Micachu – real name Mica Levi – isn’t like most 21-year-old pop stars. For a start, she’s obsessed with making her own instruments and sampling the sounds of household items. For another thing, she’s as comfortable with classical composition as she is with making cutting-edge grime, R&B and guitar pop. And thirdly, she’s picked up fans like Björk before she even put out an album.
When we meet she looks like any other east London kid. Tiny, with short curly hair, mini hoop earrings and a hoodie, she rubs her eyes sleepily and mocks herself everytime she starts to sound a bit self-important. But, having deferred her final year studying composition at Guildhall College of Music, she’s just been the subject of a bidding war among the country’s hottest indie labels. Rough Trade won, and will be releasing her debut album, Jewellery, later this month.
“I’ve been doing music all my life, because my parents are musicians,” Mica says between slurps of tea. “But I started getting into writing classical music through making beats and stuff at school.” A self-proclaimed nerd, she admits spending “a really unhealthy amount of time” making electro in front of a computer as a teenager. “And then I did this weird multimedia improvised jazz thing,” she says, “and it clicked: I didn’t want to be performing, I wanted to write.”
The results are always unique. Last year, Mica released a free garage mixtape called “Filthy Friends” through her MySpace page. Before that, she’d written a piece of classical music for the London Philharmonic, based on the idea of radio static. And now there’s Jewellery, a fragmented, layered album made with her newly-recruited band, The Shapes. She finds as impossible to describe as everyone else does.
“We call it a pop record because it borrows from so many different styles, and because we keep our songs short,” she muses, after protesting that she feels “like a dickhead” when she’s asked to sum up its sound. “I’m really into texture and found sounds; that feeds into the album a lot. There’s some cheesy soundscapes, like the sound of the sea, and a Hoover, and birds. And buzzing: we recorded the sound of all our equipment on, I quite like that.”
In between finalising the album, Mica’s already working on a second mixtape and is planning to record a seven-inch with the string quartet she’s part of. She’s also been building herself new instruments and messing about with soldiering irons. “I just made a contact mic jack lead,” she says proudly, “although I was getting headaches off the fumes.”
Next up are gigs at the ICA and Fabric in April, and you can expect tickets for both to sell out fast. There’s a fanbase steadily growing up around her, but Mica’s trying to keep her head. “I don’t have any other skills,” she confesses, “so I have to do music for the rest of my life. I want to take my time, get to understand the industry, and keep this going for a while.”