the homies blog//INTERVIEW: sam and lam make magic

sam and lam

*~“There is no good or evil, only power.”
      – Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (1997)~*

My interviews usually only last 20 minutes. It’s the perfect length! We are recording in filmmaker Samantha Wakefield’s apartment; rapper Lamon Manuel has work in a half hour. At the 21 minute mark, however, an awkward silence intrudes at the prospect of our talk ending. The three of us have covered the ins-and-outs of Lamon and Samantha’s working relationship, and it’s certainly been a very fun time, but something is amiss. I finally ask if there’s something else either of them wants to say.

SW: No, I’m just so appreciative to be able to find someone to work with on this level.
I don’t know if that’s why we’ve worked so well together, [because] you needed someone like that in your life but I feel like I probably did.

LM:  I definitely did. Working with Sam is the first time I’ve given real creative control over something I do to another person… That’s never happened for me. And I’ve worked with people in different forms, whether through a rap group, or, you know, trying to work on videos with other people, but like really giving it over to someone and following through like “Alright, cool, I trust you…” I don’t have that relationship with anybody else. I’m super thankful for having that with Sam.

“Skies,” featuring fellow Tomorrow Kings member SKECH185, is the first in an ongoing series of companion pieces to Lamon’s upcoming debut solo album Music To Feel Like Shit To. Manuel worked on production of the video prior to meeting Wakefield, but didn’t feel happy with its direction. “It was too much guided by an ownership relationship. One of the original treatments for the ‘Skies’ video was for SKECH and I to be present and for there to be women fighting each other representing us in some ways. Or we would just be watching…  I just felt like that was real fucking weird.”

Samantha became involved after Lamon saw her at one of his shows and later asked if she would like to play the central character in a string of music videos he was planning. Yes, she said, but she’d be willing to direct as well. “I feel like from the time we started working on that video, till the time it came out our friendship grew a ton,” Wakefield recalls. “It paved the way.”

The work that has come since is uniformly dark and challenging, with Sam and Lam’s connection the light at the end of the tunnel. The pair’s initial collaboration, and my favorite to-date, is a video in Wakefield’s The Window Series. It’s just Samantha watching Lamon (through her lens) and Lamon speaking as honestly as he can about things that hurt him. The simple presentation allows for its principle’s presence to overpower the listener like a quiet fart.

Our interview takes place October 25, 2015, only days after the 1 year anniversary of Wakefield choking Lamon for the first time during one of his shows. “Each time I try to choke a little harder. Before I would use one hand, and lately I try to make sure I use two,” Sam explains. “I’m just trying to do my part, for you,” she says, looking over at Lamon. “But it’s always intense. It always feels intense.”

Control, and loss of it, is a heavy theme in Manuel’s work. It’s safe to assume that the protagonist of “Skies” goes where she goes to in an attempt to re-assert it and that the leads in “Shit…” (played by Lamon and Samantha) have lost it. At the same time, the real Samantha and Lamon continue to push forward, surrendering to each other as artists and homies. “It feels like we’re not afraid to venture somewhere if we come up with an idea.”

the homies blog//INTERVIEW: talking with transqueer author H. Melt about their new book “The Plural, The Blurring”

h.melt bio photo

Photo by Kiam Marcelo Junio

H. Melt is my friend. It feels really good to say that! H. Melt is also an inspiration and role model to me as an activist and queer person and human being. Their new book The Plural, The Blurring – out November 20, via The Neutral Zone & Red Beard – exemplifies a lot of the things that make me love H. so much. There is the craft of their words, the memories, sometimes shared, that are weaved throughout the book, and the progressive, startlingly impactful documentation of their work writing to institutions for better treatment. Theirs is an intimate kind of activism, one they identify with the Chicago school of poetry writing, and one I have taken to heart as a queer revolutionary. Reading and being with H. Melt makes me feel excited, it makes me feel sad, it makes me feel the spectrum of emotions but knowing that H. Melt is out there, anywhere, just makes me feel safe.


THE INTERVIEW

The Plural, The Blurring largely focuses describing a very specific place and time. What’s the significance of having that setting at the center of the book?

The book is about Chicago’s queer arts scene between roughly 2012-2014 and how the art and activism going on in the city during that time coincided with my development as a trans writer. The book is largely about place and community, the ways in which they can influence an individual’s sense of self. For me, that period of time is when I am meeting and forming relationships with other queer and trans artists for the first time. I’m starting to take myself more seriously as a writer, as a trans person, and end up writing and publishing about the people, performances, and spaces that are most influencing and inspiring me. I’m also starting to grapple with queer loss and trans death, the ways in which loss can impact a community.

How have you been changed by the loss you’ve experienced and the gains you’ve seen achieved? Do you feel weaker and stronger at the same time?

