Priya Ragu’s post-genre sound champions her Tamil heritage
18+ isn’t just a search engine-unfriendly project name leading you straight to online porn: it’s also a fairly accurate forewarning of the illicit nature of this particular LA/NY-based duo’s work.
18+'s music sounds like a visceral amble through a fog-filled sex club, brimming with the sleaze and innuendo of secret fetishes and sado-masochistic desires. Here, bodily functions are confused into a mass of creepy sensory reference points, as Cake clacks along a solo piano key while a shaky male vocal mumbles: Fuck the past, from the back. A breathy feminine voice teases Got a little bit o’ you, tucked in me as a bulging two-note keyboard melody ebbs over the inhibited rhythm of simulated hand-clapping in Jets. A concentrated crackle shifts across pitches. Up. Down. Up. Down: Give me hours, and hours. These are tracks from ‘MIXTA2E’ and ‘MIXTAP3’, two mixtapes preceding the first ‘official’ 18+ release for the Houndstooth sublabel of London club Fabric. It’s a split of Crow and Horn, two previously released songs that have been cleaned up by Matt Colton at London’s Alchemy Studios, and released in the sexy-sleek packaging of commodity.
"The anonymity of 18+ was initially based on the fact that we didn't have to volunteer information," says the duo's Justin, speaking in a three-way Skype hangout along with band member Samia, their disembodied voices seeping through their respective grey and empty thumbnails. "It was more of a situation where, ‘Since we don’t have to, why would we?' Now that things are expanding, we don’t want it to be a gimmick. We never wanted it to be a gimmick."
So there you have it: what was once 'John' and 'Jane Doe', then 'Sis' and 'Bro' (incestuous connotations included), now emerges as visual artists Justin (from California) and Samia (from Hawaii). They originally met at SAIC (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) before moving to LA together, starting the project, and then splitting again physically, but staying connected fibre-optically.
"Suddenly, and very casually, Justin just kind of gave me a beat that he had made for this song, Drawl, which was the first thing we ever put out," says Samia about the genesis of a project that surfaced as appropriated video game avatars online, then as living human bodies across art spaces in Berlin, New York, and the Lithuanian Pavilion of the 2013 Venice Biennale, before disappearing again. "People didn’t know anything about us, so there was a stage where we pretended we were related in some way," she adds, "It was very sexual, the lyrics. It was a bit more overt and, over time, if you listen to the three mixtapes, you kind of hear the sound maturing as well as the topics we talk about."
With that in mind, one imagines that the 'expansion' that Justin mentions earlier is referring to more than just a personal or creative growth. Crow, featuring C Powers’ beat (sampling the caw of the carnivorous bird of its title) repeats and recoils from a hollow bass line, devouring itself into numbness as the two artists moan in unison: Pretend that you’re happy.
"It almost takes on a malicious tone, sometimes," says Justin about the 18+ penchant for rampant appropriation of images, videos, and beats, making up about 50 per cent of their oeuvre. It’s something that he describes as "almost like a parody of Manifest Destiny." That is, the Divine Right of early white settlers to conquer and colonise the continent in the 19th century, rationalising the annihilation of the indigenous population in the meantime. "And it’s sort of the foundation of our society," Justin adds, "Or just, like, late-market capitalism."
Where’s your check when I deposit it?, goes the desiccated double-entendre of domesticated mania in Dry, as Samia pops, Brrrrrrr, snap! with a lurching low-end besieged by whoops, cricks, and stabbing melodies. Justin counters, We could fertilise your lawn, maybe put it in the sun. Bitch. Whitegoods and household chores become the height of aesthetic, nay, sexual pleasure, while the band itself buys into the commodity economy by producing their own dinner plates, and towels featuring their favourite restaurant.
"The way we amorally grab and assimilate content," explains Justin about the band’s diversified business model of designing and manufacturing products to expand on a brand built on stolen content, "It’s possibly mirroring, possibly criticising, but in the end it’s just embodying, which is kind of pretty bleak."
Song titles like Bisex, Fecund, Bitch, Citrus, and Deadbody illustrate the malignant, polysexual nightmare that is the 18+ universe, whether it’s jacking off to free CGI porn or open objectophilia. Or as Samia sings in Citrus: Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, it’s all the same.
Houndstooth released Crow/Horn on August 4th 2014 (buy).