BlackBook Interview: Writer-Director Emil Varda Revisits a Very Different Downtown NYC w/ New Play ‘The Sickness’

Images by Ewa Kowalska

 

 

Television shows like Vinyl and The Deuce (both on HBO), seem(ed) to love reveling in the filth and the fury of 1970s New York City, romanticizing a time when living in Gotham was very often a literally harrowing experience. Yet even well into the ’90s, downtown NYC was notorious for its vigorous drug trade, and for the tragic junkies caught up in its deadly whirlwind.

Now the Lower East Side flaunts luxury hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. But the memory of all that decadence and degradation is still fresh to many. And writer-director Emil Varda, whose striking 2018 All Roads Lead to Kurksi Station brought Eastern European emotional exigency to the East Village, has a new play, The Sickness, which reaches back to that New York of two-and-a-half-or-so decades ago for metaphorical puissance and affectiveness.

It references The Odyssey for its narrative arc, but as previously stated is set in the LES of the 1990s, which was still feeling the hangover of a more debauched time. Yet Varda (who came of age as a Polish resistor to the Soviet regime) insists it is all in the service of a sort of allegorical commentary on the current and troubling state of the West.

We caught up with him to discuss The Sickness, which runs until February 29 at the Access Theatre in Tribeca.

 

 

 

What is viscerally significant about setting a play on the LES of the 1990s?

The play is inspired by the work of Glenn O’Brien, who saw my first version of All Roads Lead to the Kurski Station in the late ’80s, and for many years after provoked me to come back to the theatre. When I finally decided to heed his advice, and we even agreed to produce one of his plays together, he was sadly not able to participate.

How was a central figure of downtown Manhattan at that time?

Yes, and the play in a certain way seeks to honor his legacy and vision. It really could be set anywhere downtown, it’s not so specific to the LES, as to the culture of downtown New York at that time in general. In those days, the LES and East Village were probably forgotten by God and definitely by the NYPD. Of course, the crime and drug trade thrived there like crazy. But it was also a special place, in a lot of ways. There is truth in all the mythology. There was a spirit of bohemianism then, many artists and poets. All of this was going on when I first moved to the city, and it was exciting to be involved in. It was accessible. 

What is the essence of the story?

In my opinion, the play is about the everyday terror of living in this crazy, messed up world which eludes our control. We use a pair of heroin addicts as a metaphor for our common sickness; they are both bohemian, aspiring artist types. I should note that they aren’t exactly lovers, or even friends…they are simply bound together by their addiction. I think a lot of what happens for them in this play is about reckoning with the tragedy of feeling that one has wasted one’s life and potential, while feeling powerless to turn anything around.

 

But you haven’t opted for traditional narrative form?

It’s closer to a poetically written slice of life. You could say it’s a collection of snapshots, that hopefully convey a sense of a certain way of living. All the theatre that I create is influenced by the style of the Polish avant-garde, because that is my background, and that kind of work isn’t always easy to describe concisely. However, I do believe this play will be accessible to a New York audience, more so than my last play, which drew more upon Eastern European tradition. This is very much centered on New York, and it is to an extent influenced by real stories from people who experienced that time firsthand.

Is there a sense of romanticizing that time, or of just going back and reassessing it in the play?

Romanticism? It’s very hard for me to find much to romanticize about New York City back then. I’m not Patti Smith. For all that though, I stand by what I said before. There was something special about that time. I think most people are aware of what has been lost, in terms of the cultural life of New York City in the last couple of decades. It is hard not to feel some nostalgia and regret, even without losing sight of how difficult life really was then.

What is it about The Odyssey that offers relevant context to the struggle of heroin addiction?

The Odyssey is one of the central metaphors for life dreamed up by Western Civilization. It is evocative and relevant on a lot of different levels for me. I consider it a defining metaphor for the experience of feeling lost, being at sea, and beset by obstacles with no easy way home. Even the sense of sea sickness, the lack of ground beneath one’s feet…but at the same time, searching avidly for something. I draw a connection with the story of the Ship of Fools. If Odysseus loses his wits at last, I suppose that’s all that’s left.

You mention feeling powerless against our current (socio-political) reality? How does the play address that?