I think that loss is inevitable. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it’s painful and unexpected. The queer community is not stable, I don’t think that any community is. There will always be people leaving and spaces closing down.  This can open up room for growth, for new spaces and new relationships to form but at what cost? What’s being lost? I think the people mirror the changes going on in the city and vice versa.

In your review of the trans & genderqueer poetry anthology Troubling the Line (included in The Plural, The Blurring), you write about your roots in the Chicago tradition of poetry and how that has affected your own work and what you tend to relate to as a reader. Have you found other queer poets who similarly embody that tradition?

I have never read a book of trans poetry by someone from Chicago. That’s part of the reason that I wrote the book. Many of the queer and trans writers that I’ve connected to most are not based in Chicago. While Chicago is a very literary and even poetry focused place, I don’t feel like there’s a queer poetry scene here. A queer arts scene definitely exists, and that’s very present in the book. But something about the literary scene hasn’t always facilitated a place for queer writers. My writing community and queer community are more separate than I would like.    

Where does the inspiration for the essays and letters to institutions you include come from? Are you still writing those?

Yes, I’m still writing essays. A lot of them came out of feeling powerless, especially the ones directed at specific institutions. I actually sent or performed most of the pieces in the book about specific places directly to people who work or spend time there. That’s part of my practice. In some cases, those writings actually sparked real change, new relationships, and projects. For example, there is now going to be a trans poetry category at the Lambda Literary Awards and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has improved their trans healthcare and now has a student-led group called the League of Extraordinary Genders. In other words, the essays and poems are part of a larger movement to create more access to resources for trans people. To help keep us alive.

“Part of your practice,” can you talk more about that?

The letters and essays felt more urgent–they were tools as part of my larger vision and hope to make more space for queer and trans writers and artists–by critiquing institutions that could be more welcoming to us, and reviewing exhibits, books, and plays that had some relationship to myself and the larger community. That’s really what I see my real work as–supporting other queer and trans writers and artists.   

The Plural, The Blurring is now available for pre-order.

the homies blog// ESSAY: on mick jenkins’ “Your Love” video and consent

mick jenkins your love

your love

trigger warning this piece contains writing concerning sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

My last few months have been filled with cartoons and Harry Potter.

Last week was Pixar movies + Goblet of Fire! Pixar’s celebrated 2008 film WALL-E came up in a conversation with some friends at a show the other night – Eric described its first half hour to Alex as an “art film,” and I agreed that it’s the kind of animated film you recommend to your sophisticated 30 year old friend (Alex is our sophisticated 30 year old friend). When I actually re-watched it, though,  what I saw made me feel disturbed, alarmed, and disappointed.

Mick Jenkins’ new video “Your Love,” off his recent Wave[s] EP, is a lot like the beginning of Wall-E. A dude sees a woman and is instantly attracted to her. She is uninterested. He follows her. He initiates physical contact, she violently resists. He then finds a cute, funny way to violate her while she is unable to fight back. As a result, she falls in love!

The violation in Wall-E occurs when, Eve, the robotic love interest becomes incapacitated. Her system shuts down and our titular character, the guy who lives alone collecting garbage, dresses her up in the aforementioned trash and wheels her body around town. In a sentimental montage, Wall-E makes her do the things he wanted from her like appear pretty and nonthreatening, desperately need his protection on scary nights, and, yes, hold hands.


Jenkins shows off considerable comedic acting chops in the “Your Love” video, a nice change of pace for an artist whose visuals are often purposefully serious. Even so, there’s an off-kilter element to “Your Love,” something strangely empty in its actors’ mannerisms. It culminates when Mick’s character rolls up on the other lead, played by musician Jean Deaux, and shoots her in the chest with an arrow. As blood drips from her lips, the viewer can’t tell from her stare if Jean is falling in love or dying.

What appears in Wall-E and “Your Love” is what happens to women in a lot of media. They’re set up as objects of desire with a false sense of independence. I watched Ratatouille following Wall-E, and the main (human) character, Linguini, is introduced to his eventual love interest Colette by being thrown face-first into her breasts. Her very first act is to be violated. Colette is characterized as irrationally combative, as if she’s paranoid that some dude (or collection of dudes making a plan/writing a movie) is out there ready at any second to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. The more she resists the more coveted she becomes, like Eve, like Deaux. When Colette, after showing no prior attraction, is kissed (without consent) by Linguini she has pepper spray in her hand.  And then she falls in love!


