Two minutes into Don Sinini's first Boiler Room performance, roughly one year after he started placing his own autotuned vocals at the centre of his tracks, he realises that autotune isn't on. For this to happen to an untrained vocalist, adding an extra element of nakedness to an already significantly exposed show, ('the set was a big deal to me, that week I was trying to be healthy, just trying to be in the best state') it really should have been a trainwreck.
And yet the show was fire. Taken alongside his recent EP 'Sun, Sea and Sinini', it's an addictive showcase for the unmistakeable young artist, whose warm, wily beats absorb influences from all the best corners of 2018 (hence releases on Staycore and Mixpak and sets at Berlin’s Bread & Butter and London's Bussey Building). Talking to me afterwards, he tells me how 'the lucky thing was that just the day before, I had a lowkey performance without autotune and it was ok, like I listened back to the video and thought that's alright you know, it's not the end of the world.' I think that aside from this knowledge and a healthy mind state, the most important factor in smashing this set was the character that he's developed in the last year.
Are you Don Sinini? Like the songs and the onstage presence, is that you?
That's a nice question… Yeah it's a certain side, there are certain things I wouldn't put in there. I don't feel like Don Sinini when I see it on Instagram or Soundcloud or whatever, I don't see it as me, I see it as a thing that I'm building. Obviously I do identify with it, cos I do it a lot, but I see it as separate from me. It's not how my mind works day-to-day. Performing live is a very different Don Sinini, it's much more extroverted, that's a new side of me; I used to think of myself as a producer, that I'd have some kind of tech onstage that breaks down your beats so you can perform them.
Yeah that's interesting, like putting yourself in the spotlight will force you to develop as a person, and Don Sinini can absorb that.
Before, when I was just doing music, I had no idea even in a music video, how I would be. Now I feel different when I'm doing it in live situations, but beforehand I was very uncomfortable. I can still be nervous but I'm more like ok, I have a sense of what to do.
What was the first vocal Don Sinini performance like?
I was nervous, I was drinking to get relaxed beforehand, even though it was like 6 minutes long. It was in Bermondsey, in was some underground kinda thing, a converted shopping centre, very dark. It was cool though, very freeing as a party.
That's an interesting location, as consumerism comes up thematically in your stuff, maybe some stuff gelled in that performance. Like even just the fact you could do it drunk, maybe it moulded Don Sinini into more of a party animal?
Well I'm someone who does get wavey, even now I might have a beer or something before performing, but I'm trying to make it so I can just do it naturally, so I don't need a pick-me-up or anything.
I find that interesting, with reference to the question of whether I'm talking to Don Sinini or the person behind the persona, as 'Smoke Too Much' is literally a Don Sinini track.
Yeah I always make songs when I've got to a point. Like I'm happy with that song, I like it, but I made it at a time when I was thinking boy I just smoke too much, like it didn't feel good! I was thinking like, it's mad that I've made this song where I was stressed about my health, and now I hear that song and I'm singing along, and I'm like bro that's not something to celebrate… When I write a vulnerable bar, even when I'm expressing pain, I want to express it in a nice way. Like one genre I love is UK Drill, which if you listen to the lyrics, it's sometimes pretty messed up init, but I like it cos it's music, there's a musical quality to it when they put it in a certain way, I'm like that sounds hard.
Your EP's first track Concorde was produced with Lyle [whose live band includes Sinini], what was the process like?
Every collaboration is different, but this was probably the most distinct for me, as most of my collaborations are me vocalling other producers’ beats. With Lyle, we were jamming in studio and he showed me a beautiful electric piano riff and I was like damnn. I heard something Spanish or Portuguese in there, in the vein of badgyal or somebody else, but still different from anything I’d heard. Lyle is really good at creating melodies from live instruments, something I rarely do. The first demo of that song I must’ve listened to about 500 times.
What form of transport do you associate your music with most? I know Lyle loves his nocturnal motorways.
I don’t like planes and I’ve driven once in the last 3 years, so it has to be either a London bus or the tube. I'm leaning towards the tube as I spend so much time on it and I always listen to my songs going on random journeys.
‘Let’s eat pop in the sea’ from Piscina is probably my favourite Sinini lyric, was it a freestyle? Does it have an image attached in your head?
Yeah you are right this was a freestyle, most of my vocal songs start off like that. From the weird mess that usually makes no sense I have the musical outline and then will make more recognisable bars from that. The image in my mind when freestying this was definitely a seaside one, I had just come back from Portugal as well, so I had Mediterranean in my system. You can probably tell that from the beat as well as it’s a kizomba one.
Do you have a favourite drill artist? And aside that, could you tip any music at opposite end of aggression spectrum? As I feel like your music is a mixture of that energy and a certain calmness.
I really rate drill music and listen to it a lot, probably why you can hear the influence. But my personal musical inclination is not like that, as you say more of a calm temperament. Drill wise I am always changing my preferences but of this year I would have to say Digdat, his flow and way of putting things is amazing. I always struggle to bring up specific artists but for sure some of the biggest influences on me are artists I know like Zini, Yayoyanoh, Organ tapes, Bala club (Kamixlo and Uli), Palmistry, rAHHH, Grizzle, Architect and Lyle.
What tracks sum up Sinini best?
Songs I have fully rinsed and listened to sooo many times have been LTK, Time 2 Go and Yiapiss. They’re all pretty different, and that speaks to how I was feeling at those moments, in an expansive mood doing something that was new for me at the time.
Who is a don in your eyes?
In my eyes ‘don’ mainly means person, I would use it in songs to refer to people like ‘dons.’ Also it means a certi person. By that I mean the ambiguous human quality, irrespective of background or class that makes someone a real person.
Catch Don Sinini playing alongside Lyle, Julia Star and Zoee on Sunday the 14th of October at London's The Old Blue Last, free tickets available here.