In their New York debut, the rising musician comes full circle, returning to the sonic emotionality that launched their career
In the building across from Florence Sinclair’s intimate concert at SoHo venue nina protocol, a man is painting a wall white. His movements are practiced but not rehearsed. He coats the slivers of drywall visible to his incidental audience two, three times before disappearing from the canvas.
As his performance comes to a close, so do the sounds of Sinclair’s opener, the drone guitarist and singer Kulowo Wawega. He sits skewed away from the audience, socked feet fiddling with distortion pedals as a wall of sound screeches across a sparse and stupefied crowd. Some sway, others nod. The girl in front of me films the painter who has returned to check the progress of his masterpiece—still wet. Wawega’s vox effects falter and his voice cuts through the trance that has fallen over the crowd. For a moment it freezes—arrested by the breath of clarity in Wawega’s undistorted delivery. He puts his shoes back on and skirts from the spotlight with a modest “thank you.”
The crowd lurches into motion. Small groups break into conversation. I make my way to the fridge, which is next to the bathroom, and pull out a little bottle of white wine on a shelf full of Bud Lites. “You can take the last one, but I have to take your picture,” a girl tells me. I don’t catch her name. I smile. She clicks. Florence Sinclair takes the stage.
This is their second performance this week, riding the high of a sold-out show at Union Pool. They arrive calmly in the spotlight: right hand in a red glove, high heels under ripped jeans, a pleated white shirt unbuttoned enough to reveal flashes of a ruby pendant. The opening song of their debut album departures, wonders & tears crashes through speakers like a bass-boosted mechanical bull. “The stars are alive,” blares a pitched-down sample of a familiar song I can’t quite place. “There was something in the air,” Sinclair says of their New York debut at Union Pool.
Even standing at eye level with the small crowd, Sinclair performs with the energy of a sold-out show. Some friends and para-familiars sit at the feet of the alt-grime producer and rapper, while others lean on the room’s off-white edges. The crowd’s center is empty, but the friction of its loosely brushing bodies is enough to create a layer of condensation on the window. The painter across the street does not return. Instead, Sinclair’s tapestries take shape from thin air. As their red glove bleeds melodies, a gold ring drums against their chest under the spotlight.
“The set for my tour is more vulnerable, curated to evoke emotion and share parts of myself that people won’t receive online” they tell me after the show.
Online people don’t get much. On Instagram, six images convey Sinclair’s visual world—the album artworks for their most recent album, departures, wonders & tears; the previous three-track EP cataloging the experience of PTSD, Fate Binds Us; and It’s a big man ting, which tells the story of a Black British boy’s escape from “the road” make up the grid’s first row. Earlier projects, such as Gentle Decay—a sparsely cinematic exploration of memories and dreams—and music released under different aliases (since erased from streaming) do not feature. An image of two doves, a snapshot of Sinclair posed outside of Loveland Mansions during their time in Barking, and a photo of pixelated performance still of Max B make up the bottom row, offering a glimpse into the artist’s influences and upbringing without giving much away.
Their performance is as fine-tuned as their social media presence. Despite this evening’s casual setting, their movements are calculated. Gesturing to punctuate lyrical phrases, their wide-brimmed NY snapback swallows their face in a harshly lit shadow. But under the careful curation of the concert, the sentiment of Sinclair’s inner world peeks through.
Sinclair spent their early years in perpetual motion—moving around the U.K. with a brief stint in Canada, before settling in the UK. “From being homeless and couch surfing, lost in the world to dealing with mental health and trying to build myself up again, making music was my only place of center and purpose. I recorded my last two albums in a garage converted into a room [that I] slept in. Being able to make money and tour around the world and find stability meant a lot to me.”
Sinclair grew up finding comfort in chaos—and like its maker, their discography is in a constant state of departure, running away without knowing where it’s running to. With each song, Sinclair seems to shed a piece of the past, stretching closer to the future they envision.
The haunting nostalgia of Sinclair’s sound brings to mind the blogosphere of early 2000s music listening. The influence of the internet on Sinclair, who started producing music at the tender age of 12, is evident in their disembodied sound and comes to life in live performance as Sinclair reenacts scenes that still linger in their memory. Though steeped in cultural references, the emotional content of Sinclair’s music is deeply personal, at times confessional, even diaristic. “I feel like I have carved my own identity. The topics I talk about, the sounds I make. I do feel like it’s its own world,” they reflect.
Throughout their setlist, Sinclair carves into artifacts of the not-so-distant past, warped in a hypnagogic spin. 50 Cent’s lyrics on “slipping” wash into Sinclair’s infamous The Smiths sample on “Slow.” Sinclair whispers “Shoutout Giggs” more to themself than the room full of Brooklynites before sliding across a legendary underground cut from the South London grime artist on “Fibre Glass” a rare track for their live line-up. The icons Sinclair calls on each once disrupted the dominant culture of their time, but hark from disparate traditions, lexicons, and locations, speaking to the amalgamated identities of online music making, like static in a trapped circuit.
The callout of Giggs–one of the Godfathers of Grime–completes a strange cycle of influence between the ever-battling domains of New York and London culture. For Sinclair, who deals with subjectivity, the reference holds weight as one of their early musical influences, and a relic of a life they left behind. Now, their command of sound and physical space becomes a personal reclamation.
It’s curious that Sinclair should find a sort of homecoming in this unassuming room in SoHo. Members of the internet’s subculture seem to come together around assemblage’d sounds and collaged aesthetic trappings. A NY fitted, ruby pendant and red-stained glove tell Sinclair’s story hiding in plain sight. Their music does the same, washing their mysterious persona away to reveal a personal exploration of identity and instability.
At the close of their set, Sinclair’s gloved hand extends towards a self still materializing before them. Their shadow hovers in the empty window at their back. I ask if they were to return now to the room where they made departures, how it might feel. “Like I just came back from a fever dream,” they say. “It would let me know there is still more work to be done in my journey. As much as I run from the past, I always revisit it [to] remind myself of the feelings that still live with me. I never truly forget.”