Cooly G: London Dance Maven Pushes Envelope, Then Shreds It

Cooly G / Photo by William Biggs
Cooly G / Photo by William Biggs
Philip Sherburne WRITTEN BY
Philip Sherburne

Who: Cooly G is Merissa Campbell, a London native whose early singles balanced the staccato rhythms of U.K. funky — a percussive, Caribbean-influenced strain of house music — with an abstracted take on electronic soul. Her debut album, Playin Me, takes a hard left (or maybe that's a soft left) away from the toughness of her early work, favoring downy electronic textures and wispy vocal melodies. "When I make tunes, people want to know what type of person I am, and they think you're a certain type of person with a certain type of sound," says Campbell. "With [earlier singles] 'Phat Si' or 'Narst,' guys were, like, scared of me. But this album is a bit more laid-back and a bit more the smooth side of me — more feminine, I should say."

Sounds Like: Various styles come together on Playin Me — jungle, 2-step, deep house, broken beat — all swirled together in diffuse, amorphous shapes. There are echoes of Massive Attack's Blue Lines, Metalheadz's cascading bass lines, and the Casiotone dub reggae of the '80s label Unity Sounds; she even covers Coldplay's "Trouble," converting its MOR mope-fest into flickering U.K. garage. Like most of her colleagues on the Hyperdub label, though, it's impossible to pin her down. 
"I was all over the place when I started making music," she says. "I would make a hip-hop tune, then a garage tune, or a grime tune, or a slow-jam tune. Any kind of beat, I was making it, them times. Now I make music that I don't really have a genre for, but it just feels like it's all in one."

Vibeology: When she moved into her new apartment in London ("I don't want to mention where," she says. "I've moved so that no one knows where I live"), the first boxes she unpacked were for her five-year-old son's room and her studio. "I've made a couple of tunes and done a few mixes in a week," she says. "It's a soothing thing for me. If I hear any sound, I'm just going mental." It's such an obsessive drive that got her started making music in the first place. "If I went to a rave, like an after-party, like a deep house after-party, like, starting from five in the morning, the tracks that I would hear there would just put me in a different zone. So when I'd go home, I'd just have to go make a track straight away. I was just making music from pure vibes, really."

Runs in the Family: Campbell's musical schooling began with her parents' record collection, which was full of acid house, jungle, reggae, and their own DIY productions. "My dad had a little setup in the house when we were really young," she says. "My mom used to sing and he used to make riddims. They were never trying to push their music out there; there were seven of us kids, so they didn't really push it like that. But I've always been serious about the sound and wanting to know more about it from a very, very young age." A chip off the old block, her son is now soaking up his mum's studio knowledge. "He's more into the technical side," she says, "wanting to know how to engineer and use plug-ins and the mixing-down side of things." And even her infant daughter may get in on the act soon. "I'm gonna bring them on tour," says Campbell. "I'm waiting for her to get all her injections, and I'm going to make them roll."

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