Sans Soucis

Date: 08 Nov 2024
Time: 7.30pm (The Cellar)

Sans Soucis

8th November, The Cellar, doors: 7:30pm

Sans Soucis (they/them) makes music that invigorates the soul. Born out of a desire to reconnect with the uninhibited joyfulness and authenticity of childhood, their music is a radical act of reclamation. Free from the constraints of genre and with a wide gamut of sonic touchstones – from the effervescent electronics of Little Dragon, Solange Knowles’s alt-R&B, the emotional edge of Joni Mitchell and the robust pop melodies of Rihanna – Sans Soucis’s world is one overflowing with eclectic musical textures, pertinent lyrics and a refreshing dose of hopefulness.

By definition Sans Soucis means “without worries”. It’s why the name felt right for Italian-Congolese singer, songwriter and producer, Giulia Grispino. That and their grandmother used to call them that when she was a child. “I was a very easy-going child. I was outgoing and talked to everyone,” they say. “I think my grandma captured a moment in my life with that name that feels so fragile.”

While they trained as a classical singer, Giulia and their sister always played around with contemporary music, putting on mini-imaginary festivals at home. Giulia’s tastes developed further in their teens. “I started to get more interested in R&B,” they say. “I was finding my own voice outside of classical music. I’m a huge Beyoncé and Rihanna fan. At that time in my life, I felt like they represented me in a mainstream world where there weren’t a lot of Black people, especially in Italy where I grew up.”

Raised with an academic mindset, Giulia realised that if they wanted to pursue music they would need to study. Not wishing to stay in Italy, they landed in London. Two weeks after moving, while strolling down Denmark Street with a friend, they bought their first guitar. “I just wanted to play an instrument so I could write songs for myself,” Giulia says. “The guitar felt accessible and so for the next six months I spent every night teaching myself how to play it and writing songs.”

Moving to a new country at just 19 was not without its challenges. “I felt like I lost my voice for a little bit, which is why I put so much of my time into music,” they recall. “I just couldn’t communicate with people in a genuine way that felt representative of my personality. Also, I was still figuring out who I was as an adult. Those two things merged into each other and put me in a space of uprootedness”. 

Music provided them with an avenue to navigate these feelings. While they experimented playing with other musicians, they felt like in order to create art that felt most honest to them they needed to produce it all on their own. What followed were two EPs, The Lover and On Time For Her. The latter, an eclectic mix of experimental R&B, ambient electronica, glorious pop melodies and luscious atmospheric production, allowed Giulia to be truly present for the first time since moving to London, while confronting issues and stories from their family’s past.

These releases were interspersed with new achievements. Along with a string of standout shows at Pitchfork Paris, Eurosonic, SXSW and a support slot for Rina Sawayama in Milan, Giulia won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Music Moves Europe awards. They were also recognised by two music giants – both as Spotify’s Radar artist, with a billboard in Times Square, and Ticketmaster’s Breakthrough Act in 2023.

Throughout it all, Giulia was mulling over their debut album. It was clear that their first full-length project had to be a concept album exploring their coming of age. In order to fulfil this vision, they studied plotting and scriptwriting in order to transpose their life  into a narrative structure. “I grew up singing in the theatre so I wanted to create a spectacle out of what this album is about,” they add.

This is all realised on Sans Soucis’s debut album Circumnavigating Georgia. Structured like an ascending spiral, and inspired by the third season of Master Of None, the narrative begins and ends at their grandparents’ house in Italy, and tells the story of their coming of age through lived experiences, imagined fantasies, self-discovery, family histories, reclamation, and personal growth. The result is a sublime and intricately crafted record that weaves together Giulia’s wide-reaching musical influences into a remarkable and vibrant tapestry.

As with any theatrical performance, the curtain lifts on Giulia as they embark on this journey. Album opener, the rollicking “Best Class”, tells the story of a young person grasping for an identity, its optimistic Congolese-Rumba infused melodies , elevated by pillowy synths and jubilant percussion, a distraction from the anti-Blackness and the shadows of patriarchy that dominate the society we live.

It’s followed by “Sexed and Sexual”. Built initially around a sweat-soaked bassline and a four-to-the-floor beat, it delves into hyper-sexualisation and the murky waters of a hormone-driven desire for sexual liberation. A story told through the lens of a young queer, black person growing up in Italy. “When I was a teenager, I overlooked situations that, ideally, I shouldn’t have been involved in,’ they say of the song. “I don’t blame myself for it. That’s why I really wanted to explore all of these aspects. The album was kind of exercising my guilt and actually being like, ‘Listen, it is what it is. It happened the way it happened and it’s not my fault.’”