The 1970s in Poland were the most formative years for me. As a dissident in opposition to the Communist regime, I was immersed in a cultural milieu charged with revolt and rebellion, stirred on by an absolute romanticism of the highest human values. My sense of the world, and art’s role therein, was largely shaped during that time. When I first emigrated, I tried to do theatre in New York. Despite a positive response from individuals such as Glenn, as I mentioned earlier, in general I didn’t have a sense that the social climate was friendly and receptive to my message. For many years I didn’t do theatre at all.

 

 

You feel the climate is better now?

My experience during the last play has convinced me that something has shifted, and people are now seemingly interested and ready for the kind of work I am interested in creating. It feels like the right time to bring these aesthetic practices to bear on the 21st Century scene. Whatever is coming from the mass media is absolutely unacceptable, and certainly not the truth. It is a scary time for everyone—the world is being run by gangsters and opportunists. The Sickness is a product of this society. Even the pet animals are sick. My theatre is a kind of howl into this wilderness.

How do you feel about the drug culture having retreated to the suburbs, via the opioid epidemic? Does it turn the morality equation on its head? That the suburbs no longer get to view urbanity through a judgmental lens? 

We are using Lower Manhattan and the disintegration and drug culture that thrived as a metaphor. We explore drug addiction in a more metaphorical, philosophical, probing way. We are not judging or moralizing. The sickness of drug addiction is intimately tied up with the sickness of society. I would say the suburbs may very well have good reason to be judgmental of urbanity, but I suppose this is no longer one of them.

Tell us about the actors in The Sickness.

The actors—Mia Vallet, Ryan Cupello, and Mark Lobene—are extremely talented, and I feel very lucky that they agree to put up with my madness. This is my second show working with Mia, and I am immensely thankful for our collaboration. Building an artistic community is very important to me, and so I am very happy when I can work with the same actors on different projects.

Do you feel a sense of independent theatre surviving and thriving despite NYC gentrification? Or has the struggle gotten harder?

I’m not a theatre critic, and I don’t go see many theatre productions anymore. From my own experience, it gets harder and harder every year. Don’t forget, in the USA there is no Ministry of Art and Culture at any level of the government. I’m just an observer…I fear that, in some time, I don’t know, maybe twenty or thirty years from now, Manhattan will be a tacky gated community, an asylum for the rich and powerful only.

 

Your Anti-Valentine’s Day Song: Melanie Martinez’ ‘Copy Cat’ Calls Out a Misogynist

 

 

The hawking of diamond necklaces and candlelit dinners has been filling up our screens the last couple of weeks—but to be honest, it doesn’t really feel like there’s very much love in the air…does it?

So we figured we would let Melanie Martinez soundtrack our Valentine’s Day, considering she’s the one least likely to tolerate an unworthy lover. To be sure, as we’ve come to know, she does not suffer fools gladly. And someone foolish enough to enter her philosophical crosshairs is now the subject of her biting new single “Copy Cat” (featuring Tierra Whack), which shows little mercy in its assessment of said person’s obviously questionable character.

 

 

Indeed, Ms. Martinez castigatingly croons, “Obsessed with power, you want it for yourself / Feeding on misogyny but still you call yourself / A feminista, if that were really true / You wouldn’t feel as if I were a current threat to you.”

Whoever she’s speaking of, we sincerely hope they use this as an opportunity for growth.

The track is from her upcoming EP After School, due for release sometime in April via Atlantic. In the meantime, she plays the O2 Academy Brixton in London this Monday night, before returning to the US for several live dates in March—then launching the next leg of her K12 Tour in Minneapolis this June.

 

 

BLACKBOOK INTERVIEW: La Roux’s Elly Jackson on Being Human, Needing Space & Taking Baths to be Creative

Image by Ed Miles

 

When Elly Jackson’s second album, Trouble in Paradise, came out in 2014, it was as if her life’s story had written its title. The artist otherwise known as La Roux—and perhaps equally for the ginger wave that famously flops around atop her head—had already managed to take literally the entire world by storm. Her debut album, 2009’s La Roux, produced singles “Quicksand,” “Bulletproof,” and “In the Kill,” nabbed her and her former bandmate Ben Langmaid a Grammy award, almost endless attention, and with it a world of complications that come with being catapulted to fame at a young age. She was all of 21 then. Looking back at her early videos, it’s hard not to notice the traces of baby fat still on her face.

If you have been to any public space that at least attempts to play trendy music in the past 20 years, you have absolutely heard “Bulletproof.” Anyone over 40 will respond to its arcade game nostalgia. Anyone under 40 will register it as vintage electronica cool. Everyone will bop along to it. It’s impossible not to.

