June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, June 11, 2009.
Over the best part of a decade, LA experimental hip-hop sort Regan Farquhar (aka Busdriver) has cut a hyperactive, hyper-intellectual swathe through a genre some feel is stuck in its old ways. Working with anyone from art-noise kids Deerhoof to signpost LA rapper Aceyalone, his bombastic, warp-speed elocution and loose, multi-channelled production aesthetic have seem him rise to become one of independent hip-hop’s true iconoclasts.
We caught up with Farquhar on the eve of releasing dizzying new record Jhelli Beam to chat about the physicality of his craft, his formative years at the legendary Project Blowed open mic and the state of independent hip-hop.
Hey, how are you Regan?
Good, I’m good. How are you?
Not bad at all. What’s going on this evening?
I’m at the YMCA with my daughter. She’s in some half-cocked hip-hop dance class for some reason (laughs). Not that I told her to do hip-hop dance – it’s just the only class that they have.
Nice. I’m enjoying the new record by the way.
I’d love to hear a little about the musical direction of the record. I don’t really have any information on who did the production and so forth.
Well, I’m fortunate to have a whole scene of producers and beat-makers, not at my disposal, but accessible to me. So I kind of dip back into that pool as often as I can. I worked with an old friend in Daedelus and Nobody, and actually, most of the people who worked on the record I’ve known forever. So yeah, there was Omid, Nobody and Daedelus and a couple of new guys like Free the Robots, Nosaj Thing…
Ah, Nosaj! I just got his record – he’s amazing.
Yeah! He did the first song, ‘Split Seconds’. I mean, that’s the thing, in LA right now there’s a real synthesis between a lot of electronic techniques and beat music and hip-hop beats. And you know, it’s not really fantastically new but it’s being made new because it’s being recontextualised. Everyone has their different spin and it really allows me challenge myself. Like working with somebody like Daedelus or Nobody, they feel the need to challenge themselves with every song and so do I, so we can change direction and try out a different sound palette with different songs. So you know, you tend to get a variety of things. Like Nobody’s stuff might go from sounding kind of psychedelic to sounding kind of rough and synth based and really heavy, and Daedelus’s stuff goes from sounding really dancey to just something else entirely.
There’s a lot of layers to most of the songs and they have that kind of crowded sensibility that, like, a Curse Ov Dialect beat might have, where you know that all five members have put their piece in. Did any of the tracks come together like that?
Yeah, sure. The last song ‘Fishy Face’, my friend John Dieterich from Deerhoof, he lent a lot of sounds – guitar work, bass line stuff, all kinds of stuff – and we kind of poorly mixed it in with everything and it came out how it came out. I also contributed my own production to tracks like ‘Handfuls of Sky’, which me and Nobody did. Actually, funnily enough, I wrote that song in Australia in my off time in Sydney when I was touring their last time. I was touring there for a month and I pretty much spent most of the month writing that song.
So most of the production, like the chords and the rudiments of that song, I did beforehand and then Nobody fleshed it out and we got Antimc to play glockenspiel. And then there’s a string section somewhere in there from London, buried. Unfortunately, my engineer didn’t really know how to mix that so it sounds like a sampled thing and we just kind of left it how it was. So yeah, there were definitely multiple pairs of hands involved in most of the production, but mainly me and Nobody.
I guess having seen you on that tour and sort of witnessed the physicality of your elocution – that really rapid-fire kind of rapping – it really made your music make a lot more sense to me. I’d kind of found some of the records a little overwhelming before then, but live, it all kind of crystallised. Do you feel that your music really sort of belongs in a live setting?
Well, I’m a one hundred per cent hip-hop guy and I’m from a crew and we’re based in an open mic, and probably for the first ten years of me trying to do music I was heavily involved in an open mic. That’s where I developed my approach and the approaches I attempt to use. So yeah, that makes complete sense because that’s one of the forms in which I feel most comfortable, and aside from being most comfortable, that’s the form where a lot of things actually started to click.
