My First Feature for The FADER

So I was lucky enough to do my first feature for The FADER this week, where I spoke to esteemed photographer Ewen Spencer to talk about his coverage of the emerging European ballroom scene. Was a pleasure learning about it, and I hope you enjoy!

Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New Photos

Ewen Spencer’s new zine shows how vogue is thriving in Estonia, Sweden, and Germany.

Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: A member of the House of Mugler, one of ballroom’s highly esteemed and decorated houses, reacts to a performance at a ball.   Ewen Spencer

Ballroom culture has vogued its way into Europe in recent years with ferocity. Originating among the black and Latinx LGBTQ communities of Harlem in the 1960s, vogueing has since found its way into the mainstream thanks to Madonna‘s hit “Vogue,” Rihanna‘s stage choreography, and FKA twigs‘s long association with the scene. In 1991, the documentary Paris Is Burning arguably did more than any other film or artist to propel the ballroom scene into the public imagination. But there’s no way to experience vogueing quite like an IRL ball: structured like competitions, balls are where houses go head-to-head in judged contests, incorporating musical theater and fashion showdowns for extra drama. Today, balls are springing up in cities like Tallinn and St. Petersburg, giving new life to the culture in a whole new continent.

British photographer Ewen Spencer, whose work has explored U.K. subcultures like garage and grime, visited his first ball in Rotterdam in 2014. In a phone conversation in May, he remembers it as “refreshing,” explaining: “No one was off their face, the hedonism was more in the energy and performance. That’s their form of escapism, and that was the hook for me.” As he gained an up-close and personal insight to multiple balls, Spencer was introduced to a world of mutual passion and togetherness not unlike the underground music scenes he’s covered in the past. “It’s creativity in the rave,” Spencer says. “That moment of self-expression, escapism, love, sex, power that showcases the passion of life. And sweat, lots of sweat.”

Balls are liberating expressions of self for dancers and audiences across the continent. “These are people who are taking advantage of the ability to move throughout Europe, mix, and celebrate,” Spencer says. “If you’re interested and you’ve got the nous, the passion, then you can get involved quite quickly. You can watch a video on YouTube for half an hour and then book a flight and cheap hotel and start making an outfit.”

In his new photo zine Come, Bring, Punish, Spencer documents a subculture that is “always diversifying, and changing, and becoming something bigger, and more widespread.” See some of the photos exclusively below.


Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: A member of the House of Ninja celebrates by banging on the catwalk after a dancer performed a particularly intense move. Spencer stood on the catwalk to take this photo. The spectator on the left is wearing a House of Ninja shirt.   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosBerlin, Germany: A ballroom reveller performs a death drop after a contest. Spencer describes their performance as “very elegant.”   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: A member of the House of Mugler on the catwalk, a very intimate setting with touching distance between dancers and the audience.   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosTallinn, Estonia: At a Disney-themed ball, a participant dressed as Snow White death drops on the catwalk.   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: A mother with her 10-year-old daughter, who both traveled from Bulgaria so the girl could compete. She danced New Way on the catwalk and, in Spencer’s words, “she knew her stuff.”   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosBerlin, Germany: One audience member reacts to two groups having a synchronized dance-off with each other.   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosStockholm, Sweden: Russian dancers at a Marie Antoinette and Louis VIV-themed ball. Spencer describes the Russian performers as “very competitive, strong and athletic. They turn up to win.”   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: On the left wearing denim shorts is Kendall Mugler, a well known Parisian dancer who Spencer describes a “ball of energy.” A poster of this photo comes with Come, Bring, Punish.   Ewen Spencer


So I’ve been interning at The FADER for a couple of weeks now, and can honestly say I wasn’t expecting to have done so much so far. Got to thank Owen Myers, Aimee Cliff and David Renshaw for the guidance each and every time.

My page is looking litty! Check it out here. There is still loads to come, too.

My First Piece For The FADER

So, I started interning at The FADER this week and, to my surprise, I was asked to write something immediately. So, here it is (also, a big shout out to Aimee Cliff for this one):

You Need To Cop The Latest Issue Of This Soccer Zine Made By And For Women

SEASON’s summer issue include sticker sheets and interviews with soccer moms.

You Need To Cop The Latest Issue Of This Soccer Zine Made By And For Women

Shedding light on the lives of women soccer fans and players, London-based publication SEASON has garnered a cult following in a short time. The fashion-led zine was devised by Central Saint Martins graduate Felicia Pennant, and born out of frustration that women’s perspectives were not being represented in the traditional soccer landscape. “In terms of the culture, there isn’t much that focuses on female fans,” Pennant told The FADER back in November. “When you see a beer advert it’s usually men sitting around [watching soccer]! It’s either sexist, or it ignores women completely.”

SEASON’s third issue, for summer 2017, was released on April 22. It chronicles soccer fandom among women with a range of illustrations of sticker sets, tattoos, and nail art. The issue is themed around “Love,” and explores how fans’ love of soccer relates to other parts of their identity, examining homophobia, self-love, and style. There’s also interviews with model and DJ Bip Ling, and WAH Nails founder Sharmadean Reid.