Whether it’s her tough-girl persona, her unusually elegant voice (a former falsetto), her fabulous power suits, her uncanny ability to infectiously reimagine the sounds of her youth, her androgyny, or that aforementioned swirl of red hair, her sonic superpowers enable her to use her vocal and musical talents in unique way, that’s frankly a bit odd yet still creates a pop feeding frenzy. And while everyone knows who she is, or at least has unknowingly heard her tunes, what people don’t really know is where the hell Jackson’s been for the past few years (or five).

While Trouble in Paradise garnered critical acclaim, everything leading up to and through the album ultimately blew up her life. It broke up her partnership with Langmaid, got her kicked off Polydor, the major label to which she had been signed, broke up a 10-year personal relationship, inspired her to can an entire third album, La Roux 3, and sent her down plenty of anxiety-induced rabbit holes. The perfect storm had started brewing as early as 2010, when Jackson lost her voice entirely due to anxiety. She had to train herself how to sing again. The pressures of fame weighed heavy on the otherwise spry, and hilariously blunt Jackson, and the cascading effect it had on her unraveled her completely by 2017.

 

 

And to make matters even worse, her shower broke down. Yet it was that same nuisance that changed her life’s rhythm enough to allow her to course correct. Unable to shower, she was forced to take baths.

“That mental space slowed me down enough to change how I thought about my life,” she says. “And today I’m just in such a better place.”

And so the carrot-topped phoenix felt she literally had nothing to lose, stopped all the noise, locked herself up in her kitchen and got to creating Supervision. As Jackson wiggled herself out from her past, she jettisoned plenty of baggage with it. Ranging from her hyper-referenced approach to building her songs to nearly every collaborator and the interference of another record label, Jackson decided to fly completely solo on the new record.

The result is a delightfully short spin through the world of La Roux, just as Elly Jackson. No less of an adorable fuck you, certainly no less of an earworm much less fun, the album itself is a play on words referencing that she can both see clearly now, but also that she doesn’t need the supervision of anyone to get along.

We sat down with Jackson to hear her thoughts on her comeback, her music, and what a young superstar does to get her life back in balance and back on her own terms.

 

 

You have definitely come back from a period of silence. When reading about your story, it’s uncanny how life put you on pause– twice–before you could make your next breakthrough. You first lost your voice, and second had a broken shower that forced you to take baths.

Yeah, a lot has changed. I just feel so much better. There’s just a lot more space and peace in my life, generally, and it’s a very nice place to be. I’ve slowed myself down and realized what my priorities are. I pretty much have to work out every day or I’ll pretty much go insane. I wasn’t doing that nearly enough before. It’s easy when you’re in the studio to drop really good habits in the name of working your ass off pointlessly.
You just turn nocturnal in that mindset and say it must be helpful to work 17 hours a day. But it really just isn’t helpful. It’s really been about finding the balance again. I have found it and it’s a much nicer space to be in, for sure.

La Roux had started off as a collaboration and you have done several since. I read that you don’t like to share. As we age, we definitely become clearer about our healthy boundaries. Was your solo approach to this album a function of that?

I don’t want to make this all about what I’m about to say, because I think it can get annoying; but I really think that most women can possibly relate to finding it harder to [manage boundaries] than men. It’s firstly hard to even know yourself that way. So many people don’t even know what their boundaries are. It’s hard to then set them if you don’t know what they are.
You’ll say, “Yeah, I have boundaries!” Then you’ll say, “Wait. Do I?”

It’s a tricky balance…

If you want to be a nice person, especially with women, one has to sort of learn that being perceived as nice is not necessarily what’s best for you. I’m not saying that I’m not a nice person, or don’t value niceness, but I have come to understand that I don’t want people to cross certain lines because it will make me uncomfortable.
And then I’ll start to feel vulnerable, and I may not like it, and then I could start acting quite stressed and angry. I can start to feel like I’m not protecting myself or that someone’s coming into my cage and it’s too much space invasion.
It just takes time to understand that as a human being. You can’t fucking understand it overnight, and you certainly can’t grasp it when you’re 21. Anyone who knows that when they’re 21, I want to meet them because they will certainly become a fucking guru! But I feel that I at least hopefully have learned how at the right time.

