SG LEWIS – Biography 2020
When SG Lewis began going out in his hometown of Reading it was a classic tale of fake IDs and sticky-carpeted clubs with names like Lola Los. It wasn’t until he got to university in Liverpool that club culture took hold of him. Having started out DJing with his mates wherever he could get behind a pair of decks, Sam soon found himself as a resident at the legendary Chibuku night. It was here, in a city as renowned for big nights out as it is for The Beatles, that his eyes were opened to disco, house, and the myriad of genres that would go on to inspire his music. The new wave of eclectic and progressive DJs playing the city’s parties showed him a world of disco away from the flares and sunglasses image it has picked up over the years. “I’m as much influenced by the mindset and the euphoria of disco as the actual sound of the music,” he says now. “There’s a magic in the room when you play those records. It’s addictive.”
Capturing those magical moments is at the heart of Sam’s latest project, times. He’s been in a nostalgic mood for times both remembered, and not, while working on what will be his debut album proper. Nostalgic for that heady rush of emotions that the endless possibilities of a dancefloor can offer, and for the historical nightlife he is too young to have experienced. “A lot of it is influenced by dance music’s heritage” he explains, “but it also factors in my experience going out over the past five years. I want to take what that history, that energy, means to me and reinterpret it for 2020.”
Many of Sam’s most admired contemporaries have looked back to disco for influence in recent years. Similarly, attending mind-opening parties like New York’s House of Yes, Rhonda in Los Angeles, and London’s annual Gala Fest also helped him find a sound that, at its best, is as melancholy as it is euphoric. Attracted to the ‘anything goes’ attitude palpable on the dancefloors at these parties, he took to capturing the same inclusive and hedonistic spirit in his music.
Enter Nile Rodgers. Who better to turn to when researching the history of disco than the man responsible for so many of the genre’s classic hits. Sam and Nile had spent time in the studio in the past but teamed up again when Sam sent new song “One More” his way. Cut to the pair of them in Abbey Road Studios as Nile riffs on his iconic Hitmaker guitar over Sam’s beat. “It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life,” he says, still starry-eyed. “He began riffing for hours over this song I’d written. I got to speak to him about the album concept, too. It’s amazing to have someone that integral to the scene on hand to help.”
It would be easy to to fall into a trap of making generic music under the guise of a disco record. Sam is all too aware of this fact and stresses the importance of influence over appropriation, particularly when it comes to a scene pioneered by black and queer folks in the margins of society. “I don’t want the album to be a pastiche,” he says, citing author Tim Robinson’s book Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor as key to helping him deepen his understanding of what has gone before him. “I’m reading a lot about the origins of the culture. I’m very clear in understanding that I’m not taking ownership of this and that I’m not the first person to discover this music. I want to shine a light on it and be an ally to those communities.”
Learning from, and working with, others has always been key to Sam’s music, with tracks featuring Clairo, AlunaGeorge, and Ruel among his most loved. However, the times era is one defined by Sam’s voice coming to the fore in a more developed way than ever before. His Dusk, Dark, and Dawn EPs released between 2018–2019 taught him “what I was proud of and what fulfilled me.” It was on Dusk track “Coming Up” that he showed off his vocals for the first time, something he plans to do much more on the new project. “It has made me uncomfortable but in a really good way,” he says of feeling major imposter syndrome throughout the process. “I knew it needed work and that excited me. I’ve always taken pleasure in working at something until I was good at it.”
This has led to a much more personal period of creativity, with Sam’s personality present in every sound, from production to vocals. “I never understood what people meant when they said writing is cathartic but now I totally get it,” he says. “It’s a great way to get things off your chest. Now, for the first time, I’m able to put my own experiences into lyrics and deliver them myself.” Collaborations will still happen, naturally, but only if a guest can provide something he hasn’t got in his own arsenal – such unique talents due to feature on the album include the likes of Nile Rodgers, Chic, Robyn, Channel Tres, Lucky Daye, Frances, Lastlings, and Rhye. “I’d never be excited by doing the same thing over and over,” he says, underlining a restless mind always striving for something more. “I have a set of rules in my head for this album. It will come from my voice and experience. There’s only so much you can say through chords and sonics.”