Blackhaine

Blackhaine’ poetic yet brutal investigation of reality with unique soundscapes, choreography and cinematographic visuals.

Tom Heyes, also known by his artistic moniker Blackhaine is a rapper, poet and choreographer from Lancashire, UK. Known by many for his projects with Kanye West (Donda 1 and 2) and more, the multidisciplinary artist has forged for himself a solid path, establishing his own unique artistry. Chicago drill, industrial, ambient, experimental hip hop are some of the genres combined within Heyes’ unique soundscapes. With producer Rainy Miller, Heyes worked on delivering visceral releases first Armour, then And Salford Falls Apart. Released in June 2022, Armour II follows the trail of the two earlier bleak releases, perhaps an ending, nonetheless part of the bigger journey the audience embarks on when listening to Heyes. With tracks featuring the likes of Blood Orange, Iceboy Violet, Moseley, Richie Culver and Space Africa, Heyes is also giving space for other artists to enter his universe. Re-contextualising his anger, Heyes delivers poetic yet brutal narratives which juxtaposed with cinematographic visuals, immerse the viewer into Heyes’ inner world. Choreography plays a pivotal part in his practice as he continues to investigate reality. 

Here photographed in London by Berlin-based photographer Joseph Kadow, we witness an artist in his element, creating as he breathes, once again narrating a story of his own. Heyes talks through his genesis, the process and inspirations behind his body of work, spanning across choreography, music, spatial design. 

When and how did you start? 

I’ve been interested in film since I was young, from there I started to learn about sound and movement.

I held an interest in art and between jobs managed to make some decent pieces and work on other’s people’s visions for quick cash. 

During the pandemic I started creating my own film and sound pieces, releasing my first track Moors – and some film projects I created + a project named Armour made in collaboration with Rainy. 

Blackhaine is a node to the French cult classic La Haine on violence and inequality in the suburbs of Paris. You come from Lancashire, UK. How has the landscape of living on the margins and of social and regional inequality, influenced your practice? 

I’ve always felt detached from the current sound, I think being in isolated yet restricted places; Blackpool, Blackburn ect you have no expectations of being accepted by a mainstream crowd. This gives room for experimentation. 

I read Passing Time by Michel Butor recently and was inspired by the detail he created in his idealised Manchester, taking monuments/icons of the city and glitching them. It’s what I had been doing to Lancashire. 

Darker versions of locations feature in my work such as the M6 or the Moors, Rawtape and I used scans of Blackburn high street and Blackpool tower to create a world in Hotel. In my writing I talked about experiences here in tracks like Saddleworth or Stained Materials. 

“Using ultra realistic scenes that verge on boredom and taping a bleak-psychedelic lens to the camera was a huge influence in building the Blackhaine world.”

How is Manchester’s cultural environment and how is it influencing your writing? 

The environment is too self contained, and concerned with itself and it’s history when what we should be doing is looking outwards and ahead. There’s not much interesting happening here at the moment because there’s too many people left over from the 10s. 

The city hasn’t impacted my writing aside from being influenced by Joy Division. 

Drill, experimental hip-hop, ambient, industrial and electronic are genres part of your soundscapes. Are you more influenced by Chicago Drill or Brooklyn Drill? What are some of your musical influences? 

I’ve been into Chicago Drill since the start, however it was UK Drill that got me into writing.
I would say the industrial sound was an influence but the earlier post-punk side, not as much what’s happening there now.
At the moment I’ve been listening to Carti, Zone 2 and some more experimental stuff whilst I
work on my album. 


First Armour, then And Salford Falls Apart. How does Armour II succeed to these? 

There’s the obvious narrative link.

“Sonically I used a softer palette and wrote about a contracted hate that became inverted by gradual unease and paranoia.”

I put more focus on working with melody and traditional songwriting before my album. 

Armour II is death of Blackhaine before a burial. 

How do you usually work with producer and composer Rainy Miller? 

I write alone and with the ideas Rainy sent, before we sent parts back and forth online but with Armour II we started renting a studio together with Space Afrika so we could spend time in there. 

You showcase a unique choreography rooting itself from an extreme creative process. Could you talk more about this? Who are some of your favourite choreographers or a contemporary dance piece that moves you? 

My choreographic style is rooted in perversion and deconstruction of traditional technique, not an anti-technical statement but a separatist practice. I utilise improvisation and sculptural design in the process instead of overt unison structure, and when the work features this form of choreography it’s effect is exhaustion and depletion to the body/mind of the performer, allowing accessibility into new realms.

Choreography a subliminal art, the same modes I work in with writing and sound. The narrative structure of Armour II leading from my previous work is a context for myself and the listener however it is no anchor, this is world building with intent to suture between and deconstruct inside of reality, whilst considering base reality and boredom, hence the exhaustive features within my work. I was initially more interested in examples of choreography I could find in day to day life, the way the bodies on top deck moved whilst the bus turned a corner, a drunk body or the result of excessive strain on specific muscle in the arm.
Pre-tense is naturally prevalent in choreography.

“I think embodiment kills honest movement to a degree and my service as an artist is to
investigate reality within abstract art.”

My favourite choreographer is Tatsumi Hijikata, I developed my practice whilst watching Butoh videos and abusing drugs in my room and hotel apartments, around the time of the Manchester spice epidemic.
I’m watching a lot Gisèle Vienne, Louise Vanneste, studying Sun Ra’s relationship with dance and sound. I would say Philippe Grandrieux’s use of movement in his work as well as Steve McQueen’s in Shame has impacted my choreography also. 


How do you envision the live shows and how do you feel about finally being able to perform gigs in front of physical crowds? Visceral stage performances, atmospheric, intimate and raw sets are some of the comments from people who have already been to your live shows. How do you want the listening experience to be? How do you approach the spatial design situation too?

It’s great, during the first tour I worked intensively with spatial and atmospheric design.

“I want every show to be different, switching between shows of an exhaustive release for the audience and myself and shows that focus more on subtleties with performance and design.”

I work with heat and scent a lot, as well disorientation from lighting source. Playing drill between harsh noise/drone, these are elements that I work with impulsively, so I live edit the lighting, track list and other utilities whilst on stage with my team.