 

Image by Ed Miles

 

Speaking of your age, it’s funny looking at your head spinning in the “International Woman of Leisure” track—you can see you have very defined cheekbones. It made me realize just how young you really were when “Bulletproof” came out.

Yeah it was a shock to me. I never knew that I would get this face. Some people thought that I had gotten plastic surgery. I was like, “Come on! I just lost a little weight and I’m not a child anymore!” All of that happened when I was in my early 20s.

Now that you’ve gone through what you have, what would you tell young Elly that could have maybe helped her navigate that level of fame and what was to come.

I don’t know, it’s so difficult. You know how you are at that age and you just think you know everything. You think you have it all down, and it’s just hilarious because you don’t. It’s kind of impossible, because I know who she was—since I’m her. And [laughing] she would have just said, “Yeah shut up, I’m fine.” Even though I really wasn’t fine.
Nobody can tell you what’s right for you, even if it’s ultimately what is right for you. It’s like the old adage about the addict, you just can’t tell them when to stop. They have to be fed up with their own behavior.

Right, it has to come from within.

I think it would have been really hard to have a talk with that girl. But I was lucky that I had a lot of people say the right things to me. They tried to make me see things in a more positive light and to help me feel less stressed and worried. But it’s just hard when you are constantly stressed and worried and you can’t see a way out most of the time.
But I would have told her to try to not think so much about needing someone else—whether in her work life or personal life. Even that word, “need…” in needing something else you’re just taking away—an experience, a lesson– from yourself. I had to remember at a point that this all started with me in my bedroom with my guitar.
But that is what I would tell her, “If that is where she started, with her guitar, why had she gone so, so far away from that place?” Think about that.

It’s funny you say that, because my predominant image of you with any instrument is you standing behind a keyboard.

Weirdly I am always behind the keyboard; but even more weirdly, all my songs start on guitar even if you don’t hear guitar in them. Pretty much every song on the first album was written on guitar, apart from “Bulletproof.” It may not really sound like it, but that is the case.

Speaking of your style, your first two albums had definitive vibes to them. La Roux was a more synthpop dancey thing and Trouble in Paradise, a bit of a Chicago / Grace Joneseque sort of thing. Supervision really isn’t bundled stylistically in any way. There’s an authenticity to it, because you can more clearly hear who you are.

That’s really important to me. There is just a pain trying to re-creating something that you love so much. Like loving Depeche Mode and Grace Jones. It’s like, great! Love them! But you also have to be you. Don’t sit there and reference them so much that you drive yourself crazy. It’s difficult to get away from the music that is intrinsically inside you that you’ve listened to your whole life—it will show up in your work. For instance, I never once listened to George Michael on this album but you can hear a lot of him in it.

 

 

How did the process of even making this album come to be? You wrote it in just a few weeks at home? It just seems like there’s an ease and flow here that wasn’t available to yourself before.

It’s definitely been a very different experience and feeling. Even though I was the one who always brought the subject matters, the sound, the melodies, it is a different feeling to be [on my terms]. But when you’re in a studio and there’s someone at the computer, or you’re in someone else’s space…or even if you’ve let someone else into your space and you’ve let them commandeer…it always felt like I allowed even the tiniest details, like the order things are done in, to be in someone else’s hands. It had always kind of been dictated by somebody else. I found myself over the years just being so uncomfortable with it.
It came to the point where I just knew I could do something better or quicker, but I didn’t know how to say that without hurting someone’s ego or without sounding delusional. Obviously, I’ve dropped all of that and I don’t live in that space anymore in any way, shape, or form.

You actually shelved your third album?

Once I ditched that record and started making this one, the whole process was just one of pure elation. It was like, Oh! I have these riffs, some voice notes and these bass notes—this chorus.
I had the riffs for “21st Century,” I had the chorus. I had chords to “Do You Feel?” It was honestly kind of like I had no other choice. I had exhausted all my other options and they just didn’t work. It was like, you’ve only got one way left—just you on your own. And it was funny, within hours it was just obvious to me as I sat at my computer that I should have been doing it this way all along.

Epiphany is a wonderful thing.

It’s just so much more fun and so much more me. I definitely had these moments where I worried that if I wasn’t referencing as much or wasn’t as painstakingly sitting there with a fucking engineer, doing stuff that I think is a waste of time, that people may not like the way it sounded. Or that they may not want to listen to me. But then I realized that I didn’t fucking care. There is nobody but me on any of my albums playing the instruments…save the saxophone, which I don’t play. Everything has been written by me, actually. So why did it feel like such a change? But it really did.
All I knew was that I liked the record I was making. I just got to the point where I stood in my kitchen where I was like, “Okay, either you’re insane or you’re right.” But when I realized that I didn’t care, and that I was happy, it has never been the case that I make music in order to tick other people’s boxes.