I remember reading in an old interview that when you were a kid, you were really quite shy and introverted. Was that the case? And if so, was that kind of open mic scene a gateway for discovering your confidence?
Music in general and the ability to do it is a huge confidence booster, but only in brief intervals. Pretty much every night that we play, half an hour before the show and half an hour afterwards I’m feeling good, then I settle back into who I normally am. But the open mic did help me and, you know, that’s what it was there to do. It gave people a megaphone to share with everybody their inner anguish and inner joy (laughs), and that’s what it did. Ultimately, the open mic was a kind of workshop for kids who came down – at like sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, twenty – and they expressed themselves and that’s what it’s for.
To me, that’s what the role of hip-hop is for young people of colour or anything; it’s the anti-music and the last resort. Because kids need some kind of outlet and people need some kind of outlet and you have to make do with what you’ve got.
Do you still keep in contact and maintain relationships with some of the guys from that Project Blowed scene, like Aceyalone and Abstract Rude and those guys?
Oh yeah, yeah! There’s a couple of Project Blowedians on my new record. Myka 9 is on there and one of the new guys from Project Blowed Nocando is on there…
Yeah, I was going to ask you about him. His flow is amazing…
Yeah, he’s one of the young guys, you know. So yeah, it’s all still really active. It’s like my YMCA.
I’ve only had the record for three or fours days and it does always take me a while to unpack your themes. I guess my mind doesn’t work quite as fast as your mouth does.
(Laughs) I’d be hard pressed to find an overall theme in Jhelli Beam. I think the impression I get from it is that I’ve abandoned certain models or sort of framework. You know, even in the indie form there are careerist aspirations that are recommended. Like, ‘You’ve got to these things, you’ve got to do it!’. And when I turned the record in, it proved to me that I’ve truly abandoned – at least for the most part – the kind of obvious things that I should be doing and that I dedicate my attention so wholly to the tidbits of the craft of rapping that I cast a blind eye to a lot of things.
I mean (chuckles), there are a lot of silly songs about being old or being out of step or being out of place, and it’s not because I necessarily feel that way. It’s just because I like writing from the perspective of an underdog or someone who has been discarded. And again, that says to me that I’m try to pay attention to the craft rather than saying anything in particular. I mean, I am trying to say things, but what I’m saying isn’t all that important. Rather, the ideas are kind of ammo or tools or something.
American musicians in particular always seem to insist that there’s such meaning or so many pressing matters that give way to their songs, and I’ve just never felt that way. I mean, I feel like the meaning is important to what I do, but it’s more of a visceral thing than that. Like my body and my mind have found a certain place that they need to go. It’s not about you know, ‘There’s a missile crisis in Cuba! God damn it, this song’s all about that!’ (laughs). I mean sure, it can be about that, but there’s something else happening there and that’s kind of what the record’s about. I’m just going for it and trying to be fresh and still at it and I’m not taking myself too seriously, and there you go (laughs).
Completely. Picking up on what you were saying before about the kind of expectations and aspirations and kind of boundaries that come with operating within the indie scene, do you feel as though underground hip-hop community actually allows much leeway in terms of real experimentation?
You know what? There isn’t any room in post-underground rap or whatever you want to call it. There are more conventions and rules than I think there is in mainstream rap music or regular pop. I feel like people are bogged down with all these ideas that they feel they have to perpetuate. I really don’t like independent rap music that much. I can’t really listen to it. And it’s not because I don’t think it’s good; I just feel that there’s only a handful of approaches that people take – and I do too – and it’s just kind of tiring. To me, a lot of mainstream artists can be more interesting at times. I mean, it sucks that I’d rather listen to a Lil Wayne record or something like that than listen to an Adversary record. I mean, I have the last Lil Wayne record but I don’t have the latest Adversary record.