I don’t believe that playing all the hits equals satisfaction for the audience I want to create a journey for people to follow, experiencing the themes within my work physically and mentally having to endure moments discomfort before being allowed to feel gratification by silence or melody.

The feedback I have had has been great, everyone I have spoke too has had a different experience I’m grateful for everyone who comes to a Blackhaine show to experience. Thank you.

How did your collaboration with Blood Orange and Icebox Violet for ‘Prayer’ unfold?

I had the ideas of the track for a while, I was sent a rough loop from Rainy that triggered something in me. I kept revisiting the narrative and developing this film scene I had in mind, even down to the shots I wanted in the film that was made.

In And Salford Falls Apart and previous releases I didn’t work with other voices. A design focus of Armour II was to curate outside artists and let them inhabit my narrative, even to allow this to influence and lead me at times. I wrote to Iceboy Violet and Blood Orange to ask them to feature on the track and they delivered these beautiful verses back.

The theme of this issue is IN OUR WORLD, in your mind, what does England mean to you?

“Apathy.”

Now that Armour II is out for everyone to experience, what is next for you? 

I am building an infrastructure named Hain. This will act as a container for future work/curation and ideas beyond Blackhaine and an investment in culture.

Team

Talent · Tom Heyes (Blackhaine)
Photography · Joseph Kadow
Creative Direction · Jade Removille
Fashion · Azazel
Grooming · Linus Johansson
Photography Assistant · Masamba Ceesay
Fashion Assistant · Olivia Abadian

16th London Korean Film Festival

Collectors, Josée And Recalled: The 16Th London Korean Film Festival In Review

It’s been a good year for Korean cinema and TV, one would have to have been hiding under a rock to not have heard of Squid Game, the Kdrama which took Netflix by storm. In addition to this actress, Youn Yuh Jung became the first Korean actor to win an Academy Award this year for her portrayal of a Korean grandmother in Lee Issac Chung’s film Minari. Of course, we cannot forget Bong Joon Ho’s success with awards in 2020 for his film Parasite either, nor ignore the fact that other 2021 Korean dramas such as Hellhound or My Name have also seen international popularity.

However, due to the pandemic, many of us have had to witness this success on the small screen at home so the opportunity to watch some of the best of Korean cinema on the big screen at the 16th London Korean Film Festival was a pleasure in itself. Spread across nine venues in the capital the festival also allowed viewers to visit a variety of London cinemas such as Cinema in The Arches, Everyman, Screen on the Green and the Genesis Cinema among others. Of course, with such a huge lineup of films, it would be impossible to discuss all of them so NR Magazine chose three to review.

The first of the three was Collectors at Everyman, Screen on the Green. Directed by Park Jung Bae the film follows a group of misfit ‘tomb raiders’ on a blockbuster comedic heist. The two main leads of the film have also enjoyed success outside of the cinema this year. Lee Je Hoon, who plays a roguishly likeable artefact thief, also starred in the popular bittersweet Netflix drama Move To Heaven whilst Shin Hae Sun, who takes on the role of the beautifully cunning museum creator, also gained huge recognition for playing the chaotic Queen in the historical comedy Mr Queen. In Collectors, their chemistry and comedic timing is undeniable and leave the audience hoping to see them work together again in other projects. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast, several of whom also stared in Squid Game, gave spectacular performances of their own. Park Jung Bae creates a crown pleasing romp that keeps you guessing, and laughing, right to the end.

Next was a total change of pace with the slow bittersweet romance, Josée at Ciné Lumière. Kim Jong Kwan’s adaptation of the Japanese film Jose, the Tiger and the Fish was a quiet and soulful exploration of a disabled woman (Han Ji Min) whose life is obviously very lonely. When she meets a young student (Nam Joo Hyuk) it seems as if things might change for the better but the audience very soon realises that Josèe is an unreliable narrator and is left wondering how many of the events of the film are real and how many are simply figments of her imagination. This isn’t the first project Nam Joo Hyuk and Han Ji Min have worked together on and the pair have a very obvious chemistry albeit a morose and intense connection. Kim Jong Kwan makes the viewer question reality whilst forcing them to appreciate the beautiful mundanity of life.

Finally, we finished the festival with Seo You Min’s Recalled at Genesis Cinema. A dreamy but intense thriller that follows Soo Jin (Seo Yea Ji) who wakes up in hospital with amnesia after a serious head injury. Her doting husband Ji Soon (Kim Kang Woo) is with her every step of the way on her recovery but when Soo Jin begins to get prophetic visions she starts to distrust everything about her seemingly perfect life. The storyline leaves you thinking you have cleverly guessed the ending before pulling the rug out from under you. Seo You Min leads the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions before tugging at their heartstrings one last time as the credits roll.

While immensely enjoyable the London Korean Film Festival highlights the need for cinemas to diversify from their unfortunately stolid Hollywood fair. The popularity of Korean media in mainstream culture in recent years highlights that cinema is moving away from long-lasting Western hegemony. It would be great to be able to watch Korean movies in the cinema year-round but for now all we can do is look forward to the 17th London Korean Film Festival in 2022.

For further information and announcements visit koreanfilm.co.uk

Remi Wolf

“At times it did feel like a bit of an overshare, but in the end I’m happy that I ended up telling my story.”

Following the release of her debut album, Juno, on 15 th October, I caught up with Californian singer, Remi Wolf, over Zoom. It’s early in the morning when we speak, but Wolf is excited to tell me about the photoshoot for NR. “There were loads of crows that were pinned to my body, did you hear about this?” she asks me. And sure, I click through some behind-the-scenes shots and there’s Wolf, side-eyeing a crow to humorous effect. Remi Wolf seems to be turning conventional pop on its head – introducing an eccentric bag of songwriting and sounds into what has long felt like a sanitised, sterile space. It’s like the Gen Z kid who grew up listening to Natasha Bedingfield before discovering MGMT as a teen went on to become a singer – which is, of course, the case. Wolf grew up in Palo Alto, where her early life was largely spent training as a competitive skier (she represented the US twice at the Junior Olympics). She quit skiing in her mid-to-late teens and turned her hand to music; Wolf became one half of a duo whose name was styled off Hall & Oates and appeared briefly, age 17, on American Idol. But it was after meeting multi-instrumentalist, Jared Solomon, at an after-school music class that Wolf’s musical vision truly began to take shape. Almost a decade on, Wolf and Solomon, aka solomonophonic, are regular collaborators, with the latter co-producing the singer’s debut album.