As women, we’re always told how to feel and be and what should make us happy.

It’s true. But there just comes a point where you’re liberated enough to be yourself.

 

Image by Ed Miles

Here is the Weirdly Wonderful Trailer for Wes Anderson’s ‘The French Dispatch’

Images courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

 

The importance of being Wes Anderson, is that every couple of years, his imagination pops out another opportunity to escape our increasingly worrying reality into somewhere magically surreal and not necessarily bound by quotidian logic. In the last four years alone, he took us from The Grand Budapest Hotel to the Isle of Dogs and back.

And now comes the intriguing first trailer for his latest, The French Dispatch, which is essentially a love letter to old fashioned journalism (all of his films are a love letter to old fashioned something or other). As expected, he’s assembled some of the usual acting suspects (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson), and teamed them up with some future usual acting suspects (Timothee Chalamet, Elisabeth Moss, Benicio Del Toro, Lea Seydoux).

 

 

McDormand’s narrator opens the trailer by explaining, “Eager to escape a bright future on the Great Plains, Arthur Howitzer Jr. transformed a series of travelogue columns into The French Dispatch, a factual weekly report on the subjects of world politics, the arts high and low, and diverse stories of human interest.”

Murray is Howitzer, the snarky, hard-bitten newsman, and the film has no particular plot—but is instead a trio of the paper’s best stories from the past decade, a kind of anthology of heroic kookiness. Naturally, it is surreally filmed in Angouleme, a city in France near Bordeaux that hardly anyone knows even exists—and, of course, it’s hard to really tell exactly what era it is. Because, well, that would kind of ruin it anyway.

Best line: Howitzer to Moss’ reporter: “Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.”

The French Dispatch will arrive in theaters via Searchlight Pictures on July 24, surely the height of the election insanity…when escapism will be at its most urgent and exigent. Merci, Mssr. Anderson.

 

BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: New Lindy Vision Single ‘Restless’ is a Dark, Poignant Post-Punk Stunner

 

 

Not since the Pointer Sisters have three XX chromosome siblings been this musically thrilling. But, Lindy Vision, the Albuquerque trio of vocalist Dorothy Cuylear, guitarist Natasha Cuylear and drummer Carla Cuylear are nothing less than a sonic force of nature.

Which is why we’re excited to premiere “Restless,” their propulsive new synth-funk track— it’s an immediate flashback to the early 2000s, when next wave post-punkers Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were providing the soundtrack to the zeitgeist. That the song lyrically explores their fractured upbringing at the hands of alcoholic parents is ironic…as the grooves recall so many post-Millennium nights of dancing and bad behavior.

 

 

Also citing influences like Depeche Mode and Blondie, the three Native/African American groovers have been turning out new wave inspired emotional musings on #adulting for half a decade now. But with “Restless,” they have genuinely cemented their status as a genre-crashing powerhouse.

The track is taken from the upcoming EP Adult Children Part II, out March 6

“It’s an observational song,” says Dorothy. “It’s written from the perspective of our late mother and her struggle with homelessness. As adults, we witnessed our mother deal with her addictions and personal trauma, and the suffering that comes along with lack of shelter. It captures how trapped our mother felt in her situation and how restless and tired she felt towards the end of her life on this earth.”

BlackBook Interview: Theophilus London on Rihanna, New Album ‘Bebey’, and Keeping it Caribe

 

 

It’s befitting that Theophilus London decided to jump right back into the light just in time for Valentine’s Day. Dropping his first full-length album in five years, Bebey, the Trinidadian-Brooklynite pillar of suavity has emerged from a self-cocooned hiatus as smooth and fabulous a butterfly as he ever was.

The vibe, as he calls it, is New Wave Caribbean. The result is an easy island tilt on many of the collaborative friendships dear to his heart. It’s also a pretty hilarious (but respectful) call out to all the sexy ladies from here to Soweto and back again.