I don’t know, I think somewhere along the line the people who occupied underground hip-hop, the idea of immediacy just sort of left them and they just kind of settled into a groove. I think a lot of people are good; I just can’t listen to it. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent too much time with it, or maybe it’s just because I’m a hater, which I probably am. But yeah, it’s all very strict and people who listen to straight hip-hop, they’re not a very tolerant breed. It’s very much a one-channel crowd.
I understand that for sure. At the same time, I’ve noticed a lot of interesting stuff coming out of your hometown at the moment, people like Nosaj and Ras G and Flying Lotus. Do you feel like LA is going through an interesting phase?
I hope so. I think that the emphasis has shifted and a lot of people who are championing composition and production and texture are really making some headway. And I hope that it keeps on, you know. As far as rap music is concerned LA took a major detour at some point and now, a lot of the beat guys are re-approaching stuff and have kind of taken the helm in terms of what’s interesting in the independent scene.
Jhelli Beam is out now via Epitaph/Shock
June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, June 9, 2009.
Natasha Khan pushed all the right buttons on her 2007 debut. From the outside, Fur and Gold was a masterstroke of indie marketing. The pieces – the glitter, the feathers, the Native American headdresses, the model-like looks, the Kate Bush and Bjork references – seemed to fit all too well. Adjectives along the lines of “enigmatic” and “quixotic” and frothing (mostly male) reviewers followed.
That said, once inside the record’s tangle of harpsichords, pianos, hand-claps, lumbering percussion and smoke-tinged vocal inflections, it soon became apparent that there was a hell of a lot more to Khan than the alluring persona. A strikingly complete debut, Fur and Gold was a masterstroke of both atmospheric and immediate pop-craft; its songwriterly vignettes as striking six months in as they were on first spin.
All the same, Two Suns, you thought, might be her undoing. Plenty of artists can manage lofty debut; fewer follow it up with something even remotely as impressive. The reverb-laced guitars and electronics and urgent tom/snare tumbles (thanks to guest Yeasayer) of opening stanza ‘Glass’ soon puts that notion to rest. Across the track’s four and a half minutes, Khan projects perhaps her most arresting vocal performance thus far, swooping and spiralling into wondrous flashes of low and high register. It’s a signpost and a telling step forward from the folk-flecked tropes of Fur and Gold.
The further it unravels, the further Two Suns reveals its ambitiousness. This isn’t just a pretty pop record, but a dense, layered and outwardly challenging melange. Khan refuses to settle into any one mode here. Against a fractured backdrop of menacing synth atmospheres, prickly electronics, stuttered rhythms, stark, skeletal instrumentation, Khan weaves the record’s central protagonist – a troubled blonde named “Pearl” – through some of the most sumptuously rendered melodies you’ll hear this year.
The prog-heavy pop of lead single ‘Daniel’ is a highlight, while the beauteous, lushly orchestrated piano sketches ‘Moon and Moon’ and ‘Siren Song’ show Khan’s knack for simple song structure and genuine vocal melody.
But it’s the wondrous electronic architectures of ‘Pearl’s Dream’ that prove the record’s centrepiece. Amid a drift of spacious minor key synths and clustered electronic beats – the kind so wonderfully realised by first-generation IDM artists like Black Dog and Plaid in the mid 90s – Khan rephrases the atmospheric dirge into a thrilling, freakishly pretty piece of pure pop.
It’s the record and Natasha Khan’s finest moment. She was suspiciously good before, but with ‘Pearl’s Dream’, she arrives as an artist of genuine consequence – feathers, glitter, good looks, face paint and all.
June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Age, A2, June 6, 2009.