Like Wolf’s signature kaleidoscopic wardrobe, Juno is maximalist blend of bubblegum bops and funky beats. The record is infectiously catchy from the outset. Album opener, Liquor Store, demands to be sung along to, despite the fact the subject matter is a raw reflection of getting sober in the midst of the pandemic. It’s the kind of introduction that sets the tone for what’s to come, even if the rest of Juno dips in and out of different styles. Wolf’s debut album is a bit like a bag of pick and mix – some songs are sweeter than others and there are some juicy gems (in the form of hilarious pop culture references to, say, Billy Bob and Angelina) to be found. The album’s title takes its name and cover inspiration from the singer’s French bulldog, who Wolf adopted during the pandemic. Her debut follows on from two dog-titled EPs: 2019’s You’re a Dog! and I’m Allergic to Dogs! from last June. The song Photo ID from her sophomore EP is dazzling pop that, perhaps to no surprise, became a viral hit on TikTok. Earlier this year, Wolf collaborated with fellow Gen-Z sensation, Dominic Fike, to re-record Photo ID as part of We Love Dogs!, a remix compilation of her two previous EPs. With appearances and remixes from the likes of Beck, Hot Chip, Little Dragon, Nile Rodgers and many more, it’s safe to say Remi Wolf has already found her footing as a connoisseur of eclectic, experimental sounds.

Congratulations on the release of Juno. How are you feeling?

I feel tired, so tired, but really happy that it’s out. I feel this freedom that now I can kind of go off and do whatever I want because I’ve been doing work for this album for the past year and a half almost. So yeah – it feels good. It feels good to be done with it. I feel like I can move on to a new of phase of creativity and writing.

Am I right in thinking you started working on the album just as things with the pandemic really kicked off?

Kind of, I guess. The writing process really started more in November [2020]. That’s when I started writing the bulk of the songs; I wrote Liquor Store, wyd, Grumpy Old Man and Anthony Kiedis all within three days in November. And I think that really, those four songs decided the direction of the rest of the album. But then, I ended up going back [to] songs I wrote previously before those that ended up fitting in with the album. Songs like Sally – I wrote that three years ago almost. There’s little bits and pieces from different times, but mainly the middle of the pandemic was where the bulk of the album was made.

Did you have any expectations of what your debut album would be like?

I didn’t expect anything from the debut album. I kind of went into it and was just like, whatever comes out, comes out. I didn’t have a vision for it in that sense. I was just trying to be as honest as I [could] with the writing and trust my intuition on what sounds good and what sounds I like. And I tend to write songs that are kind of funky and pretty driven by drums. We used a lot of electric guitar. I think the instrumentation is a reflection of what we were feeling at the time. But yeah – no – I didn’t put any expectations on what the album was going to be. It is a bunch of different things all in one.

Listening to Juno, it does feel like a journey through so many different vibes. And it’s difficult to choose my favourite aspect of the album. So maybe this is an impossible question for you, but what’s your favourite song on Juno?

I really – I do love all of them. I like them all equally. Recently, I’ve been appreciating wyd because I haven’t heard that in four or five months ‘cause it was finished a while ago. But now that [the album] is streaming, it’s very accessible, so I can go and listen without having to dig through Dropbox or whatever! I love Liquor Store; I feel like Liquor Store was the first song on the album that I was like, “Okay, this is the start of the album.” I think it’s the thesis of the album, and I loved writing it. 

The subject matter of Liquor Store is quite personal. How does it feel to write and share that song with the world?

It is quite personal. I think I felt like I really had to share the story, or else the meaning of that song would have been completely lost. And you know, that is what I went through during the pandemic and felt like I had to be honest. If I left that out, it would have felt like I was lying to people about what was actually going on in my life. And this album exists because of the pandemic and my sobriety – it would have been a completely different album [otherwise]. At times it did feel like a bit of an overshare, but in the end I’m happy that I ended up telling my story.

There are so many pop culture references in Juno as well as elements that recall Natasha Bedingfield and the fun, bright sounds of the early 2000s. Did you always want to incorporate these kinds of references, or is that something you’ve picked up over time as the 2000s have gotten further away?

I mean I used to love Natasha Bedingfield, I really did. I think a lot of those references made their way in subconsciously, or as a result of me having listened to that music as a kid. Like truthfully, I didn’t go into making this record [thinking] “Okay, I’m going to reference this and this and this. It’s going to sound like the early 2000s.” It was a very organic thing that happened that I didn’t really think about. I don’t know, I think when you make music and you’ve been listening to music your whole life, things you like – melody ideas or whatever – end up coming out. 

I think during the pandemic, we all had this yearning to listen to music that made us feel comforted. I found myself listening to a lot of music from when I was younger during the pandemic. Maybe my subconscious was trying to make music that made me feel comforted, and because of that, we referenced a lot of early 2000s, late ‘90s sounds. But I don’t know; the pop culture references, they just slid their way in there as part of my songwriting. It just kind of happened, you know? 

What do you want your fanbase and listeners to get from hearing your songs? Beyond good, fun songs…

I want them to get whatever they want out of it. I honestly don’t want to put what I want them to feel or think about it on them, because I don’t think my music should exist in that way. Like, I didn’t make it thinking, “Oh my God, everybody needs to listen to this and feel freedom!” I want people to get what they get what they get from the music, and hopefully what they get is positivity and it helps them, I don’t know, get through their day. That’s why I listen to music; I listen to get through the day and feel happy – or feel sad. Just to feel something; so I hope they just feel something from it. 

Your European tour starts in a few weeks. That must be really exciting?

