Usually when you hear something described as “pop performance art”, you think “mediocre music that hinges heavily on a visual element”, but such is not the case with SSION, the multimedia project that Cody Critcheloe has been masterminding for over a decade now.
In fact, SSION’s latest album Bent not only holds up on its own; I’d say it’s the best damn dance-pop album of the year, for two years in a row. How’s that? After self-releasing it as a free download in summer 2010, it got picked up for a CD/LP re-release this fall, bolstered with new tracks as well as remixes from the likes of Physical Therapy and Nightfeelings (AKA Nick Weiss from Teengirl Fantasy). But even amidst the aural bliss, you shan’t forget to suck on his eye candy—for the world is Cody’s coloring book, and he colors outside the lines…with highlighters, and eye shadow, and bits of wrapping paper, and sprinkles. Following his recent massive US tour, he and I had a chat about videos, grrrls, parties and other heavy themes.
So far you’ve released three amazing videos from your latest record (“My Love Grows in the Dark”, “Earthquake” and “Psy-Chic”) that made the internet’s nipples go hard. With the previous album, each song had a video, and they were strung together for a kind of feature-length story. Can we be hopeful for something similar now with Bent?
Probably. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. So far, the videos are making sense together, and that’s intentional. There is a story, but honestly I’m not sure what the outcome should be at this point. Depends on what feels right. I will know when I get there.
You know about the play and film Bent, right? About the Nazi persecution of gays, with Ian McKellan?
Yeah, but I’ve never seen it.
Nor I, but I figured you would have. Anyway, I love your whole album, but the opener “Listen to the Grrrls” particularly struck me because it infuses a touch of radical politics into Kyliesque dance-pop. In Berlin I’m frustrated because it seems like most of the gay men live in a big leather bubble of privilege, blinded by their overgrown beards. To what extent is New York’s party scene, or scenes, politically queer?
I’m not sure. I don’t really go out a lot in New York. I like to walk around a lot during the day, but that’s about it. Every now and then I go to a party, but I usually leave after twenty minutes.
Do you expect something from a party experience and then leave unfulfilled? Or are such social gatherings simply not what you’re into in general?
I guess for me, I just like smaller social gatherings most of the time. It seems like the conversation is better. Maybe this sounds really bougie, but I love dinner parties. Every now and then it’s nice to go to some big party and get completely smashed, but most of the time I’m really chill. I think being able to perform, go on tour and create as a living fulfills that side of me. I think if I couldn’t tour or make videos I would probably spend more time at the club trying to draw attention to myself—by the way, that’s not a diss to party people.
My buddy Alexander Geist says you moved into his old room. Did he leave behind any notable odors or auras?
Not that I know of. We painted the room pink.
Which grrrls in NYC are you listening to right now? And I don’t necessarily mean music.
Hmm, well, I’m really inspired by my friends who do Chez Deep. It’s like a drag performance troupe. Maybe that’s the wrong way to describe it. I also spend a lot of time talking over ideas with Raul de Nieves, and I talk a lot on the phone with my close-friends outside of NYC. And I talk the most with myself. I’m listening to myself more than anyone.
For those of us outside the USA, can you fill us in on what we missed with your tour?
It was awesome. It was a full band playing the songs live. No props or videos. It was liberating, and it felt great to be able to strip it down and still have people respond so positively. I hate the idea of people only going to a SSION show because of the costumes, props, videos, et cetera. I wanted people to focus on the music and me as a performer. It felt right, and it translated well. I was happy.
I’d love to hear stripped down versions of your songs. Any chance for a Euro tour? Or did you take some decent live footage while on tour?
I don’t know if it sounds totally stripped down – It’s more like the performance vibe, or what a lot of people expect from a SSION show has been mutated into something more direct. I’m sure we will tour Europe in 2013; I just don’t know when.
The support act for this tour was House of LaDosha. Was that your choice? Is it a lot of work to cart an entire house across the country?
I love House of LaDosha. It was just Dosha Devastation and Cunty Crawford on this tour. From what I know their house is full, but it’s really only the two of them as live performers: Dosha the raptress and Cunty the MC.
What’s the difference between a raptress and an MC? Or do you mean a female raptor?
