She doesn’t listen to much music, doesn’t care for the record industry, and prefers her audience to sit down; a lot of her songs aren’t full-length, and her performances are carried out as a form of speech or conversation.
Born and raised in Hackney, East London, rapper and producer John Glacier rejects conventions, genre distinctions, and stagnant self-narratives; instead, she prioritizes intimacy, awareness, and channeling the voice of her inner child.
PHOTOGRAPHY: DAVIT GIORGADZE
INTERVIEW: CYRUS GOBERVILLE
CYRUS GOBERVILLELet’s talk about your practice and about music. I read in one of your interviews that you listened to a lot of music when you were young. Were you already living in London?
CGWhat sort of music were you listening to then? Reggae?
JGI was listening to a bit of hip hop, a bit of pop, a bit of everything.
CGWhen did you start making music?
JGI always used to write, but I started making music, I think, when I was twenty-one or twenty- three-years-old.
CGYou also used to write a lot of poetry, right?
CGCan you tell me about the texts you were writing before you produced your debut album SHILOH: Lost for Words (2021)?
JGThey were texts about everything, about my life, other people’s lives, animals.
CGYour album is, in a way, very intimate. It’s so sad—that loneliness in the subway kind of sad. Was your early writing already about your own feelings or, because you just mentioned plants and animals, were you also looking at your surroundings?
JGPlants and animals were intimate aspects of my life. I’d sit in a field or go somewhere, and just observe them.
CGWhat kind of animals do you like?
JGIn Jamaica there are lots of goats, and pigs. I especially like pigs because they’re like dogs.
CGHave you been to Jamaica?
JGYes, lots of times. Obviously, it’s quite different to being in London. In terms of surroundings, there’s more nature. For me, there’s definitely more to observe than there is over here.
CGComing back to music, I read somewhere that your first live appearance was freestyle to the music of Aaliyah. Were you a big fan of Aaliyah and what was your relationship to American R&B more generally?
JGI think it was just a moment.
CGDo you still listen to a lot of American R&B?
JGNot really. Not as much as I used to. Sometimes I listen to old R&B.
CGDo you dig into the past?
JGI don’t listen to a lot of music. But when I do, yes, I like to listen to old R&B music.
CGHow did the process for your debut LP begin?
JGI had planned to do a project, and then I met the British music producer and DJ, Vegyn.
CGDid you write all the lyrics by yourself? What was Vegyn’s role?
JGYes, I wrote all the lyrics and Vegyn produced a little over half of the tracks.
CGWhat kind of feelings do you have when you write?
JGI basically just write about whatever I’m feeling at the moment or sometimes about things I’ve been holding in. I literally just start writing and see where I end up, which is why a lot of the songs aren’t full-length. When I feel like I’ve finished writing, I just stop.
CGIs there a specific location where you write? In your bed? In a chair? On your iPhone?
JGNot really. I write everywhere. Sometimes I write when I’m walking home.
CGI would love to see your notes. Before working at the museum, I studied dance and the way the choreographers from the seventies in the U.S. were writing down their ideas. Now they are famous, but then they were poor and they didn’t have the money to get video material. And they were working in different ways. For example, structurally or geometrically. Some of them were working in 3D and others two-dimensionally. And obviously you miss things when you work in a two-dimensional way. But you emphasize other things. I’m totally obsessed with this area. Do you think that the way you write on your iPhone is also unstructured? I mean, since there is no chorus.
JGI’ll wait to get my flow, then try and write it down. All the words are not together. They’re on different lines. My notes are very unorganized. There’s a lot of stuff that will just get left behind.
CGDo you feel like it’s more of an introspective approach that permits you to create?
JGYeah, but that’s the only way you can get most stuff done.
CGIs there anything that becomes a necessity for your artistic practice?
JGOh, living. You have to live to write. You have to go outside and have new experiences in order to write. That’s one thing that I know for a fact that definitely does influence my writing, what’s going on in my life or my surroundings.
CGDid you use a lot of what you wrote for the album?
JGThere are lots of songs that aren’t on the album. But what’s missing is much the same as what’s on there.
CGSo basically you’re giving someone like me that you don’t know the access to something that is on your mind.
JGWell, it’s not mine anymore because I’ve made the decision to put it out there. Now it’s open, and other people can give it their own meanings.
CGI saw this YouTube video of you performing on stage. How do you imagine your live, and your performances?
JGI like to organize stuff. I like the idea of everybody being seated, eating fruit, drinking, and just chilling out. Creating an intimate environment is important to me, and everybody needs to be present and comfortable. I carry out performances as a conversation or as a speech, or as if I’m communicating directly with people. Or as if, let’s say, I’m talking to myself. But if it’s a guest set, then I just go with whatever is the mood for that day.
CGSo you like the idea of having a seated room and doing a sort of spoken-word performance?
JGYes. I know that when people go to see a performance, they expect energy and dancing. There’s not much to dance to. We’re all going to sit down, we’re all going to listen. But I feel like if it was more upbeat, then it would be different.
CGAre you considering doing some upbeat work, or do you like this form of intimacy that is so genuine?
JGThe next work is more upbeat. But it’d be nice with just seats everywhere and a nice little pit for people who want to stand. Because I genuinely like sitting down. I feel like when sitting, you’re more grounded and you’re more aware of what’s around you. I feel like when you stand, there’s a lot more going on.
