Thursday afternoon. A bright blue sky frames the colossal white victorian buildings surrounding Green Park, while weak sun rays blind me as I exit the tube station and I approach the Ritz Hotel. Iris Gold is waiting for me in all her smiley, quirky glam.
Born in the UK to Indian-mother and Jamaican father, she grew up and currently lives in Denmark, and she is not the typical pop artist you would think at first impression. She is a singer, a rapper and a hippie.
Iris Gold’s music is a fusion of past and modernity, a truthful reflection of her personal upbringing, her musical influences and life philosophy. Creative, hype and sensitive, Iris was raised in Christiania and lived around Copenhagen squatting with her mum as a young girl. A colourful, creative childhood that, on one hand, enhanced her artistic flair and made her the inspiring singer she is today, on the other, it made her mature quickly as she had to face the challenge of being “different”. In fact, as open and modern as it may seem, Denmark is a tough country to live in for dark-skinned people, especially in terms of representation. Nevertheless, proud of her music, her achievements and her glorious afro, Iris Gold is finally representing a role model herself, the one she wish she had when she was a young girl.
GRIOT: “All I really know is my hippie life, and it go to show” that’s how your new song All I really know goes. Tell us, why a hippie life and what does this verse mean to you?
Iris Gold: “All I really know is my hippie life, and it go to show” means that you can tell by looking at me and by my presence and everything that I write about. I don’t think a hippie can necessarily be from the 70s, bare feet… I think it’s in your soul, being a rebel, a punk, a gypsy, just moving around and not conforming, that’s what it is.
So how did you become a hippie and how did it shape your upbringing and musical aspirations?
I grew up in a hippie communion with a lot of people from the seventies that were really free-spirited. There were many different age groups but not many kids actually, so it was a bit hard sometimes, because the grown-ups were the kids and I grew up really fast, you know (as you do). The positive thing about it is that you make so many weird freaky encounters with creative people! Some of the oldest people were into 70s music, like The Momas and The Papas, Cat Stevens and all this kind of music. It influenced me really early on and I was obsessed with it, apparently. Later in life I used lots of those 70s loops to write rap and pop songs on, and fusing the two is something that came really natural, because I think of where I came from. Hip hop came a bit later, from a lot of my aunties’ dj friends. They were like “Yoo! This kid is only into hippie psychedelic music, we have to teach her about hip hop!” So I learnt about classic hip hop, stuff like Beasty Boys, Public Enemy, Krs One and that’s why I rap 80s style, but I sound like Britney Spears or Selina Gomez. So everything is just fused into that, hippie-hip-hop-pop.
You grew up in Christiania, but I know you’ve also been squatting with your mother as a child, is that right?
Yes, most people know that I’m from Christiania and that’s what sticks to their mind because it’s such a well-known space in Copenhagen, but we mainly lived in squats. They weren’t the rundown disgusting places that the media sometimes portrait, I’ve never lived in one like that. I still think it was fancy. I do remember feeling a little bit embarrassed about bringing my friends round, it was nothing bad, but I used to think, ‘Oh somebody might be naked or something’ [she laughs]. So my mum and I did that a few times and I guess it was like Hackney Wick [London] vibe, but without paying rent, everybody used to cook together. Actually, I felt the same atmosphere when I moved back to Denmark and I got my rehearsal studio at the Candy Factory, we make food collectively and there’s a concert hall and a boxing space and everybody is from different cultures and different places. You should come! You’ll love it!
I definitely will! How did your parents end up in Denmark in the first place?
I was born in England, my mum is from India, New Delhi, but grew up in Guyana and South America. And then apparently my grand-dad got a job in England and that’s how my family came over. Then when I was about three years old we went on holiday to Norway and my mum got a half-danish, half-indian boyfriend, who is my stepfather, and we moved to Denmark. But my dad is Jamaican and lives in London. So I’m Indian-Jamaican but with a white family!
When we first met, about four of five years ago, you mainly used to rap and I remember you being a little funny about singing. So what has made you change your mind and how did you approach this aspect of your artistic path?
When I started my auntie worked for Gorillaz’ PR and Alex James came through, he saw my picture and asked “Can she sing? Can she rap? She looks really cool”. So my aunt called me and said “you gotta go and do a song for this guy.” I went and the first thing that came out of my mouth was rap. It was so easy, to rhyme was something natural to me and I initially felt uneasy about singing because I listened to so many great singers, I thought I couldn’t do that. I mean, I didn’t go to church and learnt, even if most people think that if you’re black, you can sing and dance. It’s actually really hard, I had to work hard to learn to do most of the stuff that I do. I think it’s because people are very influenced by the american culture, so if you’re black, you sing like Beyonce, and I really don’t! I sound like Madonna! [she laughs]
So I started with rap, I had great melodies and it was in me for a long time, but I had to practice a lot because I felt comfortable with just rapping. And I like pop music as well, I like singing along, so it’s just a natural progression, you’re rapping the verses and you sing. If you notice, All I Really Know is not singing, but rap-singing!
Your new single All I Really Know came out on 10 November. What can your fans expect in 2018?
Yes, my single has just come out and the video will also come out very soon. There will be remixes coming as well, very different genres, electronic, house remixes. So it’s a completely different interpretation, which is very interesting for me. Then I’m going to start my tour, with hopefully some dates in the UK, and some festivals and features that I’m not allowed to talk about! But I’m working towards an album with Playground Music, which I’m so glad to be with, it’s the biggest indie label in Scandinavia.
You’re doing really well and it’s clear how much you value your life experiences and cultural baggage. If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t be embarrassed about everything that you’ve been through and don’t wonder, why am I not like this person or that person? Why don’t I fit it? Why is my hair so curly and everybody else is blonde with blue eyes? Why isn’t my name something danish, like Lona? – Everything that makes you different is going to make you really special and strong in the future!
Was is it difficult growing up in Denmark?
Yes, it was quite racist to be honest and also it’s a completely different cultural background. We didn’t have much money, I’d always wear weird clothes, apparently! I mean, now I wear weird clothes, but I’m proud. It’s hard when you are a teenager, because you do want to look like everybody else, so I used to have fake Nikes and stuff. But then I was like “I can’t afford this stuff, so I’m gonna go to the charity shop and find my own flex”. It worked at the end.
I wish in the media in Denmark there was a better representation of foreign people that are proudly working and providing for their families. It would be so much better to come together instead of saying “them and us”, which unfortunately is the case at the moment.
Do you think that what you’re doing as an artist could potentially make girls like you feel a little bit more represented?
Definitely, and I think this is the reason why I moved back to Denmark. I can see it when I perform, I walk down the streets and other black girls compliment my hair. I get siblings telling me “I wish my sister wore her hair like that, I’m gonna show her a picture of you”, because there aren’t that many people that look like me in the media. Now it’s finally becoming more normal, I’m on a spot on buses, so everybody sees me as ‘normal’ and it’s amazing! I wish I could have seen something like this on a bus, I would have been like: “I look like her! I’m cool” instead of “maybe I’ll straighten my hair, or maybe I’ll do this…” So the main message in my music is: be yourself, embrace yourself!
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