Around the galleries – Dan Rule
WHAT James Dodd: Insane in the Lane
WHERE Lindberg Contemporary Art, 48 Cambridge Street, Collingwood, 0403 066 775, lindbergcontemporary.com.au
Transcending the often-narrow bounds of a street art show, James Dodd’s latest exhibition takes the art, perse, out of the frame. Dodd’s canvases see him collate the random street scrawl of Melbourne lanes and Darwin bus shelters – the volumes of found text and its illegible detritus – only to re-etch and recompose these disembodied voices into impeccably finished, large-scale works. Their effectiveness lies in their plethora of intonations. Mini-narratives emerge: stunted conversations, potty-mouthed taunts, drunk philosophical gesticulations, haphazard splays of affection and expression. By skirting the premeditated and the self-conscious, Dodd’s works breathe with a lurid immediacy and humanity. Wed–Sat: 11am–5pm. Until June 17.
WHAT Exploration 9
WHERE Flinders Lane Gallery, 137 Flinders Lane, city, 9654 3332, flg.com.au
The ninth instalment in F.L.G.’s Exploration program, an annual group show comprising emerging Melbourne artists, encompasses anything from unassuming oils on canvas to Jee Young Park’s immersive, room-sized installation of plastic sheeting. The assortment reveals a couple of standouts. John Parkinson’s digital vinyl prints of altered cityscapes play with the architectural and spatial motifs of the modern city. Concrete towers, symmetrical window lines and confined, outdoor spaces are repeated and abstracted; flashes of the natural world perforate, leaving both a familiar resonance and alien quality. At the other end of the space, Lisa O’Flynn’s kinetic installation of vertical wires – each topped, flower-like, with a small circular mirror – throws ornate clusters of reflected light against the gallery walls. Tues–Fri: 11am–6pm, Sat: 11am–4pm. Until June 13.
WHAT Rose Nolan: Another Homework Experiment
WHERE Anna Schwartz Gallery, 185 Flinders Lane, city, 9654 6131, annaschwartzgallery.com
In the past, Rose Nolan’s imposing abstract works have been accused – perhaps unfairly – of lacking the ideas to match their monumental scale. Her latest exhibition comprises a massive expanse of painted and perforated hessian, which hangs from one end of the gallery to the other; a long tunnel you must walk to reach the rest of the space and view the painted, outer surface, emblazoned with the hole-riddled aphorisms “HARD BUT FAIR” and “POINTLESS”. But there’s certainly a point there. It’s whilst inside the tunnel – surrounded by the fragile, unpainted underside of the hessian – that the work’s allusion to decay and corrosion rings strongest. Another Homework Experiment may be huge, but it hangs only by a few threads. Tues–Fri: noon–6pm, Sat: 1pm–5pm. Until June 20.
WHAT Sonia Leber & David Chesworth: Space-Shifter
WHERE Conical Inc., Upstairs, 3 Rochester Street, Fitzroy, 9415 6958, conical.org.au
Long-serving Melbourne installation artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth espouse the spirit of the trickster in their latest collaboration. The propped-up shards of distressed sheet-metal that litter the space at Conical are but a ruse for a lurking, inscrutable entity. Human voices (some belonging to the Melbourne Philharmonic Choir) stalk you as you make your way about the space; cackles, giggles and nonsensical grunts ring out, bouncing off the sculptural structures and vibrating the floorboards. Referencing philosopher Mladen Dolar’s notion that the voice becomes unruly when levered from its “textual anchorage”, Leber and Chesworth have outwardly succeed in forging such a cheeky, uncomfortable and exhilarating space. Wed–Sat: noon–5pm. Until June 13.
WHAT And the Difference Is… The Independence Project
WHERE Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, 200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 9419 3406, gertrude.org.au
And the Difference Is… is the latest in Gertrude’s cultural exchange program across the Asia Pacific region, and sees a clutch of Australian and Singaporean artists and curators – working in text, video and installation – engage with notions of exchange and the value of the interpersonal in today’s world of contracts and bureaucratic directives. While a proportion of these works are a somewhat dense and not for everybody, there are plenty of works that immediately engage and reward. Ming Wong’s four-channel remake of an archaic Malay sitcom and Simon Pericich attempt at adding “bling” to printed newspaper images of disaster victims are two highlights. Tue–Fri: 11am–5.30pm, Sat: 11am–4.30pm. Until June 20.