The international man of love and leisure surely has a knack for procuring the best of his jet-setting friends to assist him with his musical projects, and his latest is certainly no exception. Released on his own Bebey Records, the album brims with everything from steel drum flourishes to collabs the likes of Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, as he walks the fine line of keeping it real as an NYC-Caribe kid and a heavy hitter in the scene in the way that only this man called Theophilus London possibly could.

 

 

 

 

London doesn’t only drop hype albums. His personal style has famously gained him admiration everywhere from downtown NYC art parties to getting Karl Lagerfeld to collaborate on his 2014 album Vibes. Indeed, the late fashion icon directed the album’s design, did all the photography, and hand-drew the lettering on the cover.

Flash forward a couple years later, and the then-unreleased “Revenge” (which has finally seen the light of day on Bebey) rocked Virgil Abloh’s Off-White 2017 Spring/ Summer Paris Fashion Week show, leaving Frank Ocean, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and the style cognoscenti grooving and bobbing their heads in the front row. A collaboration with Ariel Pink, it’s actually a cover of English new wave band New Musik’s 1981 track “They All Run After the Carving Knife.”

Abloh and London have long been friends and collaborators. The former was named Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director in 2018, and serves as CEO of his own Milan-based streetwear label Off-White, which he founded in 2013. The two have kept tight throughout the years, and came back together for Bebey, collaborating on the cover art and designing a pair of fancy streetwear cowboy boots, along with a soon-to-be released fashion collection.

We caught up with London to discuss Bebey’s release—her name standing for self-love, which is the “essence, love and beauty” of the album, as he says—along with where he’s been for the past few years, and how he’s created this beautiful universe of which he’s firmly proud.

 

 

 

This album has been long gestating during what has been perceived as a hiatus you took from both fashion and music. What made you feel it was ready to be birthed?

It was done. It was ready for the world to get it. What better than a new decade? I thought about dropping it in November of 2019…but if I dropped it in 2030 it would still leave an impact. The music is timeless, in a sense. I’m just going to foreshadow that. Vibes became an instant classic. It’s not self-proclaimed or anything, but when you see everyone’s comments on it. Vibes was five years ago—some people have gone through high school and middle school since I dropped a new album.

What had been going on in the past few years if an album really hadn’t been?

I’ve been going around the world and A&Ring this record, going through my phone book and the relationships that I have. Each moment I spent on this album was priceless. Being in Australia with Tame Impala, being in London with Giggs, being in LA with Ariel Pink…and also being in LA with Tame Impala when he was on a hiatus himself, after a great album that he had just written.
His label couldn’t get him to clear any other tracks for other rappers. It was like, “How the hell does Theo get to work with Kevin Parker, and we can’t even get in touch with him?” Anybody who I had brushed paths with, they wanted to get on Bebey. There was a hype about it.
After the Louis Vuitton show in summer 2018, I made a pilgrimage to Los Angeles and I haven’t left since. I made a new home base here and started a new record label. After all the travel and changes, the time was just right. And here we are.

 

 

 

There has been plenty of talk that Bebey is a getting back to your roots as a Trinidadian-born kid from Brooklyn. How valid is that view?

It’s more a roots in terms of my energy. I am not going back to my old style in this album at all. To be clear, this is something completely new. I had DM’d the album to Rihanna and told her that this is “New Wave Caribbean.” We both laughed. I wanted to set new expectations for myself, and I am still learning about myself and the album when I listen to it today—I still listen to the lyrics, and I’m like, “Oh, shit! That’s what I meant?”
[I’m] the only person that really survived that era who was a real New York niche, Trinidadian or Guyanese kid from NYC. You grow up in the city, but you stick to your roots and eat the Caribbean food. I actually played in a steel drum band for four years and became the bass leader for the band. So, sure that is in my roots.
But there’s nobody in [rap], except maybe Busta Rhymes, who can comfortably spit patois but also keep it cool. Perhaps Safaree or Casanova, whose parents are Caribbean; but those guys are straight rappers. So, I am really holding the crown when it comes to being so normal cool. I may bust a line in the street, but it’s like, “oh he’s still cool.” It’s like a very fine line between being, “I’m an island boy, and I’m a city boy,” but I bridge the gap.

Are the steel drums you hear in “Bebey” synthesized or real?

No, those are definitely real!

 

 

So where exactly do Tame Impala and Ariel Pink fit into this patois, if you will? They are definitely not Caribbean.

