Iran, 1978. The social turmoil that had been brewing erupted into a state of political revolution. Riots and demonstrations caused anarchy in the streets Leila had once called home. Iran was in shock. With the expulsion of the monarch Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, many were forced to leave their homes and everything they knew about the world with it. The chaos in Iran left many broken-hearted; lost, with nowhere to go.
So, packing her bags, Leila left her country with her three brothers and sisters. They were scared and alone, not knowing what to expect. But finally, stepping out of the plane, they commenced a new chapter in London. The foggy city. The city of opportunity. The grimy streets her playground. The colourless sky her new backdrop. Maida Vale, her new home.
Her father, a “rich self-made modernist” once affiliated with the Iranian king, took up a new profession in the bustling city. The night became his trusty companion. He began buying and running inner-city nightclubs, letting his children eat and play inside before kicking them out as the doors opened. But Leila, at 9 years old, remembers walking up to the DJ decks. The red lights caught her gaze, following her around the room, until she was finally curious enough to take a peek. They fascinated her. This was a new toy she could play with.
Her love of sound and electronic music followed her for the majority of her adolescence. Techno became her soundtrack. Luckily for Leila, the new comprehensive school she was attending – which she likes to describes as a “poncey posh prep school” – had unbelievable art facilities, backed up by “an educational titan and huge muscle man resembling Thor”. Even in the ’80s, at the raw age of 14, she was able to produce original tracks and covers using Fairlight samplers. Her dad took a keen interest in this; anything mechanical captured him. Her mum was less enthusiastic, believing the music was distracting her from cleaning her room and pursuing a ‘real’ career path. However Leila kept pushing her dream; as she says, “the potential of noise inspires me and the fear of boredom drove me on”.
Once again, Leila decided to pack her bags and leave everything she had known behind her; except this time she was following a passion and not being driven out by agitated revolutionists. Some way or another she found herself working as back-up keyboards for Björk, travelling around the world, meeting new faces and hearing new sounds. The Australian ‘Big Day Out’ festivals were her favourite memories, as she spent her spare time sunbathing and relaxing, only having to play five gigs across the space of two weeks. In 1995, whilst on tour with Björk, she met Richard, “a top laugh” soon to become her lifelong friend. He was the only one who would stay up all night and play the new Nintendo console they had on the tour bus, as everyone else, in her eyes, was too boring. During this time she’d come home for small periods, greeted by her mum complaining about all the records she had acquired on her travels. Her father, according to Leila, was just “in absolute shock that anyone could pay her for simply playing a couple of records on a night out”. The fact that he was half deaf though could have been the reason he didn’t mind Leila blasting her tunes through the house all day long.
But in 1996 she left Björk and began her path as a solo musician. One day she decided to dump her shit and fuck off on a world tour, experimenting with computers and sequencers. DJing had taken a new turn. People started to pay her extravagantly for playing around with her ‘toys’ (as she likes to call her equipment), and a new sense of control and pride took over her life. In 2000 she wanted to leave her record deal with XL, as she had a strong feeling of needing to make something more “profound” with her music; something steering away from the toxic environment of the industry that capitalises on other people’s talents. She became independent and worked at home.
However, as with many musicians at the time, the drugs and late night gallivanting started to take their toll. Bouts of laziness developed into spirals of anxiety and fear, sparked by the physical trauma of her career. Unfortunately, the physical trauma met with the mental trauma when her mother and father died almost at the same time in 2003. The guilt began to cloud her judgement. Agoraphobia wrapped itself round her tightly, suffocating any lasting motivation. Leila says that “trauma triggers whatever is in your weak spot. I’d always been a bit of a homebody so it made sense that I would become agoraphobic when I hit the grief wall”. There was a moment when she realised she had gone from not wanting to leave the house to physically not being able to. She was a prisoner in her own home, trapped by the endless cycle of anxiety and looming fear. The grief from the passing of her parents took over for some time. The false sense of control every musician tends to have shattered at her fingertips. She says that “music had always felt so very important but when you are confronted with the absolute binary reality of life and death and the fragility of the body that houses us, it just felt a bit “whatevah” to be doing any music”. An artist is the god of their own world, being able to mould and create works of reality from scratch. Who was she, then, if she was unable to control the life swimming around her?
By 2007, with the help of friends and family keeping her spiritually and emotionally nourished, she crawled out of her darkening hole of depression. She quit the drugs and took back control of her life. In 2013 she released a six track EP with the newly acclaimed Zebra Katz, which sounds refreshingly uplifting yet endearingly dark at the same time. The ensemble of deep bass with Zebra Katz’s sexual tone makes it the perfect sound to listen to in the dark, where it can overcrowd your senses. Leila continues to make music in the comfort of her flat in North London, where she currently lives with her crazy brother and sister, eating shish kebabs and arguing about the lack of Sumac in the house. Luckily though, according to her, she has “been blessed with neighbours who understand that this really isn’t a choice to her”. The constant vibrations and monotonous bass that accumulate around her flat have re-introduced themselves into her world. We’re just going to have to wait to find out what else she’s got in store… The tables have turned, and so will her turntables.
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