’ sees Riley work with a plethora of producers – six to be exact – as opposed to working in close tandem with just one. She’s previously linked up with the likes of Vegyn, Sampha, SBTRKT, and Anz (the latter of whom co-created her hit tune ‘You Could Be’). For this new era, however, Riley was ready to expand her horizons and experiment with a new sound. “When you work with one person, you’re much more confined to their style and world,” she says. “That can have amazing results on its own but I feel like there’s less room for me to express the wide palette of things that I’m interested in.”
This new approach saw Riley jet between London, LA and Detroit. In her hometown of London, Riley hit up her good friend Loraine James for ‘Lust’, and Actress, who provided additional production on ‘Star’. In Detroit, Riley worked with John FM. “[He] and I met in London and we just really clicked,” Riley recounts. “I’m a huge Detroit-o-phile; I love Axia, Hologram Resistance and I’m a huge Motown fan. So much insane music has come from there. It’s a musical Mecca that I wanted to cover regardless. But meeting John was kind of on a whim. We didn’t know each other well, but we just got on. I stayed with him and his girlfriend – the most loving and welcoming people – and worked on music.” The gut instinct Riley felt towards John FM paid off. During her time in Detroit, the pair formulated three of the EP’s songs: ‘Skin’, ’Satisfy You’ and ’Star’. “I really value him as a musical ear,” she adds. “It’s been nice to have a musical friendship that is not about ego and just about being friends and wanting to make something really cool.”
On the West Coast of LA, Riley spent time with Nick Sylvester, which resulted in ‘Elixir’, and Hudson Mohawke with whom she created ‘S e x’. Riley and Sylvester had quite a bit of back and forth on ‘Elixir’, a track Riley conceptualised before taking it to the Godmode co-founder for tweaking. “It’s essentially a pop song that has some dance music clothes on, which is quite interesting because there’s so many different angles and so many different ways that it could have existed,” Riley explains. “I had a bit of an identity crisis: Am I ready to make a pop song in that pop way? I’m somewhere in the middle. That’s what’s been quite cool about this project, I’ve been figuring that part out. I want to make music that resonates with a lot of people but at the same time, the music that I love and enjoy doesn’t usually sound like the pop version of that. I’m somebody that wants to make a pop song but I approach it from a left-field place. I think ‘Elixir’ is an experiment in that.”
Riley’s collaboration with idiosyncratic Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke informed her fast-paced approach to creation. “I like working with people like that because you can come out of one day in the studio and have five songs done,” she shares. “I’m ADHD, I like everything being quick and getting loads of things done.” Whilst the rest of the record is a glowing reflection of Riley’s experience in and out of love, the 8-bit ‘S e x’ tells a tale of abusive men within the music industry: those who subjugate female creatives and halt their art. Although the track isn’t in keeping with the rest of the EP from a lyrical standpoint, Riley received such a positive reaction when playing it live, she decided to put it on the record.
In November, months of hard work will spark to a crescendo of live shows with Riley supporting fellow electronic wunderkind Yaeji on her European tour. Presenting her “Sexy Era” sound in full verve, George Riley states her case as a genre-blurring maverick. It’s all up from here.
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Words: Aimee Phillips
Photography: Liv Jank
Fashion/Styling: Milena Agbaba