From Kilmarnock to Berlin, TAAHLIAH is making her mark in clubs around the world
Rising star and Scottish singer-producer TAAHLIAH on her artistry, accolades and ambitions.
15 Nov 2022
This story is part of A new legacy — a collaboration between gal-dem and oestrogeneration platforming transfeminine writers of colour. Read more stories in the series here.
For DJ and producer TAAHLIAH, 2022 has been a whirlwind. Known for her blend of hard dance and pop sounds, the emerging artist has crossed off a number of milestones early in her career, just over a year after the release of her first EP Angelica. Her achievements show no signs of stopping: Angelica won Best Independent EP/Mixtape by the Association of Independent Music, making her the first Black trans artist to win the award, her debut Boiler Room set went viral, she’s toured with club legends UNIIQU3 and LSDXOXO, worked on her next record and co-hosts pop culture podcast The Dolls Discuss with fellow Scot and friend, Lourdes.
“I wouldn’t change my life for anything,” she says over Zoom, wearing a cap that reads ‘TECHNO IS MY BOYFRIEND’. TAAHLIAH’s success is largely due to her remarkable ability to chart emotional narratives through her production style, which draws from various dance music genres. In her discography, introspective ballads (‘Brave’, ‘Freefalling’) sit next to radio-friendly crossover pop/dance songs (‘Fall into Place’) and harder club bangers (‘Transdimensional’, ‘FMH’, ‘Bourgeoisie’). In ‘Freefalling’ she narrates the conflicts of a love in flux with the shimmering synth melody and build of a slow-burning Clubland track.
The lyrics are marked with her distinct humour: “If you’re feeling jealous, that’s not my fault,” the remark landing somewhere between the aphorisms of Jenny Holzer to the bratty and knowing irreverence of a Tammy Girl slogan followed by the sad realisation: “But you’re making me feel like I’ve done something wrong”. On pulsing club track ‘Bourgeoisie’, she expresses pride in her working class roots whilst the early hour dancefloor filler ‘FMH’, a “gritty, sex-driven song” on the surface, explores the objectification of trans bodies, and how trans people are expected to be receptive, welcoming even, to that objectifying gaze. The repeated icy and artificial moans of “fuck me harder” are sandwiched between hard kick drums and buzzing whilst sinister synth riffs build to a claustrophobic intensity.
TAAHLIAH grew up in Kilmarnock, Scotland, where she felt like she never fitted in. Leaning into creative outlets, she recalls spending summers locked in her room painting to avoid her peers. She moved to Glasgow in 2017 to study at Glasgow School of Arts, where she began DJing at the end of her first year of studies: “I’d met so many DJ’s – everyone at art school is a DJ” she laughs. “[There were] DJs who were quite big on a local level and inspired me to think I could do this if I wanted to.”
She describes her time as a student and fledgling DJ as a “real period of self discovery,” which she credits to Glasgow’s animated electronic music scene. She was an admirer of independent record labels such as Numbers and Huntley’s + Palmer’s, both home to the late SOPHIE’s early singles, an artist whom she cites as inspiration. Immersing herself into the city’s nightlife – attending nights at the now closed club The Art School as well as Glasgow’s lively queer scene – she reconnected with her love for hardcore, hard dance and trance music.
She notes that studying visual art was a vital part of her exploration into her identity, which progressed into her music. “If anyone looked at the artwork before I started making music, the only thing I would paint would be femme people or femme bodies,” she says. TAAHLIAH recalls when a fellow student asked her why she only painted women: “That’s when I realised I’m using painting to visualise or narrate my trans identity. As soon as I came out as trans I started making music, and so there was no need for me to visually represent myself on canvas anymore” she reflects. “I didn’t need to paint myself because I was here already. That allowed for me to put more fuel into what making music could be or what my sound could be.”
“I didn’t need to paint myself because I was here already”TAAHLIAH
Despite the support TAAHLIAH has received for her work from fans and critics, she still feels alienated by certain people in the music industry. “I find it very difficult playing in straight spaces,” she shares. “There’s a lot of people in those spaces that underestimate me and there can be a whole element of tokenistic booking.” She makes it very clear that, whilst she explores her identity and transness in her music, she is “an artist who happens to be trans, not a trans artist”. After receiving wider acclaim this year, promoters within the electronic music scene have finally started paying more attention to her, making her wonder “why the fuck were you not paying attention to me in the first place?”
Pressed for details about the upcoming record, TAAHLIAH reveals she’s “trying to find this space where the two [hard-dance and pop styles] can merge cohesively.” When comparing the process of writing Angelica to its follow-up, she observes that: “[Before] I didn’t have anything to prove, but now I do.” TAAHLIAH is determined to take the time she needs to ensure that the music to come will “proceed her previous work tenfold” but finding the time to make work and get into the studio between tour dates is proving difficult. Nonetheless, she’s found the album writing process cathartic and as a way of dealing with pain, describing the record as “very emotional” and “quite soft”.
“She makes it very clear that, whilst she explores her identity and transness in her music, she is ‘an artist who happens to be trans, not a trans artist'”
Inspired not only by the legacy of queer and trans artists whose work has so often been sidelined by the industry, but also by the community surrounding her, TAAHLIAH is aware of the platform she now has. “It feels quite alien being put in this position when I look like me and I’ve had the life that I’ve had.” Her ambitions going forwards are simple, but powerful. “I just really want to make my family and friends proud. And for other Black trans people to know this can happen – we are here and we exist and people can take us seriously and we don’t need to be xyz and we don’t need to look a certain way and we don’t need to portray a certain kind of archaic image of ultra femininity. We can just exist and make really fun music”.
The fun is felt, across her surging productions and in the momentum of her sets. TAAHLIAH’s star is in the ascendant, and from our conversation it’s clear she’s only in competition with herself, set to shine more brightly.
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