We don’t have to do rainbow gay,’ says Lava La Rue playfully while flicking through a multi-coloured sequin top on the stylist’s rail. ‘We could always do a lesbian power-suit moment,’ they continue, as they fetch an oversized blazer found in Portobello market out of their bag. ‘That could be a vibe.’
The 24-year-old is making in-jokes with the glam team at their ES Magazine Pride shoot. As an openly queer, non-binary artist, they know how the industry can flatten queer musicians into one-dimensional tropes. But they also know that this isn’t their battle to overcome. Nor should it stop them from embracing their identity in ways that are specific to their community. ‘It’s just about bringing this mentality outside of a month,’ they continue. ‘Like, why is it the only time there are 50 per cent of queer artists on a playlist is when it’s Pride?’
First bursting on to the scene in 2018 with their woozy EP Letra, the west Londoner quickly established themself as a underground force. Half-Latvian, half Jamaican, non-binary, queer and a child of immigrant parents, La Rue’s experiences meant they could make music from a place not many mainstream artists do. On the track ‘Burn’, you’ll hear their commanding lyrics on systemic oppression and racism over a glitchy soul-tinged beat, while recent single ‘Vest & Boxers’ unpacks deeply relatable anecdotes of dating as a teenage lesbian.
Lava La Rue, which is an anagram of their own name, Ava Laurel, has since been nominated for an AIM Independent Music Award in 2021, while Grammy-nominated artist (and personal musical hero) Tyler the Creator has invited them to play at his Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in LA. This is all while cultivating the DIY art collective Nine8, which boasts up-and-coming talent such as Biig Piig, Nayana Iz and Mac Wetha.
Now they’re gearing up to release their next EP, Hi-Fidelity, out 29 July. The name is a nod to the ‘lo-fi’ adjective that publications would use to describe their music in the early days. ‘I never viewed my music as such, I just saw it as me not having resources — but now I do so I want to make something hi-fi. I want it to sound big.’ It’s also a play on the concept of infidelity because, as they put it, ‘There’s loads of sexy queer songs.’
‘I realised growing up that so many of the love songs I listened to were about a straight narrative and I would just have to apply it to myself,’ they continue candidly. ‘It’s nice to have a song where you don’t need to pretend “this is gay” — it just is.’ What’s more, La Rue points out the more queer songs would usually only fit a Europop or hyperpop sound. ‘Straight people have options across all genres so why should we only have one genre to listen to? If you’re a lesbian and you like psychedelic music you should have a psychedelic lesbian song. Now it exists.’
This weekend the multi-hyphenate will play Glastonbury, not once but twice on two separate stages. It’s not the first time they’ve played, but after the pandemic shuttered festivals and live music for two years, it’s been a while since the artist has stepped foot on Worthy Farm. ‘Last time I literally just stayed in the Silver Hayes area thinking it was the whole festival, not realising it’s just one of 50 sections.’ This time they’re ready to take up space across the 900-acre site.
‘In the queer community loads of people have their chosen families and their safe spaces,’ they say on the reopening of queer live music spaces and representation at major festivals. ‘This is so important for these communities to thrive because many of them are either ousted from their families or aren’t accepted into regular society.’
It will also be the perfect warm-up for their headline gig at the hallowed London queer institution Heaven on 29 September. However, La Rue warns fans to expect something completely different from what they’re used to. The rapper-turned-vocalist decided to push themself as a performer and musician, having studied the likes of Prince, David Bowie and Grace Jones. ‘I always love coming up as a rapper, but I was able to hide behind the mic. If I said something wrong or messed up I could get a mosh pit going whereas now, if I’m playing guitar and get a chord wrong it’s more sonically audible. If I want to get the crowd moving I have to do that through my musical skill — I can’t just be a hype man.’
On set the make-up artist is adding a subtle rainbow ombre atop the metallic base. ‘It’s cool being like, “Ahh rainbows and glitter,” but in how many countries is it genuinely incriminating to be gay?’ They probe. Of course, La Rue is not implying that the month has to be a bummer — far from it. ‘It’s about making sure everyone can celebrate Pride, not just those who have the privilege to.’ After all, it’s a mindset they believe is more in keeping with the origins of the month. ‘When lockdown happened and the official Pride couldn’t go ahead it got reclaimed as a protest,’ they say, referencing the 1969 Stonewall riots. ‘It’s good we’re seeing this shift of it becoming a protest again because there is still a lot of work to be done, especially for the trans community.’
Even people who had previously been unaffected by the system found themselves radicalised by the past few years. A pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, the stripping back of LGBTQ+ rights in the United States, the increasing violence against trans people — it is near impossible not to be political today. Yet they’re quick to point out that this period also welcomed an onslaught of ‘infographic activism’ that still runs rampant today.
Although they believe the internet can be an powerful educational tool — after all, their TikTok is full of insightful (and viral) historical commentary videos on topics ranging from the stark class divide in west London to the appropriation of Jamaican rudeboy style — they’re firm that youth engagement can’t stop there. ‘I think it’s really important that while people educate themselves online, they actually go out there and protest and go to community spaces,’ they state, ‘[rather than] spending all their energy ranting online and doing nothing.’
Rousing words, indeed. It seems La Rue has finally found their flow.
Hair by Anastasia Stylianou at One Represents using Shu Uemura. Make-up by Emily Wood at Creatives Agency using Pat McGrath. Braiding by @joseesprobraidingstudio.
Photographer’s assistant: Alastair McVeigh