There is a scene in the '90s documentary Paris is Burning, where after they reveal the elaborate details of the New York drag-ballroom competitions, Dorian Corey delivers one of his characteristically detailed lines, "Shade is, 'I don't tell you you're ugly, but I don't have to tell you because you know you're ugly.' And that's shade." Although the explanation was intended to offer insight into a dance move called "throwing shade", it soon became a blanket term for criticising or bitching about someone. Our insufferable current street slang doesn't leave much room to manoeuvre another idea into that mold, but Londoner Nabihah Iqbal (Throwing Shade), just might be the right move.

"A lot of people think I'm a man because I never had any photographs up until recently," she reveals to me when we start chatting about how new artists in the electronic alt-pop scene usually suggest a certain mystery to their work, for image purposes. For Iqbal, she has made no attempt at obfuscation: here is a female producer who appears completely accessible to her listeners - a most curious element I find about her, and the way she uses any 'shade-throwing' about her gender, purpose or pseudonym as a foundation to build onto and not get absorbed by.

Iqbal luckily appears in an era that rewards the adaptive, eccentric and laid-back. Those are the exact qualities that shine through her latest EP 19 Jewels - they're all what will give her, as her name implies - the correct moves. Even if her music wouldn't exist if not for the internet, her authenticity speaks loudly. It must be exciting navigating the current music scene as a new artist. After putting something out you get an instant reaction, to which you can either choose to control, recalibrate, shift around, or delete. It's scary when you put it that way - it's as if we're the ones functioning robotically.

.... And if Mongolian throat singing, re-contextualising R&B vocal samples and how it feels to be female in a male-dominated scene - doesn't interest you, well then, that's shade.


What was your earliest memory of music?

My mum still goes on about the story! I'd seen the Michael Jackson documentary and they had taped it and they would just keep playing it until the tape completely wore out and then my uncle had to go buy me a new Michael Jackson video. He's my musical hero.

A lot of people can identify with what he did back then, but I almost feel if 'the youth' had to listen to him now, I don't know if his music would have been as impactful.

It would definitely be different. There's a difference whether you grow up along with something or listen to it as something that happened 20 years ago. I think that in terms of his mind and what he's produced, no one else comes close, especially when you listen to the demo recordings he was a visionary - you're right though, I think my little sister whose 11 now wouldn't really understand it, but she does like him. It's gonna sound cheesy but I think about him all the time.

I hear you moonlight as a radio DJ too - what most excites you about what you're doing right now?

Well it's hard to pinpoint one thing. Everything that's happening for me in music feels really organic and totally unexpected. Doing my NTS show is definitely one of my favourite things, because it's so fun and I never even thought about radio before even when I was in music it just didn't register in my mind. It's this whole ritualistic process of researching music, putting together a show, listening to music from that perspective and then every time I do a show I get such a good response. Loads of people from all around the world send me messages and it's so good - 'coz when you're doing the show you're in a tiny studio, there's no one there and you're just talking into this mic and you've got no idea if one million people are listening or one person is listening, you just don't know.

And you've been getting some brilliant attention online and on the radio lately about the release of your debut EP 19 Jewels.

I was a bit unsure, I didn't know how this 19 Jewels EP would be received. I guess 'coz after you listen to songs over and over again you lose what the meaning is behind them. But then it had such a positive response especially 'Sweet Tooth', and for me I didn't really know how much boys would like it because for me it's quite girly!

I feel all the attention poured out pretty quickly too, all at once almost. How did you feel about that?

Just like - I feel really happy. I can't really explain the feeling but I know that anyone else who's worked creatively will know what I'm talking about. There's just this knowing that something that you've created that's come from inside you, from your mind and from your heart, can be displayed to the world and for people to respond to that in a positive way and say to you "oh my god I've been listening to your song on repeat" or when you get a really nice write-up in a music magazine that you've read for years, feels amazing. You know that no one else has purchase over it, because it's come from inside you and no one else can create it in the same way.

I'm sure it gives you more momentum too, but where did the real shift come when you were suddenly aware of people now being a part of a process you once experienced alone?

I've been making music for a long time but as Throwing Shade probably only a year and a half now and when I did 'Mystic Places', I made it in my flat in Long Street [Cape Town] and put it on SoundCloud and I never really thought a lot of people would be into it and then that German producer Kassem Mosse [Omnira Records] heard it, and it all started from that. That's when everything changed because suddenly my base of listeners just increased so much and now quite a few labels getting in touch and asking for new material and waiting for it, definitely it puts pressure on the whole act of music making.