Order a copy on SEASON’s website here.

What Childish Gambino’s Glo-Up Means to Other Black Nerds

As featured in Noisey

Childish Gambino has come a long way. The man born Donald Glover has gone from nerdy outsider in the rap game to a Golden Globe winner, as the world has opened up to his talents. Not all of us could pull off the transition from largely derided rapper to master of funk (as confirmed with new album Awaken, My Love!), via an absurdist humour TV show – one of 2016’s best. But he was making a more personal impact on his fans years before.

Rewind, for a moment, to 2011. I was a 19-year-old kid on the brink of adulthood, not entirely comfortable in my own skin, when my interest in Glover sparked. Listening to rap and attending an all-boys school in South East London dominated by my hyper-masculine black peers pulled me in one direction, before I was turned the other way when I moved to a predominantly white sixth-form college. There, checked shirts, skinny jeans and crop tops were the norm. I contorted myself to fit into each social environment, attempting to turn my blackness up in school for the acceptance of the majority, while toning it down to prevent intimidating my white counterparts in sixth-form. Earl Sweatshirt summed it up best on 2013’s “Chum“, as being “too black for the white kids and too white for the blacks”.

But 2011 was also the year when Glover released his debut, Camp. Listening to it, his vocals spoke to a similar sense of social anguish. He’d also grown up in a world where he was picked apart for being a little… different. He didn’t fit the traditional young black male stereotype cemented in decades of American pop culture, instead rhyming and singing with a cadence that may not have been considered “manly”. He made references to cult TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Firefly and experimented with EDM. Glover himself was aware of his position, saying in a 2011 interview that “for a long time music was black or white, but now there’s people like Tyler, the Creator making a huge impact. Like me, he’s a middle-class black kid that dressed like a member of Good Charlotte and got called a faggot. I got jumped once simply for having a skateboard.”

Not everyone loved the album. You may remember Camp picking up a 1.6 rating in Pitchfork, in what still feels like a mind-boggling review that accused Glover of using “heavy topics like race, masculinity, relationships, street cred, and ‘real hip-hop’ as props to construct a false outsider persona”. But they weren’t hearing the same story I had. Glover’s weirdness was often read as weakness or an inability to articulate a coherent message, and a major indie publication refuting his multifaceted persona felt like a rejection of being black and weird.

He paid it no mind, though, regrouping for 2013’s Because the Internet – a beautiful, strange and cinematic album that showed where things had changed. Glover sounded emboldened, but his anguish bellowed too. He was an awkward soul, flitting from one identity to another both in life and on record, because it was obvious he was in pain. Similarly, as is the case with so many other kids who grow up with interests that fall outside people’s assumptions, I continued to try and maintain a balance between “too black” and “not black enough”.

Talking to Noisey in 2013, Glover sounded at his darkest: “I tried to kill myself. I was really fucked up… I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t living up to my standard, I was living up to other people’s standards, and I just said ‘I don’t see the point’.” People have always attached themselves to music’s misfits in the past, clinging onto their idiosyncrasies for comfort. You only need to look at how fans mourned David Bowie and Prince last year; how they idolised and repackaged the punk aesthetic of The Sex Pistols, The Slits and The Ramones; how they still flock to see Madonna, Springsteen and Iggy Pop, to understand that we gravitate towards people who turn our assumptions on their heads. The “tortured artist” has become cliche because, somewhere at some point, it was rooted in reality. Artists battling inner conflict drew people in.

Addressing his issues only made Glover stronger, and his music became a backdrop onto which he could project the chaos in his head. You can hear it in full, wailing flow on “II. Earth: The Oldest Computer (the Last Night)” and buzzing on “II. Zealots of Stockholm [Free Information]”, both off Because the Internet. It felt like an epiphany for me, where I realised that being unlike what people think you should isn’t a bad thing. Critics took note too, commending Glover’s dedication to the album’s cause, while still accusing him of trying too hard to stand out. This wasn’t him trying – his natural tendency to be different stemmed from the fact that he was different.

Glover laid low for the next few years, carefully crafting what would become FX TV series Atlanta. The show reimagines the boundaries for black American TV – in good company, with the likes of Insecure and Black-ish – and lays out the stereotypes Glover has had to fight while projecting an alternative reality. As a general plot summary, Glover’s character Earn Marks stands on the fringes of success and hip-hop society before becoming the manager of his rapper cousin Paper Boi – and that doesn’t even begin to touch on the comedic devices, bizarre twists and underlying surreality the show develops.

