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Music : Interview

A deadly serious joke: bedroom minimalism, play, and the potentials of transgression.


Photo by Amos Mac. Image courtesy of the artist.

B0DYH1GH's mellow, unsettled ambiance is something of a contrast to the mechanistic, straightforward accessibility of contemporary hype. The band eschews the avatars and branded aesthetics of a relative sea of emergent creatives eager to utilise the rapid gentrification and development of Brooklyn to garnish their media profile. The psychedelia and l33t-tinged defiance of search optimisation in the band's moniker points to a more visceral and unnameable experience, a playspace of the metatextual. Fortified by understated, cryptic vocals, there is a reticence here that is contagious. B0DYH1GH will perform June 14th at Macie Gransion, 87 Rivington St. NYC, to promote the release of their new mixtape, LILDED GILY.

Ben Rosenberg On Pretty Beautiful, your first mixtape—sorry, mythtape—half the songs were material from other bands that were in some way influential to you. Looking at the track listing—I’m thinking specifically of Slant 6, Inflatable Boy Clams, and the Frumpies, as well as the other girl-fronted bands—in juxtaposition with your presentation during live shows, I'm wondering if there's an underlying play with narrative around feminist iconographies and figureheads? It seems like something that won't quite explain itself, but, perhaps, lives somewhere between deconstructed drag homage and something more viscerally symbolic, à la The Balcony.

Daniel Sandler Narrative is a word that makes me nervous. But if by “play with narrative,” you mean avoid or resist, then, yes, that’s at play. Similarly, I'm interested in detaching from the affirmation of identity, or likeness, that is usually consolidated in the icon, figurehead, or symbol.

Max Steele I definitely chose songs and artists that I like to listen to, but was also thinking about building a context, or trying to explain the way that I felt our songs should be read. I don't mind being heavy-handed. Personally, I want there to be overt, literal play with narrative, and with feminist iconography. Yes, please. I sometimes say it's drag, but it's not really drag.

I haven't read The Balcony, but I think I get what you're saying. It's symbolic on the same level that punk rock is symbolic, when taken as folk art. It's sloppy but it's not an accident. For me, there's a kind of abject pleasure in the sloppiness of drag.

A friend of mine who hadn't seen us until recently told me, when we were drinking, that they really understood us, that they could tell that we were referencing something really specific, and that they knew that we knew what it was. And I was so over the moon—like, Yes!— without ever talking about what that reference is. The idea for me is that the choosing, the conspiratorial, confirmation bias—the all-in approach to navigating culture—that's what I'm doing. I want it to feel like there's something being referenced.

BR A fair amount of critical work about narcissism has emerged in the past few years, specifically about the radical potentiality of designated feminine forms and objects within such. As a performative act, what was the impetus behind the blond tracks, nail polish, and so on? How does this fit into the otherwise minimal approach to the sound itself?

MS The look, as it is, evolved fairly slowly and organically. For our first shows, we played sitting on the floor. At that point we had talked about covering our faces onstage, either with sunglasses or hair, or both. I was looking at wigs, but I saw that individual tracks were so much cheaper than wigs, and I wanted originally to have a unibrow made out of hair extensions covering my face. So the hair was there early on. Then we got invited to perform at Spank, when it was at Littlefield. And Spank and Littlefield are both totally amazing: Spank is always super-nice to and accommodating of artists they collaborate with, and Littlefield has the literally best and nicest sound guys. Way nicer than we deserved. So we had this big fancy gig, and we got to the venue for sound check really hungover, and they said, "Oh, do you want a keyboard stand? And a stool to sit on?" and they took us totally seriously and expected us to stand up when we played. We said "yeah," and then we had eight hours before the show, so we thought, Well, if we're standing up, we should be wearing beautiful dresses, to give the audience something to look at.

Certainly, being inspired by certain girl bands with certain aesthetics was part of what Daniel and I had in common in starting the band, but it's not entirely an accident. So many awful bands have boys in them that are trying to act like Jimmy Page or Mick Jagger or Kurt Cobain or something, and I absolutely wanted to make a band that treats Kim Gordon as similarly iconic. It's also an excuse to buy and wear cute thrift store dresses. In pretty much everything I do, I'm trying to find the limits of an imagination. That, to me, is where the frontier is. So yes: it's an elaborate, grotesque get up, but it doesn't really explain itself. It should be infuriating and a little bit scary. Why do they look like that? That's for the crowd to answer.

DJS Here and elsewhere, I think Max pretty much says it all—but I would add that, for me, the minimalism of the sound is of a piece with that of the look. Punk is, after all, first and foremost a style. I may be misremembering, but in this project as well as others, the first question was always, What to wear?

BR I’m curious about your relationship to youth culture as maybe an antithetical ideology? In past interviews, you both seem to display a Dawn Davenport-esque flippancy, which could come off as pastiche, but seems more self-aware and methodical than performative. I almost want to address it through Yohji Yamamoto's quote about copying: “Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.” Is there a functional expression here, or something being addressed through the invocation of familiar pop dialectics?

