18 January 2020
The burgeoning chronicler of London culture aims to stay ahead of the up-and coming, independent arts curve. This observer walked into a wealth of ascending multi-disciplinary talent at the closing party of the first Sonic Seams festival, held 18 January in White City. The 3-day exhibition was organised by new project direction, creative consultancy, and research hub Future Together Lab (entrants’ hands were marked with a conspicuous, conversation-starting ‘FTL’), with the aim of weaving together art, music, and fashion, by an overlapping mix of 15 collaborators. The event had an otherworldly ambiance created by the DJ sets of Posh God, Creole Cuts (itself a small collective), and Maxwell Owin, the latter of whom produces for many scene-defining musicians in London. Much of the art and clothing hung along the curved walls of the metal-clad, high-ceilinged Rotunda of HQI had a futuristic feel, like the busy alien scenes drawn by Posh God and the recurrent omnipotent eye in Ryan Hawaii’s work, which was impressively featured atop a sleek 2-metre tall sculpture.
Mundanities and symbols of urban life were made surreal, like the bold patterns formed of lighters and cityscapes by Kumi Keazor (his two intriguing sketchbooks alone kept the viewer engaged for 15 minutes), and the transport-inspired work of Done London, like the upholstery patterns seen on tube seats and the stacked bricks image tiled in the Brixton underground station. Keazor’s garments stood out for their unexpected mix of materials and exceptional tailoring, including a button-down whose apparent stripes were in fact narrow stitched pleats. Dem1ns, the collaboration between musician and producer Kwakebass and Done London, featured basics made bold with a blocky, stacked font. Kwakebass embodies the cross-sectional vision of Sonic Seams: his creativity touches a broad span of projects in London music and arts. The clustered skulls ubiquitous in Rago Foot’s work gave a cool sense of the macabre on hand-painted sportswear. Lava La Rue’s paint series “Bad Bunny” featured bold pop patterns like the other artists, but with a whimsical queer twist, like penises resembling balloon art and a striking nude portrait of a defiant, bunny-eared femme. Proceeds from her sales were donated to wildfire relief in Australia.
The site-specificity of the art, like the adoption from larger graffiti works (as seen in Ryan Hawaii’s incorporation of Long Live South Bank, a campaign to retain the regenerated area’s skating culture), and Done London’s use of Transport for London imagery brought political elements to the evening, which continued into the musical performances. Ryan Hawaii and Rago Foot performed a set drawn from Rago Foot’s two recent projects, “We Need to Talk,” and “Another Man on a Zig Zag Mission.” Complex tracks sampling a wide spread of jazz and electronic crest slowly, prolonged by Rago Foot’s seeming emotional remove in pointed verses about living in a city plagued with racism and inequality (“there are statistics against me in many a way,” he raps in in ‘Mad Method’).
Meru, whose EP “The Human Experience” is forthcoming on 13 March, had the crowd nodding along to wavy tracks that incorporated plucky acoustic riffs behind smooth vocals, like her single “Vivo en el Momento.” Meru was followed by George Riley, who charmed with fun stage presence between low-key yet sensuously confident tracks like her single “Herstory,” over her producer Oliver Palfreyman’s stripped-down beats. Lex Amor launched her set with a freestyle titled ‘341 x’ that got the crowd’s rapt attention before performing her understated, creeping newly-released single ‘Mazza,’ affording the listener another glimpse into London life. She was followed by Goya Gumbani, celebrating the debut of his EP “HGR Presents: A Thousand Months,” which layers easy reggae and jazz melodies under his smooth raps. His performance on Saturday night, however, was energised by more cutting lyricism, including a chilling call and answer with the audience. Lava La Rue, taking the form of a guitar-wielding Bad Bunny and backed by Courage, got the crowd dancing with a set with a late 1990s/early 2000s pop punk vibe befitting the attendees’ general aesthetic skewing 1990s futuristic sportswear and analog technology.
Elijah Maja, creative director of Future Together Lab, deftly curated Sonic Seams with Rago Foot and stressed its collaborative ethos, which began with the venue itself. The Rotunda belongs to HQI, a non-profit dedicated to repurposing vacant buildings for visual and recording artists. The artwork display was not strictly segregated by its maker: Rago Foot’s grinning skulls were nestled in amongst other artists’ stretches of wall, and the imagery of Posh God and Ryan Hawaii appeared on the same repurposed garments. As the live music went underway, the performers took turns working the lights and sound system for each other. The only minor snags in the festival’s first year arose from a finicky sound system and acoustics at times compromised by the room’s shape, and the prolonged garment raffle drawing at the end of the evening.
Endeavours like Future Together Labs provide a much-needed counterpoint to expand and assert the art community in a hyper-gentrifying city with unoccupied luxury investment property and dwindling space for affordable living, working, and creative pursuits.