Whenever I make a song that I really like, it just comes to me as a sudden burst. I could be working for ages and not like anything and then suddenly in the space of two hours I will just write a whole song and that's it, then its done - so I just need some more of those [laughs] moments to happen.

But as a relatively new artist, how do you find your level of growth then, do you find it speeding up the more you perform?

Yeah, I'm also now just doing music full time, which is bad financially but it means that I can think about music 24/7. The more time you devote to it, the more productive you can be.

I really wasn't surprised when I read that you studied Ethnomusicology either - did you find that having theoretical know-how allowed you to build on a fundamental that felt more credible?

The most important thing for me, is that it just broadens your horizons so much, I guess you're the same, that the music that you're exposed to on a daily basis is just like Western pop music and Western classical music, and then unless you try and go actively beyond that, that is all you see. I was in that position, even though I played so many instruments and in orchestra's growing up, until I went to University and got into class and they like, "Today we're going to listen to Mongolian throat singing" or whatever - actually on the induction they had this Siberian woman come in and do this like throat singing opera piece that lasted half an hour. So listening to all those different sounds and methods and learning about what it means to different people around the world was so important for me, because then when I make music, it does come out subconsciously in one way or another.

I can imagine that by default then, after studying all these different types of music, it's quite difficult to land on one different style, because your knowledge base is so broad?

[laughs] I think that's true you know for me to hear people's responses when they listen to my music - all the reviews that have been published, they all kind of say that like 'ah you can hear all these different influences in her music' I guess they're right, for me that's good because it makes it harder to pinpoint my music and and I feel like people are actually struggling to do that. I know because my sound is quite strange. I don't know what you can compare it to.

But I definitely think there's a familiarity to your sound, the more music you're making there's a sequence you go along with. I really like the idea too of taking something familiar and putting a spin on it like that remix of Mariah Carey's 'We Belong Together' that you did.

Yeah I like using R&B vocal samples from songs that you would know when you heard the original, and switching them up in a certain way and re-contextualising it in a totally different setting.

I don't think it's a bad thing that people want to further clarify your genre.

I won't take it negatively, unless someone says something really bad which hasn't happened yet. I got one lukewarm review at XLR8R when 'Mystic Places' came out, and then a couple of months later the guy who wrote it actually emailed me saying sorry! I couldn't believe it! He was like 'ah, I don't think I was in the right frame of mind when I listened to your music and I'm listening to it a lot more now and I really like it.'

On that note though, you are pretty easily accessible online...

That's something I think about, because a lot of my friends in London also make music and they're doing really well but they very different to me. If you take Sophie's approach on the internet they're sort of aloof and it's hard to find anything or know anything about them. I was thinking maybe I should be like that, but it doesn't come naturally to me, I can't be bothered to create this persona where I try and distance myself from people because that's not who I am and I don't wanna be like that.

Also trying to emulate something you're not as a new artist, people will know it's not genuine - did you study the influence of media on the consumers in the course at all? What's your view on music as a socio-cultural construct?

Well none of this would have happened if social media and the internet didn't exist so, everyday I'm thankful to the internet! No seriously - because it started from SoundCloud and NTS, which is an internet based radio station. Obviously there are negatives when you look at record sales and how so many music shops are closing down, but at the same time it's the way things are going and it's the way technology is moving. It gives music more power for it to be so readily available online and for people to be able to talk about it and share it shows what they're into.

I think that's also where the authenticity with you comes from, I like that you use your accent, you don't shy away from it at all - you almost push it even more.

Definitely! I find it really annoying when you hear people who aren't American and who rap in American accents and it's so corny. I mean 'Sweet Tooth' has got a very London sound, the whole EP does.

I wanted to ask you, from here are you wanting to do more collaborations is there anyone you listening to right now that you really want to work with?

I'd like to collaborate with some vocalists, I really like Doja Cat, she's this singer from LA, and then also my ultimate collaboration would be Drake! I would really like to work with some rappers, because a lot of times when you have collaborations between producers and vocalists its always a male producer with a female vocalist, but as I'm a female producer I like to flip it and work with male vocalists because I have not seen that - I don't know if you have? It will really challenge peoples thoughts and I think it would be a really important step for female music makers because right now it is such a male dominated thing and its interesting for me to see that because most of the write-ups I've had are all by men not woman, you're one of the few female journalists I've spoken to.

Throwing Shade's 19 Jewels EP is out today (May 19th 2014) via No Pain In Pop.