Underdogs: Introducing the gIRLS series with Rhythm Lab Records

Rhythm Lab Records is an independent record label that formed as an offshoot of Manchester’s Reform Radio which fosters relationships between young musicians new to the industry. It’s this ethic of collaboration that is driving their gIRLS series which introduces two young female artists who have never met before and gives them the resources to make music together.

The series emerged out of the online International Women’s Day event run by Rhythm Lab earlier this year, ‘Girls Just Wanna… Have Independent Music Careers’. The idea was to create a space for women and gender non-conforming musicians to network and develop the skills needed to get a foothold in the music industry.

Kahreign (left) and Shauna | Photo: Rytham Lab

It’s through this scheme that Shauna came to meet Kahreign and together they released Underdog – the first track of the series.

“Shauna is the first female artist that I have ever really collab-ed with,” Kahreign tells Louis over the phone. “I think women in the music industry are underdogs,” says Shauna. “They don’t get enough recognition or as much love as their male counterparts. I think all minorities in the music industry are underdogs.”

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Musically, the two are an interesting mix. Shauna’s background is as a DJ and producer, playing a mix of techno, house, and breaks that have caught the attention of figures like Ross From Friends, who dropped Shauna’s track DC in a 2020 Boiler Room set.

Kahreign, on the other hand, provides the vocals on Underdog. She sings and raps, and her style fuses genres, including house and synth-pop. It has recently earned her features on BBC Music Introducing and BBC Radio Manchester.

Kahreign says that the artists’ shared experiences as young Northern women trying to make it in music aided the creative process: “I knew I was working with someone who just gets me on all levels. I didn’t feel pressure, I didn’t feel uncomfortable, I didn’t feel restricted in any way.”

The tune itself opens with Kahreign’s voice on Shauna’s breaks-influenced beat. Like a lot of contemporary music – think drill and breaks especially – it’s got a slightly jumpy, almost frantic feel to it. The song peaks about 1:50 mins in – with Kahreign’s voice floating over a heavy, bouncy beat that really opens out after that hectic opening.

The song is reminiscent of Ridin’ The Hype – a 2011 song by Damu, from Manchester, and the East London MC Trim. It’s got a similar mix of a sharp electronic background and more rolling vocals. It’s a song that would sound good in a club, and a reminder of what can happen if you invest in young talent and give people opportunities.

Artwork: Rhythm Lab

The music industry has been crippled by the streaming revolution and the Covid crisis – which has decimated many of the live venues upon which artists’ incomes depend. Marginalised genders, both cis and trans women, as well as non-binary and gender non-conforming people, face added pressures – the purpose of the gIRLS series is to try and alleviate some of those pressures and provide the support young artists need.

This is something that comes across in the music itself, which leaves the listener with the distinct impression that both artists enjoyed themselves and embraced the opportunity to express themselves in a safe, collaborative space.

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Shauna explained how she felt about the piece: “It’s probably my favourite song I’ve made. It’s cool to learn now that I will never stop learning and even when I’m producing in 40 years, I know there’s going to be even more stuff I haven’t learned and that’s exciting!”

Kahreign added: “It’s like she helped me tap into my roots, she gave me something I could have fun with and it’s like I went back to little me sitting on the bus trying to make music like Azealia Banks again and I could just have fun.”

Underdog was followed up by the second release in the giRLs series, Sutty & Migixhi’s Daisy Chain – which has a softer, more R&B feel to it. Both songs are a testament to Rhythm Lab and Reform Radio’s commitment to creating an inclusive space within the music industry and try to change things from the inside.

Rhythm Lab, supported by Youth Music and Arts Council England, set out to show that investing in female collaboration is necessary, and that platforming people who would otherwise be excluded is the only way to make a tangible difference to the music industry.

Photo: Rhythm Lab

Broken systems don’t fix themselves. As Label Manager Hannah O’Gorman explains: “When the Rhythm Lab team was given the opportunity to do something for International Women’s Day, we knew we wanted it to be something truly worthwhile and useful. We also wanted to make sure that whatever we did, it would be a jumping-off point for more work throughout the year.”

Underdog by Kahreign and Shauna is released on Rhythm Lab Records. You can buy the track on Bandcamp.

Rhythm Lab released ‘Jaded’ by collaborators NIIX and Martha today as part of the gIRLS series.