By Ellie Baker
Discussing self-confidence, style and the supposed need of fitting into the music industry’s “boys club”, to blurring gender norms to make for a more diverse and inclusive dancefloor both behind and in front of the decks. I sit and talk to two-time BRIT award nominated DJ, producer, artist and model 220 Kid aka Will, about his own journey of self-belief and how he himself stays grounded in an industry that is forever changing.
You started out with a career in modelling. Did this kindle your love of fashion?
My dad led my interests, he’s always been big on vintage clothes and designers. I looked up to him as my hero. His outfits were incredible.
Did you see yourself going more down the fashion route, or was it always the music?
I always loved music and for years I had this gut feeling that I needed to do it. One of my friends passed and I thought I just needed to try it; it’d be selfish not to. I did it for several years and apparently here we are, we’re doing alright.
They’re both intense industries to be a part of, do you ever feel the need to fit into a stereotype?
I think I’m very lucky, I’ve always been encouraged to be myself, to be a bit different and to be brave about it. I’m 32 now. I’m a bit older than other artists who break through, so from the start I was just myself and rolled with it to see what happened.
Would you say your confidence has improved since being in the industry?
Working with my stylist Adele Cany, she basically said let’s see how fabulous you can be. I liked colours but I didn’t really know how to wear them properly. Adele took what I was trying to do and helped to build my self-esteem. She told me I could push boundaries, from hairstyles to painting my nails. Two years went by, and the realisation hit that we were really pushing, being flamboyant and wearing it with conscience. You can get away with anything if you wear it with confidence.
We go back and forth on ideas and concepts. The last two Brit awards outfits have had concepts and themes that we’ve wanted to stick to ranging from the clothes down to the nails and makeup looks. There’s a lot of planning that goes into it, but it’s not until before the event when the outfits on and put together that you realise it either looks fucking terrible or really good.
I suppose it's how you deal with the opinions and criticism that help you to move forward…
Following the Brits I had a Tiktok video that went pretty viral and I got absolutely slated. Normally I can handle online bullying but that one got to me a bit. I’ve taken a break from social media since the Brits. Sometimes you need to re-ground yourself and get back on and go again. You’re not going to please everyone.
The music industry is traditionally a ‘boys club’ with many male artists not being open about their emotions and feelings. You use your music and platform to speak openly on anxiety and depression to destigmatize the conversation around men and mental health.
Before, when I needed help, I couldn’t see other guys in the same situation. I felt like I couldn’t speak to anyone. Within the past month I’ve gone back to the resources that I know can help because they are now much more accessible. I share this with the people so that they know there is support out there. Before therapy I thought they were mad and that therapists would rewire your brain, but it turned out to be the best thing I ever did. The hardest part is starting and realising that you need the help.
I want people to look at me and think, “He’s been through it and he’s still successful,” and see that they can get anywhere. It's about people protecting themselves and [learning] the coping mechanisms to use when things get a bit tough.
Building your own confidence and being so open goes hand-in-hand with how you present yourself in all aspects of life. Has your improved confidence changed the way you feel about fashion?
When I was unconfident in myself I was wearing black tracksuits. I’d paint my nails for an event and walk around with my hands in my pockets or I’d have my hood up. Now I walk around and I’m like, fuck it. You walk into the Co-op and somebody is like, “Oh wow you look fabulous,” and I feel it. You can tell how somebody is feeling by the way they look - from their posture to how they’re wearing the clothes, it’s all linked.
Who would you say are your biggest fashion influences? Other than your dad, of course.
When I was coming through music, Machine Gun Kelly was up there, as well as older styles such as Elton John and Liberace - they were fearless. Lady Gaga also does it amazingly. I also love Scandinavian style. You go to Sweden and see them make such bold statements, but it’s done in a classy way, it’s not tacky. However, I do love a bit of tacky.
I worked with GCDS at the very start of the company on one of their campaigns. Watching how founder Giuliano Calza does things and how his brain works, from taking something simple and turning it into something so outrageous, is amazing. The brand makes the wearer feel so sexy and it almost forms a comfort zone for the person to be their fabulous selves.
I’d love to design my own clothes or work on collaborations. I come up with all my own concepts for my videos, branding, and artwork, so I’d love to transfer that to fashion. I’ve done a few bits, but it’s all about having the platform to do it and the right time, whilst also being in the right headspace; The music also needs to translate across. I’d go down a collab route so that I could bring across how my creative brain works and how the designer’s creativity works.
Authentic and meaningful collabs are at the heart of everything you do. Are you selective when it comes to who you work with?
I look for a connection. I’ve written a couple songs with a waitress because we were chatting and she had some ideas. Somebody with no musical training helped create something with soul and energy. You can be in a room with the greatest songwriter in the world but if you have nothing there, there will be no emotion in the song. I’ve got some songs with the receptionist from the studio, friends who are going through a breakup… If you can help them articulate how they feel, then that’s an everyday response to something that’s painful, which other people relate to.
I look on Tiktok and find unpolished songwriters because they don’t have rules. If you write a lot, you have rules and elements that songs require, and I find it boring. If you find someone who doesn’t follow the rules then it’s rawer and more adventurous. People aren’t so tainted.
Talking of collaborations, your new single ‘Another Life’ with Jem Cooke is out now. Tell us about it.
I wrote this song the day after a breakup. It was like an emotional outburst of feelings put into a song. Hopefully people can resonate with it and relate to what those feelings are.