In Conversation with Throwing Shade: Human Rights Lawyer Turned Producer

words Linnea Enstrom, portrait Mafalda Silva

16th December 2015

“I don’t like to box myself in,” says Nabihah Iqbal a few minutes into our interview, sipping instant coffee in Dalston. This turns out to be an understatement. When the producer  - also known as Throwing Shade - released her Fate Xclusive EP earlier this year, everyone agreed that her textured and soothing digital sound defied genre conventions. But Nabihah also holds a degree in History and Ethnomusicology from SOAS, which she followed up by studying African History at Cambridge. After spending six months as a human rights lawyer in South Africa, her music career began to kick off and she decided to give it a go, putting her barrister title aside.

Apart from dropping a steady flow of EPs since - the next one due in early 2016 - Nabihah DJs, hosts her own NTS radio show and once sampled porn sounds for a piece of art that was partly censored by The Tate Collective. What does 2016 hold for Throwing Shade? The answer is unequivocally; music of all kinds and forms.

What are you working on at the moment?

Apart from the EP, I'm putting together a soundtrack for a Belgian film. It's a challenge because I have to make 45 minutes worth of music, which is a lot. But basing it on the visual stimulus allows me to be more free with the music.

Have you worked with visuals before?

The most similar thing I’ve done was when I got commissioned by The Tate Collective, which is the youth branch of Tate, to do a piece of music that reflected a Turner Price artist’s [James Richard] work. It was fun, but it actually got censored. That was the idea I was trying to approach in the first place, so it was funny that it happened.

How did it get censored?

I sampled a woman receiving oral sex. It’s very intense. Listening to the sounds over and over again made me feel mental. The track divided into three parts, like three movements, and the first bit is a bit more poetic and you can’t tell what’s going on straight away, but then it gets… clearer. That was the bit I had to take out. The Tate Collective had to take into account that they're potentially catering to an underage audience. The art that I was given was so explicit, so obviously I thought I had the same freedom with the music, but I understand where they were coming from and why I had to amend it. I still have the unamended version, though.

The whole idea behind it was that pornography is such a visual thing and it's considered to be explicit because of the visual aspect, so I thought "what if you take away the visuals and just keep the sound, is it still scandalous?"

Apparently so!

Exactly. So that was the answer to my question.

What is your song Honeytrap about?

It's about a honeytrap plan gone wrong. Someone has set up a honeytrap to seduce the other person, but in the end they fall in love and go off together. That was the premise of the song. I read a dark article about a murder in South London that happened a few years ago, which was about a honeytrap gone wrong, but in a different way. The guy got killed. This one has a happy ending.

In the video, you turn the idea of the objectified female body on its head and make it from your perspective, with undressed guys rather than girls.

Both the Honeytrap and Sweettooth videos deal with that. It's done in a tongue-in-cheek way, not too serious, but I wanted it to be a little thought provoking. Also, I just wanted a video with hot guys in it. You never see that.

Although it’s so common for women.

That's something I'm really conscious of. Women in the music industry are always photographed in a sexual way or not wearing much clothes. The idea of Beyoncé wearing jeans and a t-shirt just seems scandalous because we're so used to seeing her in a bodysuit all the time. That’s weird right? I believe that everyone should be able to dress the way they want to, but at the same time those women's choices are really determined by the structure they’re operating in. They're selling big pop hits to a mass market and sex sells and everybody knows that, but I think there are other ways to go about it. I read this article about Adele on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine and how it's a seminal cover because it's the first time they have a woman on the cover who’s not naked or portrayed in a sexually provocative way and how that's a strong message. But that's not the truth. The reason they don't portray her body is because they see her as fat. So it's not an important cover for women, not at all.

How do you pick the music for your NTS radio show?

I try to play music that haven’t been heard before and that I like and want to share. A lot of it is stuff I collected from when I was studying at SOAS. They have an amazing music archive of rare recordings that you can't get anywhere else. Sometimes I will have a themed show and base the music around that, but other times I will try to play every track from a different country and vary the selection. I also do research, so that I can speak about the songs. Some of the stuff I play is so weird that you need to contextualise it.

It must be a totally different process from doing your DJ nights?

Most of the music I play on the radio wouldn't be fit for a dance floor - unless you want to kill the party! When I DJ, I just want to put on lots of good tunes that will make people dance. I also try to mix songs together, because it makes it more memorable. Recently, I did a loop of the acapella version of Destiny's Child’s Say My Name over the beginning bit of Blue Monday by New Order and it totally worked and everyone loved it.

Throwing Shade is playing Corsica Studios in London on the 19th of December.