Georgia: ‘I would drink to black out – it was destructive and dangerous’

The DIY musician’s second album, Seeking Thrills, is a paean to the transcendental power of dance. She tells Alexandra Pollard about her love of house music, her rocky relationship with alcohol and how her hometown of London has changed for the worse

Sunday 12 January 2020 09:00 GMT
Georgia: 'You can be hedonistic without having alcohol or drugs'
Georgia: 'You can be hedonistic without having alcohol or drugs'

There is a streak of hedonism running through Georgia’s music. Inspired by the Chicago house scene, it is euphoric, escapist and written with the dancefloor in mind. It’s deliciously pop, too – not for nothing was the DIY musician A-listed by Radio 1 and shortlisted for the BBC’s Sound of 2020. Her new album, Seeking Thrills, is made with a particular image in mind: “a collective group of people dancing to a pulsating, electronic beat”.

And yet Georgia’s thrills are a little different these days. The 29-year-old, born Georgia Barnes, is vegan, swims every day, avoids drugs and rarely drinks. When we meet in an east London cafe, she’s on a juice cleanse. “I’ve been juicing for about two years,” she says, untucking her corkscrew curls from her hoody and retrieving a homemade medley of beetroot, pineapple and ginger from her rucksack. “I mean, people either believe in it or they don’t, but I’m a believer in it. It’s really worked for me.”

If that sounds surprising for someone immersed in club culture, Georgia disagrees. “You can be hedonistic without having alcohol or drugs,” she shrugs. “Being sober, experiencing these dancefloors, I found a sense of discovery.”

Georgia is infectious to be around: confident and purposeful, with the zeal of someone with their s*** together. But it’s not always been like this. For a while in her mid-twenties, she lost control. Her self-titled debut album had failed to make waves, her parents had suddenly split up, and she was deeply unhappy. She began binge-drinking. “The problem was I would black out,” she recalls. “It’s kind of an alcoholic’s characteristic, the black out – but I enjoyed reaching it. Most people are like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe what I did last night,’ whereas I would go out and actively get into that state. I’d act very dangerously. I’d wake up in people’s beds that I couldn’t remember getting off with. I’d do loads of disruptive things, and it was just destructive and very dangerous.”

Eventually, her friends stepped in. “When they said, ‘You need to sort this out now, it’s not going to be fun for us to hang out with you if you’re just going to act like that,’ it was a bit like, ‘OK, yeah, time to sort this out.’” She stopped drinking and started attending AA meetings. “I don’t really have the same relationship to alcohol any more. I was sober for two years, and now I can drink a glass of wine without feeling like I’ve got to drink the whole bottle.”

She never stopped going to raves, though. Georgia, whose father cofounded the electronic music group Leftfield, grew up immersed in the culture. “From a very early age, I saw such eccentric, maverick humans, and all they wanted to do was get up, eat, go pick up drugs, and then go to a rave,” she says. “And that was their lives for a couple of years, while this explosion of rave was going on in the Nineties. And I was like, ‘Why are they doing this? What’s so great about rave music?’ And then I came of age and experienced going to a club and seeing a DJ for the first time, and was like, ‘Well this is obviously why.’ When you go to the parties, the looks on these people’s faces and the communities, it’s just like, ‘F***, this is what music’s about.’”

Her new album, recorded in the studio in her garden, is an attempt to bottle that feeling. A paean to the transcendental power of dance, Seeking Thrills is exhilarating to listen to, wrapping up feelings of uncertainty and heartache in synths and drumbeats. When she performed one of its tracks, the thumping masterpiece “Started Out”, at Glastonbury last year, it was one of the biggest moments of the festival. “I wanted people to feel empowered,” she says of the new record. “To feel they can go out and do something that’s out of my ordinary routine.”

She did a frightening amount of research making it, which she reels off to me at speed. Poring over everything from Russian punk to Kate Bush, she developed such an encyclopaedic knowledge of music that she refers to it as her “weapon”. But nothing quite spoke to her quite like house music. “In Chicago where it started, it was not only a music scene, it was actually a cultural movement,” she says, “and it was specifically a gay, black gay cultural movement. You didn’t have to be gay – you could be whoever you wanted to be on those dancefloors – but specifically for black, gay men and women, they found a refuge in these house parties. They found their communities, they found their identities, they discovered who they were. I was just very overwhelmed by the powerful nature of it, and at the time of making this record, it felt like London was losing its communities.”

Georgia is a third-generation Londoner, “part of the east London Jewish community” – but she lives west now. Kensal Rise, she says, “has been gentrified to the point that it’s just millionaires everywhere”. “Till I Own It”, one of the album’s more stripped back tracks, is about this change. “I love London, I’ve walked along these pavements for almost 30 years now, but I went through a period, writing this record, where I felt like I lost my identity here,” she says. “It felt quite upsetting to me, that in this city I was born and bred in, things were changing very viscerally. I could feel it, I could see it. I felt like the change wasn’t necessarily going in the right way. It’s just a monoculture in my area, and it feels like all the characters have just gone, and I struggle with that.”

Still, as long as people like Georgia are making music, the culture she lives and breathes will continue to thrive. “Club culture and dance culture, it changed people’s lives, you know?” she says. “It certainly changed my family’s life. Without it, we would still be living in a council estate in central London.” She takes a final swig of beetroot juice. “I just absolutely could not live without music.”

‘Seeking Thrills’ is out now

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in