I think I fly over on November 5th and I start in Spain and then go all around. I’m very excited for it, it’s gonna be very fun. I just finished a month-long tour about a week and a half ago now. And it’s so amazing being able to actually see my fans in real life and see who they are, what they like, what lyrics they like and what lyrics they really scream out. It’s been a learning process, but it’s amazing. 

I think people are just so excited to go back to shows that there’s this energy for live music that I have never really seen. People, including myself, aren’t taking the live show for granted as much – and people want to go really hard. I’ve noticed there’s less phones; people want to be in the moment and I think that’s so cool. It’s such a community-building opportunity. And after some of my shows, I see fans get to know each other and become friends because of my music and that’s so cool. So yeah, I’m excited. I’m a little nervous, but definitely excited. 

What are you most excited to perform?

I keep talking about Liquor Store, but it’s really fun! What else do I have? Sexy Villain seems to be a crowd-pleaser. And I’m excited to perform Street You Live On – I think that one is going to be really fun to do. I want people to cry during that song. Now I’m putting this on the audience. They can do whatever they want, but I think it’d be fun if we all cried together…

It must be weird when you’re performing and seeing which lines people collectively sing, or shout. Are you ever surprised by which songs people really know?

It surprised me a little bit with my song, Disco Man, that people really love the chorus, but they also love the lines “And he’s wasted all his money, but he’s never been a waste of time”. I was just shocked at how many people knew that song to be honest, I had no idea. And then people really love the “ain’t no Chuck-E-Cheese in Los Feliz” line from Quiet on Set, which part of me expected ‘cause it’s really fun to say. But they really love it, they really scream that shit. I’m excited to see which lines they pull from the new songs I just dropped and the ones I dropped just before the album, like Anthony Kiedis. I haven’t performed that live yet, so I’m excited to see how that goes. 

Juno is out there now and you’re about to go on tour. What’re the next steps for you beyond that?

I mean, I think a lot of next year is going to be just touring, writing new stuff and trying to push the boundaries with writing again. I think that I’ve come out of making this album a very different writer, and I want to just keep developing [that]. I want to find a hobby that I can really put my time into because I need something else besides music.

Maybe I’ll start playing baseball or something. Maybe I’ll come out with a line of baseballs or baseball bats? I also want to start making clothes that I can wear and that my friends can wear as well. I think that would be a really fun adventure because I used to sew when I was younger and I kind of want to get back into it. 

I feel like that would be an obvious thing for you to do, given how much attention is paid to your style. You could have a little clothing range for your future tours.

Yeah, exactly. 

Credits

PHOTOGRAPHER · MIKAYLA JEAN MILLER
CREATIVE DIRECTORS · NIMA HABIBZADEH AND JADE REMOVILLE
FASHION STYLIST · SHAOJUN CHEN
SET DESIGNER · YAO LIANG
MAKEUP ARTIST · FRANCIE TOMALONIS HAIR STYLIST · RACHEL LITA
PHOTOGRAPHER ASSISTANTS · CHRIS LLERINS AND BROOKE CARLSON
CREATIVE ASSISTANT · ETHAN PENN
INTERVIEW · ELLIE BROWN
SPECIAL · THANK YOU TO KATERINA MARKA AT UNIVERSAL MUSIC
THIS FEATURE IS PART OF VOLUME FOURTEEN THE IDENTITY ISSUE

Omar Apollo

Honing a Kaleidoscopic Vision

Omar Apollo appears, shoulders upward, in the bottom corner of his screen connecting to our Zoom call from his phone. Behind and above him is what appears to be a vast, vaulted wood ceiling. The twenty-four-year-old singer is calling from the San Jacinto Mountains in Southern California, where he’s currently holed up. “I went on this hike yesterday,” he enthuses, “we were super high up to the point where you felt kind of high – it was really weird because the oxygen was different up there. I got a little scared, but it was great.” At the top, he met an eighty-something year old man called Bjorn who hikes up the mountain a few times a week on the lookout for fires nearby.

The story of Apollo’s expedition the previous day comes up in our conversation in the context of style. “Right now, I’ve been on a kind of tactical thing, [I’ve] been dressing like a really cute hiker,” a fact corroborated by an Instagram post on his feed featuring a pair of Salomon trainers. But reaching the top of a summit (and then recounting the experience with breezy nonchalance) could also be an analogy, of sorts, for the singer’s career. Back in 2017, Apollo uploaded ugotme, a moody-yet-slinky two-minute bedroom jam to SoundCloud. It amassed tens of thousands of plays quite literally overnight, catapulting a twenty-year-old first generation Mexican American fast-food worker from Indiana into another universe.

In the four years since, ugotme has had over 1 million streams on the original upload alone. And, when we speak, Apollo is in the process of finishing up his debut album which will follow on from Apolonio, last year’s nine-track mini album. The singer is tight-lipped about specifics but does reveal that it is “honestly amazing. Like my best shit.” Alongside getting the album wrapped up, Apollo’s got a load of other bits to take into consideration; rehearsals, vocal lessons, preparing for tour, and so on. No wonder he’s spending some time in the Californian mountains – a moment of calm and clarity amongst the chaos, perhaps. That said, being on the move (and being on tour in particular) is something that Apollo says he thrives on. “I just can’t stay in the same spot; I feel like tour made me like that.” After the San Jacinto Mountains? Maybe Tennessee. “I just gotta finish this album.”

Compared with the production of Apolonio, the singer now has greater freedom to travel where the wind takes him. Apollo was forced to record the bulk of his last project from the constraints of his Los Angeles home when lockdown was imposed in early 2020. “I’m Amazing – I made a day before they announced that there was going to be a lockdown for two weeks.” Apolonio draws on Apollo’s wide-ranging sounds, exemplified by the equally wide-ranging names that feature – from Kali Uchis and Ruel, to Bootsy Collins and Albert Hammond Jr of The Strokes. Sure, it was his first project signed to a major label, but it’s an impressive and delectable record to come out of a year that seemed to put a stop to a lot of releases. But then, Apollo is used to making music from home, or at least in his bedroom. As a teen, he taught himself how to sing and play the guitar via YouTube videos. Nothing seems more fitting, then, than having Albert Hammond Jr arrive at his home to record Useless, on which Apollo fills a Julian Casablancas-shaped hole.