This pattern upsets me because I see it in myself. It reminds me of my own behavior, a past that includes physical violation and unhealthy objectification of women in my life. I used to think that I was being romantic when I was being obsessed or that it was sexy to force contact with someone I desired and then see what happened. In the surprise ending of “Your Love,” the car Mick Jenkins’ was riding in has crashed into a pole. All of his friends riding with are dead, their bodies littered everywhere. The implication is that his arrow-induced interlude with Jean was just a fantasy. Mick staggers out into the street and looks off into the night as if he’s deep in thought; he might be contemplating gender politics.

the homies blog//INTERVIEW: fatimah asghar lets me love me

fati

Philosophically, I believe that everyone is “saving the world,” all the time. You, me, Donald so-and-so, my friends; we’re all great and positive and powerful. But like, I really feel like Fati is someone I know who is *~saving saving the world world~*. She’s always out doing engagements that are meant to push the boundaries of language, perception, and community. Whether educating youths, organizing, or speaking at a conference Fatimah makes openness the priority. It’s immensely painful work, but she stays at it day in day out, in many different lands spanning the globe.

Recently, @asgharthegrouch started a project called Let Me Love Me. It consists of photos of brown people, nekkid, discussing their feelings on beauty and vulnerability. I find something very special in the place Fati creates in LMLM and am very happy she made time to talk to me about the series.

 

Can you talk about the aspect of having friends as your subjects throughout Let Me Love Me?

I think it makes both parties feel more comfortable if we know each other or are friends. I’m generally an awkward person, but I really enjoy photographing people. I think it feels more comfortable for them because they aren’t getting naked for a stranger. I think it also helps with conversations, because I’m able to ask questions that are catered to individual people rather than asking stock questions.

What was the genesis of the LMLM like? Did it take some time to figure out?

It happened on a train ride to the Chicago Botanical Gardens. But it was this last winter and I was thinking about how most of my friends of color were constantly fighting for racial justice and how we weren’t always taking care of ourselves. We were just going and going and forgetting to eat and forgetting to sleep and fighting and it was really hard. I was thinking a lot about how people of color are very rarely in control in our own images or stories. I wanted to do something that felt like a gift for people of color, a moment where we could just take some time and really focus on who we are, how we are beautiful, and how far we’ve come.

What did you learn about yourself or the world around you as you completed this project?

Just how much shit we each have to battle through just to feel comfortable in our own skins. The world is always telling us that we aren’t enough, and that’s not fair. Also, I learned a lot about some of my closest friends doing this. I think that’s really amazing, that we are constantly learning about ourselves and each other. That learning is never going to stop, no matter how long you’ve known them.

What other long-term photography projects have you done?

None. This is my first, so it’s really exciting.

What would you like more people to know about you as a photographer?

That I’ve taught myself how to do this. I’ve never taken a class or gotten a formal instruction. I don’t know the camera as well as I could, but for me photography is an experiment, its something that I am learning. I tell that to most of the people I take a photo of, that I’m not an expert, I’m just trying.

Fatimah Asghar’s chapbook After is now available for preorder via Yes Yes Books. Check out her recent TED Talk, “We Own All The Language In The World” here.

the homies blog//FEATURE: alex lukawski gets busy

d1

I met Alex Lukawski in Hostel Earphoria’s basement at a show for noise poppers DAYMAKER. and steely shoegaze outfit Not For You. Everything was purple. A few weeks later I saw her cool girl band Glamour Hotline play a fun, rough set at a cool, rough show. There were Prince projections! ~*THEN *~ I seen her artwork hanging at Dollhouse DIY. Her portraits were something like I had never seent before, and I am happy we got to talk about it and that I get to share it with you here.

Alex says: “I have always been interested in drawing and painting people. I am fascinated by the array of hues found in skin tones and the interesting shapes that make up the face. Over the past couple years I have been painting portraits with loose brush strokes and unexpected saturated colors. I find that by referencing pictures with high lighting contrast it allows me to be more experimental in my painting techniques. I draw a lot of inspiration from my friends, the lighting at concerts, collaging and bad instagram filters.”


Contact Alex via her website.

the homies blog//FEATURE: + interviews emanuel vinson

sL-wGod

AN INTERVIEW


Smoke curls from emanuel’s lips as a slowed Vic Mensa coos. “I just think it’s an entirely different song now. It like really enhances the songcraft and all the sounds, and his words, and his sexiness, and the mood.” We’re reaching the end of the new  mixtape sL-wgod that my bodily manifestation Mr. vinson has just put out. He starts it over.

THE INTERVIEW

What is sL-wGod?

Well, all the internet shit calls it a “slolo journey through the heavens”

What does that mean?

It means I started slowing pop songs with my friends a few years ago, we put out a tape called .slowbro.. I picked up my slowing technique from Walker, who was really the guiding force, to me, throughout the whole… thing. He started doing something cool and it blew me away, and we had made music before, and yeah.

