REVIEW: Ady Suleiman’s Sunlight

Words: Will Soer

Photography: Michael Mavor | Kartel Music Group

A single touchscreen highlights a man’s face above me, a white dot set into the elevated navy blue crowd, outside the main stage lights’ reach. Everyone else is smiling and chatting with each other, or singing and swaying along to Protoje’s ‘Who Knows’. Perhaps he’s making a note to share with his therapist, checking flight prices for a long needed break from London, or finishing off an apology text in an attempt to clear his mind before the gig. I’m standing at the edge of the stage, thinking over the interview I conducted with Ady Suleiman three days ago. This spot means that I can only see Ady’s mic stand – no band gear – but it’s also out of the stage lights, helping my eyes have lose the swimming pool sting that comes from working in bright windowless rooms. Having spent many hours packing boxes for his family’s business before his years of studio sessions began, Ady empathised with the highs and lows of this work; the lack of sun can make you wavy, but repetitive work can be relaxing; ‘it was a bit like meditation, I always thought that if things didn’t work out, I’d rather do something like that than something where I have to smile all the time.’

This lack of social expectation is also something that he appreciates here as opposed to his native Nottingham; ‘every time I jump in a taxi up North they always wanna have a chat, you don’t want to be that bellend in the back of the car, I always have to pretend that I’m making a call or checking mixes on my headphones.’ I asked why he only pretends to listen to music; ‘I think when I listen to music, it’s kinda like I’m still thinking, sometimes  if I’m in that creative mode I never switch off, if I’m working on a project.’ The last record that really hit him was Brent Faiyaz’ Sonder Son, an LP that he recommended me the first time I interviewed him back in early 2018, which makes sense considering how busy he’s been since; releasing and touring his debut album Memories, and then creating and preparing to tour his mixtape Thoughts & Moments Vol.1, his first project recorded entirely as an unsigned artist

Listening to the new mixtape in the context of Ady’s story, I feel so deeply touched by its positivity that it makes me get a bit teary at points, particularly when dancing alone to the Winta James-produced single Been Thru. It’s got this timeless warmth for me, partly because it reminds me of some of my earliest musical memories, pearlescent Soul like Lighthouse Family’s Ocean Drive or Stevie Wonder’s As. Tracks like I Remember made for a great companion to my sunlit walks in the summer of 2018, but the mood and sound of Thoughts & Moments Vol.1 really feels like the bakingly hot days and – in the case of Strange Roses – balmy evenings of that summer. This is no coincidence; ‘they had this mad heatwave in Sweden during the world cup, and that’s where I started pulling this project together. My first album took up a lot of my life, it was really nice to finish it, I felt freer when making this new project, like this is the first thing where I can just do what I want. There was no planning, whatever the first lyrics come out that’s what it’s gonna be about, they happened to all be about love. I remember listening back and worrying that it was just all about this new relationship I was in and out of, considering adding in some more conscious stuff to balance it out, but I thought no, it is what it’s supposed to be, don’t overthink it.

In the same vein of Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper and Stormzy, Ady’s independence has been central to this newfound, immediate vibrance of his work; whilst signed to Simon Cowell’s Syco label he suffered a severe breakdown exacerbated by the pressures of promotion; ‘When I was promoting a song, I had to pretend it was the best thing I’d ever done, when I wanted to say I’m fucking fuming, we spent way too much money on this, it should have come out three years ago… I found it really difficult to pretend to my audience or people, and when I did moan about it I was made to feel ungrateful.’ My immediate response was that that was just bad mental health practice from the label, before reflecting that it can be hard to gage the seriousness of what’s going on behind a complaint, an issue Ady also had himself; ‘I didn’t realise how stressed I was until I reached a pressure point and just broke down, I was 24 years old and I thought I’ve never felt this emotion before, about someat that ain’t even that deep, that’s what I felt, and that brought in all kinds of other anxieties and paranoias.’

The lights go down, Ady paces onstage, and everyone sings the first words of ‘I Remember’ together. My side-on angle gives me a clear view of the crowd, some are unconsciously mouthing as they gaze up, some are screaming the words with eyes screwed shut, as the first verse climaxes, ‘I know that we weren’t perfect, BUT IF IT’S EASY IT’S PROBABLY NOT WORTH IT’. Ady stands rooted as he blasts these words out, his face taut with concentration, breaking into an irrepressible grin as the song winds up and he looks down on the crowd that he adores. They’re just as he promised they would be when I told him it would be my first Suleiman show; ‘you’ll see it on Thursday, everyone’s pretty lovely, there’s cool kids and non-cool kids, there’s not really one crowd of people. I fucking I love my audience, and I’m happy with that, like I remember in Mike Skinner’s autobiography he said he was surprised that the Streets’ audience was cool kids from Shoreditch.’

Having the right people around him has been crucial to Ady’s return, from his fans, to his band made up of university friends (‘going on tour is an absolute joy’), to the new PR team ; ‘it’s like when you leave a relationship and it’s like you find that bit of yourself again, you can see a warning sign straight off, nowadays I don’t do certain kinds of press, I know what’s going on, it’s not just shit thrown at me. I remember the first time I’d done this event under my name to promote a single, I was like I don’t know any of these folk, this is not a fucking vibe. It’s just me innit, it’s not to say that I don’t ever want to do any of that again, but I have to develop as a human being to deal with those scenarios better, because if I do too much of them I’m gonna get overwhelmed, curl up and go into myself.’

The first time I interviewed Ady, a year ago, we talked about tracks wherein Ady sings to someone in crisis, intensified by recognition of the similar struggles within himself. Though it sat alongside sunnier cuts on Memories, I turned to the vocal strains of Not Giving Up in moments of personal darkness before the summer of ‘18 began, when I needed emotional catharsis. Talking of the mixtape with Ady, I wondered if its direction was motivated by the desire to properly relax, before tapping back into the darkness. ‘I definitely want to start incorporating what I’ve learnt over the past couple of years on my next project, I think I’ll have more concepts floating around that I’ll add together. It’s not as easy when you’re still trying to work out what you think about it, what angle it is. There are so many things I want to chat about but those lyrics aren’t gonna be quick for me because I’m not a wordsmith.’

And what about the moments when doubts creep back in, how has Ady maintained his positive energy? ‘Sometimes when I feel a bit shit about music and myself, if I haven’t come up with any lyrics at a studio session or the melodies I came up with were shit, I’ll be going to bed and think “let’s just see how shit I am”, and listen to a voice note of me jamming, and then I’ll be like mate, you’re amazing, don’t give up. I just need a glimpse; everything I’ve put out I’m proud of but I still haven’t made my album, I haven’t done what I want to do, that’s what keeps me so excited to do music. I’ve got a sound in my head, I know exactly how I want it to feel, I’ve just gotta keep chipping away at it. It’s all stepping stones towards that, I haven’t done the bits yet and I’m excited to make em, hopefully, this year.’ Looking out across the Electric Brixton’s crowd, it’s easy to see how many lives Ady has touched, but I didn’t need to come to the show to believe he can change the world, I can just hear it in his voice.


‘Thoughts & Moments Vol.1 Mixtape is out now’