MS Even when I was at an age where youth culture was being specifically marketed to me—meaning, under 25—I felt deeply ambivalent about it. I've always been skeptical of pop culture, and the only thing more insulting than the alienation of not being represented or invited to participate in pop culture is the pandering with which pop culture tries to buy me. So it's not sacred for me. I'm not trying to be on MTV; I don't care about that. The idea of copying is less about finding myself amid the copying, and more about taking other types of work seriously. I was into riot grrrl and punk music and bands that made their own art, music, and tours. For me, the flippancy is itself a form, and an established one that I am eager to use. I think, for example, of the opacity of interviews with bands like Cibo Matto—Miho Hatori claimed for many years to be a descendant of Sun Ra.

DJS We live an era, to use two recent and related formulations, of capitalist realism and cynical reason. Together, what this means is not only that there is no alternative—that is, subculture, counterculture, and pop culture are all part and parcel of the same flat capitalist processes—but also that we are self-consciously and ironically and apathetically aware of these dire straits. Tactically, what is actionable, then, is not movement that molds from the outside, but movement that modulates from within. Transgression, here, is not possible—or, rather, not about what’s possible, but instead what can be potentialized. Like lightning, transgression plays upon an energy differential in a field of forces, ephemerally striving for homeostasis before dissolving back into, and altering, the field. B0DYH1GH operates in much the same way: as a bolt of lightning, as a wave.

MS I think Daniel pretty much hit the nail on the head with that. I don't think I have anything to add on that one . . .

BR Often, in listening to the music or seeing one of your shows, I get the feeling you're dealing in raw ingredients. Aside from clothes, there's something about the sound itself, the stock percussion loops and spare vocals, that's wonderfully under-produced. It seems almost meditative, allowing the audience to build for themselves. Maybe I'm projecting here, but listening to butterbawl, there is so much room for world-building within the aural landscape—a kind of recondite abstraction where one was never quite there, but surrounded by possibility. Given your obvious proclivities towards riot grrrl and female punk music, is this a tendency you'd necessarily place in a historical context, or does it stem from something outside a musical lineage?

DJS Raw, abstract, meditative, under-produced. Yes, the sound is all of these things, as well as lo-fi and minimal. Like the look, this is the result of working with materials that are either found or at-hand, that is, working from our initial limitations rather than from our ultimate expectations. We rehearse and record in a bedroom. While the Spartan nature of the sound itself leaves room for the listener to enter, I would also hope that we're somehow exchanging the experience of its genesis, that we're translating or transporting the feeling of potentiality you get from expanding your consciousnesses and bedroom dancing with your friends.

MS As much as I think we've tried and to some degree succeeded in forging a unique sound, I'd be remiss if I didn't say that the minimal sound wasn't influenced by bands I love. Definitely, the Young Marble Giants are a big touchstone for me (as they've been for generations of artists). Something about the palm-muted guitars really encapsulates a kind of adolescent anger. But it's also a political statement. Technique and studied skill are tools of the hegemony. Being a virtuoso doesn't make you better to watch or listen to, it probably just makes you a show off. I want it to sound as small as possible.

There are also some practical considerations—I'm limited to my beloved Yamaha, at least until it breaks. When we're writing songs, they usually function around a handful of progressions or themes, which makes them easier to practice, remember, and change as we go along.

I'm very grateful that you had the experience of projecting into the music. I want that to happen, but it's not something you can ask for. To demand that the listener imagine all the notes you're not playing is too much, even for me. You hope that it happens, and if not, then I guess it just sounds small. And that's okay, too.


Photo by Alesia Exum. Image courtesy of the artist.

BR In a previous interview, you described your plan as, “Party all the time, fuck the rules, kill your boyfriend. We're dead serious.” Can you elaborate on this?

MS These are personal credos to live by, obviously. They're also song titles: “Party All the Time” is, of course, by Eddie Murphy; “Fuck the Rules” is the most romantic song in the world, and it's by Kicking Giant; and “Kill yr Boyfriend” is an early song by Bis. The thing of being dead serious was that someone was once asking if we were a joke or not, and while I understand that question, I'd offer that we are a totally serious joke. It’s important to acknowledge that we are serious, even if the look of the band, or our sound, makes you think we're not serious. I want to be pretty clear that I am demanding to be taken seriously here.

DJS Ditto. And to topically add to the personal credos of deadly seriousness1:

Edina: My New Year's resolution, sweetie...to have more fun! What's yours, Pats?

Patsy: Ohh, well, I think I'll just try to be more relaxed.

Saffy: You? More relaxed? What is that, dead?

B0DYH1GH will be promoting the release of their latest mythtape, LILDED GILY, this Saturday at Macie Gransion. To learn more about B0DYH1GH, visit b0dyh1gh.tumblr.com.

1From Absolutely Fabulous.

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Punk
ambient
Independent music