I started using the things they didn’t fuck with in my own production. At this point I can say it feels transcendent to me. It’s a meditation on and expression of so many things. And sL-wGod is a beautiful manifestation of all these processes, techniques, and emotions that I’ve been cultivating and harvesting over the past couple years. It’s an adventure, a pure expression of me, but without me having to say a word. Which is important to me right now.

What kinds of techniques?

Blind composition, improvisation, silence.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like everything I do is dope as soon as I think of it, so I do it. Whether I’m about to write a sentence or start a song, I have made so much music and written so many poems and felt transcendent because of it so many times, and worked so hard on my craft, and found appreciation in so many mutually respected peers, and humans that I have no fear. I mean, I have a lot of fears, but when it comes to what I believe in, my expression, I’ve gotten to a point of development where I know how to make myself happy.

I know what samples to use, I know the appropriate mic quality, I know what patiences to have. So when I made sL-wGod, I had been actively planning it and kind of brainstorming for months, promoting it for weeks, compiling materials for years since the .slowbro. project, but it wasn’t til Monday that I knew exactly what I wanted to do, spent 45 minutes doing it, and put it out two days later.

You’re rambling.

Silences
James Blake inspired me to start using silences when I heard his debut album. Around that time, I started experimenting with hollowness and gaps in sound. When I was making i’m starting to believe this summer, the tiny gaps in sound that occurred in playback when my laptop’s capabilities weren’t able to keep up with Ableton’s demands started exciting me. I started leaving them in.

Since before Blake, too, a few years ago, on an album’s “final” track I left the recorder running and random instruments started firing off from the netheregions of the timeline where I had left like…loops and shit that I was figuring out. I let it play out, and eventually hit record again and freestyled over the end of the song, which changed the end of the album completely right before I put it out prolly the next day.

I do that a lot now, it’s a common compositional technique. Sometimes that includes silences, but it also brings us to

Blind composition and improvisation

Doing i’m starting to believe I wanted to make something like Elephant 6 collage pop records I’d heard in my yute and always wanted to emulate. I also didn’t want to get stage fright from returning from hiatus. So my composition style became fluid in many ways, you hear samples recurring throughout the first 14 minutes because I’m making the songs in real time, or so it felt. Now I’ve gotten even faster.

I didn’t hear a single second of sL-wGod’s music until I woke up in the morning and put it on my phone. Except for the older material I had heard, some of which I didn’t even remember making, I was just compiling the songs and organizing them, figuring out how I wanted to cut them up. It happened so fast that I remembered, “yes, the shimmering Mylo montage” but some samples I can’t recognize. It’s a mystery to me, these songs I’m making are sprawling mysteries to me and yet they are poignant and powerful and me, and beautiful and cutting edge and still make sense.

They make sense like watching some crazy fish on Blue Planet; with a significant amount of direction and intention I create a bubble of chaos that harmonizes into something alien and still impossibly tender and compassionate. sL-wGod feels sad, it feels familiar, it sprawls, it thrills with simple 4/4 synths, it’s just a slowed down Chris Brown song, but it’s also a cog of a compositional marvel, it’s also black power, it’s also IDM, and EDM, it’s cripplingly blind poptimism + avant garde = pulp fiction.

Last couple things:

I fucking love sL-wGod

Spoiler alert for processes/samples:

A guy at the Chicago Diner, he works there, we’re all friendly-ish, and he tells me again that the name of that soundcloud artist is The Code. Tracks 4 and 5. I put them in there somewhere, they fit perfectly into where they are. A few of the singer’s words before the cut say the name of the next sample, one that fits and shifts their mood slightly but is from a completely different artist. I still have never actually listened to The Code.

Standing by a fire I asked Alex Goldin, amazing painter, what his favorite song was. He sends it to me that night/morning, I put it in without hearing it. It’s the opening to the album, “Hello Jesus. Je

This is just me writing now.

We want you to listen to sL-wGod, and follow your dreams to eternal peace, with or without it. But sL-wGod is a part of you.

the homies blog//VIDEO FEATURE: SKECH & Lamon drop bombs

Tomorrow Kings are imaginative beings with an industrial slant. Their lyrical persona render them like wordy assassins fresh from pulp fiction, prizing mental agility as highly as brute strength.Tomorrow Kings’ new album Nigger Rigged Time Machine (December 3) has a title that bears explanation// thanks to this dusk-lit talk with TK members Lamon Manuel & SKECH185, we got it for you.

We also have furious, erudite rapping, beautiful imagery courtesy of Palmisano Park (and the wonderful Kiam Marcielo Junio), thoughts on afro-futurism, the black diasporic struggle, and other fetchness. Biggest of ups to Joseph Varisco of JRVMajesty for editing.



Keep up with Tomorrow Kings via FB.