Following on from two EPs, 2018’s Stereo and Friends from 2019, Apolonio was a clear demonstration of Apollo’s potential, namely his ability to move with ease from lo-fi bedroom jams to funky pop. But, in some ways, Apolonio was stilted by the pandemic. “When I went back to play my first show it was really strange,” he recalls. “It was really strange ‘cause it was the first time I didn’t feel confident. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t toured this album. It’s my first time playing these songs…’” That first show was to smaller audience than he’d been performing to before the pandemic, but it would allow the singer to get back into his groove. Performing is something that, lack of shows due to the pandemic aside, comes easily to Apollo who says that he naturally loves being on stage. “I love the attention I get from it.” More than that though, he refers to being on tour as a sort of ‘normality’ compared with lockdown when days feel like little more than “filler days”. “When I was on tour, your whole day is set up for you for like, a month and a half, two months. And you feel really accomplished – like you did something.”

Apolonio is, at times, incredibly sexy, and at others, heart-wrenching in its angst. His music captures the emotions of a twenty-something, caught up in conflicting feelings of lust, longing, rejection and, at times, a cockiness. Want U Around (featuring Ruel), for example, is a glorious example of Apollo’s falsetto crooning melding with the funk-infused beat, contemplating unrequited love with heart-breaking precision. Meanwhile, album opener I’m Amazing is, as its title implies, of an entirely different variety. Given the vastness of his range, then, it’s little wonder fans go mad for him. With hair that changes colour like a mood ring, and an enviable, if eccentric, wardrobe, Apollo cuts the figure of a twenty-first century pop star. For the interests of NR’s theme this issue, I’m curious to know: how does Apollo grapple with the theme of ‘identity’ and who he is as a person through his music? He pauses for a while, figuring out how to respond. “I feel like I can have my own identity, but the way I’m perceived, I can’t control it. So, my identity is skewed in my head,” he says. “I have an idea in my head, but that might not translate.”

Apollo’s response is one that would, I imagine, resonate with many. The singer is old enough, just, to have grown up alongside the invention of so many digital technologies and platforms that have changed our experiences of the world. A lot of internet searches for Apollo bring up results for Reddit pages, for example, on which fans discuss, in minute detail, a certain aspect of a song, an outfit or elements of his life. The disconnect between who you think you are and who others think you are, is one Apollo says he has a weird experience with. For instance, he mentions having friends who are perceived as mysterious but are, by their own admission, “just quiet.” When it comes down to it though, Apollo states that he is “trying to make shit that moves me, and then these feelings are either subconsciously there or I dig for them and put them in songs.”

When it comes to making music, Apollo says that he has to find the time to write. It’s not productive for him to take the approach of saying, “‘Oh, I’ll make music when I feel like it.’” But he takes inspiration from his surroundings. “There’ll be some things that stick with me that you forget, and there’s some things that will stick with you that I forget,” he points out. “That’s kind of what I get from music.” I’m curious about the fact that it’s so hard to pin Apollo’s music down into one genre; is this an effect of how we find and listen to music now? Apollo isn’t so sure it’s a reflection of that. It’s less of case of overlapping genres, than seeking out different artists who encapsulate an emotion, a feeling, that he connects with. It’s more important to him that he can ask and answer, “Is this the best I could do at this moment in time? Did I put my heart into this?”

No matter how much Apollo might find inspiration in the things that surround him – a snippet of a conversation, a scene from a film – the outcome also relays a personal experience. And that, in part, seems to be where his listeners and fans really connect with Apollo. He recalls encounters with people who connect a love song he’s made with the loss of a friend. “It’s amazing that people can take things how they want to take them, consuming them how they want to consume them.” In contexts like that, it doesn’t matter so much how someone else interprets Apollo’s words; the emotion is conveyed in one way or another. “Obviously, you can have an idea, an identity, but the way it’s perceived, you can’t really… everyone’s point of reference is different.” 

Only Apollo can truly know who he is. But his personal style and the kind of visuals he uses give a good guess at what kind of performer he is. The cover of Apolonio, for example, takes Lenny Kravitz’s 2003 album, Baptism, and transforms it into a Prince-esque lilac, resulting in a coalescence of the two performers, as iconic for their hits as their style. But what does style mean to the Apollo? “I’ve gotta look how I feel so that takes time. I’ve got to be feeling amazing.” Growing up, the singer would often get his clothes from thrift stores – not always out of choice, but necessity. But style isn’t something that can be bought. Case in point? Apollo recalls being in elementary school and his elder siblings coming to him for advice on what to wear, to which he’d respond things like, “Nah – you’ve gotta change that, that looks ugly!”

So what about style as a performer? “Once I started touring, I started seeing my silhouette more on-stage and I started seeing pictures of myself and I was like – I need to figure out what I really like.” Apollo has a “show ‘fit” that he’ll wear on stage and then a “post-show ‘fit” because he doesn’t want to leave a venue wearing the same thing. Which means there’s also a pre-show getup too. Little wonder you can find articles online titled, ‘You Don’t Have to Know Omar Apollo’s Music to Appreciate his Impeccable Style’. Whilst true, I’d argue that browsing through Apollo’s back catalogue of music videos is a much greater introduction to the singer’s wardrobe than a static slideshow of (admittedly impeccable) images gleaned from social media.

Take, for example, the video for Kamikaze from last year, in which a blue-haired, patchwork jacket-clad Apollo emerges from a field of maize that somehow dwarfs the 6”5 singer. The premise of the video sees Apollo and friends hanging out over the course of a sun-drenched day, which transitions through dusk and then to night; the mood changes as darkness descends and rose-tinted memories fade into a murkier sense of the reality. Lyrically, the song sees Apollo reminisce about a past relationship, detached from the painful emotions and angst that came with it at the time. For the video, though, Apollo returned to Indiana to film with his friends. “It was a lot of fun, especially going back home and [shooting] scenes on streets that I grew up on.”

