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Future Bubblers: Nottingham's Ella Knight and TONYSPARK on the Giles Peterson Discovery Scheme

26 September 20 words: Eileen Pegg
photos: Adama Jalloh

Now in its fifth year, the Gilles Peterson and Brownswood recordings-backed talent discovery scheme Future Bubblers has a long-standing connection to supporting new musical talent here in Nottingham. We caught up with Ella Knight and TONYSPARK, two of the Y5 Bubblers that will follow in the footsteps of many, now household, names that have been through the programme…

Future Bubblers has been helping people to ‘bubble-up’ long before it became part of the ‘new normal’. Launching in 2015 with Nottingham as its focus city, it seeks out and mentors the best unsigned musical talent beyond the capital, promoting and motivating artists in the lesser supported cities to aid in creating micro music cultures. 

Locally, past Future Bubblers include Yazmin Lacey, Three Body, Congi, Snowy, Broadstrokes and Medikul, with other successful names, such as Skinny Pelembe, also coming through the scheme. The no-frills yet supportive formula clearly works, with its reputation only growing with every passing year. Rather than feel intimidated by this, two of its Notts-based Year 5 Bubblers are excited by the opportunity. 

Ella Knight is a versatile singer-songwriter and composer who’s just as comfortable laying down vocals on drum & bass tracks (see her collab with fellow Notts artist, Bru-C) as on jazz, soul or hip-hop, “It feels great to carry on the legacy - being a few years younger than Yazmin I've always looked up to her as an inspiration,” she says. TONYSPARK is a singer, songwriter, producer, rapper, multi-instrumentalist and part of the LUSTY ARTS collective who, alongside Eddie McCarthy in their band COFFEE CLUB, made a standout appearance at Wigflex City Festival last year. Testament to the community spirit that’s long been known here in Notts, he’s already well-versed with its past alumni, as he explains: “Everyone at Future Bubblers and Brownswood have got really good taste, so they know what they’re looking for. I’ve always been a fan of Gilles Peterson from what he’s done for the music scene in Britain over the years. Shout-out to Snowy, that’s the homie, and to Yazmin Lacey too, everything about her is beautiful.”

Mirroring Future Bubblers’ ethos of ‘helping local audiences to discover the hidden musical treasures buried deep in their city’, Nottingham’s connection with the mentoring programme wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Nathaniel Coltraine Wilson - founder and owner of Mimm, and later the rising Nottingham Street Food Club. True to form, TONY credits Nate as encouraging him to sign up for Y5, something which he’s been responsible for since Future Bubblers first launched, acting as a partner in the early years to help form the local connections from the ground. 

“I’ve got a lot of love for him,” TONY says, “He’s selfless, genuinely loves art and is always for the people. He’s a super connector with good taste. These types of platforms [Mimm and Future Bubblers] are important for artists as there are many dope people out there that may not particularly have the confidence or tools to properly execute ideas or visions on their own.” 

Lockdown has shown us that we don’t need major companies and silly record deals, everyone’s been active from the comfort of their own homes. We need more of that

Something that’s different for the 2020 mentees, however, is their introduction to the project. Ella and TONY’s place on the scheme was announced this June - months into lockdown - with a world and music industry in a constant state of flux. Though, as Ella told us, they’d known about the news long before such monumental change happened, “We found out last November, so I've been itching to scream it for so long!”

“No one knew how long lockdown would go on for. But that's just life, there are always going to be things in the way, things that will knock you down,” she continues, “there is nothing I or anyone can do anything about it, I just tried to stay positive and think outside the box of how I could continue to progress as an artist.” 

For TONY, who was on his way to record a Brownswoood Basement Session during our interview, the announcement came at the perfect time, and he’s eager for the connections, collaborations and experience it will bring, “I kind of just went about my business and forgot about it, so when they finally announced it to the public I was excited again myself!” he tells me, “By the middle of the pandemic I was just as lost as everyone else so when they announced that I was like ‘oh yeah!’ I’m just happy to be in with the right kind of people.”

Even with her undoubted drive and tenacity, Ella notes the impact that lockdown measures have had on her creativity: “It's been quite nice having loads more free time to create music. Usually I'm so busy juggling jobs while doing a degree, so I have been writing, writing and writing.”

“As we’ve been stuck inside it means there has been a lack of things for me to write about. I like to go out, travel and meet people as it inspires me and gives me things to use in my music.Alongside some hefty creative sessions, Ella did make an appearance at a live open-air gig in a London park in July, “I think no matter what happens in life if you really love it you will always find alternatives, and that's exactly what I did.”

Alongside live music shows switching from late-night sessions to daytime affairs, that’s not been the only topic of focus in the industry over the past few months. As the voices behind Black Lives Matter and other anti-racism organisations grew louder over lockdown, our conversations turned to this in the context of driving inclusivity in music. “I think it needs to start from young. Let's give Black children free studio sessions, let's give them free music lessons, let's educate everyone early. So there is no segregation and stereotyping,” Ella said, “Also, booking more Black acts at festivals, however this won't be changed until there are more people of colour at the top making these decisions. Much music and the culture around it originated from Black people after all, so if everyone kept this mindset and educated one another it wouldn't have to be difficult to make it inclusive.”

Let's give Black children free studio sessions, let's give them free music lessons, let's educate everyone early. So there is no segregation and stereotyping

“I think the conversations being had after all of this are very good,” adds TONY. “There is now space to have the conversations that before would make people feel uncomfortable. Revise the education system, collaborate from the heart, support Black-owned business, support women, support your friends, love is the answer.”

When discussing the wider world of music, he continues, “I feel like this whole pandemic has put a huge spanner in the works of the system. I’ve been really enjoying it from the art perspective, everyone has something to say and you can feel it in the music. A lot of people want to go back to the way things were before, but I think it’s time we move on for the better. Lockdown has shown us that we don’t need major companies and silly record deals, everyone’s been active from the comfort of their own homes. We need more of that.”

It’s this self-starting spirit that has helped both Ella and TONY get to where they are now, and will only progress them further. Both starting young (nine and six, respectively) these ever-growing artists with a real thirst for creation look set to thrive under the guidance of Future Bubblers’ humble yet knowledgeable network. Both have new music set to be released in the near future - Ella’s will be showcased in her Brownswood Basement set, while TONY’s due to release a year-long body of solo work soon, promising some “straight stank, real funk music” alongside some further “punk shit” from his COFFEE CLUB band. 

Follow Ella and TONY’s journey online at:

@ellaknight__
@tonysparkz
@futurebubblers

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