NOW PLAYING: A1 x J1
Our Now Playing series now spotlighting one of Europe's most up-and-coming talent returns with a look behind the scenes at duo making serious waves in the UK music scene, A1 x J1.
It’s quite ironic that teenagers Phineas Waweru and Joshua Somerkun (aka A1 x J1) met online, when you consider how unbelievably IRL their friendship is now. After meeting on a video chat app during lockdown and bonding over their shared passion for music, the duo began recording freestyles together and posting them across the internet. Next thing you know, they exploded.
Last year’s debut single, “Latest Trends” was a vibrant and energetic slice of melodic rap that cemented their arrival on the scene, and rose to #2 in the UK charts. Since then, they’ve dropped four more bangers and collaborated with some of the biggest names in rap. The world has fallen in love with these two largely because they’ve injected a positive and feel-good energy into the UK scene, one that has garnered them sell out audiences at live shows and festivals.
Now, A1 x J1 are one of the numerous acts collaborating with New Era on 2022’s campaign, ‘Now Playing’. The driving idea behind the project is to explore how artists around Europe tap into their playful side and unleash their creative spirit. For A1 x J1, this happens at their live shows. The gigs are when the fans get a chance to pay some positivity back to the duo. A1 x J1 performances have become renowned for being joyful and high energy parties, with their lyrics booming out from the thousands that come, and mosh pits forming during every big tune.
A wave of support has carried the duo to where they are today, and they aren’t shy about giving back. Early in their career, A1 x J1 were given some invaluable co-signs by big names, and it helped establish them on the scene. Now, they want to do the same for other young artists. As part of their collab with New Era, the duo chose a young and upcoming artist (the London rapper, Cain) to invite to their studio and work on a track together (which you can hear on the video below). On top of that, New Era will be donating funds to their chosen charity: Young Urban Arts Foundation (YUAF), who focus on creatively empowering young people in hard-to-reach areas.
Perhaps, one day, some of these kids will end up performing on the same stages that have carried A1 x J1 from small shows with friends to playing at Wembley for 10,000. For now, we had a chat with the duo about the magic of performing live and how they prepare themselves to get up there.
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What was your first ever live show like?
A1: Our first show... the crowd was about 100 people. Looking back now, it's mad, because we're performing to thousands. It's mad seeing that progress.
What was the reaction like from friends and family?
J1: Everyone had just been at home innit, so they were just seeing it on all the social media stuff [around our music]. But when it came to real life, they were like, mad ting, whoa… this is actually real. Our first show, we came with our parents and they were so proud of us.
A1: I feel like the shows made our parents realise our children can earn a living out of this. Seeing us perform, that's when they realised.
How did you feel before you performed live?
A1: Honestly, I was scared. It was mad scary. I didn't think performing was like that. I thought you were just performing your song. But it's way more than that: you have to talk to the crowd, make sure they're engaged, tell them what to do.
J1: The pressure was nerve-wracking. But when we got on stage, all the nerves went away. It was very lit, we got the crowd jumping.
What was your first experience in front of a really huge audience?
J1: When one of our collaborators brought us out onstage at a massive music festival. We saw the biggest crowd ever. It was the maddest experience ever. Man's walked out, and these people looked like dots. I was like: mum, I've made it.
A1: I feel like those big crowds are better than the small ones. The small ones you can see everyone, but the big ones you can only see certain faces, you've got distance.
Do you still get nervous?
A1: I get nervous when my parents are there. It's pressure. When I'm on stage, I want my parents to feel proud. But when they're not there, I don't get nervous. When we done our first big stadium gig, I was nervous. It was like, whoa, there's so many people here. When you first come on stage, it's weird – you can feel the energy, and the presence of the crowd.
Tell us about your rehearsals before live shows?
A1: Performances are not just playing your songs. You need to make sure the crowd feels your energy. One thing we work on is crowd control: talking to the crowd. We get musical inspiration from the crowd too. Seeing a mosh pit, makes us think, we want more jumpy songs to perform, so we'll try that tempo in the studio.
What feeling do you get when performing?
A1: It feels mad. I can't really describe the feeling. It's mad, because I'm doing it with my brother. I've got someone that can relate to how I'm feeling. I know he's feeling the same as me.
J1: I think the right word is: fun. I just have fun, literally.
What do you want people to take away from your live shows?
J1: I just wanna inspire everyone that was in my shoes. I want to inspire youth.