Words: James Keith
Photography: Alec McLeish

Lil Silva’s evolution from an experimenter in the underground funky scene—adding spacious, grimey stabs and moody futurism to the carnival-ready sound—to subtle yet heart-wrenching soul singer remains one of the most dramatic of all time. What’s easy to forget, however, is just how fast it all happened, but also how naturally.

The singer and producer, who still bases himself in Bedford in the Midlands, first start made his name with grimey, bassy UK funky productions, the centre of which was his 2010 Night Slugs EP, Night Skanker. Within just five years of that, however, his sound had expanded immeasurably and he was beginning to prove himself as a producer and songwriter with an instinct for stirring emotion. So successful was that transition that he was called on by Mark Ronson to work on Adele’s 25 album.

The watershed moment between the serrated club grooves and the sweeping atmospherics of his more recent output didn’t happen all at once—but there was a noticeable change in the air with the release of the Distance EP in 2013 and then the Mabel EP the following year. The former, still propelled by a sturdy bounce and plenty of dancefloor kinetics, featured rousing vocal performances from long-time friend and collaborator Sampha and neo-soul crooner Rosie Lowe. Both were clever choices for a transitional record, just as adept at breaking hearts as they are at getting your feet moving. A year later and the searing club energy was still present, but the brooding atmospherics were becoming more pronounced with the soaring vocals of mononymed West Coast R&B singer BANKS stamped right across it.

By 2016, with the Jimi EP, there was no need for guest vocalists (although he’d never shun the idea) and it was his own vocals that were taking centre stage. Nowadays, he’s called on just as much for his devastating, arresting vocal talents as he is for his world-beating talents as producer and percussion specialist (ask anyone in club music and they’ll tell you Silva’s knack for programming drums remains completely untouched to this day).

Recent works include a collaborative album with George FitzGerald as OTHERLiNE, features for Kano and Duval Timothy, and plenty of work with his old sparring partner Sampha—the most recent of which was the stirringly beautiful love song “Fellowship” that closed serpentwithfeet’s DEACON album earlier this year. Now, with live music returning, Silva’s schedule is only going to get busier, but hopefully it won’t be too long until the next solo venture. For now, let’s indulge in what we do have.

Here are 20 reasons to love Lil Silva.

Posted on August 05, 2021