OK, I guess that’s the wrong way to describe Dosha and Cunty. I guess Cunty is more of a hype woman maybe? I’m not totally sure. I would never describe Dosha as a raptor. She’s more like a very beautiful lion, and sometimes if you’re really lucky, late at night she turns into a kitty that you can pet. I miss them so much now that the tour is over.
For the official CD and LP release of Bent, your label Dovecote had you make some adjustments to your pop culture-referencing songs because of intellectual copyright blah blah. How does that leave you feeling? Is it a compromise?
At first I was bummed, but then I woke up the next day and didn’t really care. The original versions still exist and are easy to find. Also, I’m staying true to those versions for the videos, so it’s not a big deal to me.
Outside of SSION, you’ve directed music videos for The Gossip, Peaches, Santigold and MNDR. Whose music these days inspires moving pictures inside your head?
Right now, Neil Young, and my own music: present and future.
As well as writing, Joey Hansom also crafts music under various guises. Download his exclusive remix of SSION’s “Nothing Happens At Nite” below!
New week, new V I D E O D R O M E—the last of the year, in fact. I hope you’ve enjoyed my selection of A/V pleasures throughout 2012; I can’t wait to see what new eyecandy 2013 has in store for you and I. Today brings outstanding videos from the likes of SSION, Phlo Finister, Trust, Toro y Moi and many more. Have fun, and I’ll see you next year!
1. Phlo Finister – Hotel Miami, directed by FXRBES
Sort of Lana Del Ray meets Aaliyah. This is Phlo Finister, and her much-anticipated LP Poster Girl debuts on December 21. Video produced by Benny Cassette, directed by FXRBES plus a cameo by SpaceGhostPurrp. Watch it.
2. Jessie Ware – Sweet Talk
New music video for my favorite cut from Jessie Ware’s fantastic 2012 album, Devotion.
3. Wavves – Sail to the sun, directed by BLACK // DOCTOR
Wavves are back in the game. Our favorite LA skate punks just dropped their news audio-visual joy for their killer track “Sail To the Sun”.
4. Peaking Lights – Beautiful Dub, directed by Mike Seely
Peaking Lights just released Lucifer in Dub, an album that (as its title suggests) is made up of dub versions from the pair’s 2012 LP Lucifer. So good.
5. Steve Mason – Fight Them Back
The Scottish artist Steve Mason, who once helmed The Beta Band, has enjoyed a rich solo career which has produced some fine work. Next year his twenty-track album Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time album will be released through Double Six.
6. Toro y Moi – So Many Details, directed by HARRYS
Is chillwave coming back? Here’s the brand new video for “So Many Details” by Toro Y Moi, taken from his third album Anything In Return. Seems to be one of the first really good albums to come out in 2013.
7. Trust – Heaven, directed by Petra Collins
Trust always makes me say “wow”, and so does this new video for “Heaven” off their debut album TRST, released earlier this year. Lovely stuff.
8. Vondelpark – Dracula, directed by Cieron Maga
In the mood for down-tempo vibes? Here’s Vondelpark‘s new video for “Dracula”, taken from the forthcoming LP Seabed out on R&S Records April 2013. Expect big things.
9. Kriget – Holy Mountain, directed by Fredrik Joelson
Swedish avant grade combo Kriget (Swedish for “War”) is seem to love saxophones, drums and bass, which is quite entertaining. Their Holy Mountain 7″ is out now via Swedish super-label INGRID.
10. SSION – PSY-CHIC, self-directed
Once again, Cody Crichteloe has perfected his visual aesthetic and the look reaches its zenith here as lots of bizarre things happen. Love the dog.
At the tail end of their first European tour, which included three Berlin dates, I met up with NYC producer Daniel Fisher AKA Physical Therapy and his pal, the genderfucking shock-hopper Mykki Blanco, as they finished a thrift store expedition. While Mykki firmed up plans to shoot with Wolfgang Tilmanns, Daniel and I headed to a Neukölln diner where I prodded the recently-retired chandelier installer on his burgeoning music career. I admired his finely formed, naturally butch eyebrows while breathing through my mouth to avoid catching wafts of his stinky kofte sandwich, gaining insight on his various endeavors: solo productions, collaborations (both real and fantasized), re-edits and DJing.
