In March last year, Shura sent media and fans alike into a frenzy by convincing an assortment of her pals to stand in front of a smoke machine in a brightly lit room so she could film them making out. In doing so, the Moscow-born Mancunian created the sensual, candid music video for ‘Touch,’ racking up millions of views in the process. The video’s moments of hesitant intimacy and slow-mo passion are sound-tracked by lyrics that chronicle a love that is neither dying ember nor hopeful spark – “I’ve never been so close / but now I know it’s over.”
The electro-pop wunderkind and singer/songwriter/producer extraordinaire has continued to rake in the critical acclaim almost a year so later: this July’s White Light EP boasts a stunning title track about the otherworldly experience of falling in love, as well as 80s pop jam ‘Indecision’ and the muted 90s r’n’b of ‘2shy’, who got covered by everyone’s favourite Tories, Mumford & Sons. But Shura shows no signs of slowing the momentum; this December will see her hitting the road again for another UK tour.
White Light, and Shura’s work more broadly, cast her as an artist who explores the longing to connect amidst flawed human communication, so perhaps it’s fitting that my first attempt to make contact is marred by shit phone reception. Shura (or Aleksandra Denton when she’s off-stage) laughs and observes: “you sound like you're calling me through a distortion pedal!” When I finally manage to find a signal sweet spot that doesn’t leave our conversation sounding like an exchange between a Dalek and Imogen Heap, I ask her how she’s doing, and she answers simply “I’m great; I’m working.”
The two states are obviously one and the same for her: Shura lives and breathes for the creative process. I’ve actually interrupted the flow of her creativity with my call – she’s right in the middle of remixing a track for Mabel, a fellow Polydor Records signee. When she isn’t crafting achingly beautiful indie-tronica in her Shepherd’s Bush bedroom, Shura can be found experimenting with other UK artists. Witness her recent collaboration with Mura Masa on ‘Love For That.’
Earlier this month, Shura even managed to tick Later… with Jools Holland off the list: watch the YouTube video of her performance and you can almost hear her grin over the unequivocal applause. Unfortunately, accepting the invitation onto the show meant pulling out of a date at Empty Bottle in Chicago. When this comes up, there’s a hint of regret in Shura’s voice, who confesses that it was a hard decision. “I was really looking forward to spending a few hours in [legendary record store] Chicago Music Exchange.” Luckily, there are more than enough hallowed halls of vinyl across this great land to satisfy her crate-digging desires as she travels from city to city this December.
“I’m not interested in making perfect music. I find perfection boring. You don’t fall in love with people for being perfect - you fall for their idiosyncrasies, what makes them different, weird and wonderful.”
In between all the producing, recording and impromptu television appearances, Shura somehow is finding the time to prepare for the upcoming tour – not that much preparation is needed. With a set list comprised of older songs and as-yet unreleased material from her forthcoming new record – elusively slated to drop some time in the new year – Shura is primed and road-ready after near-constant touring throughout 2015: she hit Europe, the UK and made not one, but two stateside trips. “I’m super excited about playing in Leeds and Manchester again. I lived in Manchester for fifteen years, so it’s sort of a homecoming for me.” Shura will also be breaking new ground with dates in Nottingham and Birmingham. “It’s like being a tourist in your own country.”
Wanderlust aside, Shura’s barely gotten over her last US jaunt: “jetlag is fucking weird.” She played for enthusiastic audiences in LA, San Francisco and New York this November, and her social media channels are bristling with comment threads and tweets imploring her to return across the Atlantic. It’s clear that she will. Already drawn like a magnet to American popular culture – we talk about her love the X-Files and the “undeniable pop” of Taylor Swift – Shura’s back on British soil with an even deeper sense of fascination. “Going to America was super exciting,” she tells me. “It’s like walking onto the set of every film you’ve ever watched. You literally want to take a picture of everything; even, like, the steam coming up from the pavement in New York. When I saw that I was like, ‘what the fuck, that actually happens? I thought that only happened in films.’”
Shura’s jarring experience of walking on the streets of New York only after having seen them on the silver screen is typical of a cultural moment where the copy is frequently experienced before the original. Hearing Shura’s bittersweet new-wave for the first time is like experiencing a similar convergence of the familiar and the alien: redolent of a not-too-distant musical past, revived in our cultural memory thanks to an obsession with ‘retro’. The synthesized beats and shimmering electronic vibes that permeate her work have lead to favourable comparisons with Janet Jackson and Immaculate Collection-era Madonna. This is no mere copy-cat electro, however. As the aforementioned ‘Touch’ suggests, Shura’s epoch-straddling synth-pop is just as informed by Mozza’s introspection as Madge’s day-glow sparkle. Indeed, songs like ‘2shy’ are imbued with a characteristic English sensibility – the line ‘walking home down the Uxbridge road / headphones on / I’ve got a cigarette rolled’ is preceded by a recording of the sales patter that echoes through the bustle of Shepherd’s Bush Market.
It’s easy to lose yourself in Shura’s headphone music. Her ethereal, complex arrangements beg the question: does she attempt to recreate how she sounds on record in a live setting? “I’ve tried to faithfully capture my records live before, but what I discovered is that it just doesn’t really translate; it kind of gets muddied and lost in a 700 capacity venue.” As such, Shura and her backing band are “always exploring different ways of getting [her] sound across.” She elaborates, “We have a bit less going on live and it’s a lot rawer.” For example, her live rendition of ‘2shy’ has a more guitar driven outro. “People often expect us to play this really gentle r’n’b live, but we kind of rock out... It probably helps that I’ve got almost identical hair to Kurt Cobain.”
Preoccupied as she is with human relationships and their imperfections, bringing her music to life on stage was never going to be a case of grabbing the nearest aux cable, plugging in and pressing play. However, that old misconception remains in the ether – the preserve of rockist musos – that says electronic music is somehow inherently inauthentic and boring. Shura puts this to snobbish fallacy out to pasture: her nouveau r’n’b may be slick, but it has a sumptuous depth to it and a sheen that’s far from clinical. “I’m not interested in making perfect music. I find perfection boring. You don’t fall in love with people for being perfect - you fall for their idiosyncrasies, what makes them different, weird and wonderful.” Shura and her work have idiosyncrasies in spades: listen to one song and you might fall in love with them yourself.
Words by Joseph Kerry