We chat with the London-born, Naarm/Melbourne-based luminary about her fizzy and fun new EP ‘Ribena’, and why it “speaks more for me as an artist than my previous work does”.
Winter is right around the corner – us here in Naarm/Melbourne have ostensibly been given early access – but KYE isn’t fazed by the gloomy skies and icy winds: her new EP Ribena is straight-up summer on a seven-inch, teeming with an effervescent energy primed for club nights and beach days.
The locally based artist – real name Kylie Chirunga – tells Purple Sneakers that Ribena is more bubbly and upbeat than its predecessor, 2021’s Good Company EP, because it reflects her own efforts to “reinvent the way [she looks] at fun and leisure” over the past two years.
She explains further: “I had touched on some of those little pop elements in [Good Company], but it was definitely a lot more R&B and soul – and I remember sort of finishing that EP and thinking, ‘I really want to be able to dance, and get my crowd dancing, at my shows.’
“I just needed to bring it all a step up and give people something they can just have fun with, that you don't really have to think about. I think I touched on a lot of deeper stuff – especially relationship stuff – on my first EP, and this time I was just like, ‘You know what? I don’t want to be so deep anymore, I just want to have fun.’ Because that's what I spent the whole summer doing, I just was going out with my friends and enjoying my life – and I wanted to share that feeling with my audience.”
To do it, Chirunga honed in on the UK garage and jungle sounds she cut her teeth on (prior to setting up shop in Naarm, the 26-year-old called London home). It was a daunting prospect at first, she admits, but one she felt enamoured to explore given the looser, more homely vibe she’d locked herself into in the writing process.
“I was really worried when I started [working on the Ribena EP] because I wanted it to feel authentic,” she says, “and obviously I’d never made any UKG-kinda stuff before. But that is such a strong genre in itself, so I didn’t want to come in there with my pop and R&B influences and, you know, not do the genre justice.
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“But that’s the kind of music I grew up on – it’s always been such a staple in my life – so once I got in there and started playing around with it, I found it really easy to sort of slide into that space. It’s nostalgic, you know? UKG was so huge in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, so I was really excited to revisit the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with music… But it’s so weird to think of it as ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’ now – it feels like 2000 was yesterday!”
Nostalgia is embedded into every facet of Ribena – even in its title. One of the few crossovers between English and Australian culture is the prevalence of Ribena (the syrupy blackcurrent “juice” drink) as a staple in any good family cupboard.
Second only to Milo, it’s the drink that best encapsulates a feeling of blithesome youthfulness: it’s sweet, it’s bright, and it doesn’t care about whether it’s “good for you” – it just cares about making you happy. And not only did it make Chirunga happy growing up, it gave her a formative meet-cute moment with her current partner.
“We went to a 7/11 together after a night out,” she says, “and we opened the fridge, and we both went for the Ribena at the same time. And it was just this moment of thinking, like, ‘Oh my god, do you also love Ribena? Do I love you!?’ It was such a special moment for me. I guess my love of Ribena, and the nostalgia it brings about for me, I think it encompasses so many things that it just made sense [to call the EP Ribena].”
As a whole, Chirunga says, the Ribena EP aims to convey a message that “you should prioritise your joy and prioritise your pleasure”. The eight-track record dropped today on Sony, and while she knows fans will likely suss it out first by skipping over the singles (which consisted of Bossin’, Clique, the Budjerah duet Heavy Love and the title track), she hopes they’ll also engage with as a singular, cohesive body of art. Because while it’s not necessarily a ‘concept record’, Ribena does “tell a story”.
“It’s a bit of a journey,” Chirunga says. “Because you’ve got those moments where it’s really energetic and vibey, like Bossin’ and Clique – but [in-between them] you’ve got 180 where it’s a bit like you’re crying in the club, but you’re still dancing. Having all those songs together, I think it really captures the feeling that I wanted to get across. I hope people are able to see that story unravel.”
By taking herself on that journey – exploring the sepia tones of her youth to reflect the neon tint of her present – Chirunga vouches that she’s “definitely” changed as a person post-Ribena. “I think if anything, I feel like more myself,” she says, beaming. “The last record was a good reflection of who I am, but it was kind of one-sided. It’s been really cool to show this other side of me – the side that loves pop music and wants to make people dance. It’s also reshaped my entire live set: now I get to do the show I've always wanted to do. I definitely feel like [the Ribena EP] speaks more for me as an artist than my previous work does.”
Next Friday (June 2), Chirunga will embark on a national tour in support of Ribena, headlining club shows in Naarm, Eora/Sydney and Meanjin/Brisbane (alongside a pair of gigs supporting Telenova in Wadawurrung/Ballarat and Torquay). And while she admits she “doesn’t think [her] live show will ever reach that ‘definitive’ level”, the Ribena tour will give fans “the most KYE-feeling set there probably ever has been”.
She says in closing: “In terms of all the sounds and the transitions between the songs – you know, some of the songs that we give little nods to and the general feeling of the whole thing – it’s definitely the most ‘put together’ KYE set there’s ever been. And that’s really exciting for me, because I think you really get to see who I am as an artist in this set. There’s not really any room for guessing and being like, ‘Who is she?’ I’m putting myself right out there.”