June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: Music Australia Guide #65, May 2009.
BEATS with Dan Rule
Born Like This
No one can touch Daniel Dumile, the rap outsider beneath the veiled, super-villain guise of DOOM (formerly MF Doom). His unhinged diction and razor-sharp wit have made the ever-masked MC/producer hip hop’s biggest enigma. Born Like This is yet another stroke of wacko-genius. Across a suite of wiry, string and piano-heaped beats (courtesy of DOOM, Jake One, Madlib and Dilla), Dumile and cronies Raekwon and Ghostface bleed together some of his more dense, obtuse and outright befuddling syllabic follies yet. It doesn’t make for his most direct record, but as always with DOOM, the devil is in the brilliantly warped, slow burn detail.
Pursuit of Happiness
Astronomy Class – Herd rapper Ozi Batla and production maestros Sir Robbo and Chasm – had already dropped one of the singles of the season with the clunking, Vida-Sunshyne and Kween G-blessed dub of Where You At? and new album Pursuit of Happiness serves up more of the same with the rugged, soul-scarred analogue hook and brilliantly snide Ozi verse of opener Dishing Dirt. The issue here is that like much of the Elefant Traks catalogue, virtually the entire remainder of Pursuit relies on a downbeat, reggae-based rhythm. The quality of these productions is unquestionable, but you can’t help but feel that this AC signature might be becoming a limitation.
The Second Story
Flawless MCing doesn’t always result in a great record. It’s a notion evidenced in The Lostralian, the ultimately flat 2005 debut from prodigious Adelaide MC Delta. Put simply, his beat selection just didn’t match his scrupulous verses. Well, he’s turned the tables on follow-up The Second Story. Featuring a host of guests – members of legendary soul outfit the Dap-Kings included – this proves a kinetic and very much complete record. Delta’s conscientious couplets are as sharp as ever and this time he has the beats to back them. Cuts like the electric, self-produced All Over and the tripping, M-Phazes-produced Damnation make this record a must.
Smudge Another Yesterday
Sydney’s Pimmon is journeyman of the international electronic underground. Over 10 years, the prolific sound artist has released his heavily glitched, shimmering sonic scapes on several of the world’s most revered experimental imprints. Smudge Another Day will only add to his already lofty reputation. Unravelling over eight opaque, often abrasive sketches, it proves a work of subtle, nonetheless intense polarities. Rolling ambience narrows into claustrophobic disquiet; shards of static gnash and shatter atop drowned melodic phrases; sweeping drones digitise into clouds of pixilated texture. It’s enthralling throughout. Pimmon has fashioned a sonic contour that is both narcotic and dangerously visceral.
Shout at the Doner
When Miguel Depredo first started mashing the hell out of techno, punk noise and digital hardcore as Kid606, it really felt like he was piloting some kind of urgent, genre-destroying upheaval. The problem with his later material – as paraphrased by the screeching static attacks of newie Shout at the Doner – is that he’s still pushing the same line. Across this record’s 17 brutal cuts, it’s clear that Depredo’s deconstructions haven’t resulted in any further lucidity. It’s almost as if he possesses an uncontrollable compulsion to be the crazy guy at the party. It’s just that when you get to know the crazy guy, he really doesn’t have that much to say.
June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: Music Australia Guide #65, May 2009.
