Artist and producer Labrinth is preparing to release his second studio album. Today he talked about some of the creative processes behind the record, in a Cannes Lions conference session hosted by Sony Music, and moderated by Jules de Chateleux of Division Paris.

Labrinth was a visual artist, more interested in painting and drawing, before he started making music professionally, having been brought up in a creative family that was also part of the Pentecostal church.

“I was pretty much the kid sitting in the congregation watching all these amazing musicians: my brother on guitar, my sister in the choir… I basically got a masterclass in how to perform, in how to express music and how to handle energy. Slowly I got caught by the bug of music!” he said, noting that his house was full of music, from hip-hop to gospel to jazz, when he was young.

“I was an observer before I was actually a creator. But once I kicked off, and my career kicked off, it happened to me because I learned how to develop my craft.”

Labrinth’s career kicked off when he realised that while British music fans got excited about new records from US hip-hop artists like Lil Wayne, it took a lot longer for excitement to build around homegrown grime artists like Wiley or Dizzee Rascal.

“When a visitor comes to my mum’s house, she always makes a better cup of tea for the visitor! And that’s how it was for American artists: they always got it better… So how could our homegrown fans be ‘we support this, and this is our music’?” he said, of his decision to blend elements of hip-hop and grime, while borrowing from drum’n’bass and jungle, when working on Tinie Tempah’s ‘Pass Out’ in 2009.

“That was the moment that things really kicked off… To me I look at it as a language. Maybe rock’n’roll will speak to you, or hip-hop will speak to you. So by using all of those, I can speak to more people,” he added.

Labrinth went on to talk about working with Sia and Diplo on their LSD collaboration, easing him in to a role as an artist, not just a producer. “I was scared of the world, scared of people for a long time, because it was too intense. But LSD was my moment: once you start enjoying what you’re in it for, you forget about the things that you’re scared of,” he said.

“If you want to fly, you know you’re how many thousands of feet from the ground, and you know you could fall and die, but the feeling of flying is incredible… the same with music. It could fail, but the experience of creating something and sharing your imagination is way more of a pro than the cons of failing… LSD was almost a celebration of my confidence growing, and my freedom growing.”

He said that Sia had shared some of these experiences of fear, but to an even greater degree. “She went to the dark side! So she was a really good support for me to get out of some of my creative blocks,” he said.

“What I’m really surprised about with Sia, when we’re talking about an age of speed and the idea of being as connected and as commercial as possible, to be able to hide your face and still have massive success… is a testament that you don’t have to go the tried and tested route… Not being scared of your USP is a big thing I had to learn. You don’t have to follow the beaten track, because of you being scared of not being successful. The more you become comfortable with what’s wrong about you, the more that’s the genius about you… Sia, you don’t see her face and she wears a wig, and that’s become her USP… it’s become her brand.”

He noted that Diplo is a prolific collaborator with musicians and brands alike. “He’s very much the mentality of speed and connectivity,” he said. “His almost DJ mentality of how much he’s gone through to get to how he is now, and how many sounds and how many genres he’s connected to. And not just genres: I mean how much he knows. He’ll know about a guy that plays Tibetan Nose Flute in the middle of a place that nobody knows, just because he’s such an aficionado of music. That’s why I learned such a lot from him.”

He came back to the idea of speed. “Speed, sometimes, can create fear. But speed can sometimes create freedom: you’re not hung up on something… Sia helped me to go ‘just move on to the next scene: this scene will become what it needs to become’. I thought that was really inspiring… Sia knows how to move fast, but she also knows how to make it special, and make it matter. And Diplo knows how to move fast with quality.”

Labrinth added that Sia will write songs for a film or for another artist, to keep herself in the market but also to buy the time to work on her craft – another aspect of her approach that has inspired him.

The conversation turned to music videos and collaboration. “You have to keep passing on your craft to someone else. In order to finish a record or in order to make something great, collaboration is pretty much the best way to go. Because I think what happens in the industry, especially when you start, you get told to basically write everything yourself,” he said.

“It makes you look more like a genius! It makes you look like you’re really the real deal. That’s what everyone gets told. Sleep when you’re dead… But that’s the stuff that kills you… Trust someone else with your idea, and that actually makes it much faster as well.”

Is the process of making music and then making videos for it fluid and organic enough, in a world where an artist might spend three years making an album, and then be given six days to shoot a music video to represent one of its tracks properly?

“With the right director and the right writer and the right artist, you could still make a video and take two years on it, and it would be the shittest video you’ve ever seen! A lot of creativity is intuition and instinct-based,” replied Labrinth.

“Whether you take time on what you’re doing or whether you need to have it in five seconds, I don’t think it will change the quality. It’s just you using your instinct while making those moves. It’s gut decision: do I need to spend a year on it, or do I need to spend a minute on it? For me, I’m definitely the first candidate. Take a fucking year, bro!”

“If you need speed based on fear, and based on ‘we need it tomorrow’ – why do we need it tomorrow? Because we’re going to lose one extra fan?” he continued. “Sometimes fear-based decisions don’t create the greatest things. Instinct is your whole team. If your whole team have a collective consciousness on what needs to happen, and the artist that’s working on the creative project doesn’t over-analyse everything they create, you can find that balance that creates speed, but also creates greatness.”

He suggested that a lot of decisions made in a creative process should be based on gut instinct, whether that means working fast or taking more time. “And also being confident enough when you have people going 100 miles an hour around you, and you have to be calm amongst the storm. Everyone wants it now based on their own fears: this guy needs to deliver to the A&R, this guy needs to walk back to his executives and say ‘this is going in the right direction’… right down to fans who go ‘we need this record now, we want to know what’s going on!’… But you have to centre yourself into your gut, and go ‘am I making the right decision?’. Even if this means failure in the eyes of the world, am I going in the direction my gut tells me?”

He also fielded a question from a young songwriter in the audience about tips for getting into the industry. “Forget everything you’ve learned! And nobody can tell you how it’s going to go… The things you’ve actually learned will show themselves anyway.”

He came back to gut. “When you follow your gut or your intuition, your intuition will know when it’s too long or when it’s too fast. For me, your intuition can tell you when ‘okay, I’ve left it too long’ or ‘it’s not right’… When you centre yourself and you find what’s missing based on your own gut decision, it will always lead you in a direction that’s right. When there’s ego or fear, that can lead you to go ‘it needs to be better than incredible!’ and it can turn into the carrot that you can never claim.”

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