NME Radar: Breakout

Charlieeeee: vibrant drum ’n’ bass with inclusivity and acceptance at its heart

The Fred Again..-mentored artist has gone from working behind the scenes with Piri and Venbee to becoming one of the UK’s most unique new acts

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

It’s only the first hour of Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Luton, but Charlieeeee is already having the time of their life. After bounding onto the BBC Introducing stage in an oversized high-vis jacket and Shrek ears, the Fred Again..-mentored artist wastes no time in tearing through tracks from their debut EP, ‘Dog Bowl’.

Performing alongside a drummer and guitarist, the producer’s unique sound is thrillingly brought to life. Fusing elements of indie, drum’n’bass and hyperpop, the rolling breakbeats, thrashing guitar riffs and auto-tuned vocals of ‘Easy’ and ‘Bumped In The Head’ seriously test the speakers. An unhinged live remix of Far East Movement’s ‘Like A G6’, meanwhile, proves an unexpected curveball. Throw in an impromptu Beyblade match with some fans on the barrier, and it becomes clear that nothing is off limits at a Charlieeeee show.

“When you’re performing music, you’re an entertainer,” they say backstage after a frenetic 30-minute set. “So many artists get in their head like, ‘It’s my moment’. I just want to see everyone jumping and cheering – my only intention is for people to have fun.” Undoubtedly, they succeed.

This refreshingly carefree approach doesn’t just apply to their gigs, however. After transforming their garden shed into a studio after they got kicked out of school, they went on to work behind-the-scenes in pop songwriting for years, collaborating with RAYE, Piri, Venbee and MNEK. They were scouted for a mentorship programme led by Fred Again.., too. Yet, they say, it was only after co-founding the Trans Creative Collective – a production company that aims to help connect and provide opportunities to the trans+ community through mentoring – that they realised their artistic potential.

Charlieeeee is an artist who puts individuality at the heart of everything they do. From building their own vibrant universe through eye-popping music videos and unique Minecraft servers, they know the importance of self-expression, though it’s been a “massive journey” to get to this point.

“It’s been really freeing,” they say of putting their own stamp on everything. “Especially having come out as non-binary a few years ago, I think Charlieeeee is the by-product of me absolutely being myself.”

NME: How did you first get into music? 

“I used to play acoustic guitar in a folk band and there was a point when I wanted to start recording the band’s music, so I turned my garden shed into a studio. I’d go to open mic nights, find people and ask if they wanted their songs recorded, so that helped to build my production skills.”

You were mentored by Fred again.. for a year – what did that experience offer you? 

“I was doing loads of pop writing and got scouted by an A&R for a programme Fred was running with Kamille. I was one of 10 picked for a mentorship and ended up writing a song with RAYE, MNEK, Kamille and Fred.. which isn’t out anywhere. But, at that point, I genuinely didn’t think I was going to do an artist project. There was zero intention of being Charlieeeee.

“I had done two years of solid touring for other people as a music director, so felt like I was going to burn out. Last January I skipped one, but at that point I had a brain full of festivals.

“As I had the shed, I decided to mess around with some breakbeats that Piri gave me and write some songs like I used to, more Paramore-y stuff, and put the lyrics over them. I didn’t think anything of it, but ‘Easy’ is a by-product of the first song I wrote.”

Credit: Plastic Fruit Studios

What made you want to give music a proper go? 

“I had a movie moment. I co-run a production company called the Trans Creative Collective, and we were putting on a live gig at the Southbank Centre for the Harvey Parker Trust. On the phone call I sang “that would be awesome”. They said, ‘Do you sing?!” I decided to say yes because I had already written my EP (without a band) and they asked if I’d like to play. It was supporting Years & Years!”

What was that first show like?

“I felt like I’d been on a Dungeons & Dragons quest because I’d met so many musicians during my two years of solid gigging. I started ringing up the gang asking if they wanted to do the gig with me and we made a whole team. We’re mostly trans and queer and it’s so nice being able to pick the people you work with.

“I’m more experimental than most, too, and I wanted to go one step further with my live show. I tried different ideas and that’s why my show right now is quite outlandish and I do random stuff.”

How would you describe your approach to songwriting? 

“Some songs are silly and fun, but others are quite deep. I’d had experience writing pop songs for others, so I was following that formula for ‘Bumped In The Head’ and ‘Easy’. But ‘Xtreme Circumstances’ was the first song I wrote in a different style where I wasn’t allowed to copy and paste, and had to roll through and play into each section and see what happened next. It’s quite emotional and the scream is real; it hasn’t got distortion, it’s just violent!

“‘Dogbowl’ is the amalgamation of all my different influences, from Chase & Status to Paramore. In my music, there’s so much going on. It’s very jungle/breakcore, but then there’s a real drummer playing live breakbeats at 200BPM, which brings it back into the indie space. My songs are so fast!”

Credit: Plastic Fruit Studios

Why did you make a Minecraft server for the release?

“I wanted to do something accessible because, although I invest a lot into my live shows and put so much energy into the performance, it’s unfortunate for people who can’t go to gigs. So I came up with this idea for a ‘charlieeeee’s world’ Minecraft server where I run live shows.

“I have a friend who’s pregnant, so she can’t really go to gigs. But, also, it’s for people in other countries. I don’t think it’s that wild but I really wanted to take it a step further. I’ve been working with a team of coders so it can be more like a show with synchronised lights and broadcasting live sound.”

You have a Discord page too. What’s the idea behind that? 

“People can drop their tracks in, get feedback and occasionally I’ll run sessions. I’ll be doing an open-mic in the Minecraft pub so people can go up on to a little stage, play their demo and there’ll be a panel of feedback people. I wanted to make it more interactive than people just sitting at their computer.”

What message do you want to get across as an artist?

“As an openly queer, non-binary person, I’m not confident with singing. That’s probably why I do so much novelty stuff in my show. It’s like I’m compensating for not feeling comfortable with my voice.

“It’s been a huge journey because there’s no particular way any person – trans or non-binary – should sound. I always felt I was singing too high or too feminine and thought, ‘Should I make [my voice] lower?’ But it got to the point where I didn’t care anymore. That resulted in my song ‘Easy’.

“For anyone struggling with their voice, I think there’s a learning in accepting the way you are and not letting it hold you back.”

How do you hope to inspire other people? 

“I find the concept of role models uncomfortable and would never try to position myself as one. I think everyone should be on their own journey, but if I can be an example of non-binary, trans, queer and neurodivergent people then that would be amazing. I’ve got quite major ADHD and that does affect me having a normal job, so I found a niche that works for me.

“And, who knows, there might have been people in the crowd at one of my gigs who were questioning their identity and then they saw a non-binary and trans band and thought, ‘I could do that’. That always makes me emotional.”

Charlieeeee’s ‘Dog Bowl’ EP is out now via Relentless Records


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