219, the area code where Apollo grew up is immortalised on Dos Uno Nueve, a Spanish corrido (a traditional Mexican ballad narrating a story) that positions his upbringing alongside his life now in Los Angeles. He hasn’t forgotten the times when the family had little to eat, but now he’s enjoying baguettes of the diamond kind. Apart from Dos Uno Neuve, Apollo sings for the most part in English. But he confirms that future projects, including his upcoming album, will feature songs in Spanish more prominently. How does he differentiate between singing in the two different languages? “Sometimes in Spanish, I’m a lot more open to flexing,” he laughs. “I’ll surface the ego for a sec and talk shit for two minutes.” Dos Uno Neuve is that, with a triumphant twist; using the medium of a traditional folk song to tell the tale of the child of immigrant parents who transcends the small-town (and small-minded, the song implies) mentality he grew up with.

“A lot of the music I consumed when I was younger was reggaeton when I was probably 11 or 12,” Apollo recalls. “It was very, very dirty and it just stayed with me,” he adds, “in my head I gotta be a little dirty bitch!” Apollo would get his regular dose of reggaeton, waiting in the carpark outside church for his mum. “She’d come out like, ‘Turn it off! Turn it off!’ I used to call radio stations – I was really creepy – and be like, ‘Hey, can you play this song…’” The influence of reggaeton on Apollo comes through on the 2019 single, Frío, and shows, once again, the singer’s ability to adapt his voice according to the subject of his lyrics or the language of choice. It also demonstrates the duality of Apollo’s dirty and deep side. That said, the most-liked comment on the video for Kamikaze describes “crying and twerking” simultaneously whilst listening.

Ahead of the release of the singer’s debut album, Apollo’s next single is Bad Life, featuring Kali Uchis. Back in January of this year, Apollo shared a 1:06 snippet of the song on social media, and it’s release now will surely satiate those who have been waiting a full version since then. It’s a slow jam, heavy on the reverb, that in some ways captures that early sound of ugotme. You can hear Apollo’s musical development in full effect – complemented flawlessly on Bad Life by Uchis’ silky vocals. Their ability to harmonise so well is what makes this song. “That’s what I love about it too. It’s like a really pretty tone together.” Apollo and Uchis are close friends, and perhaps it’s that connection that allows the song to “glue” together so well. “It’s just really nice to see the song get amplified by her,” Apollo adds. “I love her voice and she always has really great ideas.” And, Apollo enthuses, “it’s going to be a really sick introduction to the sound of the album.”

Credits

PHOTOGRAPHER · LE3AY
CREATIVE DIRECTORS · NIMA HABIBZADEH AND JADE REMOVILLE
FASHION STYLIST · SHAOJUN CHEN
SET DESIGN · YAO LIANG
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT AND LIGHT TECHNICIAN · SEH NOON
GROOMING · STEPHEN MOLESKI
INTERVIEW · ELLIE BROWN
SPECIAL THANK YOU TO · ROB CHUTE AT TOAST

Goya Gumbani

“it’s like breakfast or dinner”

Born and raised in Brooklyn, rapper Goya Gumbani moved to London as a teenager. Landing a retail job at the London branch of Pharrell and Nigo’s streetwear label, Billionaire Boys Club, Goya joined a hub of fashion and music. The story goes that when the store closed, BBC would become a de facto studio – with industry heavyweights passing through its doors. Goya went on to pursue music, notably with the release of the 2018 EP, Morta & More Doves, but fashion has remained on his orbit. For one, he walked the Louis Vuitton AW presentation earlier this year – a far cry from ‘[modelling] in mad streetwear stores basements’ five years ago, as he shared on Twitter. Goya’s slick personal style is both an amalgamation of his inspirations (‘I like shit that looks 80s – pro Black, UK Reggae and Dub man from Brixton,’ he told BBC), and a visual embodiment of the London music scene that has come to influence his sound. Last year was a busy year for Goya, releasing five EPs with the likes of producer Oliver Palfreyman, on November’s six track EP Truth Be Sold, and with Bori on Steps Across the Pond from March (which got a limited edition vinyl pressing last month, a year after its release). Goya’s catalogue is consistent in its warmth. Often reflective and contemplative – and at times, existential – Goya’s vocals are perfectly matched to the soulful, hazy beats that are coming to define the artist’s sound. 

How do you set the pace of making music, and when do you know if something makes the cut for release?

I do this every day – at this point it’s like breakfast or dinner. I wake up and think about something music related. The making the cut process really just depends on where I’m at sonically or visually.

“Being from Brooklyn, living in London” is something of a tagline attached to your name. In terms of your sound, style and influence though, how do these elements come together?

They are both two great cities, they have both taught me different things from different perspectives. Both cities are in my DNA at this point, so they make me – if that makes sense.

I’d love to know if working at Billionaire Boys Club opened up your experience of London in different ways. How much of working there influenced your transition into music?

Yeah BBC was like a hub, everybody from every crack of the world used to pass through. So I met a lot of people in all fields, but most of the people I worked with there, also made music. I use to think I would just meet people to meet ‘em. But soon after, I realised you meet everyone for a reason. It’s not only to talk sweet nothings, but to build an grow to some degree.

At what point did you feel ready to share your music with people around you? 

Few years ago, I just had something I wanted to show, which kinda lead me to a place where I wasn’t fazed by my own self-doubt. 

I really love the EP covers/videos, and how they’re all quite different – is there any relationship between the music and the visuals you use? (If so, to what effect?)

The artwork and visuals are a lot. I feel like that’s gonna speak to you before you even hear anything. So it’s chosen with the intent to grab and leave wonder… Everything relates though; it’s all one big canvas of imagery that can speak on its own if needs be.

Besides appearing in the Louis Vuitton AW21 presentation, what defines ‘style’ and your style? 

Style is expression and personal touch to me. I worked in a couple menswear spots back in the day, so that gave me the knowledge into different eras and how style was a time stamp. But, my old boy Jack used to tell me: “if no one likes it, you going in the right direction”, Which I took as get dressed for yaself and you can’t go wrong. So that’s the motto.

What are you currently working on, and what can we expect from you this year?

I got a collab project coming out with [the producer] Subculture and a solo tape coming out this year I’m excited about. Few things with some familiar faces too… Oh and catch me on a few festival line ups!

