Nilüfer Yanya’s Brilliantly Unbothered Guitar Music

Pitchfork: Music critics love to say that guitar music is dead and that young people just want to be producers, but you’re going against that idea.

Nilüfer Yanya: For me it never died. There was just a real dark time in pop music when all these horrible indie bands were in the limelight, writing basic pop songs with guitar sounds in the background—that’s not guitar music. As an instrument, it’s just so versatile. It’s always going to be there. It’s like people say jazz or punk is dead, but they never really died. I don’t really have any favorite guitarists, I just like when it’s being used differently or people are experimenting with it.

There’s a lot of feeling in the way you play, it’s not showy.

I had guitar teachers, but I also had to teach myself. It wasn’t like someone was standing there making me practice. If I didn’t practice, I just wouldn’t have learned it. Because I was writing at the same time, it was like I was making it up as I went along. Everyone says I play kind of weird. Probably a lot of what I do is not technically right.

How do you find performing?

I did my first proper gig when I was 18. It was scary—it’s like when you know you have to do something, you literally force yourself to do it. But I’ve done quite a lot of shows by now. I really enjoy it, but sometimes I’m still thinking, Why do I have to do this? It’s become normal, but it’s still not natural.

It’s never easy, but that’s what makes it satisfying.

Yeah, even when it’s not the best show, you still feel like you’ve accomplished something. But then, the lines get even blurrier, because what are you trying to achieve when you’re on stage? At first, it’s just doing the performance, like, you did it. And then, it’s doing it seamlessly. You’re not messing up. You’re not making mistakes. Those are the things I was worried about at first; I dropped a guitar once. All those things that you don’t want to happen. And then, once you get used to that, you just want to make sure people can understand the songs, ’cause otherwise, what are they listening to?

Are there particular music nights in London that you and your mates go to?

I’ve been to Steez in South London a few times—it’s a music and poetry night that used to run once a month. Otherwise, not really. It’s weird because there’s so much going on, and people expect you to be part of something—some scene, or you must go to this one place. And I’m like, nope.

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