A large black obelisk has just appeared in your living room. Drop your remote and scurry on over and give it a sniff and a kick. Where has this thing come from and what does it want? Wait a minute there’s some noise coming from inside the ominous structure. A hatch is opening. There are some ‘things’ in there. My God they’re wearing ice hockey masks and they’re shouting. ‘Wolf Gang!’ ‘Wolf Gang!’
The next punk isn’t going to happen is it? Anthony H Wilson – bless his soul – predicted a musical revolution every 13 years and if he’s right then the last such breakthrough was a small, white box with a jog wheel. The music itself has been nothing but a blandscape of good ‘old stuff’ and poor ‘new stuff’. It’s either the young middle classes regurgitating their cool fathers’ record collections, or young street acts with no message other than ‘Get me a flash car so I can spill some brandy on the seats and end up on a reality TV show.’ There are some exceptions, but come on… Genius is hard. Fail and you look like an idiot and no one wants to look like a fool.
That said, there is a band right now that are incomprehensibly good and they’re not scare of looking foolish. That band is Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. The name sounds a little Wu-Tang and there’s a similar ensemble approach to this Californian hip-hop collective, but that’s where the similarities end. These cats are a head fuck.
Aged between 16-24 OFWGKTA is split into three different bands (MellowHype, The Jet Age Of Tomorrow and Earl Wolf) under the Odd Future banner, with a host of collaborators joining Tyler The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Left Brain and eight others. A rabid mix of dark horror, black comedy and the odd tuba, it’s hard to pin this creature down, even to the point of who is doing what on what. There’s three bands, and 11 members, but there’s also solo albums, side projects and a separate live band.
Mostly black suburban kids, with a penchant for skate, and crowd surfing this is not punk/rap ‘crossover’. Some have called it Gothic hip-hop with its dark wall of keyboards evoking Black Sabbath. It’s a sound that instantly renders grime ‘lame’. To be fair, it renders most things lame.
Humour runs through a sizable chunk of Odd Future and for the comedy to work there needs to be self-deprecation set against the shock; and this hints at a refreshing self awareness. There’s a mischievousness about Odd Future reminiscent of the post-punk Beastie Boys. Essentially a black act, but with an arty/punky aesthetic. A YouTube mic battle during which two of the lads rapping – appallingly – to a human beatbox, was widely dissed. However, the whole thing was a ruse. The ‘on my dick’ lyrics were deliberately cliché, and the constant stop-start of the beat to quicken or slower, results in a tempo that never actually changes. It’s funny.
An appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s chat show the previous month, included a piggyback ride for Tyler The Creator on the host’s back as the credits rolled. The energy is contagious. If you like what they do, you instantly try to hook your friends up.
So is Odd Future a joke? Probably not. And if it is a joke, will they – like the Beasties – actually start believing it?
With all their work – up till now – being available free online, the ethos of the band has nothing to do with bling or drive-bys. The work is just what they do. OFWGKTA is essentially a mixture of raw honesty – with some deeply personal references – blended into a frothing alco-shake of mind-boggling madness. The videos feature suicide, death-by-lethal-cocktails (members of the group seen spitting out bloodied teeth) and the songs want to ‘stab Bruno Mars in the oesophagus’. There’s songs about bowling, dancing in your pants on Xanax and of course serial killers. There is much macho posturing but for the most part it seems to borne more from a cartoon irony than straight from the players’ lounge.
The real essence of what makes this band exciting is the fearlessness of youth. Earl Sweatshirt was sent to boot camp when his parents heard his solo album EARL (he was 16) and there seems to be precisely no one controlling or composing them. Without modern technology and instant broadcasting they probably wouldn’t have gotten this far, this raw. One by one the legs of this mutant crab would have been snapped right off.
Rather than dwelling on how life is trying to beat them down, this is front foot stuff without the aid of a gun. It’s unspoken mostly but Odd Future – and other acts such as Warcloud – seem to have sprouted from a post-9/11 malaise, where religion has come straight back onto the agenda. An agenda these cats have precisely zero interest in hence the rather ‘testing’ material. They’re playing with fire just to get a reaction from a nation going down the tubes; just as punk picked up the swastika in an attempt to upset the previous generation, Odd Future are inverting the cross.
Wolf Gang are a gang but only in the sense, that they trade off of their work rather than the demise of their neighbourhood. They are kings of the Wolf Gang universe and that domain is growing, their legion getting stronger.
When OFWGKTA played South By South West – headlining the Billboard stage on March 18th – those present knew that this was ‘the moment’. Ice hockey balaclavas, old school basketball socks and a live band featuring Erykah Badu, it just smelt right. It was punk. An appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s chat show the previous month, included a piggyback ride for Tyler The Creator on the host’s back as the credits rolled. The energy is contagious. If you like what they do, you instantly try to hook your friends up.
Adult Swim is lining up a OFWGKTA comedy show – their Funny Or Die sketch hints that they’re naturals – and the videos are getting slicker; as seen in Tyler’s Yonkers visuals (5million hits and counting). Terry Richardson has just shot them in nudey women suits for Vice and the word on the street is ‘Boom!’. Let’s just hope that these slippery eels somehow manage to avoid the almost inevitable sell-out. At least for a while…
Tyler The Creator’s album Goblin is out on May 10th.
Watch the Jimmy Fallon Appearance here
Watch the Funny or Die sketch here
Watch Tyler The Creator’s Yonkers here
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