Such reclamation underpins much of Circumnavigating Georgia. “What You Did To Me” sees Giulia co-opting and cranking up the Timbaland-esque beats and sultry R&B melodies from their youth to recount a modified account of their experiences of sexual violence, resulting in a track that doesn’t shy away from the often-problematic sexualisation of ‘00s pop. “That was the music I was listening to at the time that experience happened and I wanted to keep myself rooted in that timeframe,” they say. “For me it was about integrating that into my story. Why not put that dark side of it in my own song?”

Meanwhile, the lilting summer breeze of “If I Let A White Man Cut My Hair” is an ode to the nurturing nature of Black communities and the strength found in chopping away societal expectations. In recalling the experience of growing out and then cutting their hair, Giulia engages in a radical act of ownership. “I think when you build your personality around everything that society wants you to be, then you also agree to a lot of norms that don’t belong to you,” they explain. “But to really own your narrative, you need to move on because you don’t want other people to tell your story for you.”

There’s fantasy in Giulia’s journey of self-discovery, too. Along with the alternative history found in “What You Did To Me”, the grooving “Dancing On This” provides escapism from the violence of patriarchy and white supremacy. Instead, friendship, family, and a desire for untouchable fame become a method of survival. “It’s a way I could protect myself from traumatic situations that aren’t just occasional but a part of the system we live in,” Giulia explains. “I had to pretend that wasn’t my life. It was difficult to come to terms with that because when I had to destroy it, I felt like an empty cell.” 

Relinquishing previous coping mechanisms and the exorcism of past trauma plays out on “Without You”. Over paranoid synths and skittering beats, Giulia releases that chapter of their life through the song’s sermonic chorus, reassuring themselves with the lyric: “Hold on baby ‘till we touch down.”

Circumnavigating Georgia then takes on a different, more tender texture. The gorgeous “Brave”, which features an impassioned extract from a speech by activist and writer Alok Vaid-Menon, sees Giulia in the present, embracing their queer identity and imploring society to find commonality within each other’s differences. On the elfin-like “A Tie”, they loosen the hold that generational trauma and patriarchy has had on their life through a conversation with themselves in order to find closure and acceptance. “That was the moment where I realised I can look after myself and I can look after my inner child,” they say. “I will not forget what happened but I will not be defined by it.”

Precious memories of Giulia’s grandparents also frame Circumnavigating Georgia, with two songs, one for their grandmother and one dedicated to their grandfather, bookending the album. First is “Giulia”, a richly orchestrated homage to Italian ballads from the ‘60s that solidifies the bond and shared experiences between Giulia and their grandmother, whom they are named after.  And towards the end comes the yearning “Se Avessi Visto Te”, which acts as a portrait of Giulia’s grandfather. “The two songs about grandparents are the beginning and the end of this story,” Giulia explains. “I call both ‘A Tie’ and ‘Brave’ Day Zero because you cannot move forward if you don’t understand where you are. So when in the album’s narrative I move back to my grandparents,  I have a chance to check in with myself and assess where I am in life after such an intricate journey” 

Closing the album is the embrace of “Circumnavigating Georgia”. Through a patchwork of guitars, Giulia finds themselves at the end of their journey. “I’ve studied this person, I’ve travelled around this person,” Giulia says of the song. “It remains ambiguous. I don’t want people to have a concrete idea of the journey because it’s very complex and non-linear. It is a metaphysical journey of growth, imbued with eroticism and self reflection. After completing this body of work, I feel ready to fully engage with the world with agency that I didn’t feel I had before.” 

Given the depth and artistic scope of the record, Giulia is bringing the album to life visually with an accompanying film, directed by CT Robert. Inspired by ‘A Fantastic Planet’, the warmth of the earth and the dreamyness of The Wizard of Oz, it’s an alternative method of engaging with an album. “It’s a capsule,” Giulia explains, “and I think if people feel a bit bogged down by the album, they can still go to the visual body of work and have a different experience.” The film, as with the record, is a means of transformation, one that sees Giulia constructing new, safer spaces for themself.

“I feel much more present, proud, and less pressured to perform as a human being and as an artist,” they say. “It feels right when I sit down and write, or sit down and put together ideas or produce. It’s almost like the mirroring that parents do with their children to make sure that they build their confidence and can understand their feelings when they grow older. That’s what this music has done for me.”