Yeah, thanks for asking that. Tame Impala and Ariel Pink…it’s funny. They are a very important part of this project. Three of my favorite songs on the album, “Only You,” “Revenge” and “Whiplash,” were from working with them. Why would any artist not put those tracks on their album? I don’t care if I was doing a dubstep album, those three tracks would still make it on there!
When “Pretty” and “Bebey” came along, it’s when I started to get more excited about the Caribbean [tip]. But these songs were written long before, 2015ish-16ish.

Around the time you connected with Virgil Abloh…

Revenge” was premiered during his Off-White Business Woman fashion show, in Paris, in 2016.  People are just ready for it to be on an album. Now that it’s out, people are ready to pay for it too—the streams are going nuts.
But overall, it’s never been like, “oh yeah I’m gonna get Tame Impala!” or that the album needed to be Caribbean or anything else. I just follow the heart of love. It was never like a case of me wanting Kevin Parker and hitting up his label to get on my album. It was more like, “oh you’re in town? I’m in town too. Let’s get together tonight and work!”

 

 

 

Spontaneous is always best.

Yeah, and it turned into seventy nights of work. But it was never me really asking a label person or a manager one single thing. It was the same with Ariel Pink. It would be like, “Yo, come over to my crib, I’ve got six cute black girls at my house.” He wants a black girlfriend, I am sure.
So, he runs over in a nice blazer and his leprechaun accent. And we’re doing skits, and whatever the hell. I’m always bridging cultures. And with me bringing Ariel Pink and Kevin Parker onto the album, it’s me just bringing in different cultures into my world. And everyone can just hang out at the party.

You have put out a pair of haute streetwear boots with Off-White for Bebey. Beyond promoting your personal style, what is the strategy behind the fashion collaboration?

With each album, I try to communicate through different media. For an average kid, my songs may not get to him as quickly as say, a Justin Bieber song. So that Off-White collaboration—or any other type of fashion format like that—is so that kid may be able to see a piece and think, “hey, that’s cool!”…and then learn about my music. I always make sure there is space to make fashion. I always try and bring friends on board to do that, and this time it’s Off-White—they’re one of the top three brands in the world at the moment.
Virgil, as a designer, everything he does…I get him up at 4am. He has two brands to sort out for Fashion Week. I don’t even understand what’s going on with him, but somehow I can get him on text for three hours to discuss the line. I have the upmost respect for Virgil. He’s been a good friend to me for a long time.

How did the cowboy boot design come to be?

Yeah the LIFE’S WORK boots, it’s a cool tagline—like graffiti. It’s a 10-year introspection for me. I’m 31 now, and I can finally make sense of things, and that’s just a reflection of my life’s work. Those boots honestly were designed as leather high-end boots that are one of a kind. I’m sure they’ll be copied by every designer next season. I used to wear these boots for the last six years around New York City and I just wanted to recreate them.
It’s cool, Rihanna has flaunted a pair and they’re up for sale on pre-order now. We are doing a collection for the album, designed by Virgil and myself. You see my Caribbean flag heavily throughout the collection. The graphics are Bebey and they include the beautiful face that represents the beautiful Bebey Universe. A small, tight knit crew of my friends hand-drew our own logos and whatnot, and created this new little universe. It’s just fun to step into our own little world, and they can understand me and that world really easily. It validates me as an artist when other artists can step into my world and say, “I see!” They can see where the bathroom is, they can see where the living room is, and they can say, “this is a great house!”

If there is one thing that has been consistent about our conversation, it’s that you aren’t so much trying working hard to make something happen. It comes from the heart, and so it comes to be.

That’s true. But I mean, that was Vibes too. I didn’t ask for Kanye, and I didn’t ask for Lagerfeld. It just happened. It was the same message then. It’s just that I put out the most perfect version of Bebey that I could.
It could have been that I didn’t get much of a satisfactory job out of it, but that’s not true. I’m just super proud of it. I could have been scared when I put it out, being like, “holy shit!” But that’s now how I feel. It’s just incredible. In this project, I immersed myself in the culture, I disassociated myself from whatever celebrity hype. I blended together whatever circles I go in, from Rhode Island to LA and Australia and everywhere else, and I just made this album. No Rolex on, no chains, no dumb cars, no stupid shit…just back in the basement, you know, working on the album. And it’s gold. It’s diamond. It’s making that universal language translate.