You played at Prince Charles for Renaissance Man’s Import/Export series, Festsaal Kreuzberg for Club Transmediale, and Südblock’s Creamcake party. Those are three quite different audiences. How did you find their different reactions?
The reactions were really good in all of them. Prince Charles was the most “club” oriented of all of them, and that’s the kind of place I like to play at, having started out as a club DJ. Festsaal was also really good, but that was more of a “show” venue, so there was less dancing.
Yeah, Club Transmediale is known for more of an academic crowd. And Creamcake, the queer party?
Well, I didn’t play ’til really late at Creamcake. It seemed, honestly, like there was a lot of overlap from all three, with people who were there to see Mykki, and they all had pretty passionate reactions.
How about Berlin as a whole? And not necessarily only in regards to your own gigs, but going out on your own time. How does the clubbing lifestyle compare to back home in New York?
There’s absolutely no comparison! I went to see my friends Total Freedom, E+E and Why Be at a tiny little place, not known as a cool bar, but literally cooler than any place in New York. But in Berlin it’s the shittiest little bar. New York has obviously been a club city, but right now, it is not. There’s not one good venue. All my friends who throw parties are always desperately looking for a new place. Over the last couple years we’ve started doing warehouse parties, but the police presence in New York is so heavy that it’s impossible to do that in any long-term way.
So you think there might be demand for parties, but there’s so much legal stuff to deal with?
I don’t know exactly what it is. There was a while when there were a lot of cool parties happening, but I think a lot of those people spent time in the studio producing music, and now a lot of that music is coming out, and maybe the focus is less on trying to throw good parties. I know for me it got to be too much work. But I definitely think it’s a lack of venues. There is interest, but no one can seem to pull it off right now.
I’ve told some Berliners and Germans about New York’s cabaret license, and they don’t even believe me that venues have to pay extra money to allow people to dance! So, you have both solo material and production work for other performers, like Mykki Blanco whom you just toured with. Does the creative process differ in these different cases?
There isn’t really any production work for Mykki Blanco. Just one track on her upcoming mixtape. Mykki has been my best friend for six or seven years. That’s really our connection.
But you’re not necessarily planning to work with any other vocalists?
No, I do like working with other vocalists, like, I worked with Jamie Krasner on my EP. But I’m a really, really slow producer. It takes me forever to make each track! So I can’t just give them away.
Understandable. You’ve also done remixes for SSION, MNDR and Pictureplane, which I assume were all based on a direct connection to the artist. But then you also did the unofficial one for Alicia Keys that got a strong positive reaction online. Which “big name” artist would make you swoon if they approached you for a legit remix or production work?
Nice pick. So, you just released your first solo EP, and Mykki’s about to drop her mixtape which has a track you produced. Do you know what’s next on your agenda?
I’ll have a white label hopefully coming out this fall, with a couple of edits: “Music Sounds Better with You” by Stardust, and “Controversy” by Prince. But don’t tell Prince that!
I already have three unofficial re-edits of “Controversy”, but that’s one of my all-time favorite tracks, so I’ll be happy to hear a new version.
I like that song, but only the part where it goes, “Do not believe in god…”, so I just took those two bars and looped them for the whole track. It’s hypnotic.
Are you putting the white label out yourself?
No, with No Relation, which is an UNO sub-label. Then, I have another release with Hippos in Tanks slated for next year, which I’m in the production stages of, which will hopefully be a full-length with lots more vocalists, a more ambitious project.
Light a candle, blahblahblah: WHAT THE HELL IS UP FACEBOOK.
Out of all the Tumblr-culture whatever type things, I’m pretty sure mine was the only thing to not try to cash in somehow. I never made shirts or stickers or anything, because I have nothing to sell. I just talk about music and fashion that I liked and posted weird nonsense because that’s what I love, and having a 15K fanpage was an incredible way to promote weird underground stuff I love. So thank you, Facebook, for knocking down a music fan and leaving Gucci Mane alone to make the same song for eternity. I know why the caged bird sings.