Wolf & Cub
Science and Sorcery
(Dot Dash/Remote Control)
Love it or loathe it, Adelaide’s rock renegades Wolf & Cub had a thing going with blazing 2006 debut Vessels. Strictly analogue and fervently revivalist, the then trio’s sound occupied a riff-raw echelon deep in the bong smoke of classic 70s psych and thundering 90s stoner-rock. And it worked for them. They were snaffled by indie imprint par excellence 4AD and found themselves touring with some of rock’s international coterie. Odd then, you would think, that the retro rockers would enlist Bumblebeez main man and digital cut ‘n’ paste maestro Chris Colonna to pilot their follow-up. But what might read like a cheap, tardy foray into the hype-riddled indie-electro folds proves something else entirely. From the rattling percussion, agile guitar hooks and reverb-heavy electronics of opener Seven Sevens, Science and Sorcery is anything but passé. A lesser producer might have tried to blanket Wolf & Cub’s retro sound bleeps and pops, but Colonna’s influence is residual rather than overpowering here. He lets the tearing guitar riffs and analogue tonality be, opting instead to rework and reconfigure the band’s sound at its seams. The results are fascinating; a whole new palette of reverbs, atmospheric layers and polyrhythms tempers the group’s signature sound. Check the skewed, psych-dub of Restless Sons, the prog-dance-boogie of Hearts and swooning, tropical pop inflections of Burden for proof. Like its title suggests, Science and Sorcery is a record of unlikely but compatible counterpoints. For the most part, it’s an exhilarating push and pull.
June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Age, A2, May 30, 2009.
Around the galleries – Dan Rule
WHAT Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire
WHERE National Gallery of Victoria, 180 St Kilda Road, city, tel 8620 2222, ngv.vic.gov.au
There’s barely a scraggily high school art student – or former scraggily high school art student for that matter – who hasn’t at some stage worshipped, pastiched or outwardly ripped-off the work of the great Salvador Dali in their noble ascent to the lofty realms of day jobs and discarded easels. The sixth instalment in the NGV’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces will be the tonic for fresh burst of creativity. Liquid Desires – the first comprehensive retrospective of the legendary Surrealist to be staged in Australia – brings together over Dali 200 works, spanning painting, drawing, watercolour, sculpture, jewellery, fashion, photography and cinema. Admission fees apply: Adult $23 / Concession $18 / Children $11 / Family $60. June 13 to October 4.
WHAT Tacita Dean
WHERE Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 111 Sturt Street, Southbank, tel 9697 9999, accaonline.org.au
One of the UK’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, Tacita Dean’s contemplative negotiations of vestige and history inhabit a space between fact and fiction. Her understated 16mm film, photography, print and drawing work delves into both temporality and the mystique of the natural world. Relics of history and of form are recaptured and reconsidered; celluloid is rescued from the throws of the digital age. In what ACCA describe as “a great coup for Melbourne”, fourteen of the award-winning artist’s recent projects will come together to comprise the most extensive exhibition of Dean’s work to ever be shown outside of Europe. June 6 to August 2.
WHAT The Light in Winter
WHERE Various locations, Federation Square, city, tel 9655 1900, fedsquare.com
The people at Federation Square plan to take the chill off the winter air with this public light-based festival. Drawing on themes of light, enlightenment and hope, The Light in Winter is part of a series of public light-based installations around the CBD. The festival includes striking commissions from UK-based design group United Visual Artists (known for their work with U2, Massive Attack, Arctic Monkeys and Kylie Minogue) and local lighting designer Nathan Thompson. Members of Melbourne’s multicultural communities will also offer their own interpretation of light as part of ‘The Gift of Light’, a special community gathering at Fed Square on June 20 (the winter solstice). June 4 to July 5.
WHAT Louis Porter: Cheap Flights
WHERE Centre for Contemporary Photography, 404 George Street, Fitzroy, tel 9417 1549, ccp.org.au
Louis Porter is a sucker for suburbia. The British-born, Melbourne-based photographer’s penchant for colour-saturated anti-exoticism in some ways recalls fellow Brit Martin Parr. But while Parr is known for divulging and exaggerating the garishness of his subjects, Porter’s work breathes with a more candid, human sensibility. He relies on composition and space rather than personality; his sparsely populated suburban streetscapes, vacant lots, tangles of shopping trolleys and discarded plastic bags are as beautiful as they are destitute. Cheap Flights sees Porter get out of town. Shot on various trips between 2005 and 2008, the collection strips away the romanticism to explore on the more disappointing, anti-climactic facets of travel. The cheerful “homemade propaganda” of holiday albums is refocused to reveal the generic fast food outlets, litter and letdowns. June 5 to August 2.
