Odd Future

Photo by Ken Leanfore

Originally published in The Music Network – January, 2012

Odd Future are in the process of repairing their image. It’s an interesting move after spending the past two years courting controversy (or at least receiving it in hefty doses), but it’s an ace they have had up their sleeve since the beginning. While they are hardly backpedalling on anything they have done thus far, there are definite actions being taken to rectify certain misconceptions surrounding the band. Syd The Kid, who is often referred to reductively as the band’s ‘resident lesbian,’ offers up an iron-clad rebuttal to the constant accusations of homophobia levelled at the band (mostly due to Tyler, The Creator’s liberal use of the word ‘faggot’) just in her very involvement with the collective. And while the producer and engineer has lurked in the shadows thus far – she tells TMN modestly, but accurately, “Unless you’ve ever been to a show, you probably don’t know about me” – the release of her duo The Internet’s debut album Purple Naked Ladies has seen her thrust into the limelight. The poster for Odd Future’s Sydney show sees Syd front and centre, while the rest of the collective stand in the background. It’s an obvious way to showcase the inherent fallacy of labelling the crew as homophobic, without actually having to spell it out.

“It’s hilarious to me,” Syd says about the misconception. “I mean I take it with a grain of salt. At first, you want to argue your point, your side. Then you realise they’re gonna get it eventually. A lot of people don’t dig deep enough, and are so quick to try to look for something to be mad at, or a cause to fight for. I understand it.”

Tyler, The Creator is a little less understanding, using an opportunity during their Tuesday night show at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney to make his point. He had just instructed two thousand fans to sing the word ‘nigger’ and singled out a young white female in the front row. “You just said the word ‘nigger’ but you’re not racist. You didn’t say it to me. It’s just a word. That’s exactly how I use the word ‘faggot’,” he said to a deafening roar of approval. Syd The Kid began the next song, her onstage engineering providing tacit permission for anything that occurs in the Odd Future camp.

The following day in the Odd Future pop up store – a week long venture set up on Sydney’s Oxford St, designed to sell the collective’s growing range of merchandise but which mainly acts as a clubhouse – Tyler explains his motives were less premeditated than it seemed.

“I don’t really like to explain [his use of the word], but when I made them say nigger, and the next song came on, it clicked in my head like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s exactly what I do.’ They said that but they aren’t racist, they weren’t saying that to me. When I say ‘faggot’ I’m not directing it at anybody, I’m just saying it like ‘dude’ or ‘loser’ or some other shit. I just wanted someone else to hear what I was thinking while that song was playing, ‘cos it was weird.”

The pop up store is the latest masterstroke by the band, and a continuation of the “they are them, we are us” motif that is so core to the loyalty of their fans. Decked out with an impressive range of merchandise – skateboard decks, keychains, even jeans – rows of framed photographs and juvenile graffiti line the walls. There’s the ‘Free Earl’ tag, the ‘Golf Wang’ tag and a charming drawing of a penis. The store opened at noon on the day of their Sydney show, and by 11:30am a line snaked around the corner for blocks; hundreds of kids in Supreme caps, golf socks and oversized shirts aping the collective’s look. Those at the front of the queue had been waiting since 9am. For six hours, the queue stayed consistent in length; the store sold out of the band’s Golf Wangphotography book within hours, and the collective happily signed merchandise. Tyler drew a ‘cock and balls’ on a fan’s iPad, and the only thing that could have made the fan’s day better would have been if Left Brain slapped him across the face. By far the most popular item of merchandise was the range of tie-dyed, oversized shirts; a look that most of these kids would have laughed at mere months ago. This mimicry still clearly spins Tyler out, although he understands it.

“I know growing up, I would dress like Pharrell [Williams, half of the Neptunes production team]. I idolise him a lot. But, I do want them to just be themselves, do what they do, don’t try to impress anyone. Be yourself, do what you like, don’t try to emulate me,” he says, succintly summing up the group’s main message. “But when you’re young, you are going to emulate the person you look up to, up ‘til a certain age.”

The next day, post-Enmore show, the lines are no less savage. The manager of the Supply store, which has been co-opted for the week, is disgruntled that the 666 plaque and the OF donut logo have been stolen overnight from the front of the store. “I had to rush around getting those sorted out,” he bemoans. “I understand it, but I would think people would have more respect for them.” Tyler’s opinion of the robbery differs slightly. “That’s pretty sick,” he grins.

The first thing that hits you upon entering the store isn’t the ingenuity of it all, it’s the marijuana smoke. Odd Future smoke. A lot. Domo Genesis (whose album is titled Rolling Papers) sits stoned on a lounge, while the other members pass and light joints constantly for the next hour. (Tyler doesn’t smoke marijuana; not due to his chronic asthma, he insists, but because it just isn’t for him. “It’s not for everybody. I’m good yo.” He has also never had a drink in his life, something he proclaims proudly.) “I’m just chilling,” Domo says with an outstretched hand, by way of explanation.

Taco Bennett, younger brother of Syd, bounces around the room like the excited teenager he is, faux-boxing with various members of Odd Future, while eating a Golden Gaytime. Odd Future love Golden Gaytimes it seems (no doubt the initial attraction was due to the hilariously outmoded name). Tyler tweeted it was “the best fucking ice cream in the fucking world” and later reiterated this opinion to the few thousand assembled at their Sydney show, and to their Sydney Big Day Out crowd later in the week. Hodgy Beats, one half of Mellowhype and guest on some of Tyler’s better-known songs, suggests that Taco “go and buy a box.”

The band’s tour manager gives a word of warning. “When you speak to them, speak to them all, otherwise they get bored in a flash and will wander off. Their attention span is like this,” he says, holding his fingers a centimetre apart. It doesn’t go unnoticed; halfway through an interview with another publication, Tyler stands up suddenly as a song is cut short by one of the others. “Yo, leave that shit on. You can’t turn that off.” The other members crash in and out of the room, rapping, singing, dancing, boxing, wrestling, miming sex moves and generally acting like a group of hyper-energetic kids. Which they are. “I’m growing up faster than all these motherfuckers,” Hodgy Beats tells me later, when describing the mature direction Mellowhype’s third record Numbers will take. “I’ve got a kid [a six-month-old son], so… mentally, you have to, otherwise you just won’t be there.” Like many children raised by a single parent, the members of Odd Future seem determined to not repeat the mistakes of the prior generation. Much of Tyler’s vitriol is directed at his absent father; this open-wound honesty casts him as a sympathetic character, despite the tortured fantasies that permeate his lyrics. Hodgy similarly spits anger at his mother, most notably in the song Sandwitches, in which he berates her for ignoring his mental state while raising another man’s kids by smoking weed and taking them to church. He wrote the verse immediately after being kicked out of home. “I’m gonna be a good role model to him,” Hodgy says determinedly of the role he will play in his son’s life. “I don’t know about being a role model to everybody else in the world, though.”

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