Then we come to the present day and Glover’s December 2016, rap-free album, Awaken, My Love!. Writing for Noisey, Israel Daramola deemed it an album that “feels more like, well, an awakening. Its heavy use of Funkadelic and Sly Stone instrumentation, Bootsy’s wobbly singing style, and high-pitched Prince wails are in service to the love, hopefulness, and, of course, fears about bringing a new life into the world” – alluding to Glover’s recent new role as a dad. The alienated kid from Camp has grown to subvert the various definitions of blackness through his music, slipping from the firm grip of his critics again. He’s shapeshifted once more.

So here I am, aged 25 now, and able to say that Glover empowered me to just be me. Unapologetically. As with all identities our cultures create, there are levels to being black. And, whether you subscribe to the hyper-masculine image of black people that rap overwhelmingly projects, or an alternative kid that isn’t really that, Glover’s evolution has given a voice to those black freaks and geeks who’ve felt they had to compromise who they were for acceptance. But when you learn to throw those assumptions aside, you really kickstart the sort of journey Glover has made. You quiet the voices urging you to be this way or that. You learn to just do you.

My year in articles

Not to sound corny or anything, but 2016 has been a year of progression for me, both personally and professionally, and I branched out to write for some big publications, and got my own radio show.

So, being the end of the year and all, I’ve rounded up a few of my favourite pieces that I wrote, which I have listed below.


When Skepta Wins, The Whole Grime Scene Wins

As featured in Complex UK

Thursday 15th September 2016 was something special. At a star studded Mercury Music Awards ceremony, against the likes of Laura Mvula, David Bowie and Radiohead, Skepta, a grime MC from north London, took home the prestigious award of Best Album for Konnichiwa.

For the first time since Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner 13 years before, grime had won big on one of the UK’s famed award nights. It was a moment that meant so much; firstly for Skepta himself, with the award being the culmination of a charted journey to greatness, and for the grime scene in general (Kano was also nominated for Made In The Manor), receiving major recognition at the apex of its so-called resurgence.

Joseph Junior Adenuga now joins an elite group, one that has only one other artist (Dizzee) in it, and his legacy is now cemented. This accolade is the ultimate acknowledgment of his artistry and fierce independence that has brought him to this point; it was already clear that he’s given so much to grime—from his mid-2000s rise to the present day—but this new win arrives at an important time for the scene more generally. It’s another sign to show that, after all these years, the genre is now being taken seriously as style of British music that can stand up tall next to the best of them.

After the controversy behind the #BritsSoWhite campaign, there was a collective feeling across the scene that grime would not get its moment in the sun, and that award shows would never fully acknowledge its impact not just on British music, but also the culture.

The noise was deafening, but artists like Skepta paid it no mind, continuing as he meant to go on, shutting down shows and providing a soundtrack to life on the ends—a message that has propelled him to worldwide stardom.

Not one grime artist has been in the same position as Adenuga is in right now, but it’s the pure organic and authentic nature of his journey that resonates the most. Getting to the stage of winning one of the country’s most prestigious awards on his own terms, with his Boy Better Know family and no record label, confirms every meticulous move made in his recent career—from single to single and later Konnichiwa—has led to this moment.

There is now no doubt that Skepta stands as one of the greatest MCs the country has ever produced but, speaking after his historic win, he hasn’t lost sight of his aims in the longer run: “I want to inspire people who make all kinds of music, people who are with record labels who tell them what to do. I want people to get out of these deals because of Skepta. I want to get into people’s heads but I’m not signed—I’m still independent.”

It is this kind of motivation which has influenced the Meridian don to team up with Levi’s on a new community project. Aimed at fostering the next generation of musical talent, the project will develop a community workshop space in his hometown of Tottenham, and aims to give up-and-coming artists vital tools in recording, production, and social media.

The campaign is further proof that Skepta is a man of the people and has always wanted to uplift the people of his area through music—a process that has brought him to the level he is currently at. He doesn’t do this for himself. He does it for those who, like him, want to use music as a means of expression, change and togetherness. Skeppy wants to use his newfound platform for the advancement of his community and the scene that gave him a chance in life, demonstrating his undying loyalty to his north London roots.

Looking back on his career from the early days of “D.T.I.” and “Private Caller” to monster singles “That’s Not Me” and “Shutdown”, Skepta’s journey has seen its ups and downs but he has never changed what he holds dear, instead using it to break down the barriers that grime has been fighting since its inception and, essentially, forcing people to gravitate towards him; a long-term strategy that has finally began to reap rewards. This growth has made him such an endearing figure in the scene and, with such a huge reach that has now permeated the pop culture realm, his influence in fostering such attention to grime has eclipsed that of any other artist.

Shunning the temptations of traditional crossover mainstream success and sticking to grime’s principles while shunning the norm, which can be a scary path for any artist, Skepta has kicked the door wide open for the whole world to accept grime as the new musical tour de force, and the purely natural way this has been achieved.

He has stuck to his philosophy, and his alone, meaning that the Mercury Prize win is all the more of a great moment. Skeppy’s win is one for him, his team, and the grime scene, and one which has immortalised him as one of this country’s greatest to ever pick up a microphone.