“I am the queen of self-doubt!” British electronic musician and producer Szou confesses over Zoom. It’s a feeling that many in music battle with, though it might seem contradictory to choose a career that requires this level of vulnerability on the face of it. But Szou takes it in stride, knowing that music is her calling.
Her conviction comes from remembering the feeling of going to her very first gig. At 12, her parents took her to family-friendly festival Camp Bestival in the UK. “On Sunday night, Friendly Fires were headlining and I had no idea who they were,” Szou tells Audiofemme. “At the time I remember feeling some kind of transcendent experience – something lifted me up, it was so euphoric… it was that first moment where I was like, I want to do that, I want to make music like that.”
Growing up in West Sussex, Szou went on to study at university in Manchester. Heavily influenced by the northern city’s vibrant electronic and dance music scene, her genre of choice is electro-pop and she cites Christine And The Queens as major influences.
“When I was in my teens I borrowed my mom’s laptop cause it had Garageband on it, so I started playing around with that and just wrote loads of songs about love that I’d never experienced. We all thought we were Adele at one point,” she jokes.
Though launching her career mere moments before the UK’s first lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic created its own set of unique obstacles, Szou has successfully weathered the storm, releasing two singles in 2020 and has since been championed by BBC Music’s Introducing in Manchester, the holy grail for many aspiring musicians.
With her latest release “Rose-Tinted,” premiering today via Audiofemme, Szou combines high-energy electronic beats with melancholic lyrics and rich vocals to create a wistful track high on the nostalgia of the freedom of choice before lockdown.
“Rose-Tinted” begins with a short intro and an off-beat melody. As the tempo picks up, Szou’s soft vocals materialise against delicate guitar. The energy of the track expresses themes of change, loss and nostalgia as she processes her yearning – not only for the good times, but also to the bad, and the general sense of how carefree life was before the pandemic.
“In June we were doing the whole Zoom thing and the quizzes and all of that and I was just really missing my friends and really missing the past life we all had,” Szou says. “I was feeling this really strong sense of nostalgia in a really unique way – when could we ever say, I’m nostalgic for the good, the bad and the ugly?”
This sentiment is evident in the lyrics. The line “I should be present but I get so swept up in it/The good and the bad/It’s all rose-tinted” conveys both the freedom to make mistakes that Szou misses and the inevitable nostalgia these memories have been painted with, juxtaposed with the “one big summer haze” that characterized her existence at the time of the song’s writing.
Not only did the pandemic restrict our physical movement but also created a pressure to make the limited interactions we enjoy with friends and family members positive and hopeful. “The small moments that maybe weren’t that good or enjoyable at the time – maybe they were even bad – but at least we were free, it’s a freedom that we don’t have during the pandemic. So it was this weird sadness, but I am also grateful that I have the friends I have so I could write about the good times,” Szou says.
“Rose-Tinted” follows Szou’s previously-released singles: her first release “Dystopia” is slowed by a heavy, rhythmic drum beat, while the lyrics and atmospheric flourishes draw from classic sci-fi; “Utopia” picks up the pace a little whilst keeping true to Szou’s signature style as her soft vocals convey an optimism for the future. But all three tracks tackle existential themes and have a the same sense of yearning; because they’ve coincided with a global pandemic, her work thus far serves as a sonic time capsule. “When this is over there’ll be one big party,” she promises on “Utopia,” and we can’t help but agree.
For Szou, “Rose-Tinted” also marks a solid step forward in her career. Recently signing to No Such Thing Records has given the artist the confidence to fight her own self-doubt and branch out. This confidence boost has encouraged her to begin collaborating with others. “I think it has confirmed that I’m on the right track. When I first started releasing music I was like, I’m independent, I’m strong, I can do this, and then I realised… that I’d need to get other people to give their perspectives who can give me solid advice and guidance,” she admits. “That has completely changed the way I work. For future songs I’ve decided to work with another producer; just getting the help has made me realise that [my music] does sound good.” It won’t be her first time collaborating with others, though – she’s appeared on tracks with Dirty Freud, Essa Weira, Waller and xato, and Goteki 45 as featured vocalist.
One of the most powerful aspects of sound is its ability to create a world within a world. Whether that world is in the flashing lights of the dance floor surrounded by friends or in the comfort of your own home, judged silently by your cat, music can take us places we never thought possible and inspire us. Szou’s music opens the door for her listeners to create any world; whether that’s the space-age influences of her previous singles or the hazy, sepia-filtered environment of “Rose-Tinted,” both can provide a haven.
Follow Szou on Facebook for ongoing updates.