 

Watch: Eerily Noir New Video for Austra’s ‘Risk It’ Makes Us ‘Twin Peaks’ Nostalgic

Image by Virginie Khateeb

 

 

BlackBook have been utterly smitten Austra fans since 2011’s Feel it Break. So news of a new album by the Toronto synth-pop army of one—Katie Stelmanis—was not to be taken lightly.

And if the advance single “Risk It” is any indication, our love remains intensely immovable. With its staccato strings intro, and dramatically squeaked out opening vocal, the new song seems like an imagined soundtrack for a Derek Jarman film that never got made. Musically, the moody synth-pop stunner is something like 1983 Ultravox going a bit house, with Stelmanis viscerally intoning, “I’m circling to keep you left of me / It’s slowly killing me.”

 

 

We can absolutely relate. And the accompanying video is appropriately Lynchian noir, with a decidedly Twin Peaks sort of surreality.

After early May gigs in Toronto and Brooklyn, she’ll also embark on an eight date mini European tour—which is the perfect excuse to be in Warsaw or Berlin this spring, no?

 

Art as ‘Mixed Reality’? Ruinart X New Museum Debut AR Driven ‘First Forever’ Installation

 

 

The New Museum, whose existence has coincided with a rush of the art world down to the Lower East Side, remains steadfast in its mission to present breakthrough art concepts. But it has just added something a little different to the mix: augmented reality, and the effervescent bubbles of France’s oldest Champagne estate, Ruinart.

In a bold collaboration between an epicurean classic and artists pushing us towards new ideas and ways of seeing the world, the Ruinart x NEW INC Forever First Mixed Reality Pop-Up has just made its auspicious debut at the venerable NYC museum.

 

 

The partnership was indeed inaugurated this past weekend with a splashy event in the Sky Room, which was transformed into an exploratory lounge space, bringing together the art and fashion world elite (Heidi Lee, Hannah Levy, Timo Weiland, Ash Owens) with tech biz leaders, to preview the award-winning virtual reality project Tree—by NEW INC alumni team Milica Zec and Winslow Porter—and a totally new augmented reality experience Dawn Chorus—by Reese Donohue in collaboration with artist Sarah Meyohas, with both installations exploring the intersection of humanity and nature.

If you’ve ever wondered what would it be like to be a tree in the rainforest, Tree facilitates the transformation via touch, sight, sound and smell, whilst bringing attention to the harsh realities of contemporary deforestation. The multi-sensory Dawn Chorus places users among virtual birds flocking around a real, physical Yamaha piano. Harmony of visuals and sound allow for the exploration of different perceptions of frequencies of musical scales, and the movements of said birds.

 

 

The pop-up will be open to the public Saturday, February 1 and Sunday, February 2, and available to all ticket holders on a first come, first served basis. In another first for the museum, the pop-up will actually feature a Ruinart Champagne bar, where visitors can purchase Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Rosé champagne to sip while they experience the artworks…only heightening the overall sensorial effects.

For Ruinart as a company, it is yet another in a long tradition of art patronage—which, in these times of dwindling public arts budgets, is a particularly welcome thing.

 

 

Gorillaz Deliver ‘Song Machine Episode 1 ‘Momentary Bliss ft slowthai and Slaves”

 

 

We must admit, when Gorillaz first unleashed their made parade onto the scene in 2001, we must admit, we thought it would be a good bit of fun, before passing into memory. After all, the history of the pop charts is not exactly rife with, you know…cartoon bands.

Yet Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s musical/visual juggernaut has gone on to sell about 25 million albums, helping to create the necessary diversion from cultural tragedies like Halsey and Justin Bieber’s (erm…) “Yummy.” Now they even have film studio, which has just released Song Machine Episode 1 ‘Momentary Bliss ft slowthai and Slaves’ – capturing their inimitable antics at their own Kong Recording Studios, in Essex, UK. As the title suggests, slowthai and Slaves were their first special guests.

 

 

Song Machine is a whole new way of doing what we do,” explains drummer Russel. “Gorillaz breaking the mold ‘cos the mold got old. World is moving faster than a supercharged particle, so we’ve gotta stay ready to drop. We don’t even know who’s stepping through the studio next. Song Machine feeds on the unknown, runs on pure chaos. So whatever the hell’s coming, we’re primed and ready to produce like there’s no tomorrow. Y’know, just in case…”

Alas, frontman 2D sidesteps saying anything of much substance by adding, “Once you say things you can’t unsay them and they exist in the universe forever, like Tupperware.”

Expect more episodes on the way…