At Shoreditch’s storied Village Underground last October, Finn Foxell turned to fellow artist p-rallel onstage with a look of knowing exuberance. This wasn’t just because it was one of Finn’s first headline shows since gigs were all but decimated, or the fact him and p-rallel are both part of the same Elevation/Meditation collective, but also because the pair go all the way back to primary school. And there, onstage, with everyone repeating their verses back to them, was a moment of confirmation that they’d risen the ranks of London’s heady creative scene.
“I know it sounds like a weird little obscure moment,” Finn tells me, in a pub in Royal Oak, not far from his native Shepherd’s Bush. “But we both just caught each other’s eye contact and then gave each other a hug while everyone was still bigging us up. And we had a little whisper in each other’s ear like, ‘Bruv, we’ve done this’. Those special moments always make everything worth it”; moments that, Finn adds, serve “as a reminder from the universe that this is the thing you’re meant to be doing”.
In truth, music was an almost inevitable calling for Finn. His father was a songwriter (a co-writer of the ‘90s D:Ream hit ‘Things Can Only Get Better’), his mother “a big fan of music, always listening to classic stuff”, and his brother used to be a grime MC.
So when Finn met p-rallel at school, the incubator through which to explore music only strengthened. “We pushed each other to get into it as soon as we could. It was always gonna happen, it was just a case of when.”
Add into the mix a few more aspiring artists – Louis Culture, Lord Apex and Xav – through a number of means (including secondary school and steel pan clubs) and Elevation/Meditation was formed; a group which serves to nourish and respect the solo artist within a wider force and has a strong London-oriented sound.
“As soon as we started linking up, having a smoke, listening to music and playing each other stuff we were making, we were like, ‘Oh my god’. The next thing you know, we were this unit.”
“From the outside, it might look a bit polished, but well and truly it was just [done in] bedrooms and random rooms that people would turn into a studio with a mic. It wasn’t like we had access to anything, or like we had anyone putting us on with these things. It was just us playing about and slowly finding people who were doing similar stuff, stepping it up a tiny bit at a time.”
As with any underground development, eventually the larger labels came calling, keen to capture that authentic ‘next big thing’. Finn has been cautious of the glitzy, short-term pull, however, and more keen to develop his artistry on his terms. “I realised quickly that [some of the labels] always got it wrong; however they perceived me, and what they thought I could be, was always wrong from whatever I was planning.
“I remember stepping into a couple of meetings and people were looking at me like I was the next Aitch or something. They were like, ‘It’s a white kid who can rap, he’s a bit cheeky, there’s marketability there, he’s a bit of a geezer.’ But, well and truly, I’ve always been quite vocal in my plans about being an alternative artist.”
That’s certainly something Finn’s been able to achieve – as his Village Underground gig and more recent showing at Boardmasters Festival can attest to – all built off the back of a steady string of singles and wider projects.
2019’s Good Tea EP, for instance, won plaudits (and streams) for its tight production, which merges grime beats, house and even the almost-Balearic-sounding ‘Piece of Mind’ into a neat, four-track package, with Finn’s typically laidback rap verses threading them together.
Last year’s Alright Sunshine, which featured fellow Elevation/Meditation artists, was slightly less eclectic than Good Tea, but likewise incorporated a number of different musical elements, as opposed to being a straight-up rap record.
It’s such variety – an aspect many labels would rather have hemmed in – that Finn is now eager to stretch. “I think the multi-genre fluidity is something I want to be quite a forward pointer for; anyone who listens to my stuff now, it’s only semi-representative of what I can do, but there’s still a lot of different things. There’s house records, grime-esque records, really introspective ballad-ey ones.”
Finn’s output has indeed only been, in his words, “semi-representative”, with another sonic turn being readied. In fact, his single ‘Be Me’, released in March this year and co-produced by Nikhil Beats and Jacob Manson, is as much a personal message of seeking authenticity as it is an interlude for the next musical move.
“I wanted to drop a song that was transitionary into what’s to come… To me it was the perfect in-between, because the song is about multiple moments I’ve had – and I think a lot of people have – where I realise I’m not being 100% myself, for whichever reason. [It] was about trying to push a comfortability of being myself – musically and personally.”
“It was multi-layered, in that regard. In a sonic sense, I wanted to try this type of stuff for a long time. And then, similarly, I wanted to make a wholesome song about not wanting to be tough. And hopefully it’s teed people so they understand where I’m taking it a bit more now.
“Everything I did before was still me. But, for example, a song like [2016’s] ‘Ericsson’ was 100 per cent me, but it was also a 16-year-old me… It’s nice, in some sense, to be able to document my growth through my music; so you can actually listen to my tunes and go, ‘Oh, wow, he’s more mature now.’”
And with such maturity equally comes a growing sense of despair at the world. And as such, Finn dropped ‘Leaders’ last week – amidst a backdrop of an impotent government and probably the most depressing Tory leadership contest in history, as people struggle with a cost-of-living crisis.
Leaders is certainly something we’re lacking.
And whilst Finn’s pragmatic when it comes to his political power – “I’m a fucking artist, what do I know?” – he’s keen as that same artist to “try to articulate a bit of the essence of what people are feeling.”
“Something needs to be said about the state of what all our leaders are doing… It’s a mess. [The track] just highlights the jokeyness of it; the blatant shambles that most of our leaders run around like big kids, and they’re not even attempting to hide it… The leaders are a joke, and their kids think they’re a joke.”
Delivered with a raucous clamour, it’s not like anything you might previously recognise from Finn, with a post-punk sound that equally bears resemblance to a mid-to-late-noughties, indie-rock tune. His forthcoming track, ‘What’s Your Poison?’, meanwhile, is an even grungier affair reminiscent of King Krule.
Finn’s candid when it comes to what he hopes for these tracks – and, when asked, how he assesses the current status of his position as an artist. “I’m kind of at this weird stage where I’m not quite in the fucking big limelight, but I’m a little bit above that top of the underground. I can actually sell tickets now and do all this shit.
“And I’ve got a cult fanbase, which is fantastic, that’s great. But I really hope with these singles I can kick the door down and become a bit more of a quintessential British artist; like my name gets mentioned if we’re talking about music on this island. That’s what I want.
“I’ve got enough to get by now, which is wonderful. I’m actually living off music. But it’s step at a time; can you live off it, and then can you build off it? And then can you actually eat off it? There’s so many levels, but one thing I’ve said to everyone around me, which has been my motto, is: slow and steady.
“I would rather it be that way than having had anything come to me sooner, because I wouldn’t have been ready for it. I probably would have fumbled it, whereas now it makes perfect sense.”
And with a UK headline tour set to begin in October, before the release of ‘What’s Your Poison?’, building on a new musical direction sprung by ‘Leaders’, expect plenty more knowing smiles. Onstage and off it.