Credits

Photography · DAVID REISS
Styling · SERGIO PEDRO
Creative Direction · NIMA HABIBZADEH AND JADE REMOVILLE
Interview · ELLIE BROWN

Nonotak

“what drive us was the experience, the moment, to feel physically connected with a space”

NONOTAK was born from the collaboration between architect musican Takami Nakamoto and visual artist Noemi Schipfer back in late 2011. The duo embodies that merge of architecture, spatial design, music and sound. From creating dreamlike environments to performances using light and sound installations, NONOTAK present their own format of art to the world.  Combining Noemi Schipfer’s experience in kinetic visual and Takami Nakamato’s approach of space and sound, the studio creates ethereal environments immersing the viewer.

NR discusses with the duo about the creative process behind some of their works, how the Covid crisis impacted the arts and music industry but how also it gave the two artists time to reflect on themselves and on the meaning of creating art and ultimately the studio’s plans for 2023.

Noemi and Takami, you both come from different creative paths, respectively illustration, visual arts, architecture and music. It is always very interesting and inspiring to see how two worlds merge. How did you meet and what inspired you to start Nonotak Studio in 2011? 

Noemi Schipfer: We first met in highschool in Paris at the Japanese class ( Tak have both parents Japanese and I’m half Japanese half French so it was a way to have good marks at school. Then we lost sight for few years and we met back in Tokyo during summer holiday. Tak was studying Architecture at that time and I was already graduate from Art school. We spent time walking in Tokyo and it was really inspiring to listen to his approach on Architecture and Space.

Tak was also playing in a metal band and I had the chance to follow them on few shows to take tour footages. In the late 2011 Takami was working in an Architecture studio called Bigoni-Mortemard in Paris and they were looking for an illustrator to do a mural painting in the entrance hall of a new building in Paris. To work on this project was intense & fun and it give us the will to do more together and to create our own space. We wanted to merge our backgrounds all together : visuals, space and sound. The installations format came pretty naturally and the first idea was to develop an immaterial space were everything would be intangible and in motion.

Takami Nakamoto: As Noemi said, we have known each other for a long time and the purpose of collaborating together was mainly because we had the same vision on what format of art we wanted people to experience, and how we were going to merge our backgrounds in order to create a particular environment where light, space and sound collide all together.

ISOTOPES V2 is a light installation experience that was inspired from Fukushima’s nuclear disaster. Could you tell us more about the creative process behind creating a dematerialised space? I love the concept of making something tangible out of a feeling or something that disappeared and that no longer exists, making it almost part of something fictitious. It is also a way to sort of immortalise the individuals that had and have been affected by Fukushima and it adds a commemorative and contemplative feel to it. Is that something you consciously wanted to convey?

NS: Fukushima’s nuclear disaster is something that personally really touched me.  I was in Paris at this moment but I remember I was shocked and afraid about the news. Japan is my second country, it is a place that I used to go since I’m born and I have so many memories there and part of my family. When the nuclear central exploded I thought I would never be able to go back there again so it was heart breaking. At this moment I felt really strange how one part of your life could feel like it was almost just a fiction. Everything could change or even worth, just disappear.

Time is a notion that fascinated me a lot even when I was a student in art school. Memories are a notion that is so immaterial but so strong at the same time. When we develop our first installation ISOTOPES V2 we wanted to represented this different notion of immateriality by creating a space that is constantly changing and where the audience would be able to travel through.

TN: I think this project is special to us as long as it was our first piece being exhibited in an international exhibition like the Mapping Festival in Geneva. First time we were able to share the experience of our work to unknown public and it felt like a new chapter in our career. It also made us look at our work in its actual scale, as long as we have been working on small scale models to work on the composition. This really brought another dimension to the purpose of our hard work.

LEAP V.3 at Wave Of Tomorrow Festival 2019 in Jakarta, I loved this piece which I thought was such another great work of yours in terms of translating feelings or emotions into sounds and lights. Could you tell us a bit more about this piece? 

NS: The first time we developed our installation LEAP was in a festival called Electric Castle in Cluj Romania and the exhibition space was really specific and historic. It was in an old stable of a castle, so the space itself was really atypical and the celling had beautiful bricks arcade. It was important for us to keep this strong architecture so we decide to invest the ground as the canvas. We wanted to deploy the installation in the maximum surface of the space and the light to cover every corner of it. That’s how we design those custom panels where 4 indirect lights are hidden behind and pointing 4 different directions. Light is a very flexible medium that has a huge impact on it’s environment. By controlling lights it’s not only the source itself that is moving but the entire space gets affected and painted by the shadows it creates.

LEAP V3 in Jakarta is the biggest version we did of this installation. We wanted to keep the massive volume of the space and highlight the length of it with the speed of lights and sound.

TN: In fact it was important to actually stay and program the installation on site, considering this unique context in Jakarta we were immersed in. We like the fact each site specific installation is about experiencing it through the build of it, the space itself, the people who are helping us with construction with the same goal of looking at something special at the end.

Last spring you revealed a large-scale installation in Porto Alegre, Brazil, titled GIANTS. The audio visual light and sound installation was set inside the Farol Santander building which was reminiscent of Nonotak’s first commissioned project in the lobby of a public housing building in Paris. Exploration of sound and space is at the core of GIANTS. Was also being in Brazil informative as to how you wanted to conduct this piece? It feels like a lot of your pieces are connected to the spaces they inhabit and are quite site specific like LEAP V.3. The interactions from the visitors in some of your pieces such as PARALLELS with the lights and by walking through the space, adds a very important element to that connection.

NS: When we get commissioned for an art installation, the starting point that drive us is the space that will host the piece. When we got the floor-plans and pictures of Farol Santander building we were struck by the verticality of the space and the massive columns. We wanted to accentuate this characteristic by adding more columns with light. The space offer a 360° view so it was important for us to include this specific in our piece as well. The columns included lights in the 4 directions, like LEAP installation concept. This space was also really interesting because there was two floor levels. You were able to see it from the ground levels, but also from above at the second floor. The rhythm of GIANTS is really contrasted. You have the first part were the ambiance is really dreamy, light dots are floating like fireflies are dancing together and then suddenly the sound get more violent and solid lines appear and move in the entire building like an army.