CGDo you think being seated, and perhaps able to fully concentrate, helps your audience capture the lyrics better?
JGDefinitely. Because nothing unexpected is going to happen either. Nobody’s going to do anything too crazy whilst they’re sitting down.
CGDo you already know what the main topics of your next album will be? Is your writing changing at all? Am I correct in assuming you’ll have one or two tracks that are maybe a bit more formal, but the rest will still be quintessentially John Glacier—no beginning, no end?
JGYeah, I like it like that. It’s more fun.
CGDo you dig into experimental club music now that you’re in-between worlds, and in-between different styles? Do you go to electronic music parties, or do you also feel related to the electronic music scene?
JGNo, not really. I’ve got nothing against electron- ic music. If I was invited to an electronic party, let’s say, next week, I’d go. I like all types of music, but I don’t actually like to sit down and listen to it.
CGWhat kind of music do you listen to? I don’t want to talk about influences, but just music that you like.
JGStrangely enough, I don’t listen to much music. Sometimes I go through phases where I don’t listen to music at all. I don’t really know what kind of music I like listening to, but I can tell you that the next thing that I’m going to listen to is the Pusha T album.
CGSo you don’t listen to music and you don’t produce music that is made for the music industry, which is a way of doing it, right?
JGWe’ll see how far that gets me, but yeah.
CGAnd how did you end up playing at the Serpentine? What is your connection with the contemporary art world?
JGThe Serpentine contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in performing there in the Serpentine Pavilion for Park Nights 2021. I said yes, and then they said I could curate the space as well, which I found really interesting. Generally, I like to map things out. Even how I dress. For example, my dress for the performance at the Serpentine Pavilion was made by designer Zoe Arquette. I was also very specific about the lighting, and when they said I could curate the space, I immediately thought, “Okay, this is amazing. I’m going to curate the fruit selection.” Basically, I curated everything.
CGWere people sitting and eating?
CGOh, that’s cool. And do you have any other relation to contemporary art?
JGNot really. Although, I am intrigued by it. I like art. Sometimes I go to galleries or random exhibitions. I like to observe and take in different environments.
CGLet’s talk about fashion. I saw on your Instagram and in interviews that there is a lot of styling. Is it something that is important to you? You were talking about taking over the fruit selection, is the clothing important too?
JGYeah. That’s very important to me. Even if I have a stylist, I want to pick out what I’m wearing. I’m very particular when it comes to clothes, and obviously I’m also quite small. So there are a lot of clothes that wouldn’t be flattering on me that may be flattering on other people. So there may be certain looks that people might try to pull for me, but I know it’s not going to work.
CGSo there is a whole aesthetic process that informs your work as well?
JGI feel like you can express yourself in fashion. And let’s say at one point I may be into wearing suits, and a stylist may say, “Oh, she likes wearing suits.”
It’s like, “No, that was yesterday. Yesterday I liked suits. Today I like wearing dresses.” To me it’s all about how I want to express myself, which is always changing. Narratives change. Nothing is ever stagnant.
CGThat definitely makes sense. If you had to do something new, a new performance, what would it look like and how would it be related to the live? How would you imagine it?
JGRight now, I'm not 100% sure, but I like the idea of an elevated platform. Not necessarily a traditional stage, but some sort of platform. Perhaps it would be circular. That’s so random, I know. I feel like if I’m performing, I like what I’m wearing to be a part of the performance too. Instead of props, it’d be what I’m wearing, and how my hair is done, as a part of the performance. But to me, that is part of the performance as well, the styling.
CGSo this confirms the idea of your own self as part of a geometrical experience... of a setting experience. So maybe you’ll do it and I’ll see it live. Maybe not. Maybe it will be something else.
JGExactly. Maybe not right now. I have extremely high standards, so I have to be in a very good position to do what I want to do.
CGI was also wondering if there is a place in London you go and that inspires you?
JGThe canals. Now people have discovered them, but before I used to like going to the canals because most of London was above ground. And when you’re by a canal it’s somehow more isolated.
CGDo you like being in places where you can concentrate and walk alone?
JGYeah, I like being alone.
CGSo when you see people, it’s done. You don’t go there anymore.
JGI used to love the canals, and then too many people started going to them. But fields are also nice. There are loads of different types of flowers and plants growing.
CGWhy are you interested in flowers?
JGThey’re just peaceful, grounding.
CGAnd you also grew up in London, right?
JGYeah, I grew up in Hackney, East London. There’s a lot going on there already. So that might be why I like going to isolated places, because where I live is very busy.
CGThere’s this sentence I found on your Instagram that I really like and want to discuss with you. You say, “I’m too much of a big child to perform in fun spaces.”
JGYeah, it was about a cool exhibition I was once invited to perform in. Basically they had bubbles falling from the sky, but when you touched them, they turned into vapor. And I was trying to do my piece, but I couldn’t stay focused. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is so fun.”
CGDo you think that you are still a big child in some way? That there is something child-like about this process of writing, of being alone in the street, and doing your thing?
JGI think so. I feel like the way that society forms adults, or what we know as adults, comes down to conforming, and that’s all it is. And I feel like deep down, everybody’s still the same way they were when they were as kids.
With Jamaican origins, John Glacier is a rapper and producer based in East London.
Cyrus Goberville is a French curator, editor and head of cultural programs at the Bourse de Commerce—Pinault collection, Paris.