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Spider: ‘I want to be the biggest rock star in the world’

Her parents wanted her to stay home in Tallaght, but Jennifer Irabor overcame their scepticism to follow her dream in London

There are rock’n’roll injuries, and then there is tripping over a decorative tree on a mini-golf course. Jennifer Irabor, aka Spider, has just returned from a trip to the doctor, where she finally had stitches removed from her knee after splitting it on her Christmas trip home to Dublin.

“I suck at sport,” the 24-year-old says, shaking her head. “But I was celebrating after I got a hole-in-one. I played on for another 30 minutes, and then I realised I had a hole in my knee and thought, hmm, I should probably go to A&E.”

Thankfully, Irabor’s music career is going more smoothly than her sporting one, although it wasn’t always plain sailing. The whip-smart, bubbly and articulate London-based musician, who has released an EP and a smattering of promising singles, grew up the youngest member of what she calls a “very academic, straight-edge” Nigerian Catholic family in the Dublin suburb of Tallaght.

Her dad is a Luas driver with a degree in sociology, her mother is a former teacher and her brother is a computer engineer; music, she says, didn’t feature particularly prominently at home apart from some chart hits and Nigerian gospel music. As a result, her strict parents did not allow her to attend concerts as a teenager. Instead she found her community online. She laughs, clawing at her cheeks as she recalls the Twitter stan account that she ran for the pop band 5 Seconds of Summer, aka 5SoS.


“I didn’t go outside that much, besides going to school,” she says. “But I was an avid internet user, so all my music references came from being on sites like Tumblr and Twitter. All the alternative girls that had big online fan bases and fandom cultures around them was what I found myself drawn to – so Halsey, Lorde ... and even though Taylor Swift wasn’t an alternative girl, there was a very big fan base there that I easily slotted into. And when I read that she wrote all of her songs, it was, like, Oh, well obviously, that’s what I need to do.”

Irabor began writing her own songs around the age of 16, when her dad bought her “a cheap keyboard from Argos” and a friend taught her some basic chords. Her early efforts were copies of her favourite artists, but she soon became interested in learning how to produce her own music, too. The natural progression was a college degree – but convincing her parents to allow her to move to London to study at Bimm, the music college, was another matter entirely. When she was 18 she “dropped the bomb” that she was going to move.

“They were still just as surprised as ever,” she says, grinning. “And I get it, because I was the youngest child and their only daughter, and it’s not a thing that happens within our culture, that you just let your kid go and try to be an artist in a foreign country. But I remember having a conversation with my dad, and I really levelled with him, because he knew I really wanted to do music and had driven me to all my singing competitions and stuff. I said to him, ‘Do you really think I could be a successful alternative black artist if I stay here, in this house? I love you all, but ...’ She laughs. “And I think he understood what I was getting at. They’re immigrants themselves, and they understood me wanting to leave home to chase something. I think they always believed in me, but there was that thing in the back of their minds saying, ‘Maybe she’ll get an office job.’”

Art should always be reflecting and moving forward with the current population, and the current population isn’t all white cis men

Irabor moved to London and began releasing music under the name Jenn, taking her sound in a more synth-pop direction. Later she grew disillusioned after attending a “really shit music-industry experience” that left her wondering if she wanted to keep making music at all. It wasn’t until lockdown that her creative spark returned with gusto – heralding a new sound and a name change in the process.

“I started seeing a lot of spiders popping up in my room,” she says. “My parents are religious, but they’re also spiritual, so I grew up in a household that would always talk about the spiritual meaning of anything that would happen. So I googled it, and one meaning is that the spider can show up as a spirit guide to creatives that have stopped creating. That really resonated with me. It was, like, ‘Okay: if I’m going to start making music again, I’m going to completely start from scratch, and I want to find a sound that genuinely feels like me.’”

As Spider, Irabor wants to push the boundaries of what a black female artist is expected to sound like. Last year’s EP Hell or High Water (a third EP, An Object of Desire, is due in the coming weeks) saw her experiment with grimy alt-rock, dark electropop undercurrents and traces of emo and pop-punk. Placing herself in that “alternative music” space as a black artist has been important in terms of representation, she says.

“I remember saying to my dad when I was a teenager, ‘I want to be an alternative artist because there’s not enough black women doing it,’” she recalls. “I loved the artists I loved so much, but I do remember being, like, ‘I wonder why there isn’t a black girl in here.’ Art should always be reflecting and moving forward with the current population, and the current population isn’t all white cis men. It’s people of colour, gender nonconforming people, and it’s important for people who are younger to be able to see something like that, and to find something like that, [so they can think,] ‘Oh, I could do that too!’”

These days, in any case, she is mostly influenced by female-fronted rock and alternative acts from the 1990s. She cites Veruca Salt and Hole as two big inspirations. Contemporary acts such as Wet Leg, the pop artist Gus Dapperton and the young American duo Momma are also in the mix, but “that defiant, 1990s female energy is really feeding my soul right now”.

Her presence on the scene has irked a certain cohort on social media, she says, but she is not bothered by the criticism. “I think it’s riling up a very specific group of people who feel very territorial over the alternative space and maybe over the 1990s idols that we do have,” she says. “So there’s a lot of ‘Get a grip, that’s never going to be you. Your stuff sounds like everything else.’ But I feel like if it’s making them so mad that they feel the need to comment, there must be something there.”

Her forthcoming appearance at the Borderline Festival in Dublin will be only her second Irish gig as Spider; she is looking forward to performing in front of a home crowd, her parents (who have since come around to the idea of having a rock-star daughter) and her old schoolmates who knew her when she was running her 5Sos stan account. This is only the beginning, she says.

“Am I ambitious?” she says. “I’m ambitious to a fault, because it stresses me out – I kind of have to reel myself back in and say, ‘Jennifer, you’re 24 – just take a nap, meet your friends for a drink, relax,’” she says, laughing. “I definitely want big things, though. Honestly, I want to be the biggest rock star in the world. I want to take it as far as I can, I want to do this for as long as I can, I want to inspire as many people as I can and play as many places as I can. And to do it as authentically as possible. So all the way up,” she says. “Yeah, everything. I want it all.”

Spider plays the Borderline Festival at the Workmans Club, in Dublin, on Thursday, February 15th