This weekend was something of a catharsis for me. I played more pop music than I’ve played in a while, which surprised even myself considering how aggressive I felt inside. Somehow feeling like I just railed a fat line of bull hormones made me want to drop track after track of Top 40, not even sure how it got on my hard drive but maybe I’m just a genie in a bottle, baby. Naturally, it’s not entirely straightforward. That would be boring.
From re-imagined rave classics to repurposed Three 6 Mafia tracks, I covered all the bases in the weirdest baseball game ever. Meanwhile I’m punching walls in my brain and everyone on the dancefloor is flinging vodka in the air, three people come up to request Frank Ocean and I spit centipede venom in their eyes: no elevator music.
My finger is twitching toward the array of Coil tracks I keep positioned to shine ’em on between Rihanna and Lindsay, I’m not entirely sure how emotionally constipated this crowd is, if they can feel this like I feel it or if I’ll wipe the floor clean and I say fuck it, if you like it then you should have put a White Ring on it. And the beat drops.
The truth is that nothing is permanent in this plane or the next, and I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing or not. I already feel like a ghost.
RIP GUCCI GOTH FB PAGE
DEAD AT 15K
You used to be my playground…..
Enjoy seventeen new videos from around the world in today’s 55th episode of the music video filter, aka V I D E O D R O M E.
#1 Collarbones – Missing
Collarbones teams up with Dro Carey to create this strange music video for their latest single. We like strange.
#2 How To Dress Well – Ocean Floor For Everything
New jam from Tom Krell off of his upcoming LP Total Loss. AMAZE.
#3 Azealia Banks – Liqourice
I love Azealia. Not sure how I feel about the whole video, but still like the track though.
#4 El Perro Del Mar – Innocence is Sense
This is so so different from the El Perro Del Mar of just five years ago. In a good way.
#5 Slow Magic – Fortyounce Mixtape
Glo-fi mixtape for the UK clothing site Forty-Ounce. The 29-minute tape including artists like Burial, Baths, How To Dress Well, Balam Acab and Girrafage. Slow and dreamy.
#6 Torn Hawk – “Mark of the Hound
According to the Rose Quartz blog, Luke Wyat is the source behind this video as well as the musician. His new album is out this week on Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S. label.
#7 Twin Shadow – Five Seconds
Based on a novel called Night Of The Silver Sun, written by frontman George Lewis Jr. and Eric Green. Would love to get ahold of a copy.
#8 Only Real – Cinnamon Toast
It’s like King Krule and The Streets had a baby, and Robin Guthrie from Cocteau Twins produced it. Fucking awesome.
#9 LV and Okmalumkoolkat – Sebenza
Taken from the Get A Grip EP Out on Hyperdub July 23rd. It makes me excited for the full album Sebenza, set to drop in August and featuring Okmalumkookat, Spoek Mathambo and Ruffest.
#10 Sigur Rós – Fjögur píanó
A surreal experimental music video with a dancing naked Shia LaBeouf; what else do u need? Taken from the “Valtari Mystery Film Experiment”. More details here.
#11 Zambri – All You Maybes
Twisted, dreamy sounds on a creepy animated video from NYC experimental band Zambri, off their album House of Baasa. A worthy, witchy listen.
#12 Gecko Afterlife HD – ? Earth Jump
This is supposed to be the latest brainchild of avant-sound enthusiast and multi-monikered James Ferraro. The story simply goes on and on.
#13 Two Inch Punch – Moonstruck
Electronic, experimental R&B with some beautiful drums and vocals. Their Slow Jams EP will be released on July 16th.
#14 Fear of Men – Green Sea
Super rad. Favorite new artist of 2011/2012. Cannot cannot cannot wait for a full length.
#15 Radiant Dragon – Landor
New visuals from Awe IX on Radiant Dragon’s video for ‘Terminal’ – a new song from forthcoming LP Screengazers, are bringing you into an intergalactic feel.
#16 No Ceremony – HoldOnMe
Not just a video, but a free download on their website too. Sweet.
#17 Ssion – Earthquake
“A coming-of-age love story between an enigmatic instigator and an alien-brother-lover resulting in the purest form of magik with a bit of feminism and Las Vegas showmanship thrown in for good measure” is a description that makes us drool. Ssion is so god.