When Scots-Chinese electronica artist Lvra was invited to the Scottish Album of the Year Awards last October, she hadn’t reckoned on going home with her own prize tucked under her arm. Waiting in the wings to perform, the 22-year-old was announced as the winner of the inaugural Sound of Young Scotland Award, a new honour conceived to fund an upcoming artist’s debut album, chosen from a shortlist by a panel of previous SAY Award nominees.
“Making all this music in isolation, you never quite know if it’s going to translate,” she says, via Zoom from her London home. “Knowing that mainstream tastemakers can listen to my music and not see it as too weird, it’s a massive boost of confidence after a long year and a bumpy ride.”
Lvra (pronounced Loo-rah) has spent much of the last year in the room from where she is talking, dividing her time between working a City job and decompressing by working on her own music. “I’m not saying I don’t love working with other artists,” she says, “but there’s something very calming about working on something yourself and it’s within your control to complete it and it’s 100 percent you in a 20-minute snapshot.”
Lvra – a switcheroo of her birth name Rachel Lu – embraced self-sufficiency from an early age. Growing up in the Edinburgh suburbs, she was encouraged by her Chinese parents to take up piano. Rather than practise the standard learner’s repertoire, she chose to make up her own melodies over random chords and was eventually spurred on to flesh out these sonic sketches when she won a John Byrne Award in her mid-teens. By the time she left school, she was straining for new horizons.
“Instagram is the devil in so many ways,” she says, “but as a teenager it was the only exposure I had to girls who looked liked me who were doing art, who were pushing the idea of what it is to be a good Chinese woman. Now there’s a lot more representation from East Asian artists like Rina Sawayama and Peggy Gou. Those people were my inspiration and they were living in the US, in Europe, they were scattered around everywhere. I always felt like there is so much out there in the world that I couldn’t stay in one place.”
Lu left home, first to study politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University, where she experienced her first love and first break-up, then to travel round China on her own, connecting with her Chinese roots. Both odysseys inspired her debut EP, released during her final exams as the first Covid lockdown hit.
“I spent so much time in my final year of uni thinking what on earth am I going to do? Am I going to just go for it musically or am I going to get a job or try and do both? I wasn’t just deciding what I wanted to do – I thought I was deciding who I was as a person,” she says. “Then corona hit and the decision made itself. I realised there was no way I could do music full-time right now. It made me feel comforted that I don’t have to think that far ahead and that one decision that you make in your life is never what defines you.”
Lu expanded on that theme on her 2021 EP, Two. “Am I choosing between one version of myself or another – the two heads of Rachel and which one is she pulling towards? I realised that actually I’m going to have to be both. I can’t choose between the two because neither of them would feel like me.”
Musically, Lu has developed across her two EPs from confessional singer/songwriter to one-woman electronica band, with recent single In Your Blood taking her further into the pulsing territory she inhabits in her live show.
“Going to a club is an incredibly meditative experience for me,” she says. “You just focus on the music and you don’t have to think about anything else and that’s the zone that I get into when I go onstage. I can’t emphasize how much playing live again in the last six months has changed it for me. Music has really helped me to find my community. Maybe that’s what I needed at uni because I had no sense of what I was working towards but now I know performing is such an incredibly rewarding experience – it’s half the job, right?”
Lu is already excited about appearing on the same bill as her idol Sawayama at Colourboxx, Glasgow’s new summer music festival of inclusivity. “I’ve never seen a festival that feels more like me,” she says. “It feels awesome that you can make an entire festival out of people I can relate to.”
Before then, the ever-industrious Lu will be seeking collaborators to work on her debut album, as mandated by her Sound of Young Scotland Award fund.
“Moving out of Scotland has made me even more connected to Scotland in many ways,” says Lu, “so it’s great that this £5,000 is going to be spent in Scotland with Scottish creatives. I needed something like this to be able to reach out to other artists. I’m engrossed in the sci-fi, the futuristic, where is the world going to go. If you are a Scottish artist out there and you do digital art or sculpting or anything, Instagram me please!”
Lvra plays Colourboxx, Glasgow on 25 June, https://www.facebook.com/lvraofficial
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