WHAT Len Lye: An Artist in Perpetual Motion
WHERE Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Federation Square, city, tel 8663 2200, acmi.net.au
Perhaps the most significant New Zealand experimental artist of the 20th Century, Len Lye (1901–1980) had a far-reaching impact across countless emerging artistic movements and mediums. Having spent extended amounts time in Samoa and Sydney studying indigenous folk art and modernism in the 1920s, Lye went onto develop experimental film and animation techniques in London in the 30s, became ensconced in Surrealism (exhibiting alongside Dali, Max Ernst and Man Ray), contributed to the experimental art and film scene in New York in the 50s, before developing his robotic ‘tangible motion sculptures’ in the 60s. An Artist in Perpetual Motion is billed as “the largest and most comprehensive” survey of his work to date. Presented in association with the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, it will feature works never exhibited before, including sketches, paintings, batiks, photographs, animations, documentary films and his astonishing motorised kinetic sculptures. July 16 to October 11.
WHAT Craft Cubed
WHERE Craft Victoria, 31 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, tel 9650 7775, craftvic.asn.au
With the handmade experiencing a design-savvy boom, Craft Victoria launch the inaugural Craft Cubed festival – under the theme of City|Country – this August. Utilising the Craft Victoria gallery space as well as the online domain, the festival aims to further the conversation between individual craft practitioners and the cutting edge design community. It will comprise an online exhibit of 50 international design projects as part of its Whitebox program, showcase 50 of Craft Victoria’s professional members in a curated onsite exhibition Perspective, and offer a string of professional development and open studio programs. August 1 to September 12
June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, May 28, 2009.
The roots of electro-nuanced sex rap can be traced all the way back to 1984 and West Coast hip-hop’s first real superstar Arabian Prince (aka Professor X). Before going on to found NWA, the Inglewood rapper was lacing cheesy electro boom-bap with all manner of moustache-heavy sleaze and high-cut bikini-clad beach scenes. His legacy, perhaps indirectly, paved the way for gender-flipped sex-core rap of Peaches, Princess Superstar, Avenue D and Southern booty rappers Yo! Majesty.
The self-titled debut from Toronto duo Thunderheist – MC Isis and producer Grahm – adheres closely to such a pedigree. Over 13 tracks worth of retro drum machine beats, clustered handclaps and thickset bass lines, Isis spits all manner of pants-down innuendo, talk of booty popping and odes to partying white powder style. The problem, though, is that Thunderheist seem to think they’re doing something new. In fact, they’re so damned sure of they originality that they’ve developed an attitude problem about it.
While the first line of their presser has them throwing “a wrench into static hip-hop conventions”, the record – which is fun and danceable enough on paper – proves self-conscious to the point of hindrance. Flatly delivered lines like “Bitch, where the after-party at?” (‘The Party After’) just come off sounding half-arsed rather than obnoxious, while the abundance of booty talk feels uncommitted and downright sexless. When Peaches or Shunda K. spit attitude, you believe it. But there’s such a sense of cooler-than-thou detachment to this whole affair that it’s rendered meaningless.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Thunderheist is that there’s plenty of potential on show. More than just an electro diva, Isis’ technical skills on the mic are sharp and tight and Grahm’s Baltimore-inflected beats prove more than serviceable; check the kinetic ‘Jerk It’ and bass-riddled bump of ‘Slow Roll’ for evidence.
But parties – and sex for that matter – are all about inclusion. It seems like Thunderheist wanted us to know all about their antics without actually extending the invite. Our one consolation is this passionless, vain, lead balloon of a record.