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Gglum January 2024 Brennan Bucannan 02

On the Rise

02 January 2024, 09:30
Words by Ali Shutler
Original Photography by Brennan Bucannan

As gglum, the lo-fi bedroom pop of Secretly Canadian-signed South London songwriter Elle Smoker offers a nightmarish catharsis.

Dreamy debut single "Who Don’t I Care?" established gglum as a powerful purveyor of heartbroken bedroom pop while Ella Smoker’s first EP, Once The Edge Has Worn Off underlined her new position as pained champion of pretty vulnerability. 2022’s "Weak Teeth" shook things up though, with rattling hope and wide-eyed romance replacing the down-trodden despair. What comes next pushes that joy even further.

“Once you start performing, you quickly realise you don’t want to spend a whole set moping around,” Smoker grins. “When I started gglum, I was this angsty teenager but as I’ve grown up, I do feel a lot more optimistic. I do think it’s very funny that the project is called gglum but the music is only getting happier.”

Smoker has always drifted towards music. Growing up, songs would always be there as background noise and a young Smoker decided to audition for the church choir to avoid a test at primary school. She thought she was so clever, until her mum made her go for the next three years. At first, Smoker dabbled in making her own, harmony-driven music that ended up sounding like the ambient, experimental folk of Grouper as well as a spell making Bruno Mars-inspired pop. “I was also determined to make film scores for a short while as well,” she explains. “I was trying stuff out, hopping between ideas.”


Smoker always wanted to make music, but a career as a musician wasn’t really on the cards. “I just enjoyed doing it. It was fun, but I didn’t think that becoming an artist was an option,” she explains. A group of friends regularly uploaded music to Soundcloud but still had day jobs while an aunt was a piano teacher. “I’d never seen anyone in my hemisphere able to survive on being creative. I was planning on releasing music for funsies, then hopefully going and working at a record label.”

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Then came ‘Why Don’t I Care?’ Described by Smoker as a transitional song, the shimmering, reflective anthem came after lots of trials and plenty of errors as Smoker tried to make something that felt authentic. “I couldn’t get a grip on writing something that I felt happy with until a friend introduced me to The Microphones,” says Smoker, with the cult rock band swiftly blowing her mind. “It felt like my brain exploded and a switch immediately turned,” she recalls, finally understanding that there are no rules with songwriting. "Why Don’t I Care?" was uploaded to Spotify as well as Soundcloud because Smoker thought it would be cool to see her name on the platform. Tens of thousands of streams swiftly followed.

“I think it just hit the algorithm at the right millisecond,” she says of the song’s success. “It did a lot of stuff that I never thought was possible. I was obviously pleasantly surprised about that though,” Smoker explains. Rather than fear, “it was more a case of ‘sick, I can do this!’."


“I knew I couldn’t mess up an opportunity like this either, so I really amped things up,” she adds, with the next few years dedicated to releasing as much music as possible and playing her first live shows. “I use a Laoss pad to mess about with my vocals and just lots of different things onstage to play around with. It makes it more exciting for me and hopefully keeps it interesting for the audience.”

“Everything up until this point has been me figuring stuff out,” says Smoker. Lyrically, her music has allowed her to “work through” a lot of the angst that comes with coming-of-age. “I have a complicated relationship with my subconscious. We don’t quite connect but she likes to pop out in some quite aggressive ways,” she says. “Once I let myself actually listen to the songs, it’s very therapeutic.”

As for why other people are connecting, Smoker believes it's because her music is very honest. “I’m not talking about anything that’s unique and I’m not getting deeper than anybody else,” she says. “I’m just saying what a lot of people feel, and I’m not afraid of the pain either.”

Despite making her name in sad indie, gglum’s got no worries about expanding those boundaries. “What’s held me back before is overthinking and worrying about how other people are going to perceive stuff. Not worrying about that judgement makes it so much easier to create.”

“I still don’t know what to call the music I make. It definitely was lo-fi bedroom pop to start with, but it’s evolved. I guess it’s lo-fi indie-bedroom pop that’s left the bedroom,” says Smoker. “I can't identify it, so I don't expect anybody else to either but I just don't want to feel limited by my own production abilities," she adds – and has teamed up with the likes of experimental, genreless producers Karma Kid and Mura Masa to help explore that vision.

There’s a scrappy warmth to it all though: "The Microphones’ music was lo-fi and that made me believe I could make something raw, real and organic. Maybe my music will do that for someone else," she explains.

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There are similarities with the likes of Girl In Red, Billie Eiliish and Beabadobee who all started off making bedroom pop before evolving into rock and pop stardom, but Smoker is more interested in her own journey. “It’s hard to compare myself with those guys because they became famous, and that’s never been something that’s really appealed to me. My dad raised me saying fame is an unfortunate byproduct of success and all I've ever really wanted is to be able to live comfortably being creative and just have a nice time. I feel like anything else would be too much.”

Still, a lot can change in a year and 2024 is looking to be a huge one for gglum. “I’ve finally got a grasp on the music I want to make and I’ve figured out what I want to do,” she teases. “I’ve settled into performing live and I’ve settled into a sound and a vibe I’m happy with.”

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Recent singles "SPLAT!" and "Easy Fun" saw her moving beyond her comfort zone and creating something new. “They’re the blueprint for the next project. I’m very excited for it to all come together,” she offers. “At the time I was writing, I was having loads of crazy dreams so some of it feels really nightmarish but it’s always been so important for me to build an entire world with gglum. I guess the vision for the next project is janky but pleasant. The vibe is somewhere between gross and lovely,” she grins.

“I just feel ready to put out an album,” Smoker continues. “It’s such a big statement of who you are as an artist, but I feel ready to really plant my feet into the ground and show the world what I’m capable of doing. Hopefully they’ll want to join me on this journey.”

gglum plays the Five Day Forecast – a festival of new music curated by Best Fit running from 15-19 January at The Lexington in London. Final tickets are onsale now from Dice.

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