TN: I think the way we named the installation also speaks by itself in a way. When we saw the spatial context of the exhibition space, we immediately thought about experimenting with verticality and create an experience where people would feel like these massive totems of lights are taking over the space like Giants. The scale of these totem gave us the possibility of affecting the space with light so much that we could both create a feeling where we felt both “compressed” by it. The fact they are deployed along the whole space made these totems feel like they were ruling it.

Your work revolves around making visible, moving objects, forms, large-scale AV installations and spatialized sound. For instance with Parallels at STRP Biennale, you have used the whole space as a canvas for light which must also be quite difficult technically. That must result in a lot of experimentations and research behind each piece. Could you both tell us a bit more about that process? 

NS: At the beginning of NONOTAK we were a lot exploring light through projections and semi-transparent screens.

The semi transparent screens allow us to catch the visuals but also letting passing through the light and create duplication of the same visuals into several layers. It was our way to materialise the light at this moment. We develop few installations and a performance using this concept and explore different set up to see how we can create illusions playing with the positions of the projectors etc.

When we get commissioned for STRP Biennale, the theme of the exhibition was “Outside the screen”. We were working on the concept of the piece we wanted to present and at some point of the night we just realise why not just take literally the theme of the exhibition and get outside of our screens. That’s how we develop a concept that would materialise the light through space itself by using haze and would only have the space as a limit of the installations.

The first time we were able to experiment on this new concept was during the few days we had to set it up before the opening of the exhbition. We had preparations and expectations in our mind before coming but the first day we were there we just realise the effect wasn’t working as planned. We had to change everything, move completely the position of the projectors inside the room and start from zero all the composition of the visuals at the last minute. It learns me how important it is to be in front of the piece when you program it and how dangerous it could be to work on something by simulation when it comes to something as sensitive than light.

TN: This is actually one of these projects that really drew a line on the approach and the personal relationship we have with the work we create.

We realized that imagining projects in small scale or simulating them was helpful to visualize projects but nothing felt more real than getting to our exhibition space, spend time with our new piece and work on the composition in relation to the space. Living within the project and make it an intense experience. That’s how we like to experience our installations, and we should never forget that the reason we started all of this was because of our love for materiality in light, and we do think this can’t be replicated virtually and we treat it as a material in itself.

Your 40 minute audio visual piece SHIRO was ranked by the New York Times as one of the top 15 performances at Sónar Electronic Music Festival in Barcelona in 2017. I could not find the whole performance online but watched various extracts from it. In contrast to your other works, you both are taking part on stage so to speak in the performance. How did that feel? Would you want to do more of those kind of perforrnances in which the public get to actually see you? 

You have performed this piece in different places over the years, was there any in particular that you keep a fond memory of and if so, why? 

NS: When we were working on our installation we also realise it was cool to see people silhouette passing through it. The relationship with the human body scale and the installation was interesting. Tak as a musician was interested to extand his background in electronic music. That’s how in summer 2013 we worked on our first performance called LATE SPECULATION. The concept was us performing inside a translucent structure with 2 projectors and use our silhouettes as part as the visual effect. One projector was placed from the front and the other one in rear. By alternate which projector was on, we were making a visual illusion of us appearing or disappearing. SHIRO is our second performance in continuity with LATE SPECULATION.

Installations and performances are really different experiences. The first big difference is the fact that we are sharing the same moment with the audience and have a direct reaction from them. The dynamic is really different. It’s really powerful to hear the audience during the show.

TN: In addition to Noemi’s answer, I think we simply like the fact to not really limit ourselves to installation artists but also performances where music takes another dimension and also the way we directly interact with the audience and experience something in real time with them.

Stage is a special and unique place to express yourself and we enjoy switching from installation projects to live performance projects.

The 2019 pandemic in which we are still in, has obviously impacted quite harshly the arts and performances industry. The past year has definitely been difficult and for some more than others but I feel like we have all in some sort and in different capacities being able to plant the seeds for the present year. It feels as though there has been a lot of self-reflection and introspective work done at an individual level which will then enable growth, which is the theme of this issue. How do you both feel with this? How does Growth resonate with you? 

NS: During 7 years we had the chance to be able to live for our art and been able to showcase it in so many extraordinary places. I would be for ever grateful for this. The rhythm of our travels, exhibitions, live shows was intense and we never really had breaks at all. When we had our first show cancelled and the first lockdown was announced I was a little bit puzzled but at the same time for the first time since years, I would have a break and time to step back about NONOTAK.

Now that it’s been a year we are in this situation and seeing how it evolves I’m more than sad and anxious about the future. With NONOTAK what drive us was the experience, the moment, to feel physically connected with a space, exchange emotions with an audience, share a stage with people. And when I see the art scene going more and more only online it deeply depress me.

TN: That “covid” crisis really affected the touring dynamic of our collaboration and it is pretty sad, but we know it is also reflecting in many other people’s lives. That crisis gave us the time to reflect on ourselves, the meaning of creating art especially in this type of context. But it also gave us the time to reflect on society and the power the government has over people’s lives and their freedom but more importantly, the way they are able to fragilise culture and normalize it out in the open.

Questioning the narrative became politically incorrect, aspiring for freedom makes you feel guilty and this is the society we allowed ourselves to live in. What kind of future does Art expression have in this “new normal” we are submitting to? I don’t really know about that.  But it seems to me that being a sovereign individual is the starting point of any form of expression and we feel like we are totally losing the value of what it means to be free. It is pretty scary to me and I guess it is for many other people.

I think growth is still possible in this context. being adaptive is key to finding a path you feel comfortable with in terms of creating and growing. Since “covid” started we got ourselves in projects that required lot of learning and we at least feel like we took advantage of this a little bit.  We don’t know when we would have stopped touring without any interruption if this did not happen as well.

We are doing this interview during the first few months of 2021 and the issue will be released this spring. Are there any projects you are looking forward to be taking on and that you could share with us? 

NS: We are working on permanent installations that will take place in 2023. It’s a different challenge than working for events or temporary exhibitions but really exciting about the idea that the piece will last for ever.