Had London-based producer Inga Copeland adhered to the industry convention of releasing a single from her recent solo debut, it would probably have been “Advice to Young Girls.” It’s a collaboration with Actress in which her deadpan, spoken-word drawl rises theatrically above a sputtering beat, commanding the titular “young girls” to sneak out at night and take the town: Find the first bar, go to a club. You will see all of the lights. Hear all the music. It’s yours. The city is yours. Not unlike her work with the genre-splicing duo Hype Williams—her ostensibly defunct, notoriously inscrutable collaboration with Dean Blunt—it’s a monologue that’s as intriguing as it is hard to read, simultaneously a mockery of received wisdom about feminine propriety and a nod to the infinity of possible experiences one taps while venturing out into the city without a plan. “There’s all these levels in there,” says Copeland of big city life, on the phone from Tallinn, Estonia, where she periodically retreats from London to record. “How buildings are built, how people move, how money moves through it, how music moves around it—the experience of that is quite an intense one for me.”
In conversation, Copeland is hard to read, too. While we’re conducting an interview about her new album, which shares its title with the L’Oréal slogan Because I’m Worth It, she’s frugal with biographical details and comes equipped with a whole battery of defenses for dispelling any of the easy, market-friendly narratives one might conceivably apply to her work—including the suggestion that she is turning over a new page artistically by putting out a solo album. Hype Williams’ split, announced to the public in August of last year via the bandmates’ shared SoundCloud—“DEAN BLUNT AND INGA COPELAND ARE NO LONGER AFFILIATED .PLS LOOK ELSEWHERE FOR ‘INGA COPELAND’ MATERIAL”—hangs over our conversation, along with the feeling that her elusiveness with me is part of some greater performance. In an era of music where visibility is everything, Hype Williams named themselves after a high-profile music video director and played shows so fog-laden that nobody could even tell if they had actually showed up. Their music was frequently inventive and engrossing on its own terms, but its conflicted relationship to commerce and the world of public relations made it part and parcel with a nebulous critique of the market in which it was circulating. One of the most intriguing parts of Hype Williams, for fans, was probably that you never quite knew what they were getting at.
But back to Copeland: a rough chronology of her life begins in Samara, Russia, where she was born, followed by Tallinn, where her family moved when she was little. At 17, she relocated to London to attend a critical theory program at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design—an interdisciplinary, “non-specific” course of study she says she chose not for intellectual reasons, but because she wasn’t ready to settle on a particular career path. “For the most part, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she says of her years at school. “Because I didn’t have a real plan, that meant that I was open to all kinds of things happening.” This willfully non-committal spirit followed her first musical experiments, where, rather than master a specific instrument, she’d pick up whatever was “lying around,” or whatever she felt a given track required. In some ways, it also became a creative rationale (or anti-rationale) for her work with Blunt: “Hype Williams didn’t really have any sort of message or plan or direction. Anything could happen, and it did, you know? But within that openness there was a real element of something going on. You could just feel it.”
Listening to Because I’m Worth It, now that Copeland has gone solo, can feel simultaneously as aleatoric and full of strange coincidences as standing at a busy street corner and soaking everything in. Dub reggae rhythms and grime-reminiscent synth melodies meander in and out of earshot alongside screeching drones and the sounds of industrial production, frequently coalescing into a deep, bass-y groove, but always seeming to do so at random. Like the title Because I’m Worth It, its multiplicity of possible meanings makes it true to the chaos of these over-stimulating times. Though she probably would dismiss the thought as just another journalistic meta-narrative, Copeland’s anti-plan approach is precisely what leaves you hanging on her every move, like you’re waiting to see where life will take you next. “It’s not didactic,” says Copeland of the album, revealing an additional layer of irony to the “Advice to Young Girls” conceit. “There’s no instructional manual with this.”